HINTS AND TIPS NOVEMBER
QUERY OF THE MONTH
Name Sandy Chisholm, London SW7
Kit interested in ways of watching NTSC
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Name David L. Poon, Woodford, Essex
Kit Simply wants the best VCR on the
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
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
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.
Name Vernon and Penny Moorhouse,
Kit They want to buy a satellite system
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
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.
Name Graeme Sharp,
Kit Philips 29PT9113C
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
BOX COPY 1
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
BOX COPY 2
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, email@example.com
Kit Pioneer CLD-D515 laserdisc player
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?
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
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.
Name Nick Cummings, Leytonstone, London
Kit Interested in DVD
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
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
Name A. S. Penny, Brixham, Devon
Kit Sony MDP-650, Panasonic TX25 TV
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.
Name Clive Logan, Swindon, Wilts
Kit Pioneer CLD 800 LD player
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
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
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
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
COULD’VE BEEN A CONTENDER
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.
R. Maybury 1997 1809