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Name:             Phil Madden, Douglas, IOM

Kit:                  Toshiba VCR, Pioneer AV amp

Problem:            Phil 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.




Name:             Andy Philips, via e-mail

Kit:                  Nokia SAT 1800 STV receiver, old LNB

Problem:            Having 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

Problem:            Having 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...)



Name:             Robert Rankine, Dumbarton

Kit:                  Wants to buy a new Panasonic VCR...

Problem:            Robert 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

Problem:            Chris 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.



Name:             Stephen Cooper, London SE

Kit:                  wants to buy a satellite receiver for his mother

Problem:            Can 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

Problem:            Being 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

Problem:            A 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. 



Name:             Terri Lampton, Manchester

Kit:                  Wants to buy a combi TV/VCR

Problem:            Are 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 own?


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 range.



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.



Name:             Simon Finlay, Luton

Kit:                  Pioneer LD player, Mitsubishi TV

Problem:            Disaster 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.   



Ó R.Maybury 1997 1604



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