HINTS & TIPS/MEET MAKER OCTOBER
QUERY OF THE MONTH
Name Ian H. Bennett,
Kit CDi player
too many of the wrong magazines can be dangerous to your wealth, as Ian has
found out. He was persuaded by one -- not us, we hasten to add -- that CD-i was
going to be the new VHS, so he brought a player, FMV cartridge and discs. Now he has discovered that it's not all it
was cracked up to be, and wants to upgrade to DVD. He would like to know if DVD
players brought in the US will play European discs, and vice-versa. He's also
worried about getting his fingers burnt again, and wonders if he'll be reading
about some new format to replace DVD in three years time?
Expert Reply Taking
the last point first; the industry seems at last to have learnt a few lessons
from past experiences. The DVD
specification is reasonably open-ended, able to cope with foreseeable home
entertainment needs, up to and including high-definition TV, and there's a
recordable version in the pipeline. New technologies are being developed all
the time but the consumer electronics industry takes on average between three
and five years to get a new product from the drawing board into the shops. To
date most successful audio and latterly video formats have had 20 to 25 year
life cycles. There’s no reason to suppose DVD will be any different, though we
reckon it might be the last format where
pictures and sound are recorded on tape or disc. We’ve got ten bob on the next big things
being solid-state or microchip storage systems, and video and audio on demand,
where the pictures and sounds of your choice are delivered direct, by a digital
satellite or cable link.
Hollywood and the major movie studios have decided that they
want control of when and where movies are released on DVD, hence the regional
coding that prevents discs brought in one country or territory being played on
machines elsewhere. It's quite likely that some manufacturers will eventually
break rank and produce multi-standard players, and it is possible to 'hack'
into the control software on some current models, but for the time being you
will have to assume that these controls will be maintained. If Ian is worried
he should wait until next Spring, when things should have settled down a bit,
by which time the future of DVD hardware and software should have become a little clearer.
MEET YOUR MAKER
Motorcycles, musical instruments, golf clubs, skis, bath
tubs and oh yes, AV equipment...
Another one of those giant Japanese conglomerates formed
after the Second World War I suppose?
Actually no, Torakusu Yamaha set up shop back in 1887, when
he built his first organ. By the turn of the century his company Nippon Gakki
Co Ltd., started production of upright pianos, followed in 1902 by the first of
their world-renowned grand pianos.
What about hi-fi and home cinema then?
It was musical instruments all the way until 1954, when they
produced the first 125cc motorcycles and hi-fi players
Well, the hi-fi side went a bit quiet, during the late
fifties and early sixties, you might say it was a period of diversification...
They launched a range of archery equipment in 1959, skis in 1961 and bathtubs
in 1964. Production of hi-fi began again in earnest in 1968 and in 1974 they
developed the acclaimed NS100M speaker. The first CD products appeared in 1982
but as far as we’re concerned 1986 was the year things started to get
The DSP-1 was launched, the very first digital sound-field
What’s that when it’s at home?
It was the culmination of a research project into the way we
perceive sound. Yamaha engineers took actual sound measurements from a variety
of musical venues around the world. The R&D people figured out a way to mimic
the acoustics of a large hall, concert theatre or any kind of space, large or
small, using just two speakers.
How did they do that?
They developed a range of electronic processing techniques,
including adding slight amounts of reverberation to the original sound and
filtering certain frequencies, to simulate the way sound waves behave open
And since then?
Revolutionary twin-tube skis, forged titanium golf clubs,
their five millionth piano and five millionth wind instruments in 1991. On the
AV side there’s innovative active servo speakers, plus a succession of high
quality DSP and surround sound products, culminating in their current
top-of-the-range AC-3 Dolby Pro Logic AV amp, the DSP-A3090.
Name Elliot Grieve,
Kit Panasonic TX-28LD1, Mitsubishi
picture on Elliot's Panasonic TV starts to flash whenever the scene on the
screen is dark and the room lighting is low, could this be something to do with
some sort of automatic brightness gizmo? He's also having problems with
ghosting on his Mitsubishi VCR, connected to the TV using a SCART lead, via his
Pace PRD800 satellite receiver. A laserdisc player, connected to the TV in the
same manner has a perfect picture.
Expert Reply Elliot's
TV doesn't have Panasonic’s C.A.T.S automatic picture control system, so the
flashing is most likely some kind of fault. Since the set is less than a year
old it is still under warranty and it is the responsibility of the retailer to
It sounds as if his VCR has a problem too; the most likely
cause is chroma delay, where the coloured areas of the picture are slightly
displaced, creating the ghosting effect you describe. This may just be a simple
misalignment, or something a more serious, in either case it needs expert
BREAKING THE CODE
Name Gareth Millward,
Kit Thinking about buying a DVD player
would like to buy a DVD player but is put off by the idea of the digital
coding, that would prevent him playing the hundreds of NTSC laserdiscs he has
collected. He has heard about software upgrade that can make DVD players multi-standard
and would like to know if we think this is feasible?
Expert Reply Currently
the Pioneer DVL-700 is the only DVD deck that can play laserdiscs as well, but
it’s not yet on sale in the UK. The final PAL spec has still to be decided but
it’s likely that it will be able to replay NTSC laserdiscs, but not Territory 1
(USA) DVDs. As far as we’re aware there’s no modification that will allow it to
do so. The upgrades you’ve heard about have been circulated on the internet,
but they only apply to a very small number of early decks. It's a loophole that
can be quickly and easily closed by the manufacturers -- if they have a mind to
do so -- it also requires a fair amount of technical knowledge to carry out the
WIDE OF THE MARK
Name Dalwinder Singh, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kit In the market for a widescreen TV
decided to buy a widescreen TV, Dalwinder has a few questions. He has seen a
16:9 TV displaying a normal TV picture and was not keen on the zoom display. He
wants to know if this can be switched off? Secondly, are there any widescreen
broadcasts -- terrestrial or satellite -- at the moment, and lastly, are there
any widescreen movies on tape or disc, that can be brought or hired?
Expert reply All
widescreen TVs have a range of display modes, including normal 4:3, so yes the
zoom effect can be turned off. Normal
zoom can look a bit odd as the picture is electronically enlarged to fill the
whole screen. This tends to lop off the tops of peoples heads, and captions at
the bottom of the screen. Some models have what is known as a ‘panorama’
display mode, that enlarge a 4:3 picture to full screen height -- so nothing is
lost from the top or bottom of the image, the outer two thirds of the picture
are stretched, so it fills the screen, width-wise. An most of the action
normally occurs in the middle of the picture the distortion isn’t too
The only true widescreen transmissions available in the UK
are a few hours each week from C4, who are using the PALplus system. It's
actually very good but none of the other broadcasters have adopted the system,
preferring instead to wait for digital TV, so PALplus has a somewhat bleak
future. Widescreen transmissions from
several European broadcasters are also available if you have a specialised MAC
satellite receiver. There are plenty of broadcasts on TV, and movies on tape or
disc, in 'letterboxed' format (with black bars at the top and bottom of the
picture), and these can be enlarged to fill a 16:9 display, but since picture
lines are lost in the black bars, the image will not look as crisp as a normal
Name Stelios Perdios,
Kit Toshiba 3357DB TV, interested in the
Akai VS-GSDPL VCR
reading our review of the Akai VCR Stelios wants one, but he's wondering if he
can use it to make Dolby Pro Logic recordings and whether or not it can be used
with his present set-up, where all terrestrial and satellite channels are fed
into his home via cable?
Expert reply Why
would you need another Dolby Pro Logic decoder in your system? You already have
one in the TV. You can't make Dolby Pro Logic recordings as such, but any NICAM
stereo VCR can record broadcasts with stereo soundtracks that contain surround
sound information. The only point of contention is whether or not your cable
operator broadcasts in stereo, if not surround sound information will be lost.
If you are unable to receive normal terrestrial and satellite broadcasts then
your only source of material will be pre-recorded movies on tape.
Name Andrew D. Murr, Totley, Sheffield
Kit Archer Overload attenuator
on holiday recently Andrew's choice of reading material included a Channel 5
booklet, which included some advice on using an 'attenuator', to block the
signal, if it was causing interference. He duly purchased a 75 ohm attenuator
from his local Tandy store. The instructions are almost non-existent and he
cannot figure out how to use it.
Expert reply The
C5 booklet appears to have been misleading. An attenuator is a device for
reducing the strength of TV signals cross the whole UHF band. They're normally
only needed when living in close proximity to a TV transmitter, where signals
from several channels 'swamp' the tuner
by interacting with one another. Interference problems caused by C5
transmissions can be cured using a selective filter (they can look like
attenuators). They fit into the aerial feed cable , or plug into the TV or VCR
aerial socket, and filter out the
specific band of frequencies that C5 are using. They can be obtained free of
charge from C5 by phoning 0500 567 328.
Name Mark Billington, Penzance, Cornwall
Kit Mitsubishi CT 21AVB TV, Mitsubishi
HS-550 VCR, Pace MSS 100 satellite receiver, Technics AV receiver, Sega Saturn
simply wants to know how to connect that little lot together?
Expert reply Mark
needs two type V or U SCART-to-SCART cables, one goes between the satellite
receiver TV out and AV1 on the VCR. The second one connect the AV2 on the VCR
to the video recorder SCART on the TV.
Mark will also need two stereo phono to phono leads, they connect to the
‘aux’ and ‘VCR’ inputs on the AV receiver, and the stereo line output sockets on
the VCR an the satellite receiver. Lastly you need the phono AV lead that came
with your video game, this connects to the front AV input sockets on the TV,
alternatively, if you want a more permanent installation, use a SCART adaptor,
and put it into the TV’s second rear AV input.
HALO HALO HALO
Name Paul Gardiner, Keston, Kent
Kit Pioneer CLD 925, Mitsubishi
picture on Paul's Mitsubishi TV was in a terrible state, with blurred teletext,
poor geometry and a red 'halo' on NTSC playback from the laserdisc player. The
set was replaced with another and most of the faults disappeared, except for
the NTSC halo. Mitsubishi engineers have confirmed that the TV is in spec, but
he is not satisfied.
Expert reply The
NTSC colour TV system is not that wonderful at the best of times. Colour errors
are quite common, fringing can and does occur. How critical are you being? If
you're expecting NTSC replay on a system primarily designed for PAL signals to
be as good as PAL-only operation, then I'm afraid you will be disappointed.
However, if you feel there is a fault, or you have been genuinely misled about
what to expect, then you should persist with your compliant and take it up, in
writing, with Mitsubishi Customer Services.
Name David Manvell, Chesterfield,
Kit Sanyo VM-EX33P camcorder
months after buying his Sanyo camcorder a fault has developed. An engineer
diagnosed a detached plug, that will cost almost £400 to repair. The engineer suggested
that the fault may have been caused by a blow to the lens, which David
strenuously denies happening. Sanyo have refused to contribute to the cost of
the repair so David wants to know if there’s any history of similar faults with
Expert reply Detached
plugs are something of a rarity and not, as far as we're aware, a common fault
on this or any other model of camcorder. We'd have to agree with the engineer,
that physical shock is the most likely cause, especially after a period of 18
months of presumably normal use. Nevertheless, £400 sounds like rather a lot of
money for such an apparently straightforward repair. We checked with Sanyo’s service department who confirmed that such
a large bill would normally involve the replacement of a major component. Have
you tried asking for estimates from other companies in your area?
Name Sam McKenzie, Sutton, Surrey
Kit Philips Laserdisc player
has had his player since 1992 and has noticed that several discs are now
playing erratically. When he brought the machine he remembered reading
somewhere that laser pickups wore out and needed to be replaced. If so, could
that explain the odd behaviour?
Expert reply It's
far more likely that the errant discs need cleaning, or they have become
scratched. It's probably time the lens had a wash and brush up as well, if it
hasn't been serviced recently, try using a good quality CD cleaning kit. The
very first laserdisc and CD players -- produced in the early 1980s -- used a
gas discharge laser tube, with a limited life expectancy, maybe that's what
you've read about, however, since then all decks have used solid-state laser
diodes that normally outlast the mechanical components in a CD or laserdisc
Name Denny Richardson, Newcastle
Kit Pioneer Laserdisc player
wants to know if he can connect his laserdisc player to an ancient Sanyo
Betamax VCR. The problem is, the sockets not the usual mixture of SCART and
phono. He asks if anyone still makes suitable connecting leads?
Expert reply Denny
can connect the two machines together and make recordings from laserdisc --
copyright issues notwithstanding -- but the Sanyo VCR only has a mono linear
soundtrack, so audio quality will be relatively poor. His machine has a 5-pin
DIN socket for the audio input and output and SO239 screw-collar RF sockets for
the video signals. Leads are still available from specialist companies, your
local AV dealer should be able to order a set for you.
Name Jerry Smalls, Cardigan
Kit potential DVD buyer
so much a problem, Jerry is just curious about the audio potential of DVD, and
whether or not we can expect a re-run of the current situation in CD, with
outlandishly priced audiophile and videophile products.
Expert reply DVD
has enormous capacity, the final specs have yet to be decided by 8cm and 12cm
discs promise many hours of ‘better than CD quality’, music potentially enough
for a band or artist's entire repertoire. Running times will depend on the
compression system used. There’s also the possibility of ‘legacy’ discs, with
audio and video on one side, and audio on the other. DVD begins life with the intention of it being a mass-market
technology, unlike CD, which was very expensive to begin with. High-end
products will undoubtedly arrive in due course, along with all the gadgets,
gizmos and accessories.
Name Charles Dexter, via e-mail
Kit looking for a top-quality stereo VCR
of the NICAM VCRs Charles has listened too have what he describes as
‘unacceptable’ levels of background noise. He want’s to know why and if there’s
one we can recommend, that doesn’t sound like there’s a hissing snake on the
Expert Reply The
stereo hi-fi recording system can be a bit noisy, compared with digital sources
like CD. It also varies from machine to machine, though none are immune from
hiss. There is a correlation between price and performance, so you’re going to
have to start thinking in terms of spending £400 or more. That said, the JVC
HR-J635 at £380 has good noise suppression, in the sub-£450 price bracket the
Panasonic NV-HD610 is the one to go for, all other things being equal.
Name Simon Embury, Carshalton, Surrey
Kit Panasonic VCR, Sharp NICAM TV
with built-in VCRs seem like a good idea to Simon, he wants to know when
someone is going to make one with a decent-sized screen, and NICAM sound?
Expert Reply Big-screen
combis have been around for some time, though manufacturers in their wisdom
have decided against marketing them in the UK. Most of the models available
here have 14-inch screens. When they first appeared, about ten years ago, they
were mostly sold as in-store video presenters, recently they’ve started to
break into the second TV and bedroom market. The largest combi on sale right
now is the Samsung TVP-5350iST, which has a 21-inch screen. Traditionally small
combis have mono sound systems. The market has been doing so well lately that
we know a couple of manufacturers are planning to introduce larger models, with
stereo sound. No names, no pack-drill but we wouldn’t be at all surprised to
see one or two 25-inch NICAM combis next April, with at least one of them
coming from a European company whose name begins with a P...
LINKING IT ALL TOGETHER
Connecting all the various parts of an AV system together
can result in a lot of confusion. The trick is to keep it simple, and draw up a
plan, before you go plugging things together. All televisions, video recorders
and satellite receivers sold in this country have SCART AV sockets. AV
amplifiers, receivers, hi-fi systems and surround-sound components normally use
phono (aka RCA or ‘cinch’) connectors for line-level audio and occasionally
composite video inputs and outputs. However, only a very small handful of
systems or components actually do anything to the video signal -- source
switching and on-screen displays are about as far as it goes. In most cases however,
the video signal passes through the device, so they can be ignored as video source
switching will normally be handled by the TV or VCR.
If you have a satellite receiver with three SCART sockets
make that the first link in the chain by connecting the TV socket to the television,
and use a second SCART-to-SCART lead, to the VCR socket to the stereo video
recorder. If you're using an AV system for the sound, connect the line audio
outputs from the VCR and satellite to the relevant inputs on the AV amplifier.
If there are any other AV components in the system (laserdisc player, etc.),
this should be connected by SCART lead to the spare AV input on the VCR, or
second SCART on the TV, if it has one.
On older components, with single SCART sockets, it may be necessary to
use a SCART switch box, available from AV dealers.
COMMON TV PICTURE PROBLEMS
Around ninety percent of TV picture problems are cause by
old or unsuitable TV aerials. They don't last forever, connections corrode,
they can be knocked out of alignment by high-winds, birds or shoddy
installation, and should be checked every couple of years. It's not a bad idea
to renew any aerial and cables that are more than eight to ten years old.
Growing vegetation or new buildings can also interfere with the signal, so bear
that in mind if there has been a sudden change in picture quality.
Deterioration in VCR picture quality is almost always due to
clogged or dirty heads. A quick run-through with a good quality cleaner tape,
two or three times a year, normally restores the machine to optimum
performance. Check leads and cables on a regular basis. Cheap and nasty SCART
leads can cause problems, it's worth reseating the plugs every so often, and if
your equipment is used in a smoky or polluted environment, a quick squirt of specially-formulated
contact cleaner on the plugs and sockets wouldn't go amiss every so often.
BOX COPY 1
GETTING STARTED -- AC-3
In the trade AC-3, or Dolby Digital is known as a 5.1 sound
system. That means it has five full bandwidth digital audio channels, plus one
other narrow bandwidth channel, that is used to carry low-frequency bass
sounds. Unlike four-channel Dolby surround soundtracks -- where channel
separation is relatively poor -- each AC-3 channel is 'discrete', in other
words it is completely independent from all the others. Incidentally, AC stands
for ‘audio code’ and the 3 signifies it is a third-generation system.
AC-3 soundtracks take up a fair amount of space on a
recording, far too much in fact to get onto tape. However, since there are fewer lines in an NTSC picture there is
just enough space to squeeze AC-3 data onto laserdisc; it occupies one of the
redundant analogue soundtracks. Unfortunately, because of the greater complexity
and space needed by a PAL video signal, this extra room is not available, consequently
AC-3 soundtracks are only available on NTSC laserdiscs. There is plenty of room
for multi-channel soundtracks on DVD recordings, though it is likely that PAL
discs will use the MPEG audio or Musicam system, to encode the audio
information. It remains to be seen if
software companies will include AC-3 data as well.
BOX COPY 2
MULTI STANDARD DVD?
One of the benefits of digitally recorded video and audio is
that there's no longer any need to worry about different TV standards. Picture
and sound data exists in a common format on tape or disc, and the machine it is
played back on converts the signal to the local TV standard, whether it is PAL
or NTSC. So in theory a DVD movie brought anywhere in the world, will play on
any deck. However, in order to protect their marketing arrangements, and to
avoid problems with censorship and local languages, discs will contain what is
known as regional coding, to ensure they will only play on machines in
designated territories. However, it has been found that it is possible to
override the coding systems on some players, usually by altering the built-in
software. Details of how to do it have been published on the internet.
Technically its not difficult, though a certain amount of
knowledge is required. However, by interfering with a players operating system
the warranty will become void, and it is quite possible that the deck in
question may behave erratically, or even stop working altogether. Manufacturers
are unlikely to cooperate with repairs.
R. Maybury 1997 1808