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HINTS AND TIPS NOVEMBER

 

QUERY OF THE MONTH

 

MAINTAINING STANDARDS

Name              Sandy Chisholm, London SW7                          

Kit                   interested in ways of watching NTSC tapes   

Problem            Whilst on a holiday to the US Sandy brought a number of tapes to fill gaps in her collection. She was aware that they wouldn’t play on her VCR, but a friend’s machine does have NTSC replay. Sandy want to know if there’s any way she can copy them onto her machine, so she doesn’t have to keep borrowing her friend’s VCR?

 

Expert Reply              Leaving the issue of copyright aside for a moment, the only way to do it would be to ‘transcode’ the recordings, in other word convert it from one format to another. There are a number of specialist firms who carry out this sort of work, mainly for camcorder owners, wishing to send tapes abroad, or wanting to watch video movies sent to them. The video output signal from a VCR with NTSC replay isn’t pure PAL, and cannot be recorded; most of the conversion work is actually done by the TV. Panasonic used to make a VCR that could convert from one system to another (i.e. NTSC to PAL), sadly the NV-W1 is no longer in production, you might be able to find one if you hunt around, but it’s not going to be cheap! There have been one or two other models since then, with built-in standards converters, though all the one’s we’ve seen have been very poor quality. However, you should be aware that duplicating a copyright recording is illegal, even if its only for your personal consumption; companies who carry out conversion work will normally refuse to touch copyright material.  In the end the only satisfactory solution will be to get your own VCR with NTSC replay.

 

MEET YOUR MAKER -- PANASONIC

 

You name it, they either invented it, or they make it, with a good mid-range specification and competitively priced...

 

So is there a Mr Panasonic?

Panasonic is just one of a multitude of divisions and brand names owned by the giant Matsushita Electric Industrial Company. It was founded in Osaka Japan in 1918 by Konosuke Matsushita, who incidentally was just 23 years old at the time.

 

From small beginnings?

You bet. He started out by designing and making an electrical attachment plug in his tiny workshop. The first two employees were his wife and brother-in-law. Matsushita died in 1989 -- still at the helm -- at the ripe old age of 94.

 

Any milestones?

1932 was a pivotal year for Matsushita. He set out his far-reaching business philosophy and management objectives, which his company, and many other Japanese concerns adhere to, to this day.

 

Sounds a bit Zen, tell me more

‘Through the manufacture of high-quality, high performance products that meet the needs of our customers we will devote ourselves to the progress and development of society and the well-being of people through our business activities, thereby enhancing the quality of life throughout the world’

 

What about those other brands?

The ‘National’ name was first used in 1927 on a battery powered lamp. It is still used on home appliances sold in Japan, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The ‘teccy’ sounding Panasonic name was coined in 1955, it was first used on a range of loudspeakers, made for export. The Technics brand appeared in 1965, on high performance speakers designed for the Japanese market. In the US they use the Quasar brand on TVs, VCRs and microwaves, after it was acquired from Motorola. They are also the parent company of JVC and countless industrial concerns, involved in everything from refrigeration to telecommunications.

 

What about the UK?

Panasonic UK are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. They set up shop in 1972 in Slough with 34 employees. Now they’ve got almost 5000 people working for them, with a huge distribution centre in Northampton, eight manufacturing plants and two R&D facilities.

 

Any tasty technological tit-bits?

At the moment they’re putting their not inconsiderable weight behind DVD, plasma displays, digital video systems, mobile communications, you name, they’ve got a finger in the pie.

 

TV/VCR AND SATELLITE QUERIES

 

TOP TAPER

Name              David L. Poon, Woodford, Essex                         

Kit                   Simply wants the best VCR on the market           

Problem            An apparently simple question, David wants to know which, in our opinion, is the ultimate VCR, how much does it cost, and where can he buy one?   

Expert Reply  It’s not as simple as it sounds. Professional machines deliver the best performance but we have to count them out on the grounds that they’re not designed for domestic use, nor do they have TV tuners or timers. If we can put the question of cassette format to one side as well, then my vote goes to the mighty Sony DHR-1000. It’s a full-size DVC machine, with NICAM and all the rest of it; it will set you back £3,300. It won’t play tapes from your local Blockbuster store but the picture quality will bring tears to your eyes. If David could hang on for another year or so I would suggest he takes a look at the new D-VHS machines which are in the pipeline. If he can’t wait then I’ll nominate two Super VHS video recorders, the JVC HR-S700 and the Panasonic NV-HS900, they’re both available for around £700. If he can put up with plain vanilla VHS -- and counting the pennies -- then it’s JVC again, this time with the HR-DD845, costing £400.  

 

THE SOUND OF SKY

Name              Neil Westwood, via e-mail       

Kit                   thinking about digital satellite          

Problem            With dozens of digital satellite TV channels just looming over the horizon, Neil asks the perfectly innocent question about what sort of audio the new system will use?   

 

Expert Reply              Don’t know is the simple answer. At the time of going to press the exact nature, configuration and socketry requirements of the audio channels that will accompany BSKYB broadcasts is being kept under wraps -- assuming the final decisions have been taken... As soon as we know, we’ll pass it on.

 

LOFTY AMBITIONS

Name              Vernon and Penny Moorhouse, Bridgend, Glamorgan

Kit                   They want to buy a satellite system           

Problem            Vernon and Penny have just moved to Wales and have just discovered that their house has a restrictive covenant, which prohibits the erection of a aerial or satellite dish. There is local cable TV but it’s expensive and doesn’t provide the full range of channels they want to watch. They would like to know if it’s possible to install a satellite dish in a loft, and if so, which is the best model?

 

Expert Reply            The signals from TV satellites are unimaginably weak by the time they’ve struggled through the earth’s atmosphere, which is why highly efficient antennas are needed to pick them up. Anything between the dish and the satellite -- roof tiles, or even the leaves on a tree -- are enough to wipe out the signal, so mounting a satellite dish in your loft would be a complete waste of time, unless you have a loft window, that just happens to face in the right direction. The covenant is obviously intended to stop people putting up ugly or unsympathetically sited dishes or aerials. It’s worth talking to local satellite installation firms, to see if they can find a spot on your property where a dish or maybe even a flat-plate antenna can be hidden or concealed, and camouflaged, so that it won’t be seen. If it can be done it’s best to keep it all above board and talk to whoever is responsible for policing the covenant, to seek their permission.

 

SNAP CRACKLE...

Name              Graeme Sharp, graeme@deuce2.demon.co.uk

Kit                   Philips 29PT9113C    

Problem            Whenever the picture on Graeme’s TV changes suddenly from a light scene to a darker one, the set makes a ‘crackling’ sound. He reckons it has something to do with a build-up of static electricity. He has had the TV replaced and the second one does exactly the same thing. He want’s to know if this is normal behaviour for a large screen TV?

 

Expert Reply            The tube in a colour TV is driven by an EHT (extra high tension) supply of around 25,000 volts, which is the source of the crackling noise you’re hearing. This creates a static charge on the screen and around the tube, and it’s normal to hear it dissipate when the TV is turned off. There is a big change in energy level when the screen suddenly goes from light to dark, which can be accompanied by a brief crackle, though it’s unusual to hear it at normal volume levels. However, the sound of static discharge can be a lot more noticeable when the air is very dry, so I’m wondering if it’s something to do with the ventilation or heating system in Graeme’s home. If that’s the case it might be worth experimenting with a room humidifier. 

 

BURSTING THE BUBBLE

Name              Tony Steer, Ellon, Grampian                               

Kit                   Sony SLV-E90 VCR   

Problem            A Lion King cassette has become jammed in Tony’s VCR and whenever the machine is switched on it tries to eject the tape, but just keep on cycling in and out. He thinks he knows what the problem is as a piece of bubble gum his six-year old daughter had been chewing, mysteriously disappeared, and she looks very guilty. He thinks it may have been stuck to the bottom of her tape. Unfortunately Tony lives miles from anywhere and cannot get to a Sony dealer, and the local handyman won’t touch it. Can we help?

 

Expert Reply            Normally we wouldn’t encourage anyone to go poking around inside a VCR but we’ll make an exception in your case. First switch off the machine and disconnect the mains cable from the back, as well as all of the aerial and SCART leads. Remove the top of the case --  it’s held in place by four Philips-head screw, two each side. On the right side of the tape carrier you will see a small motor, connected by gears to the loading mechanism. Gently rotate the shaft of the motor clockwise using your finger; a thumbwheel protrudes through  a slot in the chassis. It should turn quite easily, though you may have to hold it between turns as it’s inclined to spring back. This should make the carrier rise up slowly. When it has reached the top, you should be able to prise the cassette free. Remove any traces of gum from the tape carrier, making sure no bits fall into the deck mechanism below. Pop the lid back on and reconnect the power. If all’s well the loading mechanism will chunter away and cycle back to the tape out condition.

 

BOX COPY 1

GETTING STARTED

SATELLITE SOUND

If you’re in the market for a satellite receiver look closely at the front panel. If you see a little logo featuring a Panda, that’s a very good sign. It tells you the receiver in question is fitted with the Wegner Corporation’s Panda 1 noise reduction system. It’s well worth having because analogue satellite audio can be very hissy indeed. By the time satellite signals reach your dish they’ve been on a long, arduous journey of 72,000 kilometres, passing through the Earth’s atmosphere, twice.

 

Panda, (originally PNDA), stands for ‘processed narrow deviation audio’. The Panda 1 system works in a similar manner to other forms of noise processing in that the wanted frequency components of the signal  -- i.e. the soundtrack -- are electronically emphasised during transmission, thus making the part of the signal that will be affected by noise less significant. When the signal reaches the receiver the signal is de-emphasised, to restore it to its original condition. Panda 1 is an adaptive system, that reacts to changes in signal levels. It works very well indeed, and is still the most effective system, though several manufacturers have developed their own noise reduction technology and the differences are becoming harder to spot. Noise reduction systems like Panda will not be necessary on digital satellite receivers.

 

BOX COPY 2

SCREEN GEOMETRY

In the olden days -- more than ten years ago -- colour television pictures had a nasty habit of going out of bonk, which meant regular visits from the men with screwdrivers. Things have got a lot better since then. Most TVs manage to keep fairly close to their original  factory specifications by constantly monitoring picture parameters, and where necessary, making automatic adjustments. Geometry faults, where the picture becomes distorted  -- are much less common nowadays, but what happens when your picture starts to go skew-whiff? Don’t bother looking for any controls on the back of the set. They disappeared inside long ago, in fact many TV manufacturers have done away with them altogether.

 

Most TVs are now fitted with software controls, that can be accessed from the remote control handset, but only if you know the engineering special access codes.  For obvious reasons manufacturers do not publicise the codes as they know only too well that consumers will not be able to resist the temptation to have a fiddle...

 

It’s easy to check for geometry faults if you can display a test card, though unless you have to get up pretty early to see one. If the central circle isn’t perfectly round the picture ‘linearity’ needs adjustment. Bowed sides or curved lines and grids indicate ‘pincushion’ errors.

 

LD AND DVD QUERIES

 

IF IT ‘AINT BROKE...

Name              Cameron Jones, csjones@msn.com                

Kit                   Pioneer CLD-D515 laserdisc player 

Problem            Before he purchased his current player two months ago, Cameron wondered if he should wait for DVD. However, having been bitten once in the past, by CD-i, he’s naturally sceptical about new formats. Having lived with laserdisc for some time he’s bowled over by the picture quality and sound. He’s read that there’s still problems with motion artefacts on DVD, but even if that’s not the case, how much better can it be? 

 

Expert Reply            DVD has the potential to be every bit as good as laserdisc from day-one -- much will depend on the software  --  but what’s more important is that it can get even better. The format is effectively open-ended, with the ability to grow and improve with technical developments. Laserdisc, on the other hand, is stuck in a rut, that it cannot get out of. There’s no easy way to increase recording capacity or reduce disc size. That is a huge drawback, and one of the main reasons laserdisc can have no future as a mass-market product. We’ve become accustomed to the convenience of the 12cm disc format. Who wants to get up to change sides or discs halfway through a movie? If and when we get recordable DVD we can chuck out our VCRs as well.  Cameron can continue to enjoy his laserdisc player for a few years yet, but all the signs are that it will be quickly overtaken by DVD, as hardware and software companies ramp up production.

 

RGB, DVD, OK?

Name              David Perry, Knowle, Bristol                        

Kit                   potential DVD buyer?

Problem            David clearly knows his stuff and has noticed that none of the reviews of DVD players he has seen, make any mention of whether or not they have RGB video outputs. As he points out, this will give the clearest sharpest picture, so do any of them have RGB outputs? 

 

Expert Reply            Good question. We put it to a number of manufacturers poised to launch decks in the UK. The only DVD players we can say with certainty, will have RGB outputs are the Philips DVD-730 and DVD-930. Sony say theirs will ‘probably’ have RGB, but the final decision has still to be taken. Those we’re pretty sure won’t have it are the Thomson and Panasonic machines. The others were either uncertain or said that the final specs had yet to be decided. All manufacturers stressed that their decks would have both composite and Y/C outputs, the latter being nearly as good as RGB, and compatible with the greatest number of home cinema TVs.

 

DISC DISCOUNTS?

Name              Nick Cummings, Leytonstone, London

Kit                   Interested in DVD    

Problem            Much has been written about DVD hardware and audio standards, but Nick say’s he seen little or nothing about the discs. He has two questions, that he wants satisfactory answers to, before he opens his wallet. Firstly he wants to know how much discs will cost, secondly, will they be available for rent?

 

Expert Reply            Warner have publicly stated they expect their movies to sell for the equivalent of $25, or roughly the same as a new movie release on tape. It’s far too early to say whether or not a rental market will develop. It’s fairly obvious the industry would like to encourage a ‘collector culture’, but there’s no reason to suppose that if DVD takes off big time rental companies won’t try to get a slice of the action.

 

THE RIGHT CONNECTIONS

Name              Sally Conway, Southend, Essex                         

Kit                   Sony MDP8500 LD player, Yamaha AV amplifier, Toshiba NICAM VCR, Philips TV      

Problem            A generous relative have given Sally a laserdisc player and a substantial collection of discs, that’s she’s looking forward to viewing. The only trouble is she has been getting conflicting advice on how to connect up her system, for the best picture and sound performance.

 

Expert Reply            Start by connecting the laserdisc player and the VCR to the TV using separate U or V-type SCART cables. The aerial lead is routed to the TV via the VCR. The stereo line audio outputs from the laserdisc player and VCR should go to the appropriate inputs on the Yamaha amplifier, using double-ended phono leads. This arrangement will give you the most flexibility, and best all-round performance

 

SPARKLING PERFORMANCE

Name              A. S. Penny, Brixham, Devon

Kit                   Sony MDP-650, Panasonic TX25 TV        

Problem          Since replacing his ageing Sony TV with the Panasonic set ‘Sparkly’ dots and diagonal lines, that come and go, have started to show up whenever he plays certain NTSC Laserdiscs. Since he only started to notice these defects after he bought the new TV, he wonders if this has anything to do with it.?

 

Expert Reply            Probably not. If you have other NTSC and PAL discs that are playing okay then my feeling is that it has something to do with just those discs. Make a note of where the dots and lines appear, and if they’re always in the same place then the discs are definitely faulty. The obvious cause is surface contamination or scratches, but if they’re clean then it could be a problem with the pressing, that is just starting to show up. I would be especially suspicious if the fault were showing up close to the beginning or end of a side.

 

REMOTE REMOTE

Name              Clive Logan, Swindon, Wilts                                      

Kit                   Pioneer CLD 800 LD player      

Problem            The remote control handset for Clive’s Pioneer laserdisc player has developed some strange habits. It works only intermittently, when you hit it on the arm of the sofa, the range is piss-poor and gets through batteries at the rate of a set a week.

 

Expert reply            I am not normally a betting man but I would lay odds that you, or someone else in the family, has spilled some sort of liquid on the keypad. Maybe the dog has been giving it a lick, or one of the kids tried it out in the bath, to see if it floats. Anyway,  my guess is that some sort of sticky fluid has seeped onto the contact board beneath the rubber membrane keypad. This is either causing one of the keys to stick down, or it is shorting a contact, which explains the excessive battery consumption. Bashing the remote temporarily frees the key or breaks the contact. The only thing you can do is carefully prise open the handset and clean the contact plate with a lightly moistened cloth.

 

BOX COPY 1

GETTING STARTED

LOOKING AFTER LASERDISCS

Laserdiscs are surprisingly tough. They’re a lot more stable than vinyl LPs for example, which wilt if you put them within 10 feet of a radiator, but they still need looking after. Public enemy number one is scratches. The only way to avoid them  is to handle your discs with care, and put them back into their slip case as soon as it’s ejected from the player. Yes, we know they look nice and shiny on the coffee table, but it only takes one scratch to render the disc useless.

 

Generally speaking Laserdiscs, and most other forms of optical storage media, are happy if you’re happy. In other words they’re designed to endure the same kind of environmental conditions as you. That means storing the discs in temperatures between 0 to 30 degrees centigrade, preferably towards the middle of that range, with no sharp variations. Constant high levels of humidity can be damaging to booth the disc and the packaging so try to keep your recordings in a cool, dry atmosphere. Unlike magnetic recordings, laser discs are not affected by magnetic or RF fields, but they don’t like other forms of radiation, particularly intense ultra violet, which can degrade the plastic, so keep them out of direct sunlight.  

 

BOX COPY 2

PICTURE QUALITY -- HOW DOES NTSC COMPARE WITH PAL?

The NTSC colour television system used to have a pretty bad reputation. Engineers joked that it stood for ‘never twice the same colour’ a reference to the sometimes flaky error correction techniques,  that turned faces green, and the sky yellow, if the TV broadcast signal suffered interference or ghosting. NTSC TV performance has got a lot better, thanks largely to improvements in microchip processing technology so, as far as colour fidelity is concerned, there’s not a great deal of difference between NTSC and PAL.

 

However off-air PAL TV pictures are noticeably sharper than their NTSC counterparts, due to the increased number of picture lines. There’s 625 of them in a PAL signal, (though not all of them are used for picture information), the NTSC standard has 525 lines, so, on paper at least, a PAL picture contains around 15% more detail. By the time PAL and NTSC signals are recorded on VHS tape the differences become relatively minor and you would have to look quite closely to spot them. Under ideal conditions PAL Laserdiscs should look crisper than NTSC discs, though a lot depends on the care taken during the transcription process.

 

COULD’VE BEEN A CONTENDER

PALplus

 

What are you? A rather nifty way of squeezing a full-definition widescreen picture into a normal PAL TV signal.  I made my UK debut back in 1990.

 

How do you work? On an ordinary TV a PALplus picture looks perfectly normal, though there’s a couple of thin black bands at the top and bottom of the screen. They contain the extra picture information that a PALplus TV uses to recreate a full-width widescreen picture.

 

Sounds simple enough, but what about the transmitter end?

No problem there either, PALplus signals are virtually identical to normal 625-line PAL TV transmissions so apart from some extra studio equipment, it’s relatively easy to implement

 

OK, so what went wrong?

It was all going really well until digital TV came along. Rather than invest in new equipment for a system that would eventually be phased out, broadcasters like the BBC said their widescreen TV plans were going on hold, to wait for digital technology

 

So that’s it?

No, Channel 4 still broadcast a few hours of PALplus programming each week -- mostly movies -- and I’m still quite popular in Germany and Scandinavia, but I’m afraid the writing is on the wall.

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1997 1809

 

 

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