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Name              Matthew C. Brown, Oxted, Surrey

Kit                   seeking a special widescreen TV

Problem             Matthew wants a widescreen TV but finds that even 32-inch models are not large enough for him. He says the width seems about right but they just don’t look tall enough. Matthew has considered back projection sets, like the 37 inch model from Sony, but he thinks that will be a little too big for his living room. Ideally he wants one with a 34-inch screen. He accepts that he is being fussy, but the point Matthew want to make is that there seems to be little or no choice between 32 and 37-inches.


Expert Reply            There’s probably many very good reasons for the apparently arbitrary way TV screen sizes are decided, but no-one we’ve spoken to seems to know what they are. The bad news is that as far as we’re aware there has never been, nor is there likely to be a 34-inch widescreen TV, at least not in the foreseeable future. (Yes, we know Sony make 34-inch TVs, but they are 4:3 models). A handful of 36-inch models from Nokia, Philips and Salora came and went between 1992 and 1995, you may be able to track one of them down, though some of them were quite crude by current standards.


Matthew’s observations about the height of widescreen displays is interesting. It can look a bit odd when they’re displaying 4:3 pictures, in fact a 4:3 picture on a 32-inch 16:9 set is actually be smaller than one on a normally-shaped 25-inch TV. The point is, if you want the best of both worlds you may be better off getting a large 4:3 set, where a 16:9 picture will be only slightly smaller than an equivalent-sized 16:9 TV, if you see what I mean... Don’t dismiss rear projectors like the Sony KL37W1, if you check the size of the base you’ll find it’s actually smaller than a lot of 28-inch tube TVs, and about two -thirds the depth, so you may well be able to fit it in after all. Also worth considering is the Pioneer SD-M1407, it has a 40-inch 4:3 screen, and again, it takes up less room than CRT sets.





Laserdiscs to loud car stereos, Pioneer are nothing if not versatile...


When and where did it all begin?

Back in 1938, when -- careful when you say this -- Fukuin Shokai Denki Seisakusho, is established in Tokyo. They began by manufacturing audio products but the Second World War intervened. The company as we know it today began to take shape in the late fifties and early sixties.


What happened?

Pioneer shares were listed on the Tokyo stock exchange in 1961, they set up camp in Belgium in 1970 and America in 1972; however, things didn’t really start to happen until 1973 when they began marketing cable television hardware in the US. 


Cable TV, what was that all about?

It’s a little known fact that Pioneer were, well, pioneers in cable TV technology and developed the worlds first two-way interactive CATV system in 1977.


What about laserdisc?

That all started in 1978, when Pioneer announced their first LD video disc player. This was a big gamble, at the time no less than 40 different video disc systems were in development, making the recent battle over DVD standardisation look like a playground squabble. 


How about actual products?

In 1980 Pioneer launched the VP-1000 in the US,  it was a world’s first. A year later they hit the home market, and the LD-1000 was introduced in Japan.    


And since then?

A whole load more firsts. First CD/LD player and car CD player in 1984; first

6-disc CD autochanger and 40-inch projection monitor in 1985; first DAT deck in Japan in 1987; world’s first car navigation system in 1990; first industrial CD-R (CD recordable) machines in 1991; first quad-speed CD-ROM changer in 1992, and so on and so on.


Is that it?

You must be joking. Just last year they developed the MARS system for high-speed DVD duplication and introduced the worlds first combination DVD/LD/CD deck. And since you ask, their R&D department is currently working on multi-layered organic electroluminescent displays, and get this, a system for ‘alpha-wave entrainment (sic) by recorded photic stimulation’. Apparently it’s an electronic gadget that sends the user to sleep...






Name              Jill Pendle, Sydenham, S. London

Kit                   Ancient Ferguson TV  and Panasonic VCR

Problem            Living within a mile of the main Crystal Palace transmitter, Jill doesn’t need a rooftop TV aerial, but Channel 5 reception is very poor, and no amount of fiddling with the indoor set-top aerial makes a difference.


Expert Reply            There’s no point in getting a rooftop aerial, they can create more problems that they cure in such close proximity to the transmitter. There’s two probable causes for Jill’s C5 ills. Channel 5 in South London is broadcast from what use to be the old IBA tower at the top of Norwood hill, which is about a mile away from the Crystal Palace tower, where the BBC and ITV channels come from. This means aerials in the locality may require slight juggling to get both sets of stations. However, the more likely culprit is that old Ferguson TV. She doesn’t say which model it is, but if it’s the sort with a push-button tuner -- they usually have little slide out drawers, or banks of individual tuner thumbwheels -- then it could be something called over-modulation. This happens when a TV picks up Channel 5 against a background of much stronger signals. The tuner tries to compensate for the stronger signals by reducing its sensitivity, so the weaker signal looks even worse. Jill should contact the C5 re-tuning service and tell them she’s unhappy with her picture. They might be able to help -- though we doubt it -- and she’s unlikely to see any improvement in picture quality until she replaces her TV. Sadly this will do nothing to improve the quality of C5 programming, so there’s no rush, if that old Fergy is still going strong...



Name              Jamie Camp, via e-mail

Kit                   US spec Nintendo

Problem            Jamie is in the market for a large-screen TV, preferably a widescreen model;  the only stipulation is that he must be able to use it with his US Nintendo 64.


Expert Reply Take your pick! The vast majority of large-screen TVs have multi-standard display systems, and can handle the NTSC video input from your Nintendo without any difficulty. Without knowing how much you want to spend it’s difficult to make any specific recommendations, but you’d be well advised to get one with a set of AV sockets on the front panel.



Name                          Keith Bellamy, via e-mail

Kit                               Echostar SR-400 satellite receiver, Goldstar TV

Problem                      The picture on Keith’s satellite system has been getting steadily worse over the past two or three months and now it’s almost unwatchable. There are no trees or vegetation in the way of the dish, and the system is only three years old.


Expert Reply              I would be prepared to bet it’s something to do with the dish or cable. Dishes can go out of alignment, especially if they’re mounted on a non rigid surface or structure. Check the dust-cap on the front of the LNB is secure, water can seep in through cracks or splits. It’s not unknown for colonies of spiders and other insects to set up home inside the feed-horn. LNB performance can deteriorate over time, yours may need replacing. Check the cable and connectors, especially the one on the LNB. Has it been properly weatherproofed? Look for signs of corrosion or water damage. If you don’t fancy the idea of shinning up a ladder get an engineer to have a look at it, they will have access to test instruments and should be able to come up with a diagnosis pretty quickly.  



Name                          Terry Smith, Liskeard, Cornwall

Kit                               looking for a large-screen home cinema TV     

Problem                      What is a 100Hz display? Terry is about to spend up to a couple of thousand pounds on a new mega-screen TV, he wants to know if it’s worth the extra, and does he need it?


Expert Reply              On screen sizes up to around 28-inches it’s not that important, but on larger TV displays, some people say they become aware of an annoying flicker out of the corner of their eye, usually on bright areas, at the  edges of the screen. The flicker is caused by the refresh rate of the picture, which is updated 50 times a second. TVs with 100Hz displays update the picture at twice the speed, i.e. 100 times a second, which is too fast for the eye to perceive. Unfortunately some 100Hz displays generate motion artefacts -- rapid movement can look jerky --  and they can affect the ‘texture’ of the picture. In other words there is usually a trade-off. The first thing to do is find out whether or not you’re affected by picture flicker. If so, try to see as many 100Hz sets as you can, with the display switched on and off (avoid models that do not have a disable facility), so you can make a comparison.  Motion artefacts are most noticeable on live outside broadcasts of sports events. They’re often shot using video cameras with an electronic shutter. Changes in shutter speed from the normal 1/50th second can interact with the digital processing used to generate a 100Hz display. 



Name              Keiran Jackson, Oxford           

Kit                   wants to know what to look for, in a TV screen   

Problem            The apparent range and diversity of television picture tube technologies are confusing Keiran. He want’s to know what things like black matrix, super flat tube and invar mask all mean.             


Expert Reply            Terms like those exist in the twilight world between marketing guff and genuine benefits. Taking them one at a time, black matrix is a reference to the colouration of the screen and its phosphor coating. Dark screens help improve the picture contrast range and cut down on annoying reflections, from room lights and windows. Flat faced tubes also suffer less from reflections, and they look better, particularly when they’re switched off; this is an important consideration in a brightly-lit dealer’s showroom... Inside a colour tube there’s a thin perforated sheet of metal, called the shadowmask, (or aperture grille). It gets very hot, if it was allowed to expand and change shape, it would affect colour purity. To prevent this happening CRT manufacturers make the mask from an alloy of nickel and steel called invar, which has an exceptionally low coefficient of expansion.   




There’s all sorts of ways of working out optimum screen sizes.  The official method, as outlined in British Standard 5876, recommends dividing the viewing distance by six, to give you the ideal screen height. In the past we’ve suggested multiplying the distance you sit from the screen (in feet) by four, to give you a screen size in inches. So, if the viewing distance is 7 feet, multiply that by 4 to give 28 inches. 


This is beginning to sound like one of those 1940s Government Information Films. Forget the maths, if you’re seriously interested in home cinema get the biggest, brightest screen you can afford, feel comfortable with and still fit into your home, without having to move the settee into the garden. If you want to get anywhere close to the cinema experience aim for a screen that is going to fill most of your field of vision, sit back and enjoy.  




Super VHS was the best video format we never had! The number of new S-VHS video recorders has been steadily dropping year by year -- there’s been only two new models in 1997 so far, and one of those was held over from last year -- sales are now so small they barely register, however the system refuses to die.


These days most machines are brought by video movie-makers, with Hi8 or S-VHS-C camcorders. Copying or editing raw footage to S-VHS minimises quality losses. Super-VHS could have had a great future in home cinema, the only trouble was the video duplication industry gave it the cold shoulder, sales never achieved a critical mass and no more than a small handful of pre-recorded films were ever released. That’s a shame because the quality can be spectacular, almost as good as laserdisc in fact. The other unfortunate thing about S-VHS is that off-air recordings look only slightly better than those made on a standard VHS VCR, and then only when using expensive, specially formulated S-VHS tapes. Improvements in lower noise levels and a sharper picture were there, but in the early days at least, not enough to justify the cost, which at the time was around twice as much as a mid-market VHS deck.


Prices have come down a lot in the past couple of years. S-VHS still has a future, especially if you have a high band camcorder. That little bit extra picture performance is also worth having, if you shop around you can find S-VHS machines selling for only a couple of hundred pounds more than a decent NICAM VCR. 





Name              Phil Taylor

Kit                   CD-i player and collection of discs

Problem            Phil is having trouble finding out which, if any of the forthcoming DVD players will be able to play Video CD discs. He says he doesn’t mind junking his CD-i player in favour of DVD -- when the price drops --  but he would like to hang on to his Video CDs, if possible.


At this early stage of the game it’s difficult to be absolutely certain but it seems likely that most DVD decks will be able to play Video CDs. Panasonic say their DVD-A100 definitely will, and the US versions of the Pioneer, Sony and Thomson decks can as well, which bodes well for the PAL version. Toshiba are still finalising their specs, so overall it looks quite promising. Nevertheless, before you part with any money, it might be a good idea to take a couple of Video CDs discs with you, to try on any player you’re thinking of buying.



Name                          Trevor Seward, Bournemouth

Kit                               none yet

Problem                      DVD is coming, but laserdisc is here right now, with a good selection of software. Trevor is still undecided, but one factor might influence his choice, and that’s longevity. He wants to know if it’s true that Laserdiscs have a limited life?


Expert Reply              The truth is no-one knows, but the life-expectancy of a properly made laserdisc should be no different to that of  DVD, audio CD, CD ROM etc., which are all made in the same way. There have been plenty of cases of so-called ‘laser rot’, but these have been attributed to manufacturing defects. A breakdown in the seal between the two layers of an optical disc, or contaminants, can lead to oxidisation of the reflective surface. However, there’s every reason to expect a correctly made disc will easily outlast magnetic recordings (around 20 to 30 years before deterioration sets in), and almost certainly 50 years of more, if they’re stored properly. The question is, will you still have a working laservision or DVD player in 2047? 



Name              Michael Wells, Stratford Upon Avon     

Kit                   Pioneer CLD-515 laserdisc, Hitachi C2862 TV      

Problem            The Hitachi TV has given good service and Michael is about to donate it to his son-in-law, so he’s in the market for a new set. He wants to know is there are any laserdisc-friendly features he should be looking out for, to make the most of his recently acquired Pioneer player.


Expert Reply              Obviously picture and sound performance should be at the top of the list, though you should be thinking about making separate arrangements for surround sound. NTSC replay or multi standard operation is essential and a good range of display formats is an advantage; a lot of laserdisc material is recorded in letterboxed and widescreen formats. Signal information on Laserdiscs is stored in a composite format, which basically means the colour (chroma) and brightness (luma) signals are processed together. The two signals can and do interact with one another, during their journey from the disc, through the player and onto the TV, and this can result in patterning in areas where there a lot of fine detail, (stripes and checks are the worst offenders). TVs with a good comb filter can minimise patterning, in some case get rid of it altogether.



Name                          Todd Conway, Belfast

Kit                               Sony MDP-850 laserdisc player

Problem                      Are his eyes deceiving him? Todd says the quality of some Laserdiscs seem to change when they’re playing, or is it something to do with the disc or player ‘warming up’?


Expert Reply              There is a progressive improvement in the signal to noise ratio on CAV discs, which may explain what you’re seeing. It shouldn’t be visible on a properly mastered recording but if it’s there, it shows up during the first few minutes of a recording. It is all to do with the fact that CAV (constant angular velocity) discs spin at a fixed speed, but the rate at which the information is read off the disc increases -- altering the S/N ratio -- as the pickup head moves from the middle, outwards, to the edge of the disc.



Name                          Eric Anthony, Uttoxeter

Kit                               Samsung CI6229T 25-inch TV

Problem                      Being the first kid on the block holds no fear for Eric, he wants DVD and wants it now, but he needs to know if his Samsung telly is up to the job?


Expert Reply              You must be kidding! Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good little mono set, and your old granny will be very pleased to have it, but please don’t put a DVD player anywhere near it. You’re going to have to go out and buy yourself a proper TV and audio system to do any sort of justice to DVD. However, you would be well advised to wait a little while longer, there’s still a few ‘i’s’ that need dotting, not to mention the little matter of a lack of software. Get your TV sorted first.  



Name                          Geoffrey Forman, Huddersfield

Kit                               eagerly awaiting DVD...

Problem                      Geoffrey has read all about DVD and likes what he’s heard, but would like some clarification on ‘territories’, which he understands means that you won’t be able to play discs brought abroad. He want’s to know which other countries will be compatible with the UK.


Expert Reply              The UK is a Territory 2 country, a status shared with the rest of Europe, Japan, South Africa, Egypt and the Middle East. Territory 1 is the US, US territories and Canada. There are four other Territories or ‘locales’: number 3 is South East Asia and Hong Kong; 4 includes Australia, New Zealand, South and Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands; 5 is the former Soviet Union, Africa, Mongolia, North Korea, and the Indian sub-continent, and lastly, Territory 6 is China.




The first DVD players are arriving in the shops, there may even be a few software titles by the time you read this, so is it time to say goodbye to the VCR? Not just yet, at least not if you want to tape TV programmes. Recordable DVD is a distinct possibility -- the technology exists -- but it is probably still two or three years down the line. Movie companies are concerned about piracy and copyright, and a lot more work needs to be done on anti-copy systems.


You should hang on to your VCR, even if you only use it to watch movies. In the US and Japan, where DVD has a six month start, they’re expecting to have around 320 titles by the end of the year. Europe and the UK is likely to be a lot slower, and remember, you won’t be able to play discs brought in the US, on European players, not straight away anyway. There’s speculation on the internet that unofficial ‘hacks’ or modifications may become available, that will enable decks to play discs from different territories. 


If everything goes according to plan, and you’re determined to be an ‘early adopter’, Spring next year could be a good time to start thinking about DVD.  




One of the most compelling reasons to own a laserdisc player is to get movies with AC-3 soundtracks. Dolby AC-3, better known these days as Dolby Digital or Dolby 5.1 is the original digitally encoded theatrical soundtrack. It comprises 5 discrete, full bandwidth audio channels, plus one more, with a limited bandwidth, for effects. Like Dolby Pro Logic there’s right, left and centre channels, but the rear effects are in stereo. At the moment only NTSC discs, imported from the US have AC-3 soundtracks.


Unfortunately only high-spec laserdisc players  built within the last couple of years have the necessary RF output socket, needed to connect a player to a decoder. Older players are quite capable of reading AC-3 information -- it occupies the right channel on the analogue soundtrack - and it is possible to have them modified. It’s not a particularly difficult or expensive job, typically costing between £50 and  £250, depending on the model. The modification  is available for laserdisc players manufactured by Pioneer, Sony and Yamaha. Videotec, a specialist company based in Oxford are the leaders in this market. They have developed a range of modifications; call them for a quote on (01865) 245566.





It all looked so promising, everything from video games to movies on a shiny 5-inch disc, then the rumours started...


What are you? Good question. Part of my problem was the lack of a clear identity. Everyone was happy with CD bit but the ‘i’ word  -- interactive --  didn’t mean much to most people when I was launched back in 1992.          


So what exactly does interactive mean? Philips, who dreamt up the idea were never too clear. Basically it meant playing video games, but the plan was to launch loads of entertainment and information titles, where the user had to choose things to do and look at, using on-screen displays and menus.


You were a fancy games console? Yes, and some of them were really rather good, with computer generated graphics superimposed over live action clips and scenery, but that was only part of what I could do. CD-i players could also display snaps recorded on Photo CD discs -- fat lot of good that was though. Photo CD flopped even faster than me. Then, by using a simple plug-in cartridge, CD-i decks could replay Video CDs. Some hope...


What went wrong? The FMV (full motion video) cartridges took longer to develop than expected, they were expensive, the supply of Video CDs was limited and early recordings looked pretty ropy. To make matters worse rival video games systems from Sega and Nintendo began to take off, and the multimedia PC revolution had just started, with the first stirrings of the internet and the World Wide Web. Then, in 1994 rumours of high-capacity digital video disc systems, that could also store huge amounts of computer data began to surface. I was under attack from all sides and but for some loyal fans, and good old never-say-die Philips, I would have quietly slipped away... 


It’s not over yet then? One way or another it’s the end of the line for me, though you can still find decks and discs if you hunt around. Might be worth a punt, you never know, I could become a collector’s items...



Ó R. Maybury 1997 0307








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