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Name              John Binnell, Midlands                               

Kit                   Sony KV25F2U DPL TV, Sony SLV-E710 NICAM VCR, and cable receiver

Problem            John is having problems recording from his cable box. He has connected the VCR to the TV using a SCART lead, and he can successfully timeshift programs on terrestrial channels 1 to 4 using Video Plus+ but not channel 5, which is used for cable channels. When Channel 5 is selected the VCR jumps from Line 1 to Line 2 AV input and even if he switches it back manually, it refuses to record.           


Expert Reply             I had to read this one a couple of times to figure out what's going on. When John makes a Video Plus+ recording of the terrestrial channels his VCR uses its own internal tuner, as per normal. However, when he uses Video Plus+ to record a satellite channel -- which John receives on cable -- the VCR is expecting the signal to come from a satellite receiver, via a SCART lead connected to the Line 1 input. The simplest solution would be to route the RF output from the cable box via the VCR, and tune Channel 5 to the cable box 'channel'. John will have to set the VCR timer manually, as Video Plus+ programming will not work under those circumstances.   



Name                          Robin Bady, Bristol

Kit                               Sony 29D1U TV

Problem                      An intermittent fault on Robin's Sony TV is driving him nuts. The set is reasonably new and came with a 5-year warranty, so he's not asking us to sort it out, but the problem is getting it fixed. Robin brought the TV from a Sony dealer in Torquay but has since moved to Bristol. He contacted the shop in Torquay, asking if the local Sony Centre could send out an engineer but they told him he would have to return it to Torquay, 'under his own steam'. That's bad enough with a 29-inch set, Robin wants to know what would happen if he'd brought a 46-inch back projector?


Expert Reply             From the sound of it the fault could be relatively trivial and should take only a few minutes to fix, but that's not the point. The dealer concerned and Sony are legally bound to honour their guarantee. You should insist someone comes out to look at it, or they come and collect it, otherwise it will be reported to your local Trading Standards Office. 



Name                          Jerome Philipon, Leighton Buzzard                      

Kit                               intending to buy a 32-inch widescreen TV

Problem                      Since leaving his native France to live in blighty Jerome has developed an interest in home cinema and wants to buy a 32-inch widescreen TV, preferably a 100Hz model. He's got his eye on the Philips 32PW9512 or possibly the 32PW9523, but what he wants to know is will they be compatible with the French SECAM system, when he goes home in two years time? He's got a similar concern about buying a VCR. 


Expert Reply             Both TVs have multi-standard tuners and display systems, so Jerome should have no problems using either in France. There might be problems getting the TV fixed under warranty when eventually he returns home, technically it would be a 'grey import' and the guarantee wouldn't necessarily be valid. Finding a SECAM compatible VCR is a little more difficult; video recorders tend to be dedicated to the TV system of the country they're sold in. It is possible to get some models modified but the cost is prohibitive.  Playing tapes won't be a problem though, since the picture and sound signals that are recorded on the tape are the same in PAL and SECAM countries, so Jerome will be able to watch any recordings he made in the UK, on any French VHS video recorder. Jerome could get a multi-standard VCR but they're quite expensive, in the end I suspect it will be easier and cheaper to buy a PAL VCR here -- decent NICAM machines sell for less than £300 -- and sell it when he returns home. One final thought; before Jerome buys a TV here he might like find out what Philips TVs cost back home, some AV products can be brought more cheaply in France, it might even be worth him taking a day-trip to Calais…



Name              Roger  Baderman, London                                               

Kit                   Mitsubishi C28S7B TV, Akai VS-G745  

Problem            Whilst playing an NTSC copy of Money Talks, sourced from DVD, Roger comments that the colour was very 'poor'. A blue screen interrupts the DVD logo and brown stripes run across the screen and brown clothing appears striped. He wants to know how to cure the problem…            


Expert Reply             Well Roger (not his real name, we protect the stupid…), the bottom line is that you've been had and you're watching an illegal pirate copy. What you're seeing are the combined effects of copy protection measures on the original disc, and the fact that most pirate recordings are made on cheap, poorly maintained equipment. Unless Roger is very dim he should have known that the recording was dodgy and now he's paying the price. Roger can get his own back on the Pirates by calling the Federation Against Copyright Theft (F.A.C.T) on XXXX XXXXX and let them know where he got it from. The answer to Roger's last question is no, there is no cure, it's a lousy recording and nothing can be done to clean it up.



Name              Douglas Stevens, via fax                              

Kit                   Mitsubishi CT25AV1 TV      

Problem            Our changeable summer weather caught Douglas on the hop. His Mitsubishi TV was parked with its back to the French Windows. They were wide open -- it was a sunny day -- the next moment the heaven's opened and the TV was drenched. Fortunately it wasn't switched on at the time but it got a real soaking and water has been dripping from the back for several days. Douglas is afraid to switch it on, for fear it might blow up. He wants to know if it has been permanently damaged, or will it eventually dry out?


Expert Reply             Douglas was very lucky, if the TV had been on, even in the standby mode it would have almost certainly suffered a lot of expensive damage. However, there's a fair chance it will have survived the ordeal but on no account should it be switched on again until it has dried out thoroughly. It needs to spend at least a week in a warm dry atmosphere, where air can freely circulate, before you even think about plugging it in again. In fact it's a good idea to have an engineer check it out, just in case some moisture has been trapped somewhere.



Name              Kerry Singleton, SE London                                   

Kit                   interested in digital TV      

Problem            With digital terrestrial TV just around the corner, Kerry wants to know if he will need a new aerial. He lives in South East London, almost within sight of the Crystal Palace transmitter, yet he gets a crappy picture on all five channels, possibly due to some nearby high-rise flats. Will digital pictures look any better?    


Expert Reply             Quite possibly, digital TV signals are a lot more robust than analogue ones, and they should be less susceptible to ghosting and noise interference. However transmission power levels will be lower, and this may exacerbate existing problems with poor quality or badly aligned antennas. In any case rooftop aerials are only designed to last ten years or so, if Kerry's is getting on a bit it this would be a good time to have it replaced.



Name              Hannah Leeson, Hastings                                

Kit                   GEC C2501 TV      

Problem            After moving into her new flat Hannah was given a GEC 25-inch TV. The trouble is it is taking longer and longer for a picture to appear and the colour to settle down. Otherwise it works well, and she says it sounds great. Hanna wants to know if it's a terminal basket case, or would it be worth having it serviced?


Expert Reply             I had to delve deep into the archives top find this one. The C2501 is a 1988 vintage set, that cost £550 when new, and that was when £550 was worth something… The point is, it is ten years old, which means it has been living on borrowed time for quite a while; most TV manufacturers reckon on a life expectancy of 8 years. The tube probably needs replacing but it will cost almost as much as new 25-inch TV (prices start at less than £250), moreover other parts are bound to fail in the near future. Don't bin it, you might get a few bob for it in your local free ad sheet or donate it to a local charity shop



Name                          Geoff Lindley, Coulsden, Surrey            

Kit                               in the market for an S-VHS video recorder?

Problem                      Geoff is waiting with bated breath for the promised JVC HR-S7500 Super VHS VCR, which he understands, will cost only £350. He want's to know if this machine marks the revival of S-VHS, what's likelihood of pre-recorded movies and will the cost of tapes come down?


Expert Reply             The Super VHS format got off to a slow start in 1989 and it was downhill from that point onwards. The lack of software support effectively consigned it to a backwater of the VCR market and its existence today is due almost entirely to camcorder owners, who use the system for editing and copying home video movies. It's unlikely JVC's new machine will prompt other manufacturers to lower their prices, in fact only Panasonic and Philips are still marketing machines in the UK, Mitsubishi recently pulled out. The other problem is off-air recordings, they don't look much better than standard VHS, and the cost of specially formulated S-VHS tapes probably won't fall, so realistically there's not much to be gained. However, there are other interesting developments afoot and JVC has developed a new analogue recording system, that gives S-VHS quality on VHS tapes. We should be able to tell you more in the next few months. Watch this space. In the meantime, if Geoff is looking for a high performance VCR, for the same price as a mid-market NICAM machine then the HR-S7500 is definitely worth considering.




Over the next few months we're going to be bombarded with hype, half-truths and porky-pies about the forthcoming digital terrestrial and satellite TV services, so here's a few friendly facts, to help see you through.


You do not need to buy a new TV to get the new digital channels. Initially both satellite and terrestrial services will be delivered via set-top boxes, that connect to your existing television in much the same way as a video recorder or satellite receiver. Eventually digital decoders will be built into TVs, we should see one or two this year, but it's probably a good idea to wait, until they've sorted out the question of interoperability, in other words, using one decoder box for all services.


Digital TV pictures will not necessarily be any better than the pictures you're getting now; it is not to be confused with high definition TV. Digital TV channels use the same PAL 625-line colour TV system as current analogue broadcasts. A lot of digital channels will be broadcasting widescreen pictures but unless you've already got a widescreen TV, the pictures you will see will be in good old 4:3.


Wait and see! It's great to be the first kid on the block but that can be an expensive hobby. It is going to take several months for the two services to settle down, so the channel line up and extra facilities on offer could look very different in a few months time . Moreover, if you're an early adopter your may well find that your first generation set-top receiver box could become outdated very quickly.






Name                          I. Spawnes, S. Yorks

Kit                               A growing collection of Region 1 DVD discs

Problem                      Over the past few months Mr Spawnes has been built up a sizeable collection of Region 1 DVDs. He doesn't say how or why, but he would now like to watch them, and wants to know which player to buy? He asks if he Panasonic A100 is worth considering and how does its performance compare with other machines?


Expert Reply             In order to watch Region 1 discs Mr Spawnes will need a Region 1 player (and an NTSC-capable TV), or a player that has been modified for all area replay. The former he will have to import, or obtain through a specialist dealer. However, it won't allow him to play Region 2 (European) discs, so he'll probably end up having to buy a UK spec DVD deck as well. The danger with modified all-areas players is that some software companies have cottoned on to this dodge and thrown a spanner into the works. Some recent DVDs have extra coding that prevents them from playing on some modified all-area players. In short it's a muddle and there is no easy or cheap solution at the moment.



Name              R.H. Pearson, Sheffield                                

Kit                   Interested in DVD    

Problem            Mr Pearson says he's a big fan of home cinema and read the DVD reviews in the April/may issues with great interest. He is currently saving up to buy a PC and has seen various models on sale with DVD-ROM drives. He wants to know if they can replay movies, and if so, is the quality any good. He also asks if a PC can be connected to a TV and would a PC player have problems with regional coding?          


Expert Reply             PCs with a DVD-ROM drive can be equipped to replay DVD Video discs, but it's a bit of a palaver. Dedicated DVD home decks will always produce the best results, apart from anything else picture quality should be better as the data on the disc doesn't have to go through so many layers of processing. The PC needs to be a fast up-to-date Pentium machine, the faster the better. It's no good trying to do it on older, slower Pentium PCs. It will have to be fitted with an MPEG 2 decoder card -- reckon on spending £200 or so to get a decent one. If you want to connect it to a TV, (in preference to watching a movie on a 15 inch monitor screen), he will need another adaptor card, costing £100 or so. Don't forget the sound, the PC will need a good quality sound card (another £100), and additional software, if he wants to get around regional coding. That little lot, including the PC, will set him back something like £1500 to £2000. Don't forget the PC will have to be close to the TV and he may not be able to access all of the extra replay and interactive facilities that are included as standard on most DVD players. Of course that may all change a couple of years down the line as PCs get cheaper and faster but for the moment at least, it's horses for courses.



Name              Mark Buckley, Cambridge     

Kit                   Sony SLV-E80 VCR, Toshiba 2857DB DPL TV, Celestion 3 speakers, Technics SV-470 amplifier and broken Technics SL-P550 CD player 

Problem            Mark asks if he should replace his VCR and duff CD deck with a DVD player? He likes the look of the Sony DVP-S715 and wants to know if there's anything else in the £600 price bracket as good. Finally, if he uses the DVD to play CDs how is the SCART lead going to reach to the TV?     


Expert Reply             Mark should hang on to his VCR for a while longer, recordable DVD decks are still a few years away… It's very difficult to give specific recommendations about a technology as new and fast moving as DVD. You can take it as read that there's always something a little bit better, just around the corner. Nevertheless the Sony S715 is one of our current favourites (the other one is the Panasonic DVD-A350). However, that might have changed by the time you read this so keep an eye on our web site at: www.home-entertainment.co.uk. Other than moving the hi-fi closer to the TV, or vice-versa, there's no easy answer to the connection problem. Provided you use good quality cables and connectors, AV leads can be up to four or five metres long before there's any noticeable increase in noise levels.





If you think the socket-infested backsides of TVs and video recorders are scary, just wait until you see what DVD has in store… The only small crumb of comfort is that you won't be seeing many aerial sockets. Actually it shouldn’t be too bad, if you take it step by step.  A basic DVD to TV connection is easy; all DVD players have at least one SCART AV socket so it can be treated just like any other AV component, providing your TV has a spare SCART socket of course. If not you can pipe it through the second AV input of your VCR, and if that hasn't got one you'll have to get a switchbox, or shortlist DVD boxes with twin SCART sockets.


If your TV has an S-Video (aka Y/C or component video) input you should use it. It will give you a crisper picture with sharper looking colours and no moiré patterning or cross-colour effects in areas of the picture where there's a lot of fine detail. S-Video connections use a 6-pin mini DIN or 'Hoshiden' connector; 2 or 3 metre cables cost around a fiver.


Most manufacturers have settled on phono (aka RCA or cinch) connectors for line audio inputs and outputs. But you may also find phonos carrying digital signals, for connection to external surround sound decoders; don't get them mixed up. Optical digital outputs can be a bit confusing, there's several different types, so make sure you get the right sort, or play it safe and stick with a one-make system.



Ó R. Maybury 1998 2406




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