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Too many remotes? Maybe the dog has just chewed the VCR handset? Relief is at hand, you need a universal remote control, here’s what to look for



If you want to hear something really scary, phone the customer service department of the company who makes your TV or VCR, and ask them how much a replacement remote control handset costs. You’ll probably be quoted a price between £30 to £80, which is totally disproportionate to the cost of the equipment it came with. But what are you going to do about it, if the dog has just chewed your telly remote?


Fortunately there’s now plenty of accessory remotes to choose from. Several companies market low-cost replacements for a limited number of popular TVs and VCRs but the majority are universal types, that work with a wide range of makes and models and can usually control more than one device. This can be very useful, if you’re suffering from an infestation of little black boxes...


There are basically two types of universal remote control. If you’re replacing a handset that’s been lost or broken, then you’ll have to get one that has a built-in library, pre-programmed with infra-red control codes. Some of the command libraries are vast, covering thousands of different products, though inevitably there are gaps. Before you buy one make sure the product you want to control is included.


The other sort has a ‘learning’ facility, that records and stores infra-red commands from the original remote handset, which must be available and in working order. Learning remotes are often the only option for equipment made by obscure manufacturers, or older devices, not covered by pre-programmed handsets. They’re often  the only type of remote able to cope with specialised functions and mode switching, which are rarely, if ever covered on pre-programmed types.  


A few universal remotes are hybrids, with built-in command libraries and a learning IR learning facility.  Some pre-programmed types can also be updated with new commands, as and when new products appear.





* Make sure the equipment you want to control is included in the handset’s command library, if it’s a pre-programmed type. Most dealers will have application lists for the remotes they stock, or details of telephone helplines


* There’s no point in buying a learning remote control if you haven’t got the original handset, otherwise how are you going to teach it commands?


* Most universal remotes can only handle basic operations, like on/standby, volume, channel-change and VCR transport commands. Learning remotes usually have a few spare keys, that can be assigned to specialised functions


* Make sure you change the batteries before they’re exhausted or the programming may be lost. Most universal remotes have a memory back-up, that allows a few minutes for a battery change


* Keep your original remotes in a safe place. You may need them for re-programming, or as replacements, if your universal handset is lost, broken or chewed by the dog...




Cambridge Audio Multimedia Explorer, £79.95

Ingenious! The display on the LCD touch screen on this 8-device learning remote changes according to the function selected. Many useful facilities, including macros (sequenced commands), and specific keys for home cinema systems


Remote Angel, £99.95

Outwardly similar to the Multimedia Explorer, though the higher price buys a backlit LCD touch screen. A built-in sensor turns this function on and off, according to ambient lighting conditions


Philex Visual 8, £49.95

Hybrid learning and pre-programmed remote, able to control up to 8 devices. Relatively easy to set up and use, by brand code. Most major functions covered, good key layout


Sony RM-V8T, £17.99

Basic two-function pre-programmed controller, designed for TVs and VCRs. The command library is fairly small, confined to the most popular brands, but it is very easy to set up and use


Sony RM-V50T, £29.99

Super slim two-device controller, pre-programmed with control codes for a range of the most popular TVs and VCRs. Powered by a long-life lithium battery.  There’s a clip on the back, so it can be used as a bookmark in TV listings magazines



Any One-For-All handset, 2 to 8 device controllers, from £10 upwards

Vivanco UPR-40 and 60, 4 & 8 device controllers costing £24.95 and £39.95 respectively


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Blank video tape can have as big an influence on AV performance as the VCRs it’s used with, but choose wisely, the dearest isn’t necessarily the best



It is 238 metres long, travels at 2.3 centimetres a second and has to be one of the biggest bargains of all time! We tend to take VHS tape for granted, and the humble E-180 cassette has become a commodity item; they’re usually very reliable, most of them come with a lifetime guarantee but we barely give them a second thought. Yet video tape is a remarkably sophisticated product, enormous amounts of research and technology go into its development and manufacture, so show some respect!


However, not all VHS cassette are the same. Unfortunately there’s no easy way of gauging quality from the packaging, though the brand is a good place to start. There are dozens of tape manufacturing plants around the world, but not all of them are licensed by JVC, who ensure a minimum quality standard. Play it safe and only buy tapes made by well-known companies, or from reputable sources.


Tape quality is largely dependent on three factors: the size and characteristics of the magnetic particles on the tape; the consistency and durability of the magnetic coating, and the design and construction of the cassette shell and internal components. Large, widely dispersed magnetic particles mean less signal and more noise; poorly coated tape has more ‘dropouts’ (brief flashes in the picture); wonky shells and guides can result in speed instability, mis-tracking and tape damage.


Grade is something else to watch out for. In fact there is no industry-standard grading system, over and above the basic JVC specification. However, manufacturers are free to make improvements and higher grade tapes often have better signal to noise ratios than standard grade tape. The use of finer magnetic particles,  additives and lubricants result in a cleaner, sharper more stable picture. These effects are even more pronounced on VCRs that have tape tuning facilities, and on LP recordings, which are inherently noisy. 





* Always use the highest grade tape you can get your hands on, for critical applications, like camcorder editing and archive recording. It’s worth paying a little extra for HG tape, if you do a lot of LP recording


* Don’t skimp. These days you’ll only save a few pence buying off-brands or cassettes from unfamiliar manufacturers, and probably suffer the consequences when it comes to AV performance


* Avoid the really cheap stuff like the plague, most of it is crap. We have come across tapes that could speed up head wear, clog tape heads and in extreme cases, even damage to delicate deck mechanisms


* VCRs can be quite picky, so it pays to try as many different brands and grades as possible, until you find one that suits your machine


* If your VCR has any tape tuning facilities it pays to use them, especially when using higher-grade tapes




BASF PHG Hi-Fi, £4.49 (E-180)

A reliable low-noise formulation, suitable for a wide range of applications. PHG Hi-Fi also has a good reputation for archiving


FUJI SHG, £2.99 (E-180)

Fuji’s innovative double-coating technology gives very consistent results, with a very clean picture, strong, stable colours and very little noise. Good value too


JVC EHG, £3.99 (E-180)

If JVC can’t make a good VHS tape, who can? A proven performer, noise levels and dropout are always well below average


MAXELL HGX BLACK, £3.99  (E-180)

This tape has shown steady improvement in the past two or three years, with lower noise and fewer dropouts. A good value all-rounder


SONY VHG, £XXX (E-180)

Another very dependable tape with lower than average dropout and levels of picture noise, suitable for all types of recording


TDK E-HG, £XXX (E-180)

A proven formulation and one of the most consistent high-grade tapes on the market. Low noise and dropout always, recommended


VIRGIN SUPER HIGH QUALITY £6.99 (E-180 triple-pack)

Some big improvements since its launch just over a year ago. Worth considering for all but the most demanding applications.



FUJI Super XG-PRO -- outstanding performer

JVC PRO -- probably the best VHS tape there is




* PULNIX PV-12, £130 (ex installation)

Scare the pants off villains and annoy neighbours with this movement activated alarm. When triggered it replays an 8-second recording of your choice through a 100 db speaker; anything from a dog barking, to a stern warning, use your imagination...

Pulnix Europe Ltd., (01256) 466268


* BASF 3 in 1 Cleaning Cassette, £6.99

Specially formulated tape, featuring a recorded message, that shows how the cleaning process is proceeding. Very effect on light head contamination and soiling. Up to 40 cleaning cycles per tape.

BASF, telephone 0181-908 3188



Just the job for getting into awkward nooks and crannies... This tiny, battery-powered vacuum-cleaner gently removes dust and debris from in and around tape and CD hatches, speaker grilles and control panels. Loads more fun than a duster

Hama UK, telephone (01256) 708110



This simple remote control extender picks up and relays IR commands from a remote handset to a second module, placed close to a VCR or satellite tuner in the living room

Innovations, telephone (0990) 202224 or: www.innovations.co.uk



Put one of these under your TV and it turns with just a light finger-touch. This 32 cm model will support devices weighing up to 150kg

Your local Argos catalogue showroom



Pocket organisers and palmtop PCs are old hat. They’re about to be killed off by hand-held PCs, like the Velo, which uses the Window CE (compact edition) operating system. It looks, feels and works just like your desktop machine, and this one lets you surf the web, and use e-mail with a digital mobile phone

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444



A tin of compressed gas (non ozone depleting), for blasting away the fluff and dust that collects in those hard to get at corners of your system. Supplied with a thin extension tube

Staples Office Superstores, telephone (0800) 141414


* DOMINEYE, £220 (ex installation)

Use your TV and VCR to keep an eye on your valuables. The anonymous-looking, black-domed video camera, mounted near the front door, keeps a watch on all visitors, even at night. Mormons or muggers? See who it is on TV, before you answer the door

Seelex Ltd., telephone 0800 281330



Join in the latest US craze for night-time skateboarding and mountain biking with these head-worn night vision goggles. Crafted using the latest Russian technology, you’ll be able to see and do interesting things in almost complete darkness

Moonlight Products, telephone (01494) 443334 or: http://members.aol.com/nightvis/index.html



If you’ve got a PC, you’ll be wanting one of these. Digital cameras are the next big thing, they capture images, that can be piped directly into a PC, for incorporating into documents, newsletters and web pages

Casio Electronics, telephone 0181-450 9131 or: http://www.casio.co.uk



Ó R. Maybury 1997 2203





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