HINTS AND TIPS MAY
Name: Phil Madden, Douglas, IOM
Kit: Toshiba VCR, Pioneer AV amp
wants to buy a widescreen TV, he’s not overly worried about digital
connectivity but is concerned that the TV he buys will be able to cope with all
the different screen formats now in use. He wants to know what they are, and
which TVs, if any, can handle them all.
Expert reply: The short answer is that there’s more display
formats than you can shake a stick at. However, the one’s you’re most likely to
encounter are 4:3, 16:9, 14:9 and Cinemascope. Because of the shape of the tube
all widescreen TVs are configured for 16:9, all others types of display will
involve some sort of compromise. This means black bars at the sides or top and
bottom of the picture, or the image will be cropped. Various electronic systems
have been developed that can magnify and stretch the picture to fit the screen,
but this will mean some loss of resolution. If you always want the picture to
fill the screen then you should be looking for sets that have a good range of
display modes. Unfortunately you’re going to have to adjust the screen size
manually; a few sets have auto selection systems for re-sizing 4:3 broadcasts.
TVs with PALplus decoders will automatically switch to widescreen mode upon
reception of a PALplus signal. Sadly they’re confined to just a few hours a
week from C4, and it’s highly unlikely any broadcaster will adopt the system
now. Most widescreen TVs have auto 16:9 switching, but this only works with
anamorphically recorded tapes and discs, which are rarer than dropping horse
droppings. In the end I suspect your choice will be dictated by other criteria,
such as performance, price, size and other facilities, like sound the system.
EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS
Name: Andy Philips, via e-mail
Kit: Nokia SAT 1800 STV receiver, old LNB
recently upgraded to a Nokia SAT 1800 satellite receiver, Andy is concerned
that he cannot receive any broadcasts from the Astra 1D satellite. He wonders
if this has anything to do with the seven year old LNB he has on his dish, and
if this is the only thing he will have to change?
Expert reply: It has everything to do with that old LNB, and
there’s an easy solution. That’s to install a channel expander module, which
should pull in most of the 1D channels you’re missing. They’re cheap and easy
to fit, it connects between the dish down lead and your receiver. The best deal
at the moment is from BSKYB, who are selling ADX Plus channel expanders for
just £9.99, including post and packing. You can order one by calling 0990 800
811, it’s quite painless, they’re using an automated ordering system, all you
have to do is press a few buttons on your touch-tone phone, and a one-off payment
is added to your monthly subscription.
Name: David Seton, via e-mail
Kit: Sony 29F1 TV
read our favourable review of the Sony 29F1 David went out and brought one, but
he has one gripe -- AV input selection.
He reckons it is awkward to have to step through the various combinations
(SCART 1 composite/SCART 1 RGB/ SCART 2...etc.) to get to view, say, the Astra
receiver. He asks whether it is possible to program a certain channel button -
e.g. Channel 6, to an AV input. David doesn’t have a problem with it, but his
technophobe wife has to keep watching satellite programmes with mono sound, via
the RF connection. He says he considered telephoning Sony UK, but I was told by
friend that all they do is read the instruction book to you down the 'phone! He
wants to know if he’s missed anything in the manual, and whether we can suggest
a sound system to enable him to understand what Sylvester Stallone is saying?
Expert reply: It’s a good idea, and I seem to remember one
or two sets in the past had this, or a similar feature, but not the Sony 29F1.
Why not just use SCART 1
for the satellite input, and chain the VCR, if you have one,
to the VCR SCART on the satellite receiver, that way you won’t have to step
through the other selections. Judging by the Stallone films we’ve seen you’re
not missing much. (Apologies to Sly’s many fans...)
OPEN AND SHUT CASE
Name: Robert Rankine, Dumbarton
Kit: Wants to buy a new Panasonic VCR...
has shortlisted Panasonic HD660 and HS900 VCRs but has been alarmed by comments
from a local dealer, who told him that mail order companies offering these
machines sold ‘seconds’ as new products. Despite reassurance from the companies
concerned, and Panasonic, he wants to know if it is safe to buy mail-order, and
will he get the same kind of service from these companies, if things go wrong.
Expert reply: Panasonic make it perfectly clear that whilst
refurbished and reboxed equipment is sold to dealers, at a reduced cost, they
expect the retailer to pass this information on to the customer. The boxes
containing these items are also clearly marked, with green stickers, and it
should be clear from the packaging that it has been previously opened. It would
be naive to say it never happens, but in our experience the equipment sold by
reputable mail-order companies is brand new and factory fresh. Your statutory
rights are unaffected, whether you purchase direct from a shop or by mail
order. However, when it comes to getting equipment repaired or serviced, it’s
often a lot easier, quicker and more convenient to take the product back to a
local shop, or have them send a service engineer to your home, than to re-pack
it and send it back to the company.
Name: Chris Truman, Newcastle Upon Tyne
Kit: Pace MSS500 satellite receiver, 80cm
Lenson Heath dish, Mitsubishi HS-M50 VCR, Hitachi TV
complains of interference on his satellite channels. He describes it as a
‘chicken wire’ effect, similar to what others have described when using
projection TVs. He says it is most noticeable with light colours, especially
yellow, where criss-cross lines scroll across the screen.
Expert reply: It sounds a lot like some form of external
interference, rather than anything generated internally by your equipment. If
can be difficult to track down. Likely causes include microwave links for
telecommunications equipment, nearby TV, radio, cellphone or pager
transmitters, some medical equipment can generate high levels of microwave
radiation, and there’s several military installations and civil airports in the
area. Check with your neighbours, to see if they’re similarly afflicted, if not
have the alignment of your dish checked, moving it to another location or
mounting it lower down might help.
PRIME TIME’S UP
Name: Stephen Cooper, London SE
Kit: wants to buy a satellite receiver
for his mother
Stephen buy a satellite system in the UK, for his mother who lives in the South
of France, so that she can receive BBC Prime.
Expert reply: This is not a good time to buy a system for
BBC Prime. After the 31st of October this year it will be moving from its
present location on Intelsat at 27.5 degrees, to as yet unspecified digital
transponders on other satellites. If Stephen wants to go ahead he will need a
D2MAC receiver and an appropriately sized dish, both of which can be purchased
in the UK, from specialist dealers. His mother will also need a viewing card.
These can be obtained from TV Extra in Sweden at a cost of £67, but be warned,
you will almost certainly need to buy a new digital receiver, and enter into a
new subscription agreement, if she wants to watch Prime after the end of
October. You can get more details from them on 0046 141 56060. If you can wait,
then call BBC World and Prime Customer Services a little nearer the time, their
number is 0181 576 2221.
Name: Nick Sutton, via e-mail
Kit: really large screens
Problem: What’s the difference between LCD
and CRT projection TVs? Nick says he watches movies, ‘and then some’, so he’s
in the market for a big front-screen projector. He wants more information
though, and would also like to know how much he should expect to spend on a
screen, and whether or not motorised screens are worth the extra?
Expert reply: LCD
projector technology has improved enormously in the past five years, to the
point where they’re taking over from high-intensity CRTs in all but the most
specialised, non-domestic applications. CRTs still have a slight edge over
LCDs, as far as resolution is concerned, but LCDs win in almost every other
respect, including longevity, robustness, power consumption, ease of set-up and
reliability. They’re also smaller and lighter than their CRT counterparts, and
thus more suitable for ceiling installation in the home. Screen sizes of more
than 500-inches are possible, though most models are in the 100 to 300-inch
range, which should suit most users, even those with larger than average living
rooms. As far as screens are concerned, that’s more of a decorative issue, than
a technical one. All top-end domestic video projectors work perfectly well with
a plain white wall, or a normal movie projector screen. The major benefit of a
motorised screen is to be able to make the thing disappear quickly and easily
when you’re not using it, and impress the neighbours...
Name: Dave Collins, via e-mail
Kit: Sony TA-AV590 DPL processor, wants a
wide screen TV
a loyal Mitsubishi fan Dave likes the look of the CT-28BW2B widescreen TV, but
he is most interested in picture quality and features, and has been very
impressed by demos of the Sony KV28WX1 and KV28WS2. Unfortunately he cannot get
a demo of the Mitsi TV locally, so he’s after some unbiased advice, about which
one to choose.
Expert reply: Picture quality on the CT-28BW2B is good, but
the Sony TVs are just that little bit better. The Super Trinitron tubes on
these sets deliver a bright, vibrant image with extra depth. If you introduce
convenience facilities, sound and price into the equation then the balance
starts to tip the other way, however, since you’re running the audio through an
external processor, and you’ve professed to be mainly interested in picture
quality, then the Sony TV still has the edge.
Name: Ray Belling, Kings Lynn
Kit: Bang & Olufsen VHS 80
strange banshee-like wail is coming from Ray’s ageing B&O video recorder,
whenever he presses the play or record buttons. Sometimes it stops and a
picture appears, other times it switches off. It’s an old friend, which cost
Ray a small fortune a few years ago, and he’s reluctant to retire it just yet
as picture and sound quality are both still good, when it works. He want to
know where to squirt the oil can?
Expert reply: Oil is the last thing it needs! This machine,
which must be seven or eight years old by now, was based on a Hitachi chassis.
It is almost certainly suffering from a case of belt stretch. The noise you’re
hearing is caused by drive belts that operate the tape loading arms, slipping
on their pulleys. It’s a relatively simple job for an engineer to replace them,
and while it’s on the bench, it’s probably a good idea to have it cleaned.
Kit: Wants to buy a combi TV/VCR
televideos any good asks Terri? She likes the idea of having a VCR and TV in
one box but wants to know if you get all the facilities of separates, and are
they any more or less reliable than televisions or video recorders on their
Expert reply: Televideos have been around for quite a while
but until quite recently they’ve had limited success as a domestic product.
Most were used as AV presenters, in shops and exhibitions though that’s
changing and a growing number are being brought for home use. Reliability is
not an issue, though they are less convenient than a separate TV and VCR; on
most combis you can’t record one channel, whilst watching another. (This is
only possible on twin-tuner models)
They’re not going to replace the traditional living room TV
and VCR set-up. To begin with most models have 14-inch screens, the largest one
we know about -- soon to be launched by Samsung -- has a 21-inch screen. However, that model, like all the others,
have rather basic 2-head mono VCR decks. You can forget more up-market
facilities like NICAM and stereo hi-fi sound, the most exotic features we could
find on the current crop is a Video Plus+ timer and teletext on the 14-inch
Hitachi C1420VT; Goldstar’s latest 14 and 20-inch televideos have NTSC replay.
Market leaders Philips have 14 and 20 inch models with teletext, NTSC replay,
Video Plus+ and twin tuners, and there’s a twin tuner model in the Samsung
ANY COLOUR YOU LIKE
Name: JJ. Weller, Oxford
Kit: JVC VCR, Toshiba TV
Problem: No problem as such, JJ just wants to
know why all VHS video cassettes are black. He suggests manufacturers should
make them in different colours or see-through, like condoms and Swatch
watches... He for one would buy them.
Expert reply: Good question, in fact a few years
ago several manufacturers tried selling coloured cassettes in the UK, but they
failed dismally. BASF used to do a range of colour-coded blanks; if memory
serves it was red for movies, green for sport and pink for kids. Apparently
market research suggested that they suffered from an image problem, probably a
throw-back to coloured audio cassettes and picture discs, which were perceived
as cheap and nasty, or of poor quality. Transparent cassettes are not possible.
They must be light-proof as VHS decks use photo-sensors, to detect the presence
of a cassette. Black has a number of practical advantages, the carbon pigment
is cheap, thermally stable, light-proof and it can dissipate static charges,
that would attract dust. Maybe the time is right for them to try again.
Kit: Pioneer LD player, Mitsubishi TV
has struck the Finlay household, when several of Simon’s prized collection of
Laserdiscs were lent to a friend. Said friend -- now ex-friend -- didn’t look
after the discs with the care they deserved. Two came back with bad scratches
on the surface, and two others were warped, after spending a day on back seat
of his car, in direct sunlight. The scratched discs play, but are very jumpy,
the warped ones won’t even load, can they be rescued?
Expert reply: You
might just be able to save the scratched discs, but the others have probably
had it. Try using a CD cleaner/polishing solution like Crystal Disc. This works well on audio discs and even quite
deep marks seem to disappear. You can buy it from most good audio and AV
specialists, or find out the address of your nearest supplier by phoning
0181-963 1717. The only thing I can suggest with the warped discs is to warm
them through gently in a very low oven, (gas mark 1..) then put them on a firm flat
surface and weigh them down with some heavy weights. Leave them for a few days and
see what happens. You’ve got nothing to loose. If that doesn’t work then I’m afraid
they’re going to have to end their days in the bin, or hung on the wall, fitted
with a quartz clock movement.
R.Maybury 1997 1604