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QUERY OF THE MONTH

 

DIGITAL FUTURE

Name                          M J. Hall, Leigh -On-Sea, Essex             

Kit                               thinking about digital TV

Problem                      How will the coming of digital TV affect the teletext services from the BBC and ITV, asks Mr Hall? He also wants to know if he will be able to record digital TV on his existing VCR?

 

Expert Reply             Digital teletext will be far superior to the current generation of analogue services. The presentation is a lot better, more like Internet web pages, it has the facility to carry high-quality colour photographic images, and page access should be a lot faster. At the time of writing it was still unclear which terrestrial and satellite boxes and TVs would have on-board teletext decoders, (we know all Philips digital boxes will have it), or which broadcasters will be transmitting text services (terrestrial digital channels will carry teletext from day-one). However, we're fairly hopeful it will become a major feature of digital broadcasting, it's free and visually impressive so it should be a big selling point. 

 

Digital set-top decoder boxes and TVs with built-in decoders should have video outputs, which can be connected to an ordinary VHS VCR. We're hopeful that some decoders will also have FireWire digital output, which can be used by D-VHS video recorders (see D-VHS feature in HE59); D-VHS video recorders are capable of recording broadcast quality video and audio and will be able to record several channels at once.

 

TV/VCR AND SATELLITE QUERIES

 

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE

Name                          Tim Maddock            , via e-mail    

Kit                               Arcam Xeta One, Sony Widescreen TV, B&W CC6 and 601

Problem                      Tim is a big X-Files fan and has been busily buying videos of the show. The boxes say they're recorded in surround sound, but Tim says the sound is terrible and not a patch on the SKY and terrestrial TV broadcasts. What's going on?

 

Expert Reply             The one thing missing from the list of components in Tim's system is the VCR, and this has to be the prime suspect for iffy surround sound performance. The stereo hi-fi soundtrack recorded on VHS tape is not very robust. It is recorded on a low frequency carrier deep in the tape's magnetic layer and a fraction of a second later it's overwritten by higher frequency video signals. During playback the by now very weak audio signals have to be read through the video signal, even slight tracking errors, dirty heads or poorly designed or aligned processing circuitry can make the signal loose it's coherence. Noise levels increase and there can be a low-pitched buzzing sound on some machines. Whilst all this is happening picture quality can be unaffected, which deflects suspicion away from the VCR.

 

BRAND AWARENESS

Name                          Colin Thomas, via e-mail                         

Kit                               Philips 32PW6322 TV, Matsui NICAM VCR, Aiwa AV-100 amp, Paradigm CC150 centre, Tannoy M2 front, M1 rears

Problem                      Having recently brought the TV Colin is very happy with it, as far as terrestrial reception is concerned, but when he plays a video the picture quality drops. He say it is very grainy with lots of flashing, especially when the picture is filled with one colour, and there's a lot of bleeding. It's the same no matter what zoom mode the TV is in and it seems he is getting a lot of interference from other channels, even though, he asserts, the VCR is connected to the TV by a SCART lead. David wants to know if the VCR is the problem -- he is planning to upgrade it shortly -- or could it be something to do with the speakers, he's not sure if they're magnetically shielded?

 

Expert Reply             David needs look no further than the Matsui VCR for all of his problems. The sooner he upgrades his VCR the better. It has to be said that this particular brand of video recorders is cheap and fairly cheerful not normally noted for AV excellence. Teaming a Matsui VCR with a Philips widescreen TV is a bit like cooking with yesterday's leftovers, you can eat it, but it probably won't taste very nice…

 

MILENNIUMN BUGGERED

Name                          Dav Alderson                    

Kit                               Pioneer SD-T50W1, Yamaha 3090

Problem                      After seeing a recent report on TV about the 'millennium bug' Dav is troubled. The item suggested that a lot of new equipment has embedded date-reliant chips. He wrote to Yamaha asking for a letter of confirmation that their new kit was millennium-proof, and that it wouldn't stop working on new years day 2000, but he hasn't heard from them yet.  Can we help, and he says it would be a good idea if we got manufacturers to state whether or not their equipment was millennium compliant.

 

Expert Reply              Alarmist stories about embedded date-conscious microchips are getting out of hand and Yamaha's lack of response doesn’t help matters.  First ask yourself why on earth a manufacturer would knowingly design an appliance or piece of home entertainment equipment that will stop working on January 1st 2000?  Even if someone had -- which they haven't -- how would that product know that the millennium has arrived? When was the last time you programmed an AV amplifier, your washing machine or toaster for that matter with time and date information? The only category of AV equipment that has any interest whatsoever in the date is video recorders and we can say with absolute certainty that no VCR will stop working after midnight December 31st 1999, (unless as predicted there are widespread power-cuts…). It is just possible there is an old, long-forgotten VCR out there that we don’t know about, that can't cope with the changeover and won't make a time-shifted recording programmed on January 1st 2000. If so we'd like to hear about it, but you can rest assured that televisions, AV amps, disc players of all kinds, decoders, loudspeakers, connecting cables and vacuum cleaners will not be affected. 

 

A SWITCH IN TIME

Name                          John Hobson. Co. Armagh                      

Kit                               Toshiba TV

Problem                      Could a screen magnifier be used to enlarge a 33-inch Toshiba TV to 41-inches, John Hobson wants to know? He would also like guidance on whether turning the TV off at the mains socket is more or less harmful than using the TV's on-off switch?

 

Expert Reply             The screen magnifier's we've seen are thin freshnel lenses. They do work, but in our opinion they introduce unacceptable distortion and colour fringing into the picture, and reduce the viewing angle, so that only one or two people can see the picture properly. Our advice has to be if you want a bigger picture, get a bigger screen. On most TVs the front panel on-off button is a mains switch and it operates in exactly the same manner as the switch on a wall outlet socket. However, if you're referring to the on/standby function on a TV, that's another matter. In the standby mode the TV is still connected to the mains supply and some circuits -- such as the power supply and remote control receiver  -- remain active, are consuming power and generating heat. Electronic circuits undergo maximum stress at switch on and switch off, so it is reasonable to suppose that using the on/standby function may reduce those stresses. On the other hand electronic components age faster when they're operating. In the end we suspect that it doesn't make much difference one way or the other, though leaving a TV on in the standby mode is not recommended; apart from any safety considerations it's wasteful of energy and can only increase the size of your electricity bills.  

 

CLEAN MACHINE?

Name                          Michael Magro, Gozo, Malta              

Kit                               VCR maintenance  

Problem                      The item about VCR head cleaning in the August issue has prompted Michael to write to us about looking after his VCR. He would like to know is there's any other kind of routine maintenance he should be carrying out, such as lubrication or cleaning?

 

Expert Reply             There's no nipples to grease or oil to change if that's what Michael is asking… The lubricants used on the moving parts inside a VCR are supposed to last the life of the machine but how long that might be depends on a number of factors. The grease on the tape loading arms can become sticky and in extreme circumstances, turn into an abrasive paste when contaminated with dust and oxide particles, shed by the tape. Michael should make sure he only uses good quality tapes, stored in their slip cases. Dust off the cassettes before loading and try to keep the area around the VCRs ventilation slots free of dust. Heavy smokers should refrain from blowing smoke in the direction of their tapes and equipment.

 

ZOOM WITH A VIEW

Name                          Nick Backhouse, via email                    

Kit                               Wants to buy a Sony KV32FD1 widescreen TV

Problem                      Nick would like to know if the Sony KV32FD1 widescreen TV can display 16:9 widescreen images at full resolution, in other words, not using any zoom modes, if an when he purchases a set-top digital decoder?

 

Expert Reply             Yes it can. This TV has automatic widescreen display switching. Widescreen TV programmes and recordings include a switching signal on TV line 23 -- this is one of the lines that are not displayed -- when the TV senses the signal it switches to 16:9 display mode, so you get a full resolution widescreen picture.

 

BOX COPY 1 -- BEGINNERS GUIDE

VCR FIRST AID

Sooner or later it happens to almost every VCR owner. You press the eject button, there's a sickening scrunching noise and the cassette either stays put inside the machine, or when you remove it, the tape stays behind. Don't panic or you might make things worse!

 

If the cassette won't eject could be jammed  or locked in by a software control glitch or the mechanical 'Syscon' (system control) switch inside the machine could be sticky or faulty. The best course of action is to unplug the VCR from the mains and leave it for a couple of minutes, then try again. This forces a control system reset and recycles the eject sequence; if you're lucky the tape will unload next time. Some VCRs have a system-reset button, if so press it. If that doesn't work try a longer mains interruption but if it still doesn’t respond it needs expert attention.

 

Don't fight a tangled tape, you could damage the deck mechanism. Lightly pull both ends of the tape, if one feels as though it's going to come free, snip the other end and gently pull it through. If neither end comes out have it seen by an engineer, or if you feel reasonably confident of your screw driving abilities, whip off the lid and untangle the tape by hand. Bin the cassette, do not try and join the ends together with sticky tape! Broken tapes can be professionally repaired -- enquire at your local specialist video dealer -- but it can be an expensive job and the creased section will be lost forever.    

 

LD AND DVD QUERIES

 

DODGY DISCS?

Name                          David Page, via fax                                      

Kit                               Pioneer LD 1850, Pioneer DVL-909

Problem                      Since retiring his LD-1850 and moving to DVD David has not been impressed. He finds that the 909 is slow to react when playing laserdiscs -- when it gets to the end of a side it keeps on playing for 10 to 15 seconds, and takes up to 30 seconds to respond to a command. He says PAL DVDs occasionally break up and on a few occasions he has noticed speech is not in synch. David wants to know if this could be a fault on the TV or something to do with the player?

 

Expert Reply             As far as its sluggardly behaviour is concerned this is something we noted in our review of the DVL-909 back in the August issue. It's not really surprising when you consider what's going on under the bonnet, hopefully future models will move a little quicker though this kind of multi-format deck mechanism is never going to be as nimble as a DVD-only player. The picture problem sounds like a fault, though it's just possible it could be a problem with the discs. That would be the likeliest explanation if the break up only happens on certain discs, at the same point on a recording. Samples of the 909 we've tested behaved well enough, the picture quality wasn't the best we've seen, but it was stable. The same goes for the sound, it's unlikely to be anything to do with the TV, if it was it wouldn't only be confined to DVD and you would notice it on other video sources. 

 

COPYWRONG

Name                          Shane Kendall, London N16                           

Kit                               Pioneer CLD-D925 laserdisc player, Philips 32PW9631 widescreen TV, Toshiba V705 NICAM VCR, Wharfdale Valdus speakers

Problem                      Over the past six months Shame reckons he has spent a little over £1000 on NTSC laserdiscs. Now he wants to know how he goes about transferring them to VHS tape. He says he is able to get a black and white picture, but no sound, what am I doing wrong he asks, and assures us the recordings are purely for his own entertainment, in the bedroom?

 

Expert Reply             Tut tut, you know it's wrong to make copies of copyright material, even if it is for your own personal use. The reason is doesn't work is the 'PAL' signal coming from the LD player is really still an NTSC standard signal that has been only partially converted into PAL. VCRs lack the facility, which most recent TVs have, to further process the signal. The only way to do it would be to use a device called a standards converter or a VCR with a transcoding facility, such as the Samsung SV-300W, which can take an NTSC input signal and make a PAL recording. However, it still may not work with a lot of discs, which are copy protected. If you want to watch laserdiscs in bed why not get a second laserdisc player -- there are plenty of bargains to be had right now. Alternatively, run an AV cable up to the bedroom and control the living room machine with a wireless remote control system, like the Powermid

 

CODE CONFUSION

Name                          Paul Stokoe, via email              

Kit                               Philips 28PW662B widescreen TV

Problem                      To DVD or not DVD, that is the question that Paul is asking. He says he understands the regional coding issues but would like clarification on the legal implications of buying a US Region 1 player, or a multi-region deck. He asks, is regional coding there to make it inconvenient for software buyers and would it be illegal for him to play Region 1 discs in the UK? He also wants to know if Region 1 players put out NTSC signals, or are they switchable?

 

Expert Reply             There are no laws to stop you buying DVD players or discs from anywhere you want, though personal imports, and bringing stuff back through customs can be bound with red-tape, moreover the obscenity laws apply to material on DVD. Importing one or two copies of an uncertificated movie for your own consumption isn't usually a problem, though HM Customs tell us they will take a dim view of travellers trying to sneak through with suitcases full of discs, particularly if they're all of the same movie...

 

The idea behind regional coding is simple. It's a means for the movie industry to control the distribution of pre-recorded software. It also takes into account a particular country's local language and censorship requirements. Many DVD players can be tricked into all-region (Region 0) or set to play Region 1 and 2 discs with a simple modification, though for obvious reasons it's not something the manufacturers shout about, and it would almost certainly invalidate the guarantee. In some cases enabling Region 1 playback engages NTSC replay and disables Macrovision copy protection. If you want to know more there plenty of Internet web sites with detailed information about specific models.

 

STRETCHING A POINT

Name                          Lee Coleman, Tyne & Wear            

Kit                               Sony KP-41S3

Problem                      What on earth is an 'anamorphic DVD', asks Lee Colman?

 

Expert Reply             The anamorphic process was developed for the cinema. Basically it is a way of fitting a widescreen picture into the confines of a 35mm film frame. A special lens on the camera squeezes the picture vertically -- so everything looks thin -- a similar lens on the projector spreads everything out horizontally on the screen. A similar technique is used to put widescreen recordings on tape and disc. The widescreen image is compressed vertically prior to recording and during playback, electronically stretched to fill a widescreen display, avoiding the need for letterboxing or panning and scanning. The only problem is that anamorphic recordings look weird on 4:3 displays, so they have to be marked accordingly, hence the 'Anamorphic' label on some DVDs.

 

 

BOX COPY 2 -- BEGINNERS GUIDE

DTS AND DVD

After some initial confusion it is now clear that DVDs with high quality DTS (Digital Theatre System) multi-channel soundtracks will be available. Seventeen titles are scheduled for release in the US by the end of the year. The question is, will they be playable on first generation DVD players? The answer is almost certainly not, unless the player is specifically flagged as being 'DTS Ready' or it has a 'DTS Digital Output'. The confusion about early players being DTS compatible was caused by early demo discs which played on any type of deck; production discs will carry a data stream identifier, which the player must recognise in order to process the information correctly. We understand that in most cases it will not be possible to upgrade older non-DTS compliant players. Players than cannot recognise the DTS ident will still be able to recover Dolby Surround sound information -- if present -- on the standard stereo soundtrack and it is possible some DTS discs will have an AC-3 or MPEG 5.1 soundtrack as well.     

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1998 1409

 

 

 

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