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QUERY OF THE MONTH

 

MILLENNIUM BUGGERED?

Name              Jeff Stannard, Leicester                               

Kit                   Sony SLV-E90 video recorder         

Problem            Press coverage of the so-called ĎMillennium Bugí, that will affect computers when the date changes to the year 2000, often suggest that video recorders will stop working as well. Jeff wants to know if his machine will be affected, and if so, what measures can he take to prevent it happening.

 

Expert Reply            Piffle, tosh and cobblers! No video recorder will stop working after midnight December 31st 1999, that is unless the power supply companies or broadcasting networks fall prey to the bug. The very worst that could happen would be that a time-shift recording, programmed in late December 1999, to take place after the date changeover, might not happen, but thatís extremely unlikely. Weíre not aware of any VCR made within the past ten years that cannot cope with the millennium date change. Unlike some older PCs and software, which only recognise the last two digits of the year, VCRs timers are programmed to work up to the year 2000 and beyond. In the case of PDC machines it is irrelevant as they extract time and date information from broadcast teletext signals. If you are concerned about your timer not working try the VCR variant of the computer ĎY2K roll-overí test. Manually set your VCRís time and date to 11.55, December 31st 1999, then program a time-shift recording to start a few minutes after midnight, and see what happens. We would be extremely surprised if it didnít do as instructed. If anything odd does happen, write in to us with details of the make and model number; weíll publish a list of offenders, and ask the relevant manufacturers on your behalf what they intend to do about it.

 

ON A ROLL...

Name              John Beech, via e-mail                            

Kit                   Aiwa FX3800 VCR, Goldstar 21-inch NICAM TV      

Problem            Having brought the Aiwa VCR specifically to play back NTSC tapes, sent to him by a cousin in the US, John is very disappointed by the quality, and in particular a tendency for the picture to roll on some movies. He canít find a vertical hold control on the set, or could it be something to do with the VCR?

 

Expert Reply  NTSC pre-recorded tapes with anti-piracy systems, like Macrovision, can play havoc with some TV/VCR combinations. Weakened synch signals can result in a loss of lock. Try using a SCART connection to the TV, rather than the aerial lead link, this sometimes help. Fine tuning the vertical hold might to the trick though manufactures stopped fitting user-adjustable sync-lock controls to TVs more than ten years ago. Some models have Ďsoftwareí adjustment, that can be carried out via the remote control, though you would have to know the engineering access code. Other have pre-set controls on the circuit boards. In either case itís a job for an engineer. Itís unlikely the VCR is at fault, if it is replaying all PAL and some NTSC tapes satisfactorily.

 

ROOM FOR MANOEUVRE

Name              Alan Hitchins, Oldham                                              

Kit                   Has a small living room, wants some big sounds            

Problem            Alanís problem is a very small, cramped living-room, measuring just 15 feet by 10 feet. Itís already full to overflowing with furniture, he reckons he could just about squeeze in a 21-inch TV, but very little else. He wants the best sound possible so should he opt for a Dolby Pro Logic TV, or one of the upgrade kits on the market?

 

Expert Reply  If you really are pushed for space then the system approach is out, you donít really have the room to do justice to external speakers. Upgrade kits, even ones like those made by Philips and Bush, with the DPL decoder and amps built into the centre speaker enclosure, need separate front stereo speakers, so it looks like it will have to be a Pro Logic TV.  21-inch DPL TVs are a bit thin on the ground but of those that are available, the Panasonic TZ21AD2DP2 is the one weíd go for, and at £500, or thereabouts, itís not a bad deal.

 

WIDE OF THE MARK

Name              Dr Mark Banks, via Email

Kit                   Sony KV28WS2 16:9 TV, Ď16:9 compatibleí VCR

Problem            Doctor Mark has just bought a widescreen TV, itís a Sony KV28WS2(S), which he has been very pleased with, but he was disappointed when he sat down to watch the widescreen version of Pulp Fiction on video. He found it was still in 'letterbox' format, and wants to know why? The specifications and literature for his VCR mention Ďwidescreen recording and playbackí, and  claims to be Ď16:9 compatibleí. Whatís gone wrong?

 

Expert Reply            Nothing, but we agree the situation is confusing. It goes something like this. The 16:9 compatibility on VCRs refers to their ability to automatically detect recordings that have been anamorphically processed, and instruct a widescreen TV to display the recording in the appropriate stretch or cinema mode. Anamorphic processing is the electronic variant of the optical Cinemascope process, where everything in the picture is stretched vertically by the camera lens, so that a widescreen image will fit into the frame of 35mm movie film. A special lens on the projector returns the image to its original widescreen proportions. The original idea was that when widescreen movies were transferred to video they would be electronically processed -- an anamorphic transfer with a 33% vertical stretch -- so that they would fit into a normal 4:3 format recording. When viewed on a normal TV everything in the picture would look tall and thin, but a suitably equipped 16:9 TV would turn it into a proper widescreen picture. Needless to say it never happened, at least not in this country where there were too few widescreen TVs for the software companies to bother making special widescreen copies. Instead they opted to letterbox widescreen movies, in order to get the full width of the picture into the recording, so it could be viewed on a 4:3 TV. All widescreen TVs have a zoom mode, that electronically enlarges letterboxed  movies to full screen height, though the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen rob the picture of some detail. 

 

TUBE BOOB

Name              Michael O'Brien, Cape Town, South Africa

Kit                   Thinking about buying a Pioneer SD-T50W1 back projection TV

Problem            Michael is considering the purchase of the Pioneer SD-T50W1 which appears to be highly rated by HE, but he is puzzled by our mention of it in the Awards issue (HE 50), where we describe it as an LCD unit, yet product information on the Pioneer Europe Internet site indicates that it is an CRT based design. Can we confirm our ratings and description, and where can Michael get hold of the original review of this model?

 

Expert Reply            Our fault, gremlins in the works, cock-up, all the usual excuses, at least we donít do it very often. The full-size, industrial-strength review of this rather excellent CRT-based back projection TV appears in the April 1997 issue of Home Entertainment, a copy of which will be winging its way to you. Back numbers can normally be obtained by filling in the form youíll find towards the back of the magazine, or by phoning (01789) 490215.

 

STILL LOOKING

Name              Mr Loh Hock Im, Ponang, Malaysia                               

Kit                   Wants a VCR with perfect still frame 

Problem            Mr Hock Im writes to us from Malaysia asking for a recommendation for a ĎNICAM VCRí with extra-stable still frame replay, though he doesnít elaborate as to why he rates such a facility so highly.

 

Expert Reply According to our records Malaysia uses the PAL B system, and broadcasters in nearby Singapore -- also PAL B -- have adopted NICAM, so a lot of the VCRs we get here should be similar to those available in Malaysia,  indeed a fair few of them are actually made there. Since trick play is the main consideration Mr Hock Im needs look no further than the JVC HR-DD845, which has a dynamic drum, for noiseless replay at all tape speeds in either direction, and rock-solid still frame.

 

BOX COPY 1

GETTING STARTED -- LOOKING AFTER TAPES

How long do video recordings last? Good question, the truth is no-one really knows since the first recordings were made back in the 1950s, and the equipment to play them on has long since stopped curled up its toes. Accelerated life tests suggest that analogue video recordings start to deteriorate after about ten years and after 20 or so years they can become a bit noisy. The best guess at the moment is that a VHS tape recorded today, stored under ideal conditions, should still be playable in 50 years times, though whether or not there will still be any working VHS VCRs in 2048 to play it on is another matter. What is certain, however, is that video recordings will quickly deteriorate and become unwatchable in a matter of days or weeks, if stored improperly. Strong magnetic fields, heat and moisture are magnetic tapeís worst enemies, so keep them well away from sources of all three. Cool and dry is best, and donít leave tapes in direct sunlight as this can warp the shell. Itís difficult to avoid magnetism -- the Earth is one giant magnet --  but donít laves tapes lying around on loudspeakers, near any sort of electronic or electrical device or any large metallic object. Store tapes upright, in their library slip cases, away from source of smoke and dust.

 

BOX COPY 2

ENTHUSIASTS GUIDE  -- DIGITAL RECORDING

The first digital video cassette recorder, made by Sony, went on sale late last year. The DHR-1000, which uses both full-size and mini DVC cassettes produces a noticeably sharper picture than current VHS and S-VHS equipment, though at £3300 itís not going to make much of a dent in the VHS market. Next year the first PAL D-VHS video recorders should reach Europe. D-VHS is currently the only system capable of recording the raw data-stream from digital terrestrial and satellite broadcasts, hence the timing. D-VHS VCRs can also record several channels at once, this facility could be used for sports event, where the viewer can choose between several different camera angles. D-VHS will also offer greatly extended recording times, depending on the quality of the recorded image, a single tape will last for up to 49 hours when recording at VHS quality, and 21 hours in S-VHS mode. A little further down the pipeline is recordable DVD. Most of the technical problems have been sorted out, and hardware could be in the shops within a year ot two, though manufacturers and the software industry are holding back because of unresolved copyright issues. In theory recordable DVD could be used to run off near perfect clones of an original recording, so we can expect to see machines laden with anti-copying measures, as and when they appear.

 

LD AND DVD QUERIES

 

MUST HAVE AC-3

Name              Robin Alexander                              

Kit                   In the market for a LaserDisc player, must have AC-3 capability

Problem            Having recently returned from a holiday in the US, and visited several home theatre dealers in various East coast malls, Robin is determined to buy a LaserDisc player with AC-3 sound. He wants to know whatís available here, or should he try and import some US gear, apparently he brought back a lot of magazines.

 

Expert Reply            Robinís timing isnít very good, with DVD poised to launch in the next few months. DVD picture quality promises to be at least as good as laservision, hopefully better and now that the audio system dispute has been settled, it will sound as good as well. If Robin canít wait, he should be aware that only NTSC encoded Laserdiscs have sufficient capacity for an AC-3 soundtrack. If DVD takes off, as it looks as though it might, if the US sales are anything to go by, the supply of new movies on LaserDiscs may well start to slow down. If that hasnít put Paul off, then the top choice for an AC-3 capable laserdisc player has to be the Pioneer D925. Itís quite dear but it is a very well specified machine, with all of the most useful bells and whistles, and AV performance to match. The CLD-515-I is a little cheaper but NTSC performance isnít as dazzling as its stablemate, and since Robin will mainly be using it to replay NTSC discs, it seems a pity to compromise.

 

On no account should Robin buy a laserdisc player from the US, it will be an NTSC only model, and the power supply will designed for a 120 volt/60Hz supply, so it will fry  if he plugs it into a UK mains socket.

 

SOUNDING OUT

Name              Jonathan Winton, Salisbury                                

Kit                   Philips LPD-600 LaserDisc player 

Problem            Can this Philips player be modified for AC-3 sound? Jonathan has heard thereís a company who can do conversions, he wants to know if it can be done, and how much it costs.

 

Expert Reply            Technically it is possible but the company youíre referring to -- almost certainly Videotec -- refuse to have anything to do with these machines. They were never officially sold in this country, Videotec cannot obtain technical data or spares and they cannot offer a guarantee on any conversion work. Philips UK have more or less disowned them as they were grey imports, and the company that originally brought them into the country -- Covent Garden Records -- have gone out of business. Unfortunately the only way Jonathanís is going to get an AC-3 LaserDisc player is to buy a new one, or contact Videotec, who sell modified Pioneer dealer returns, with a guarantee. Prices start at under £400, they can be contacted at (01865) 245566.

 

DISC DIVINATION

Name:             Christopher Odukwe, Nigeria

Kit:                  Sony GV99 Pro-Logic unit, a 32-inch stereo TV and Sony SLX-821

VCR

Problem:             Christopher wants to buy a LaserDisc player but he has been reading so much about how good DVDs are. He want to know what is the future of LaserDiscs?  Will a manufacturer make a machine that plays LDs and DVDs? Is true that multi regional DVD players exist and are they legal? What is NICAM and is it applicable in Nigeria?

 

Expert Reply            The HE crystal ball gets a bit hazy when consulted on the future of LaserDisc. Certainly if DVD is a rip-roaring success the  LaserDiscís role as the main carrier of high quality pre-recorded movies will be in jeopardy. DVD offers similar -- if not superior -- levels of AV performance, in a much more convenient form. DVDs cost less to produce and the first raft of decks look as though they will be as cheap, if not cheaper than the handful of LaserDisc players currently available. LaserDisc development is more or less at a standstill but DVD has a bright future, with increased capacity and the potential for even better AV quality still to come, and recordable systems waiting in the wings. Nevertheless, LaserDisc has a strong and loyal following and has seen off a good number of rival systems, it wonít disappear altogether, but whatever happens it will become increasingly marginalised and anyone buying a player now should bear that in mind.

 

Pioneer have already developed a dual-system DVD/LD deck, which we understand may be marked in the UK next spring, however itís unlikely any of the other major manufacturers will follow suit. Since the facility to play or inhibit discs from a particular region is contained in a DVD players software, multi-region players are relatively easy to manufacture. Itís no secret that switchable players have been on sale in Hong Kong for some time but we understand they cannot handle the MPEG audio system, that will be used on discs sold outside the US and Japan. Not yet at least...

 

NICAM or Near-Instantaneously Companded Audio Multiplexing is the high-quality digital stereo TV sound system, developed by the BBC and used by UK terrestrial broadcasters. At the last count NICAM systems were up and running in Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong New Zealand, Norway Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Singapore, South Africa, Spain and Sweden. We believe France have got it now too, and we understand China and Hungary are thinking about it, but no word on Nigeria, sorry. 

 

DOOMED DISC

Name              Mary Wheatley, Bournemouth                         

Kit                   Sony MDP850D     

Problem            Mary works as a classroom assistant at a local secondary school and whilst searching through the stockroom, came across a LaserDisc called Domesday Project. She tried it on her home laserdisc player and was able to access some parts of it but the soundtrack was noisy with a loud buzz, can we tell her any more about this disc?

 

Expert Reply            The Domesday Project was a bright idea by the BBC, to compile a sort of 20th century version of the original Domesday Book, on a LaserDisc. It contained a mixture of maps and statistics that was supposed to provide a snapshot of society in the UK in 1986, which could be used as an educational resource. The laserdisc was intended to be played on specialised Philips Laservision players, connected to an Acorn PC, which is why you cannot do much with it on your player. Mary should have another look around, to see if thereís a player and PC hidden somewhere. Only a few hundred discs were produced, so it could have some interest to future generations and collectors of obsolete technology.

 

CABLE FABLE

Name              Nick Best, Swansea                                 

Kit                   Denon LA-2300 laserdisc player, Panasonic TX28 NICAM TV   

Problem            Which socket should Nick use to connect his Denon LaserDisc player to his Panasonic television, he also wants to know if he can use a higher quality S-Video or RGB connection, via the playerís SCART socket?

 

Expert Reply            Sadly no, the LaserDisc video is in composite form and the Denon deck has only composite video outputs, on the SCART connector and a separate phono socket. RGB and S-Video outputs are unavailable on this model. A V-type SCART to SCART lead between the player and the TV is the simplest solution.

 

BOX COPY 1

GETTING STARTED --THX

Thereís a lot of myths and misunderstanding THX, so letís begin by saying that it doesnít actually stand for anything. The initials come from the title, and the name of the leading character in George Lucasís first feature movie, THX 1138. Itís not a surround-sound system or a brand of home cinema equipment, but a set of rigid technical standards -- a kind of quality assurance scheme if you will  -- that is designed to enable home cinema systems to more faithfully recreate the acoustics of movie theatre, in a typical living room. The problem was identified by George Lucas, who realised that his movie soundtracks, which were engineered for large cinema auditoria, didnít sound so good at home. He set about finding ways of re-equalising the sound so that it would sound just as good in the confines of a much smaller space. THX specifications cover amplifier, processor and speaker design. and involves three main techniques: re-equalisation, timbre-matching, and rear channel de-correlation. Re-equalisation tackles the difference in frequency balance, needed for a smaller space, timbre-matching ensures sounds move smoothly between the speakers, and de-correlation splits the mono rear channel into two slightly different channels, to reduce localisation effects. Lucasfilm are responsible for THX certification. Lucasfilm also set out standards for movie theatres and the transfer of  movies to disc and tape.

 

BOX COPY 2

ENTHUSIASTS GUIDE

PICTURE QUALITY ON DISC

Thereís been a lot of loose talk about the picture quality of LaserDisc, DVD and even CD-i, but which one is best? CD-i is definitely at the bottom of the pile, even if the heavy-duty digital artefacts generated by the messy MPEG-1 compression system are taken out of the equation. The maximum theoretical resolution of the system is in the region of 240 lines, though in practice it is often closer to 200-lines, which compares with 240-lines for a half-decent VHS video recorder.

 

LaserDisc comes a creditable second place with NTSC systems capable of 425-lines, PAL discs and players do a little better with around 450-lines on a well mastered disc and properly aligned deck and monitor-grade TV. DVD comes out on top with NTSC DVDs managing a full 500 lines; weíve yet to see what PAL is truly capable of, but it should be a few lines up on NTSC. However, resolution is not the whole story, picture information on LaserDiscs is stored as composite video, DVD uses component video or Y/C (Y= brightness, C = colour or chrominance), which significantly improves colour purity. Colour resolution is noticeably better on DVD too, compared with LaserDisc, and DVD has a wider dynamic range, so blacks look blacker, and whites are whiter.    

 

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