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NEWS JULY/AUGUST

 

MISSING LINKS

You probably won’t have heard of Project 50, or are ever likely to. It is the internal code name used by Philips for an innovative control system, designed to enable different makes and brands of VCRs and TVs to communicate with one another, using pin 10 of the SCART AV connector. It’s not exactly a new idea, indeed a few years ago Philips were behind an even grander scheme, called D2B or the Domestic Digital Bus, that would have had everything from hi-fis to toasters talking to one another, but lack of industry agreement meant it was shelved. Project 50 on the other hand, has been quietly adopted by a number of leading TV and VCR manufacturers. Sounds good, but the trouble is, hardly anyone seems to knows anything about it.

 

Project 50 evolved into a facility that Philips call EasyLink, it was developed as a precursor to the Electronic Programme Guide, the text and data system that will eventually make navigating the hundreds of digital channels a whole lot easier. Now here comes the weird bit. The same facility -- supposedly compatible with EasyLink -- is being marketed by Grundig as MegaLogic, Sony call their system SmartLink and Panasonic have gone for the trip-off-the-tongue NextViewLink.

 

One manufacturer, who we cannot name, has provisionally decided to call their system Linkeasy; Hitachi will be introducing their as yet unnamed version next year, and several other companies have indicated to us that they have either products in the pipeline, or have licensed the system, and are waiting to see how the market responds.

 

We’ve been told that there were plans to bring all the names together under one generic banner, ‘AV Link’ was one suggestion, though as far as we’re aware everyone is sticking grimly to their own house-names for the moment.

 

But what is it? In its present form it has six key functions. The first is rather boringly known as one-touch record but we reckon it should be called ‘wizzywire’ (wysiwyr or what-you-see-is-what-you-record...). The idea is when EasyLink/SmartLink/MegaLogic etc., TVs and VCRs are connected together by SCART lead, pressing one button on the remote will automatically record whatever you’re watching. In other words, the VCR switches on, tunes itself to the same channel as the TV and starts recording. One Touch Play is next. Pressing the play button on the VCR switches on the TV and sets it to the AV channel. One Touch VideoPlus+ also turns on the TV, to display the contents of the VCR timer. One Touch Menu does the same thing with the VCR’s menu display. Auto power off switches off the TV and one minute later, the VCR as well and lastly there’s tuner download, which matches the channel order on the VCR to the TV, handy if you buy a new VCR, it saves all the re-tuning.

 

So there you have it, a potentially useful facility that addresses the age-old problem of AV system communication and networking across the brands. It exists and is available right now yet almost no-one has heard of it, few companies want to talk about it or compatibility issues, but even if they did, it would be difficult with half a dozen different brand names. Confused? You will be...

 

KEEPING PACE

Pace, one of the key manufacturers of receiver boxes for the UK’s digital satellite TV service have been busily developing a range of digital satellite TV products for other applications and markets. They’ve been working with Hitachi and in collaboration with information provider The Fantastic Corporation, on a plug-in PC satellite receiver card. This will enable data services, including internet pages, games, business information and weather forecasts to be broadcast directly to personal computers, at speeds of up to 38 megabytes a second.

 

Pace are also working on a set-top internet browser, with Web TV Networks Inc., that will enable consumers to download and view web pages on their living room TVs. Home trials are expected to begin later this year.

 

In amongst a raft of new analogue and digital receivers, mostly designed for overseas satellite systems, Pace have one new model that should be of interest to UK consumers. It’s the MSS331-G DMX, described as a satellite radio receiver. Astra Digital radio (ADR) and Digital Music Express (DMX) decoders are built in. Two versions will be available, with and without a VideoCrypt decoder, they will be reaching the shops around September, priced at £320 (with VideoCrypt), the plain vanilla version will cost £270.

Pace Micro Technology, telephone (01274) 532000

 

SAMSUNG SAVERS

Five new Samsung VCRs are due to hit the shops any time now. There’s three budget mono models (SV-203, 205 and 405) costing £169, £179 and £209, but it’s the two NICAM machines that caught out eye. They’re the SV-603 and SV-605 which will be selling for the remarkably low price of just £249 and £279 each. In common with their mono stablemates, both have VideoPlus+ timers and Samsung’s high-speed Jet Drive deck mechanism. An intelligent LP function operates on time-shift recordings, automatically switching to LP mode if there’s not enough tape left to record a programme at SP speed.

 

Samsung plan to expand their range of TV/VCR combis to six with the launch of two new models. They’re the TVP 3360i, it has a 14-inch screen, and will be the first on the market to be finished in white; the price will be £339. The TVP 5350iST will be the largest combi on the market, with a 21-inch screen, it will be selling for £499. The 20-inch TVP-3350iS 14-inch combi is going to be upgraded with a twin-tuner, the price remains the same at £379.  Finally they’re bringing in two new 8mm camcorders  (VP-A12 and VP-A17), and two Hi8 models (VP-A50 and VP-A55), all attractively priced at £399, 529, £599 and £629, respectively.

Samsung Electronics, telephone 0171-494 1331.

 

DIGITAL SATELLITE TV UPDATE

Following months of uncertainty and confusion, the future of the UK’s digital satellite television service is now starting to take shape. BSKYB originally planned to launch 200 TV channels before Christmas but now it looks like being next Spring at the earliest, before they go on air. The delay was brought about by the creation of a new company, called British Interactive Broadcasting  or ‘BIB’, in which BSKYB and BT will each have a 32.5% stake. Other major shareholders include Midland Bank (20%), and Matsushita (the parent company of Panasonic and Technics), who have a 15% share. Plans are still subject to regulatory approval and scrutiny by the telecommunications watchdog Oftel

 

BIB have been in discussion with more than 30 potential programme and service providers. They include many household names and well-known high-street retailers, keen to develop interactive home shopping and banking facilities. Amongst the first to sign up are HMV, J Sainsbury, Thomas Cook, Dorling Kindersley and Great Universal Stores. Other services are likely to include fast internet access, and software downloading, using a normal telephone line for the ‘back channel’, plus themed channels devoted to travel, leisure, education, sport, local community TV and public services.

 

In another important move, BSKYB have confirmed that four manufacturing groups have won orders worth more than £300m to build one million digital satellite receivers. Orders have been placed with Amstrad, Matsushita and Pace, and a joint venture between Grundig and Hyundai. The retail price of set-top decoders is expected to be under £200, which is considerably less than they cost to make, the difference will be made up by a £700m subsidy from BIB. The first digital receivers are likely to be for satellite transmission only, but they will be easily upgradable, with an add-on module or ‘sidecar’, for terrestrial digital TV reception. 

 

Technical details are still sketchy but BIB have made it clear that decoder boxes will be able to handle a wide range of media, including combined text and graphics with full-motion video and CD quality sound. The system will be designed from the outset to provide a secure environment for various payment methods, including credit and debit cards, and future systems using virtual cash and digital dollars.

 

HEYBROOK JUNIOR

Unto Heybrook a child is born. They’ve called their new baby loudspeaker the Heylette. Features include a distinctive shaped grille and beaded edges, a design theme that it shares with its stablemates, the Heylo and Heylios though at only 300 x 195 x 213mm they take up a good deal less room. The rear ported enclosure will be available in a range of finishes, including rosewood and black; speaker sensitivity is quoted at 88dB. The Heylette will be selling shortly for around £269, more details are available from Heybrook Hi-Fi, who can be found in Clemo Road, Liskeard, that’s in Cornwall and the postcode is PL14 3NH, or you could give them a buzz on: (01579) 342866.

 

SMART SCART

Two new high performance SCART AV leads have just been added to the already extensive Ixos range. They’re based on the already successful 126AV SCART to SCART cable, but will now be available in 3 and 5 metre lengths. The plugs are cast in solid metal alloy and each of the 21-pins are hard-plated in 24k gold. The cable has a six-core layout, each one with an aluminium-backed mylar screen, and further protected by a oxygen-free copper braid, PVC sleeves and heavy duty matt-finish outer jacket. The 130AB 3-metre cable will set you back £49.95, whilst the 5-metre 131AV costs £59.95.

Ixos Ltd., telephone (01494) 441736

 

PACKING POWER

JBL have just finished putting together a co-ordinated home cinema AV system called Power Pack II,  built around their own satellite speakers, sub-woofer and Dolby Pro-Logic AV receiver/amplifier. The speakers in question are a pair of TLX121s for the front stereo channel, a TLX103 centre channel speaker, and two TLX111s for the rear surround channel. The sub-woofer is the new PSW1200, it’s an active design, with a 120 watt amplifier driving a 12-inch JBL transducer. It has a response between 90 and 150 Hz; other features include high impedance, and line-level inputs, crossover and level adjustments and auto muting.

 

The Dolby Pro Logic AV receiver is the JSR625, which is based on the popular Harmon Kardon AVR10. DPL features include wide and phantom centre modes, plus Dolby 3 Stereo. Power output is rated at 2 x 40 watts for right and left stereo, and 2 x 45 watts for centre-front and rear surround.  It has two VCR inputs with a dubbing facility, additionally there are line-level inputs for TV/aux and CD, it has tape in/out and monitor connections. Audio and video sources can be mixed. The AM/FM tuner has 30 channel presets and the unit is fully remote controlled.  The complete package will be selling for just under £900 and it should be reaching the shops any time now

JBL/Gamepath Ltd., telephone (01908) 317707

 

THE ‘i’s’ HAVE IT

GLL have updated their Imagio ‘i’ Series  speakers with new additions and a range of improvements that will affect performance, reliability and even increase the chances of them reaching you in one piece... The two newcomers are IC50i, this is a baby bookshelf design, which will be available from September. The other one is the IC115i floorstander, this will be shipping in June. Heading up the changes that affect the whole range is a new higher density cabinet, which GLL claim gives a cleaner, faster sound, better bass performance, enhanced cosmetics, with a higher quality feel and appearance. GLL’s inductive coupling technology (ICT) drive units have also been modified, the key benefits are improved low frequency performance, clarity at higher volume levels and greater reliability when used with inferior amplifiers. There have also been changes to the transit cartons and inner packaging, to give the speakers even more protection during delivery. 

GLL, telephone (01705) 492777

 

CUSTOM CABLE

UPOCC or ultra pure ohno continuous casting is the core technology -- quite literally --  used in Acoustic Energy’s first speaker cable. AESC-C3 is a custom made cable, designed to partner their AE100 Series speakers, and in particular, the AE120 3-way, tri-wirable floorstander. The cable consists of three twisted pairs of multi-strand UPOCC conductors. Each conductor is made up of seven strands of varying thickness, from 0.1 to 0.5mm, to reduce resonance. Whilst the cable has been developed for tri-wire speakers it can just as easily be used in bi-wire or single wire installations. It’s priced at £11.95 per metre and should be at your local hi-fi specialist just about now.

Acoustic Energy, telephone (01285) 654432

 

VIDEO VILLAINY

If your home is broken into you can be fairly sure most thieves will ignore any old master paintings and make a bee-line for your VCR. Unlike antiques and works of art VCRs are almost untraceable and consequently, very easy to dispose of. Sharp have decided to tackle this problem by ‘chipping’  VCRs in their  97/98 range, giving them a unique identity number -- your post-code -- that flashes up on the screen every time it is switched on. Whilst this won’t actually stop the machine being pinched in the first place, it will make it easier for the police to reunite it with its rightful owners, in the event that it is recovered. If word gets out, it might even make burglars think twice about nicking Sharp VCRs.

 

Three new machines have the post-code security feature. The first one is the VCM27HM, a budget mono machine priced at £189. The other two are NICAM decks. They’re the VCMH67 and VCMH68 (reviewed in this issue), which will be selling for £250 and £280. The owner’s post code is entered during the initial set-up, thereafter it can only be changed by entering a PIN code. Both codes are stored on an a special EPROM (erasable programmable read only memory), that retains data, even if the power has been disconnected. Even if the thief manages to identify the chip, and remove it, the VCR would be rendered useless as it contains other stored data, vital to the operation of the machine.

Sharp Electronics UK, telephone (0345) 125387

 

VEHICULAR VIDEO

The Citizen VCD2000 is billed as the UK’s first truly portable Video CD player, designed for use on the move. We suspect Goldstar (or LG as they prefer to be known these days), might have something to say about that, their GPI-1200 multi-format (CD, CD Video CDi etc.) player has been on the market for over a year. Nevertheless, the Citizen player is very compact, and at £750, a little cheaper than its rival. Unlike the Goldstar product, this is actually a modular system, with the player and 3.8-inch colour LCD screen available separately, for £499 and £249. The in-car mounting kit, which is supplied with the system as standard, costs a further £49 when brought on its own. Playback features include index search, freeze frame, slomo and repeat. Audio can be heard through phones, or through a car stereo system, using a specially designed adaptor cassette. The player is fitted with a video and audio outputs, so it can be connected to a normal TV, using a SCART adaptor.

Citizen UK (01869) 233200

 

MICRO EXPANDS

Boston Acoustics have developed two new speakers, designed to partner their Micro 90 system enclosures. The first one is the Micro 90 centre channel speaker. It features dual 89mm co-polymer woofers and one 25mm aluminium dome tweeter. They’re housed in a die-cast aluminium cabinet, finished in any colour you like, as long as it’s black, and they’re priced at £180 each. The second new speaker is the Micro VRS Diffuse Field Surround. Inside each enclosure there’s a single 89mm co-polymer full range woofer, and a 65mm polymer tweeter. There’s a choice of a black or white finish, and they’re selling for £170 a pair.

 

In addition to being available separately, Boston Acoustics are also bundling the speakers into a new 5-piece package. This will includes the Micro 90 active sub-woofer, two Micro 90 satellites, Micro 90 centre, and VRS surrounds. The whole caboodle will set you back £1000.

Boston Acoustics, telephone (01767) 641171

 

SIX OF THE BEST

Technics are gearing up for the coming of DVD, and other digital delights, with a new AC-3 compatible AV amplifier. The SA-TX30 is ready and waiting with six discrete channel inputs, and five amplified outputs rated at 70 watts RMS each. The sixth channel is passive, there’s a line-level output, intended for connection to an active sub-woofer. Class H+ amplifier circuitry allows brief power excursions up to 50% above the rated output. Technics reckon this does wonders for explosions and other movie sound effects...

 

The amplifier can also be configured for 2-channel operation,  in which case the output rises to 100 watts per channel. A full range of switched source inputs are available, for CD, VCR (composite and S-Video connections), tape, Laserdisc, and of course, DVD.

 

It has an on-board Dolby Pro Logic decoder, with the usual phantom, wide and Dolby Stereo options, there’s also a set of digital processor modes and a sound field control option for a range of acoustic effects, (hall, club, live, theatre, church, stadium and simulated). Setting up, routine operations and requests for help are dealt with by a menu-driven on-screen display system.  It is scheduled to go on sale this month and the recommended selling price will be five pence short of £700.  

Technics, telephone (0990) 357357, http://www. panasonic. co. uk

 

CHEAPER CELESTION

Celestion are poised to make a concerted attack on the budget end of the speaker market with their new low-cost 12i, bookshelf model. It’s a compact 2-way design, rated at between 10 to 75 watts with 6 ohm impedance. The soft-dome ferrofluid cooled tweeter, bass driver and reflex port have been integrated together on a one-piece modular ABS moulding. This material has been specifically chosen to help reduce resonance and improve bass definition. The cabinet is rigidly braced, formed from 19mm thick panels. Bass output is further enhanced by the driver’s long-throw action. This increases cone movement, without compromising the efficiency of the high frequency coil, which remains inside the high energy area of the magnetic gap. Celestion claim the sound output is involving and remarkably accurate, particularly on vocals. The 12i is available now in a black finish only, it’s priced at just £119.    

Celestion International, telephone (01473) 3222222

 

MERCURY RISING

The M3 is the latest addition to the Tannoy Mercury range of speakers. Like its stablemate, the much-praised M2, it has been developed to offer a high level of performance at an affordable price.  The M3 is a classy-looking floorstander, featuring specially designed treble and bass drivers, carefully tuned to get the most out of the large cabinet. Increased sensitivity means it will work happily with a wide range of amplifiers and systems. Tannoy are pitching the M3 at owners of packaged mini and midi systems, claiming that remarkable improvements are possible, when M3’s are used to replace the original speakers. They’re available right now, in Cherry or Birds-Eye Maple finishes, for £229 a pair.

Tannoy Ltd., telephone (01236) 420199

 

SCOTCH MISSED?

Whilst Scotch have pulled out of the blank audio and video tape market, the brand hasn’t disappeared altogether from the accessory shelves. The Scotch Videocassette Head Cleaner Plus is a quick and easy way to ensure your VCR is always at its best, by removing debris and grime from the video and audio heads. Just load up the cleaner tape and press play; on-screen graphics and voice messages explain what’s happening during the four-stage, 30-second cleaning cycle. Each  cassette has enough tape for 30 sessions, and every 5 cycles the tape guide path gets an extra wipe-over. Available now from all reputable hi-fi and video outlets for £12.99.

 

TEMPTING TOSH

With sales of NICAM VCRs still steaming ahead -- volumes were up by 20% last year -- Toshiba are determined to maintain their share of the market with a range of new and updated models. One of the first to arrive (see also this month’s review of the V857B), is the V727B entry-level model, which is about as close as Toshiba get to the budget end of the NICAM sector. It’s priced at just under £360, which is cheap for Toshiba, though it is far from basic. Toshiba are underlining this machine’s readiness for Channel 5, no re-tuners required. It automatically seeks out a spare channel for the RF output during set-up, moreover the tuner and Video Plus+ timer are factory programmed for C5 broadcasts. The clock is self correcting, the time is checked daily against teletext time signals and it makes Summer/Winter time changes without prompting. On-screen displays and simple to use control systems means it should be very easy to live with. It is well equipped for home cinema duties as well, with twin SCART AV sockets on the back, front-mounted AV connections, NTSC replay is in stereo, there’s multi-speed replay, and satellite control,  heading up the list of features.

Toshiba UK, telephone (01276) 62222

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1997 2305

  

 

 

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