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HINTS & TIPS/MEET MAKER OCTOBER

 

QUERY OF THE MONTH

 

BURNED FINGERS

Name  Ian H. Bennett, Croydon, Surrey

Kit                   CDi player

Problem            Reading 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

YAMAHA CORPORATION

 

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

 

Then what?

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 interesting.

 

What happened?

The DSP-1 was launched, the very first digital sound-field processor.

 

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 spaces.

 

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.

 

TV TRAUMA

Name  Elliot Grieve, gand@btinternet.com

Kit                   Panasonic TX-28LD1, Mitsubishi HS-M55

Problem            The 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 fix it.

 

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 attention.

 

BREAKING THE CODE

Name              Gareth Millward, gmill@netcomuk.co.uk

Kit                   Thinking about buying a DVD player

Problem            Gareth 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 mod.

 

WIDE OF THE MARK

Name              Dalwinder Singh, dalwsing@dk-uk.com

Kit                   In the market for a widescreen TV

Problem            Having 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 distracting.

 

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 625-line picture.

 

DOUBLE DOLBY?

Name              Stelios Perdios, perdios@roadrunner.atlas.co.uk

Kit                   Toshiba 3357DB TV, interested in the Akai VS-GSDPL VCR

Problem            After 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.

 

FILTER TIP

Name              Andrew D. Murr, Totley, Sheffield

Kit                   Archer Overload attenuator

Problem            Whilst 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.

 

GETTING CONNECTED

Name              Mark Billington, Penzance, Cornwall

Kit                   Mitsubishi CT 21AVB TV, Mitsubishi HS-550 VCR, Pace MSS 100 satellite receiver, Technics AV receiver, Sega Saturn games console

Problem            Mark 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 CT-33B3STX

Problem            The 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.

 

KNOCK-ON EFFECT

Name              David Manvell, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Kit                   Sanyo VM-EX33P camcorder      

Problem            Eighteen 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 this machine.

 

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?

 

LASER LONGEVITY

Name              Sam McKenzie, Sutton, Surrey

Kit                   Philips Laserdisc player

Problem            Sam 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 player.

 

LEADING QUESTION

Name              Denny Richardson, Newcastle

Kit                   Pioneer Laserdisc player

Problem            Denny 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.

 

DVD DILEMMA

Name              Jerry Smalls, Cardigan

Kit                   potential DVD buyer

Problem            Not 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.

 

HISS OFF?

Name              Charles Dexter, via e-mail             

Kit                   looking for a top-quality stereo VCR   

Problem            All 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 soundtrack.

 

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.

 

COMBI-NATION

Name              Simon Embury, Carshalton, Surrey            

Kit                   Panasonic VCR, Sharp NICAM TV   

Problem            TVs 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...

 

GETTING STARTED

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.

 

ENTHUSIASTS

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.

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1997 1808

 

 

 

 

 

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