HINTS AND TIPS DECEMBER
QUERY OF THE MONTH
Name Trevor Hale, Tenterden, Kent
Kit Philips 5594 66cm stereo TV
every time Trevor switches on his TV the picture flashes and wobbles around for
the first few minutes, captions appear smudged and the colours are all over the
place. It settles down eventually, but he has noticed that it has been doing it
more recently. Is there an easy cure, or are these the first signs of senility,
Expert Reply That
model was introduced in 1989, so Trevorís set could be seven or eight years old
by now. Thatís quite a good age for a TV. An eight-year working life is typical,
some TVs plod on into double figures, but by that time major components are
liable to fail, and the cost of replacing them becomes prohibitive. In Trevorís
case the tube is almost certainly suffering from low emission. He might be able to coax it along for another few months by lowering the
contrast (and watching it with the
curtains drawn). Most TV engineers have access to gadgets that can temporarily rejuvenate
picture tubes, but in the end Trevorís going to have to decide between a new
CRT or a buying a replacement TV. It wonít be a difficult decision, a new TV
will be much cheaper!
MEET YOUR MAKER
PACE MICRO TECHNOLOGY plc
Seems like theyíve been around for ever.
In fact theyíre a very young company, founded in 1982 by
David Hood, who imported and distributed computer software.
Software to satellites, thatís a bit of a jump?
It didnít happen quite like that. In 1985 they began
manufacturing a low-cost PC modem, called the Nightingale. Their first
satellite receiver didnít appear until 1987, at the start of direct-to-home
broadcasts from SKY television on the Astra satellites.
Didnít Amstrad have that market pretty well sewn up?
At first, but being relatively small Pace were able to move
quickly. They introduced a succession of smart-looking models, including one of
the first with a built-in Videocrypt decoder, in 1990. They also secured
valuable overseas contracts for satellite receivers in Asia and Australia
during the early 1990ís
The world and his wife were making satellite receivers back
then, what made Pace special?
In 1993 they set up an in-house development team,
specifically to work on digital satellite systems. In 1994 they signed a joint
venture agreement with NTL (National Transcommunications Ltd), to develop
digital systems for the world market. The digital receiver production lines
start rolling in March 1995 following a deal with Australian broadcaster Galaxy
Was that the start of something big?
And how! 1995 was a very good year for Pace. Their
production plant in Shipley, West Yorkshire was innindated with orders. They won
contracts to supply digital receivers to Thailand, South Africa, Hong Kong and
Taiwan. Pace set up offices in key countries and the Department of Heritage
adopted recommendations made by Pace, for the development of digital
terrestrial TV in the UK.
Whatís happened since then?
More orders for analogue and digital receivers. In April
1996 they sought a listing on the London Stock Exchange, shares went on sale in
June that year. They received even more orders for digital satellite systems
and became involved in joint ventures with several major companies.
More orders, and in November 1996 they made their 500,000th
digital satellite decoder. Yet more orders, in April this year Pace are named
as one of the suppliers of digital set-top boxes for the UK digital terrestrial
TV system; Pace plan to begin volume production early next year. Oh yes, and theyíve
got a load more orders from French, South American and Italian broadcasters...
TV, VCR & SATELLITE QUERIES
THX -- BUY OR WAIT?
Name Ian Higgins, Newbury, Berkshire
Kit Toshiba V-855 VCR, Sony KVX2983 TV,
Yamaha DSP-A2070 DPL AV amp, Polk RM5000 AV speakers
Problem Having lived with what Ian describes
as a Ďvery respectable little systemí for the past year, he wants to move on to
bigger and better things, namely THX.
However, before he parts with the plastic, he wants some reassurance,
that heís doing the right thing. Is the THX route ultimately a dead end, if so
should he wait for DVD with its promise of AC-3 and/or MPEG audio?
Expert Reply THX isnít an audio system as such,
itís a set of tight technical standards applied to amplifiers, processors and
most importantly, the speakers in a surround-sound system. It is meant to more
closely replicate the theatrical experience in the confines of a typical living
room, so many of the requirements for the amplifiers and speakers hold good,
for any type of multi-channel surround system, including AC-3 and MPEG Audio.
The two technologies are not mutually incompatible, but it is sensible to
prepare for any future changes. If Ian decide to buy THX then he would be wise
to get an upgradable AV amplifier, that can handle the five full-bandwidth and
one sub-woofer channel used on both digital surround systems.
Name Heather Greerson, Woodchester, Glos.
Kit Thinking about a projection TV,
worried about repair bills
is in the fortunate position of having a large living room, she actually
describes it as Ďvastí which means ordinary TVs -- even big screen models --
tend to look a little lost. She has decided to get a big back-projection model,
but which one? Sheís concerned about the picture in bight daylight -- her room
gets a lot of sun -- and has also heard that projection TVs are expensive to
run as bits wear out more frequently than ordinary televisions. Is that so?
Expert Reply The
picture on most back projection TVs look a lot brighter and sharper in subdued
lighting. She will also find that most of them have a much shallower angle of
view, compared with a tube-based TV. Itís just something you have to live with.
As far as maintenance costs are concerned, yes, it is true that some parts will
need replacing on a regular basis, and some of them can be very expensive. The
high-intensity CRTs used in some back projectors have a limited life of a few thousand hours and some tubes
can cost a couple of hundred pounds each to replace. Itís difficult to be more
specific, but that could translate to a
working life of just two or three years, depending on viewing patterns.
CRT-based projectors may also require periodic adjustment, though most recent
models now have automatic alignment systems. For heavy users LCD-based projectors
could be a better bet. The projection bulb (or bulbs) also have a limited life and
on a well-used set they eed to be replaced every two or three years. They are a
lot cheaper though, costing from about
£20 to £100 or so.
ON THE CARDS?
Name Reg Appleby, Enfield, Middlesex
Kit Grundig GRD300 satellite system
picture keeps disappearing and the message Ďplease insert your cardí appears on
the screen after Regís satellite receiver has been running for more than a
couple of hours. A gentle tap on the case normally restores normal operation,
but heís worried that something is loose inside, that isnít going to get better
on its own.
Expert Reply It
might be something as simple as dirty contacts on the viewing card, or the
contacts on the card reader. Reg can clean the card himself by gently wiping
the contacts with a soft dry cloth, donít be tempted to use any cleaning
solutions as they could do horrible things to the card. If the contacts inside
are dirty you shouldnít open up the case, the card read is normally an enclosed
module. Instead -- and you do this at your own risk -- use the card as a template
to make a simple cleaner, out of a piece of thin cardboard. Insert it into the
slot a couple of times, this should remove any stubborn gunge from the contact
fingers, but be very careful, theyíre extremely delicate. If that doesnít do
the trick then it will have to be looked at by a service engineer.
OFF THE WALL
Name Simon Leech, Farnborough, Hants
Kit Buying advice on flat-screen TVs
says he has been reading about flat-screen, hang on the wall TVs for as long as
he can remember, but he is still waiting, and becoming more ticked-off with
each passing year. He asks whether or not these new fangled plasma screens are
ever going to reach the shops, and if they do, will he be able to afford one?
Expert Reply Like
Simon weíve been following the flat-screen saga for many years but thereís a
real feeling in the air now, that they may have finally arrived. Plasma screen
technology is leading the way. At trade shows over the past two years weíve
seen numerous prototypes, pre-production screens, and even a few production models. And very good they
are too, mostly producing a picture thatís on a par with CRTs, in some cases
even better. The big problem is going to be cost, though. Our best guess is that
the first plasma screen TVs -- 25-inches or more across -- will be selling for between £4000 to £5000,
when they reach Europe, probably early next year. The reason theyíre so dear is
simple. They are being produced in very low volumes, in expensive new
factories, that are still having to cope with relatively low yields. There are
dozens of CRT manufacturing plants world-wide, making a product with a history
that goes back more than 100 years, so all the wrinkles have been ironed out.
Theyíre made by the million, so the economies of scale are enormous. It will take several years for Plasma
screens to make even a slight dint in a massive world market for TVs, we expect
prices to fall quite slowly, so Simon had better start saving now.
CAUGHT IN THE NET
Name Mick Radley, Thornton Heath, Surrey
Kit Cambridge satellite receiver, Sanyo
28DN1 TV, NetStation internet set-top box
day after installing his NetStation internet box on his AV system Mick
discovered that the remote control on his satellite receiver appeared to stop
working, unless it was placed right up to the front of the unit. He has
replaced the batteries, cleaned the emitter and receiver windows but to no
avail. He then discovered it worked properly again when the Net Station was
turned off. Heís baffled, and wonders if itís anything to do with the two boxes
both being connected to the TV?
Expert Reply This one
foxed us at first so we tried to replicate the fault, using a NetStation with
an Akai satellite receiver (also made by Cambridge, and lo and behold, there was
an interaction. We discovered that facing the NetStation away from the seating
position also helped. We contacted NetStation who were mystified but they did
say the unit had an IR emitter, that was for a future upgrade, but as far as
they knew, it had been disabled. Thereís a set of emitters are mounted next to
the card slot on the front panel, so we stuck a piece of Duck tape over the
window. Hey presto, the satellite
receiver remote worked normally again. We still donít know the exact cause but
it seems probable that the supposedly disabled IR emitter on NetStation is
putting out an IR signal, that somehow blocks or interferes with the one on the
Cambridge receiver.The cure is a short strip of tape.
BOX COPY 1
Look through the ads and brochures and youíll see VCRs
described as 2, 3 or 4 head machines, but what does it mean, and is it a case
of the more heads the better? All VHS VCRs have at least two recording/replay
heads, mounted opposite one another, on a spinning tape head drum. Thus, you
may deduce that two-head machines tend to be the most basic, moreover they only
have mono soundtracks. Three-head VCRs are becoming a bit of a rarity these
days. The extra head -- mounted alongside one of the other heads, is used to
improve still frame stability. Four-head VCR are rapidly becoming the norm, the
extra set of heads improve both trick play facilities and LP reproduction.
NICAM stereo VCRs are almost always 4-head machines though
they have two extra heads on the drum, for stereo hi- fi audio recording and
playback. A handful of VCRs, intended for video movie-making, have a flying
erase head. This precisely erases the video track, ahead of a new recording, to
ensure thereís no disturbance at the beginning and end of new sequences
inserted into the middle of an existing recording.
BOX COPY 2
STEERABLE SATELLITE DISHES
Geosynchronous television broadcasting satellites encircle
the earth in a single orbit, 36,000km
above the equator. Itís known as the Clarke Belt, named after Arthur C of 2001
fame, who dreamt up the idea back in 1945. From the UK the Clarke Belt
describes an arc across the Southern sky, rising to around 30 degrees above the
horizon at its apex (viewed from London, it sinks lower the further North you
go). The Astra satellites are in a tight group at 19.2 degrees East of due
South; either side there are a score or so satellites with Ďfootprintsí or
transmission patterns that reach all or part of Britain. To receive many of
those broadcasts the dish needs to be
quite large -- 1.5 metres across at least -- and it must accurately track across
the arc, using a specially-designed bearing system, called a polar mount.
The dish is propelled by a servo motor or actuator, that
generates a series of pulses, as it moves. The pulses are fed back to a
controller unit, to tell it precisely where the dish is on its travels. This
information is used in conjunction with pre-programmed data -- relating to the
position of various satellites -- to enable the controller to steer the dish to
the correct position. Some controllers also have Ďauto focusí systems, that
checks the signal strength of the received transmissions, to fine-tune the
alignment of the dish.
DVD, LD AND OPTICAL STORAGE QUERIES
Name Ken Prescott, Faversham, Kent
Kit A laserdisc player to go with a
Philips widescreen TV and Technics DPL system
wants to buy a laserdisc player but heís torn between the Pioneer CLD-D515 and
the CLD-925. He notes the latter is a couple of hundred pounds dearer, but want
to know if it is worth the extra. He also asks whether or not there will be any
compatibility issues with his present system, and what are the options for
Expert Reply Both
players now have AC-3 RF outputs, so if Ken decides to go down that route, he
will have no problems finding more things to spend his money on. The two decks
also have dual standard PAL/NTSC playback and can play both sides of a disc.
There are a few operational differences between the two models, but nothing
that will affect operation with the rest of his equipment. We reckon the most
important difference between the two players are the lack of an S-Video output
on the D515, and better NTSC replay capabilities of the D925. S-Video is
definitely worth having, it does have a
noticeable impact on picture quality and colour resolution, so from that
perspective the D925 is worth the extra.
THE NIK OF TIME
Name Steven Haleem, Carshalton, Surrey
Kit Ferguson T68N TV, Mitsubishi HS-551
friend has offered Steven a Nikkodo VCD-800 CD Video player for £300. He says
he hasnít come across the brand before. He wants to know if weíve heard of it,
and whether we think itís any good. He would also like to know what sort of
discs it can play, and it can be upgraded?
Expert Reply This
is a bit of a rarity. The VCD-800 had a number of special features that set it
apart from most other Video CD players. They included pitch shift, echo and
voice mute, which point to it being a karaoke machine first, home cinema
component second. It can play a wide range of discs, including Video CD, CD-G,
CD-EG as well as normal audio-only CDs. The price Stevenís friend is asking
seems a bit steep, considering the Video CD formatís somewhat bleak prospects.
It might be worth a few bob as a museum piece one day but there are plenty of
more useful things you could do with the money, including putting it towards a
proper laserdisc deck, or DVD deck.
Name Edward Learman, Burnley
Kit An eager but confused DVD fan
sold on the concept but Edward has one simple question, given that thereís now
likely to be two audio systems -- AC-3 and Musicam/MPEG audio -- which one is
Expert Reply Thatís
hard to say, until weíve had a chance to review a lot more software. We have
listened extensively to both systems, but unfortunately the limited number
of recordings available at the moment
are mostly confined to material that presents the format at its very best. In
short they both sound very good indeed. However, from a technical point of
view, AC-3 or Dolby Digital soundtracks will probably be the closest to the theatrical
release in that no additional processing is necessary, to get AC-3 onto DVD.
MPEG audio data on the other hand will have to be re-coded from the AC-3
original, which may or may not make a difference. The answer is we donít know,
itís too early to say, but simple logic says that MPEG cannot be any better
than AC-3, from which it will normally be derived from, on most recordings.
Name Terry Halford, Basildon, Essex
Kit Sony MDP-850 laserdisc player,
Toshiba 2857 TV, Panasonic NV-HD600 VCR
the SCART leads Terry uses to connect his system together be the cause of a
noisy and sometimes unstable picture from the Laserdisc player. He wants to
know leads with gold-plated contacts could provide a cure?
Expert Reply Very
unlikely Terry. The quality of SCART leads does vary, but unless the contacts
are visibly corroded, the noise they generate and any effect on picture
synchronisation, is insignificant. Changing to gold-plated leads probably wonít
make a blind bit of difference, but try another regular SCART cable first.
Assuming that the discs are clean and free of scratches, and that youíre not
suffering similar problems with the VCR, then thereís something more
fundamental wrong with the laserdisc player. After youíve tried it on another
TV, to confirm it is the source of the problem, have it looked at.
Name Alan Hussein, Redhill, Surrey
Kit Video CD, or is it CD Video?
wants to know what, if anything, is the difference between Video CD and CD
Video. He has come across both sorts of disc in his local second hand record
store and wants to know what sort of deck he needs to play them?
Expert Reply Historically
CD Video came first, in 1988. They contain a short analogue video Ďclipí
normally lasting just a few minutes, plus three or four audio-only CD tracks.
The video clip can be played on the handful of special CD Video decks launched
by Philips; regular CD decks recognise them as normal CDs. They can also be
played on a few laserdisc machines, made at aroudn the same time. Philips
promoted CD Video as a music medium, intended for fans of pop videos. Video CD
first appeared in 1991, it is an entirely different kettle of fish, with
digitally compressed video, and digital audio, for movies etc. It was a
forerunner of DVD, though with much lower capacity, and inferior picture quality.
Video CDs can only be replayed on suitable Video CD and CD-i decks, fitted with
FMV (full-motion video) playback circuitry.
CD Video never got off the ground, Video CD isnít quite dead yet, but it
wonít be long. Both kinds of disc could well become collectorís items in years
SECOND TIME AROUND?
Name Samantha Camerleri, Sutton, Surrey
Kit Is Pioneer CL-2950 a good buy?
advert in Samanthaís free newspaper is offering a Pioneer CLD-2950, with six
discs, for £350. She wants to know if
this is a good deal, and what to look out for, when buying second-hand Laserdiscs
Expert Reply The
2950 was a bit of a classic and was being sold until quite recently for up to
£700, so if itís in really good condition, and the discs are something you want to watch, then £350 sounds
like quite a good deal. Compared with a VCR, say, thereís fewer mechanical
parts to wear out. You should be able to make a fair assessment of its
condition from a demonstration of picture and sound quality, and its general
appearance. If in doubt have it checked over by an engineer.
BOX COPY 3
REPAIRING DAMAGED DISCS
Compact Discs and Laserdiscs are extremely durable -- far
more so than vinyl records or magnetic tape -- but theyíre certainly not indestructible.
Even a slight scratch can be enough to render a disc unplayable on sensitive or
touchy decks, though in general most CD and LD players can tolerate small
amounts of lost or corrupted data. Dirt and fingermarks can be wiped away using
a damp cloth and mild detergent. Light
scratches can often be removed away using a gentle household polish, though
avoid any containing agents that attack plastic -- the canister should say
whatís inside -- if in doubt donít, or try it on an old disc that doesnít
Deeper scratches need to be treated carefully, with a proprietary
cleansing and polishing compound, like Crystal Disc, or similar optical disc
care products. A new surface treatment, called CDFender has just come onto the
market. It is a thin polycarbonate film, that sticks to the surface of the
disc. The idea is that the adhesive fills any scratches, and the film protects
the disc against further damage. As the film is made of the same material as
the disc, with the same optical properties, it has no effect on playback. We
havenít tried it yet, but you can find out more fromOpti-Disc Ltd, on (0410)
BOX COPY 4
COULDíVE BEEN A CONTENDER
CVC, isnít that something to do with Panasonic VCRs?
No dummy, thatís crystal view control. CVC originally stood
for the Compact Video Cassette
Never heard of it!
Well, I was starting to become quite well known back in the
early 1980ís when Technicolor and Funai got together to develop the format.
Tell me more
Well, the system used cassettes about the same size as an
audio compact cassette, and they also used the same bog-standard 1/4-inch
ferric tape. The recorder was about the size of a fat laptop PC and was slung
over the userís shoulder. It was used with a hand-held camera, cassettes lasted
for 30 minutes.
Were you any good?
Yes, better in fact than the portable VHS and Betamax decks
of the day, and I was the first format to have proper still frame and
If you were so wonderful why didnít you make it?
A year or so after I hit the streets, along came compact VHS
or VHS-C, and there was a rumour Sony had developed a portable cassette system
using 8mm tape, that all of the big companies had endorsed. There was also talk
of combining the camera and VHS-C or 8mm recorders into something called a
That was it then?
Not straight away, several companies expressed interest in
the format. A few badged prototypes appeared, there was even one made Grundig,
but it never happened and I was last seen in Londonís Edgeware road in 1989,
when the last few PAL decks were sold off for £100.
R. Maybury 1997 2409