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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 preferences. 



Name              Jack Rose, via E-mail    

Kit                   Soon to be Sky Digital viewer

Problem            Jack 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      

Problem            During 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 show. 



Name              Alan Gilsenan, Co Dublin                        

Kit                   Sony SLV-E730 VCR   

Problem            Having 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. 




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 is worth.


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…





Name                          John Sustr, Great Bromley, Colchester                 

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    

Problem            Several 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.



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 widescreen TV      

Problem            When 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.




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.



Ó R. Maybury 1998 1910




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