HINTS & TIPS
TV/VCR AND SATELLITE QUERIES
Name Chris King, via E-mail
Kit 90-inch back projection TV?
Problem Now that he is moving to a larger
house Chris has the chance to install some serious home cinema kit. He's worked
out the layout in his new living room and reckons the seating distance from the
screen is around 15 feet and he would like a picture height of between four to
five feet. He has ruled out front projection as an option and was planning to
get a 56-inch Toshiba set until he noticed a passing reference to 90-inch back
projection TVs arriving next year, do we have any more information?
Expert Reply It would have been helpful to know
why Chris has ruled out a front projector as that would be the easiest way of
getting the screen size he wants. As far as 90-inch back projectors are
concerned, it's far too early to talk model numbers, prices or dates. All we
can say is that there is a good chance that very large screen systems designed
for the US market may make it to the UK, possibly next year but 2000 is much
more likely. The hardware concerned is designed to operate on the US digital
HDTV system but that needn't preclude its use here since the models concerned
will almost certainly be multi-system capable. The bottom line is that you
shouldn't wait and when we have something more concrete you can be sure you'll
read about it first in Home Entertainment.
Name Chris Frost, via E-Mail
Kit Interested in digital TV
Problem With his analogue set-up Chris
points out that he can record one channel on his VCR whilst watching another on
his TV, because each piece of equipment has its own tuner. He would like to
know if any of the set-top digital decoders have a twin tuner/decoder
arrangement, so he can do the same thing?
Expert Reply The simple answer is no, however
there's a few ifs buts and maybes. Because VCRs and TVs have their own tuners
you can record an analogue channel and view a digital channel simultaneously,
and vice-versa. However, digital set-top boxes and integrated digital TVs will
have only a single tuner/decoder, so you'll only be able to watch or record one
channel at a time. Analogue VCRs with built-in digital tuner/decoders are
technically possible but we suspect manufacturers will jump straight to D-VHS
for recording digital TV broadcasts. D-VHS machines will be able to record an
entire multiplex or group of channels simultaneously -- five or six at a time
-- but it seems unlikely that you will be able to record a mixture of
terrestrial or satellite channels. That will only be possible if you have a
D-VHS video recorder with its own digital decoder plus a separate digital
set-top box or integrated digital TV.
Name Andrew Couch, via fax
Kit Sony 21-inch NICAM TV, Panasonic
NV-HD660 VCR, Kenwood KR-V888 receiver
Problem Andrews says he has a real headache,
he wants to buy a 40-inch rear projection TV but cannot decide whether to go
for a 4:3 model or a 16:9 set. He has auditioned both types, including a Sony
KP-4154, which he says he wasn't entirely impressed with and he has also seen
the Toshiba 40PW8DB, which he did like the look of but noted that some of the
magazine reviews weren't so good.
Expert Reply In my experience the differences in
the visual impact between 4:3 and 16:9 displays become far less significant
once the screen size goes above 36 to 60-inches, say. A big 4:3 gives the most
bangs for your bucks, especially whilst you continue to watch 4:3 material as
the picture is that much larger. Sorry if this sounds like a cop-out, but in
the end Andrew is going to have to rely on his own instincts and
VIDEO PLUS AND DIGITAL
Name Jack Rose, via E-mail
Kit Soon to be Sky Digital viewer
is awaiting delivery of a Sky digital package and has established that his VCR
will present no problems in recording from it. However, he wants to know
whether the Video Plus+/PDC facility will be useable with it? He assumes that
if a programme is transmitted on a digital channel at the same time as
analogue, the Video Plus+ numbers will be useable, but the double programme
checking is a bit of a hassle!
Expert Reply The Video Plus+ system was designed
to work on analogue terrestrial and satellite broadcasts and cannot cope with
the hundreds of extra channels streaming out of satellites and land-based
transmitters. Digital TV will be using entirely different systems of VCR
programming, based around interactive channel guides and souped-up teletext.
However, there doesn't seem to be any co-ordinated effort to integrate
terrestrial and satellite services and VCR timer programming. Behind the scenes
there are developments afoot with bus systems based around the IEEE 1394 or
'FireWire' digital interface that will allow future digital decoders in set-top
boxes and TV and D-VHS video recorders to talk to one another but that's still
a way off.
Name Paul Kerrigan, via E-Mail
Kit Toshiba 32MW7DB, Pace MSS1000 sat
box, Toshiba V855 VCR, Yamaha APD-1, Pioneer CLD-D515 LD player
Problem The Toshiba TV has been giving Paul
problems, he says it displays an alarming amount of fringing around bright
colours, mostly yellow orange or blue. No amount of tweaking helps and he
describes the image -- from any source -- as looking like a poor satellite or
Video CD pictures. The problem occurred a few weeks after buying the TV. Chris
is also having trouble with his VCR with horizontal lines appearing from time
to time, one dead centre, and the other three-quarters of the way up the
screen. Could this be a sign of head wear, he asks?
Expert Reply Since the fringing problem developed
after Paul brought the TV -- presumably after it had been working
satisfactorily for some time -- then it is clear that a fault or mis-alignment
has developed and it's a job for a Toshiba engineer as it must still be under
guarantee. It's difficult to say about the VCR; normally head-wear is
progressive and you would notice a steadily deteriorating picture across the
entire screen, and not just a couple of lines that come and go. It's worth
checking to see if the lines are on the recording -- i.e. on the same place on
the tape each time -- in which case the tape itself might be faulty. If not
then it's another job for the test bench. However, before Paul sends it back
it's worth him running a cleaner cassette through the machine, just in case
there's a spot of contamination somewhere on the tape path.
Name Alex Glover, via E-Mail
Kit Philips 100Hz TV
a recent visit to his local department store Alex saw a Philips 32PW9763. At
the time a football game was on and he noticed that the grass appeared
'patchy'. Upon closer examination he could see that there were areas of the
screen where the grass was all one colour, then changed slightly to a darker
shade. He compares the effect to videos that have been copied a number of times
with all of the colour washed out. Alex wants to know if this is due to the way
the picture is stored on a 100Hz TV? He admits to being a bit surprised, as
this was a top of the range set costing £1800.
Expert Reply 100Hz display systems rely on
heavyweight digital processing and this can result in picture aberrations or
artefacts, similar to the one your describe. However, normally it's not that
obvious at normal viewing distances, which leads us to think it might be
something else. One possibility is that Alex was watching a Channel 5
broadcast. C5 use MPEG-2 encoding for the journey from the studio -- via
satellite -- to the transmitters. It can end up looking a bit rough at times
and 100Hz processing on some TVs seem to make it look even worse, with reduced
colour depth and blocking. Alex should go back to the shop and ask to see some
other channels and off tape recordings, and compare it with the other TVs on
Name Alan Gilsenan, Co Dublin
Kit Sony SLV-E730 VCR
recently brought a Sony SLV-E730 VCR Alan was pleased with the picture and
sound quality of his new machine, but he says there was an unreasonably loud
noise coming from the machine during recording and playback. The shop replaced
the VCR but the second one was exactly the same. He subsequently complained to
Sony who told him that some machine noise was normal; he wants to know if he
should ask for his money back?
Expert Reply The question is how much noise is
reasonable? Sony are right, some noise is inevitable but it certainly shouldn't
be audible at normal volume levels; I can count on the fingers of one hand the
machines that I have reviewed that were unacceptably noisy though I can't
remember ever having problems with Sony VCRs. There is a small chance that you
have had two duff machines on the trot but that seems a bit unlikely. Could it
be something to do with your installation? Vibration from the deck might be
setting up some sort of resonation on the shelf, which is acting as a sounding
board. Try moving it to another shelf or standing it on a couple of cork tiles.
If the noise persists, you can't resolve the problem and it is interfering with
your viewing enjoyment then I think you should seek a refund.
BOX COPY 1
How long is that new VCR or TV you're about to buy actually going
to last? Manufacturers tend not to publish life expectancy figures but it's
safe to say that in general the reliability and longevity of consumer electronic
equipment has been steadily improving over the past two decades. Most mid-range TVs and VCRs brought today should
still be working in five to eight year's time. In fact many products will continue
on to their tenth birthday and beyond but the way things are, repairs are
rarely economical once a device has passed the five year mark, and it is generally
cheaper to replace it with a new model.
As far as TVs are concerned most of the electronic components
side the average box have life expectancies way beyond ten years. It used to be
that things like switches and tuner buttons wore out first, but most sets these
days have only one mechanical switch -- the on-off button -- and that has a
fairly easy life with many people using the standby function when they go to
bed. That leaves the picture tube as the only major component likely to fail
inside ten years, but even they tend not to suddenly stop working and can drift
on for years. However, ten years down the line a replacement tube for your TV
-- assuming one is still available -- is likely to cost much more than the TV
There are more mechanical parts to go wrong inside a VCR but
in the main they have proven to be extremely reliable, nevertheless, the same
basic principles apply when it comes to repair and replacement. A 1990 vintage mid-market
NICAM VCR cost new in the region of £550. A replacement deck mechanism or upper
head assembly for that machine, plus labour charges comes to between £100 and
£200, or a little less than a brand new NICAM VCR. These days £250 buys a video
recorder with better picture performance and significantly more facilities than
its 1990 counterpart.
In the past year or so product longevity has taken on a new
significance, with the arrival of digital home entertainment technologies. Digital
TV is a case in point; manufacturers, broadcasters and the Government would
like to turn off terrestrial analogue transmitters within the next ten years. The
situation with analogue TV satellites is slightly different since they have a finite
working life. First generation satellites are going to expire of their own
accord over the course of the next ten years and they will not be replaced. The
writing is also on the wall for VHS, especially when it comes to recording
digital TV channels. The bottom line is that you needn't worry too much about
the future when you next buy a TV or VCR. In five years time we'll all have brain
implants, connected directly to Microsoft HQ…
DVD AND LD QUERIES
SOCKET AND SEE
Name John Sustr, Great Bromley,
Kit Region 1 Panasonic A310 DVD player
Problem On the back of John's Region 1 DVD
player there is a set of sockets marked Y Pb and Pr. He is interested in buying
a Plasma TV with component video inputs and noticed that in HE's recent review
of the Thomson Wysius it had inputs labelled RGB. He want's to know if this is
the same thing and if not, will any company make plasma TVs with this kind of
component video connection in future?
Expert Reply The outputs to which John refers are
analogue colour difference signals, generically known as 'YUV'. They are
incompatible with the RGB (red, green and blue) connections used on some
European DVD players and TVs. YUV to
RGB converters are supposedly available in the US for around $600 to $800 but
we haven't tried any, nor do we have any details of any equipment that we know
will definitely work on PAL equipment. Since the Y' Pb' Pr' scheme is not used
on European equipment it seems extremely unlikely that any manufacturers will
bother fitting it to their TVs, plasma or otherwise.
Name K. White, Boscombe, Dorset
Kit new DVD player, model unknown
Problem I have just brought a DVD player
costing a whopping £1000, I already own two Laserdisc players one with AC-3. I
just can't make out why Laserdisc sounds much better than DVD. There's no
comparison with picture quality either. Okay, DVD is smaller, and you get more
extras, like the behind the scenes stuff and production notes, plus you get a
whole movie on one disc. Please tell me that I have not wasted my £1000 on DVD.
Expert Reply Not a happy customer! DVD has been
with us now for almost a year. We have seen just about all of the players on
the market and we can say that, all things being equal, DVD can be better than
Laserdisc. However, a few players, especially some early models, were not that
wonderful in the picture and sound departments, and we have seen a number of
indifferently mastered discs. Put the two together and you have a recipe for
disappointment. Laserdisc was always going to be a hard act to follow, quality
wise, and only recently has it been surpassed by DVD, so maybe Mr White should
have taken heed of our reviews and waited a little longer. The current batch of
new DVD hardware now includes some highly commendable players, most of them
costing significantly less than £1000.
Name Tony Flint, Coningsby, Lincs
Kit Philips CD-i player
years ago, at a Philips car audio product launch, Tony Flint saw a Philips CD-i
player and was suitably impressed. A
few weeks ago he had the opportunity to buy second hand player and he jumped at
the chance. He's been very pleased with it -- it came with a lot of discs --
and he is wondering if he could buy some more, and if so where? Tony would also
like to know what the difference is between DVD and Video CD, are they
compatible and is it possible to update his CD-i deck to replay DVDs?
Expert Reply Not a regular reader then? CD-i is
as dead as a doornail, the only thing that kept it alive was Video CD. Even that
was half-hearted as the supply of new discs tailed off soon after launch, as it
became clear that DVD was going to happen. There are a lot of Video CDs still
out there, so you're not going to be left completely high and dry, but don't
expect too much in the way of new releases… It's worth keeping an eye on the
small ads in free-sheets and magazines and you could try local dealers who may
have old stocks kicking around, that they want to shift. The difference between
Video CD and DVD is the digital coding scheme (Video CD uses MPEG-1, DVD uses
the higher quality MPEG-2 system), and the capacity. A DVD holds more than six
times the amount of information. CD-i players cannot be upgraded to play DVDs
though the good news is that most DVD players can play Video CDs, so your
collection of discs isn't completely redundant.
CHIPS WITH EVERYTHING?
Name Raj Banerjee, via E-mail
Kit thinking of buying a DVD player
Problem Raj is about to 'leap' into home
cinema, as he puts it. He has decided to wait for digital TV and D-VHS but
would like to get things moving with a DVD player. He says he is encouraged by
the fact that he can get first generation DVD players 'chipped' to play Region
1 discs and has been informed by a reputable hi-fi store that the Pioneer DV-505
is safer and easier to chip than the Sony DVP-S715. Is this true he wants to
know? The reason for doing so, he says, is that while he waits for DVD to take
off -- or die, in Europe, he can be ordering all the titles he wants from the
US via the Internet, or when he's visiting, but is it worth the risk?
Expert Reply Regional
coding is fast becoming less of an issue as the UK catches up with the US.
Within a year or so I suggest it will have been virtually forgotten as the
release windows narrow and Region 2 discs appear within a few weeks of the US
launch. As to which player is safer to 'chip' I feel that the risks are the
same and it's only worth doing if you are prepared to accept the consequences
of loosing your warranty.
Name Mark Aston, BFPO 40
Kit In the market for a DVD player
Problem Mark is a soldier stationed in
German with a growing home cinema system. He has access to a source of cheapish
DVD players from US bases close to where he lives but he is not sure about
Regional coding, and which models he should look out for since the sales staff
he has dealt with are not very helpful.
Expert Reply Assuming that Mark is not about to
be sent on a long-term posting to the US he should only buy a Region 2 player.
This will replay discs brought in the UK and most of Europe; the US and Canada
are designated Region 1. The region for
which the player is designed should be clearly marked on the back of the unit,
in the instruction manual and possibly on the box as well. Some players also
display the region setting on the on-screen display but to make one hundred
percent sure he should obtain a Region 2 disc (look for a world symbol and
number on the topside of the disc) and try before he buys.
Name Rob Millington, via E-mail
Kit Sony DVP-S715, Sony KV-28SWS2U
Rob plays a Region 1 DVD the top of the screen bends inwards, he would like to
know if there's a cure?
Expert Reply From
that we can deduce that Rob's player has been chipped, and neatly illustrates
that there are no guarantees that it's going to work, nor is he likely to get
much help or sympathy from Sony if something has gone wrong with the player.
There are a number of possible causes, the most likely one being anti-copy measures
on US discs. The effect he describes sounds a lot like 'tearing' which could be
down to the Macrovision process, or something similar, that weakens or corrupts
the synchronisation pulses in the video signal. It is technically possible to
regenerate synch pulses using a gadget called a timebase corrector but this is
all speculation and we would need to know more about Rob's set up, what type of
connection he's using to the TV, and the discs involved.
BOX COPY 2
If you have been following the DVD saga closely you may have
come across the odd mention of something called Divx, possibly coming to a DVD
player near you. Divx is a cunning plan to get the DVD rental market off the ground,
with specially mastered silver discs that will play for 48 hours but after that
will 'switch off' so they cannot be played again. The idea is that if you want
to watch the movie again specially equipped Divx players with modems will call an
automated authorisation centre that will send back the necessary codes for
player to unlock the disc for another 40 hours. This will cost between 50 to 75%
of the initial purchase price. You could even 'buy' the disc, by paying to have
it permanently unlocked, though it will only ever play on your deck. There are
proposals for a slightly more expensive 'gold' disc that once unlocked will act
like a standard DVD and play on any deck.
This strategy has a number of advantages for the software
industry. To begin with there's no need to return the disc once it has been
viewed. The current plan is for the disc to be playable as many times as you
like -- providing you pay -- within the 48-hour rental period. That means there's
no compulsion to watch it as soon as you get home, for fear of overdue charges.
Each Divx disc is new, so that should mean an end to worn or wonky rental
copies. Divx technology opens up a lot of new possibilities for mail order and
try before you buy retailing.
There are disadvantages too. Divx discs will not play in
existing DVD decks and players will be dearer. Reports from the US suggest the
extra chips and the model will add between £75 to £120 to the price. The rental
costs are likely to be higher than tape as well, between two and three times as
much as tape, and because there's a need for the DVD player to be connected to
a phone line, you will need a socket close to your TV.
Divx uses a powerful encryption routine and 'watermarking'
to prevent hacking on PCs. In fact the system chosen is so powerful that there
is speculation that it's use may be prohibited abroad as the US Defence regards
sophisticated coding systems as munitions, and have banned their export. So can
we look forward to Divx or something similar here? Hopefully not, apart from the
questions hanging over encryption and pricing Divx is a solo effort by one
company, albeit a large one. But what would happen if the venture collapsed,
would Divx discs still be playable without on-line authorisation? The major
Hollywood studios are backing Divx technology -- thanks to some quite hefty
subsidies -- and several of the hardware manufacturers have produced decks.
However, Divx has attracted the wrath of enthusiasts and consumer groups (check
out Divx on the internet for a wide range of opinions) and there is some
concern that it could cause confusion in what is still a very new technology. The
latest news we have is that Divx trials are currently underway in San Francisco
and Redmond and if all goes well the plans are for it to go nation-wide anytime
now. We'll keep you posted.
R. Maybury 1998 1910