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DISPLAY DILEMMA

Name              Joao Prates, via email (jmmp@esoterica.pt)                       

Kit                   Sony KV-A251 TV, Panasonic NV-HS950 VCR, Sony DVP-S7700 DVD

Problem            'My TV is too old' complains Joao Prates. He says he needs a new widescreen 'display device', the problem is he can't decide what kind. He likes the idea of a plasma screen but they're still far too expensive, and the same applies to LCD projectors. He goes on to say that he has little faith in rear projectors and prefers to stick with good old picture tubes. He has been impressed by Sony Wega and Panasonic TAU sets but he's put off the idea of buying loads of audio facilities he doesn't want since he already has a complete sound system. The perfect solution for him would be a screen with no sound, at an affordable price. Less than 32-inches would be unthinkable, so can we make a suggestion?

 

Expert Reply             Buying a TV or any display device for that matter is going to involve a compromise of one sort or another, no matter what your requirements. Sound systems, like built-in Dolby Pro Logic surround actually add very little to the overall cost of a home cinema TV these days and I wouldn’t consider it a reason not to buy a TV if it comes close to meeting all or most of your other requirements. Joao isn't clear about why he doesn't trust rear projection TVs but apart from some shortcomings when it comes to viewing angles and strong ambient light they are a worthwhile alternative to other large screen display technologies. Front projectors are improving in leaps and bounds (see Instant Expert) and prices are coming down quickly. There are some excellent models available now for little more than the cost of a jumbo tube TV so he might like to forget any prejudices he might have and look at some of the latest front and rear models.

  

 

TV/VCR AND SATELLITE QUERIES

 

CRAPPY CABLE?

Name                          Don Hay, via email                       

Kit                               Toshiba 40PW8 TV, Yamaha A592 AV amplifier, Yamaha S7000 DVD player

Problem                      A few weeks ago Don took the plunge and brought a Toshiba 40PW8 TV and he says that DVDs look 'stunning' but TV programmes leave a bit to be desired. He says that he is disappointed with the picture quality he is getting from his local cable company. Most terrestrial studio based programmes are okay but he's aware of patterning on some Sky channels. The cable company has told him it's due to 'too strong a signal'… He wants to know if he should make the change to digital TV, would he get the same picture quality as DVD, or is that asking too much?

 

Expert Reply             From the sound of it most if not all of Don's problems stem from the fact that he gets his satellite and terrestrial TV channels via cable. He doesn't give any details but I suspect it's a wonky old system, and/or an incompetent and uncaring cable company judging by the excuses they've given him. He should find out if the cable company have any plans to improve their system in the near future and if not he should indeed consider upgrading to digital. The only fly in the ointment is ITV, which still isn't being carried by Sky Digital. If, as seems likely he cannot receive ITV analogue transmissions due to reception problems it may be that he won't be able to get it via a terrestrial digital receiver either, but it's worth checking with local TV dealers. Alternatively, visit the ONdigital web site (www.ondigital.co.uk) which has a postcode search facility.

 

As far as digital picture quality is concerned, it should certainly be better than Don is getting at the moment but he shouldn't expect miracles. At best digital TV picture quality is comparable with a good analogue set-up. 

 

MORE CABLE COBBLERS

Name              Stephen Conroy, via email                          

Kit                   Panasonic ADI TV    

Problem            There is a fuzzy white line on the right hand side of the picture of some Sky channels on Stephen's TV. He gets satellite channels via cable and a technician said the fault was due to some channels being transmitted 'off centre'. Stephen wants to know will this fault be rectified on digital TV? He's planning to buy a Panasonic widescreen TV in the near future and would like to know if this it will occur on this TV as well?   

 

Expert Reply  An 'off-centre' picture, that's a new one! Even if there were differences in the alignment of satellite channels it would be up to the cable company to ensure that everything they squirted down the line was set to a uniform standard, and not try to fob off their customers off with techno babble. It's worth asking neighbours if they suffer the same problems. If not then there's a chance that the horizontal picture position of Stephen's TV is out by a whisker and he's seeing the edge of the scanned area, that would normally be hidden. If so it should take an engineer only a few minutes to adjust the picture.

 

IT HERTZ…

Name              Kane Williams, Sidcup, Kent                          

Kit                   Sony KV32WF1 TV           

Problem            Kane Williams wants to know if he's the only one who hates 100Hz TVs? Just about all of the sets he's seen look awful, he says. The screen looks 'speckled' and the images appear processed and unnatural. They seem two-dimensional and flat; he goes on to say not to mention all of the motion artefacts. He reckons the Philips 32PW9523, which has received many good reviews, has one of the worst pictures ever! He says he understands the idea of 100Hz technology is to get rid of flicker but he can honestly say that he has never been bothered by it, in any case he adds, a little flicker looks more 'cinematic.     

 

Kane mainly watches R1 DVDs and he wants to know if NTSC material is displayed on UK TVs as raw NTSC or as PAL 60Hz. If so isn't a 100Hz display pointless since a 60Hz display is above the flicker threshold? He is considering changing his current Sony TV for a KV-32FX20 and wants to know if we've

tested it?

 

One final question, Kane says that the pictures he's seen on all but one of the five plasma screen TVs he see was pretty damn good, though the consensus in the AV magazines he's read is less favourable. He wants to know if he has weird eyes, or something?

 

Expert Reply            

We haven't tested the KV-32FX20 but this family of 50Hz sets is known to us and we have been impressed by the picture performance. I have to admit that 100Hz displays are an acquired taste and some early models were prone to all kinds of picture anomalies but as you point out flicker is a problem for some, indeed it can be very annoying, especially on larger screens and widescreen displays. For those people 100Hz is a viable solution but it goes back to the reply to an earlier question about making compromises. If you don't like 100Hz then don't buy it, or switch it off. When it comes to displaying NTSC images a few sets can indeed display a 'raw' NTSC signal. However, most sets rely on the fact that the replay device (typically a VCR) converts the colour information in the signal and the TV adapts its display driver circuitry to the 60Hz frame rate, so yes, the 100Hz display is largely irrelevant and flicker is less evident.

 

Plasma screen displays are improving all the time but none of the ones we've seen are quite as good as the best CRT picture tubes. However, it's not quite that simple since there are no 40-inch plus picture tubes on the market so it's not possible to make meaningful like for like comparisons. I suspect there are two reasons reviewers are not falling over themselves to recommend plasma screens at the moment. The first is the price, which is still painfully high. The second is that the technology is still being developed. We have seen quite distinct improvements in the contrast ratio and brightness between first and second generation panels, even so they're still a little way behind CRTs in that respect but there is every reason to suppose that the gap will get even narrower. In other words, plasma can be good, but it can and will improve, and hopefully get cheaper as well. If you like what you see then by all means if you've got the readies dive in, but don't be surprised if next year, or the year after you'll be able to get something even better, for less.

 

BLOCK KNOCKING

Name              John Kimberley, via email                                

Kit                   wants to buy a widescreen TV      

Problem            Having read through the reviews of several widescreen TV in a recent edition of HE, John was surprised that the Panasonic TX32PF10 was nominated as a Best Buy. Demo models he's seen in shops showed clear blocking when connected to digital receivers. He wants to know how our reviewers missed such an obvious fault?

           

Expert Reply  Our TV tests are conducted using a variety of signal sources that are designed to show up picture defects such as the one's John describes would have come to light. It's difficult to know what caused the 'blocking' on the sets John saw but my guess that it was either coming from the digital decoder – caused by poor dish or aerial alignment or a weak signal -- or the TV wasn't set up properly. In both cases it's down to the showroom staff who are notoriously bad at displaying their products. If I had a pound for every widescreen TV set to the wrong aspect ratio and fuzzy picture I've seen in dealers windows and showrooms I would be a very rich man!

 

BOX COPY 1

GETTING STARTED

There haven't been many major developments in video projector technology recently, but there's one that's worth keeping an eye on. Micromirror devices MMDs) first surfaced around seven or eight years ago, they're microchips covered in thousands of microscopic mirrors that can be tilted to reflect light. A new small and highly efficient video projector has just come on to the market that uses one of these devices to create an exceptionally bright and clear colour image. But how does it create a colour picture from just one chip? The solution is a spinning colour wheel, positioned between the light source and the chip. The wheel has red, green and blue filters, so alternating flashes of coloured light are shone onto the chip and via the lens, on to the screen. The wheel is synchronised to the colour information in the picture and it all happens so fast that the three images appear to blend together to produce a full colour picture. It's far more efficient than either LCD or high intensity CRTs, though at the moment it is a good deal more expensive than conventional systems. Mechanical colour scanning techniques are not new; the idea goes way back to the 1930s and early colour TV systems pioneered by our old friend Mr John Logie Baird. Colour wheels popped up some 45 years later on colour cameras developed for use on early Apollo moon missions, this time the wheel was between the lens and the camera pickup tube. More recently, during the early 1980's, Mitsubishi developed a colour viewfinder for one of their camcorders using a spinning colour wheel in front of a tiny back and white CRT picture tube.   

 

LD AND DVD QUERIES

 

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GHOST IN THE MACHINE 

Name              Richard Curl, via email, (rjcurl@yahoo.com)                                                   Kit                   Samsung DVD-907  

Problem            Richard wants to know if a 32-inch widescreen TV (Thomson 32VT68ND) he's seen at a local rental shop will work with his DVD player and in particular will there be any problems with the tailing and ghosting effects that he has heard can affect some TV/DVD combinations. He wonders if it's anything to do with digital processing and 100Hz displays?

           

Expert Reply             In theory any DVD player should work with any TV but on several occasions we have noticed that some make/model combinations work better than others do. Unfortunately it would be impossible for us to test every possible permutation and in any case there are numerous other variables that we cannot control for, including differences in alignment, that may be well within a manufacturer's specified limits. The short answer therefore is no, we cannot say whether this combination of products will perform to your satisfaction but the chances of any serious picture defects are slight. As for 100Hz picture processing, it is very much a matter for personal taste. Some people hate it, others who are aware of 50Hz screen flicker are happy to put up with the processing and motion artefacts that can occur. However, since Richard is planning to rent this set he will have the luxury of being able to try it, without any serious obligation.

 

QUALITY QUERY

Name              Luke Harrison, via email                                                  

Kit                   Panasonic TXW28R4 TV, Sherwood RDS925 AV receiver         

Problem            Whilst on a visit to a well-known purveyor of hi-fi equipment Luke say and subsequently bought a Panasonic A160 DVD player. When he got it home he connected it up to his TV using an S-Video lead. He was impressed with the sound but he noticed that there was some noise in the picture, especially during the darker scenes in movies like Contact and Armageddon. He took the player back and the shop obligingly traded it in for the slightly more expensive Pioneer DV-511. This time he says the sound quality was slightly better but the picture seemed less stable. He has tried different lead combinations but without any effect. He's now torn between the two players. He says that he prefers the picture of the Panasonic machine but prefers the sound from the Pioneer deck, which also has better connection facilities, and to confuse matters he has heard the new Samsung DVD-709 is rather good, can we help him decide?

 

Expert Reply            Much as we'd like to say buy player A in preference to players B or C we can't, only Luke can decide what is and isn't acceptable in terms of picture and sound quality on his system. Moreover we cannot predict what changes he might make to his equipment in the future, which might affect he way his system performs. Sorry if that sounds like a cop-out but picture and sound quality is a highly subjective matter and the 'noise' Luke says he's seeing in some scenes could just as easily be caused by the software, a badly adjusted TV or him being over-critical. What we can say is that any picture instability is unacceptable, we couldn't say for sure that it's the fault of the Pioneer player but that would be enough to reject this model if it was our money we were spending.

 

DUBIOUS DANCES

Name              David Goodwin, via email                          

Kit                   Panasonic DVD player, Panasonic TX-W28R3DP     

Problem            After reading that a region-zero version of Dances With Wolves, with a DTS soundtrack was now available, David went ahead and ordered a copy from the US. The only trouble is that it will not play on his machine, do we have any ideas?            

 

Expert Reply             The obvious answer is that David has been sent a Region 1 copy of the disc. We have one in our possession and there are no markings anywhere on the disc or the case to indicate region code, so it could have been a genuine mistake on the part of the dealer. The only answer is to return it and ask for a replacement.

 

MESSY WHITES

Name              Steven Wilkinson, Sutton Park, Hull                            

Kit                   Sony KV32WSU TV, Samsung DV-807 DVD player 

Problem            When watching movies on the Sony TV, irrespective of whether it is connected to his DVD player, VCR or satellite tuner, Steven complains that he gets terrible smearing when white is shown against a black background. He says this makes sci-fi and horror films hard going. Do we think this is a fault and if so, what's the cure? His supplementary question concerns the difference between RGB, composite and component video connections, which one is best, he asks?

           

Expert Reply  I'll tell you a little story. Many, many years ago I worked for a well-known British TV manufacturer (yes it was a long time ago…). One of the recurring complaints from consumers was a lack of colour and brightness in the picture though the sets themselves had perfectly adequate colour and brightness controls. However in response to this we increased the range of the controls, giving the customer the ability to wildly skew the colour and brightness settings, lo and behold the complaints stopped. The point is a lot of people have the brightness and colour adjustments on their TVs set way too high. We used to joke that it was a way of justifying the higher cost of the colour TV licence, they paid for colour and they wanted to get their money's worth… Now I'm not saying this is the reason in this case but an over bright picture will produce smearing. There's a big temptation to whap up the brightness control when watching intentionally dark or gloomy movies. It's worth backing the setting off a smidge to see if that makes a difference. Of course it could be an alignment problem, and settings can drift over time, so if Steven has noticed the problem getting worse it might be worth having it looked at.

 

In the UK we use three types of video connection, composite, RGB and Y/C or S-Video, sometimes mistakenly referred to as 'component' video. In fact component video, or more correctly analogue colour difference components, is something completely different and mostly confined to the US. Moreover it favours the NTSC system – there are fewer benefits on PAL equipment -- but in any case only a tiny handful of imported DVD players and an even smaller handful of display devices have this facility, so for the purposes of this answer we'll ignore it. (To confuse matters even further analogue colour difference signals are also referred to as 'YUV, Y'Pb'Pr or Y'Cb'Cr').

 

Composite video is the basic standard for moving PAL and NTSC colour video signals around between bits of equipment, and very good it is too. The main distinguishing characteristic is that the brightness (luminance or Y) and colour (chrominance or C) parts of the video signal are mixed in together, which means they can travel together down a single wire. Composite video signals are robust and can go considerable distances before there's any degradation in image quality but the main problem is that luminance and chrominance information in a PAL signal has a tendency to interact, producing an effect known as 'herringbone' or moiré patterning. It's most noticeable on highly detailed or patterned areas of the picture, where you may see patches of unstable or moving colour. People appearing on TV used to be discouraged from wearing pin-striped suits or fancy ties. RGB colour signals get around the problem by splitting the picture information into its component colours, namely red green and blue. RGB connections produce the purest and cleanest colours but it makes wiring more complicated and there are limitations on how long the cables can be. The other point to bear in mind is that not all AV devices have RGB inputs and outputs. S-Video or Y/C connections are another attempt to get around signal interactions and this time the luminance (Y) and chroma (C) information is separated. Incidentally the 'S' in S-Video stands for 'separated' and has nothing to with Super VHS, as a lot of people mistakenly believe. S-Video connections are almost as good as RGB when it comes to picture quality and it is more widely used, though some TV manufacturer's confuse matters by putting S-Video connections on the SCART socket and not the standard 4-pin mini DIN (or Hosiden) socket. S-Video cables need to be quite short – preferably less than 10 metres – though this is unlikely to be a problem for most users. Given the choice RGB or S-Video is always preferable to composite video for linking items of video equipment and of those two RGB has a slight edge, but only if the TV has the appropriate connections and colour adjustment.   

 

POOR CONTACT

Name              Mark Dermody, via email                          

Kit                   Philips 32PW9544 TV, Pioneer DV-717 DVD player

Problem            In response to a previous query regarding problems with Crimson Tide, Mark would like to add his two-pennoth. He has had problems with Contact. He says it is like being on LSD, with Jodie Foster's face moving around without her head moving. He's tried all the tricks -- switching off noise reduction etc – but to no avail. He says it only happens on two out of the fifty discs he has, but since these are the only Region 2 titles he has he wonders if it is software related since it occurred before he had his player modified for all region playback?   

           

Expert Reply

We'll have to take Marks word for his comparison of taking mind-altering substances with watching Contact. However, apart from the movie's pivotal role in the great layer change debate (affecting some Sony decks), as far as we are aware there are no general coding issues with Contact which could explain this behaviour. Copies of Contact we've seen appear to be okay, though as usual we would be very interested to hear from anyone else suffering similar problems. However, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary it looks as though this is another one of those cases where a disc just doesn't get on with a particular player. Fortunately such cases are quite rare and there seems to be fewer instances of late. Second and third generation players appear to be a lot more consistent suggesting both sides of the industry are getting their acts together… Unfortunately that's no comfort for Mark, if possible he should return the disc, in case it's a one off. If we hear of any more cases we'll let you know.

 

BOX COPY 2

GETTING STARTED

The next big thing in DVD is likely to be product integration and the first mini hi-fi system with a built-in triple disc DVD autochanger has just gone on sale in the UK. You might think this is a big step forward in the technologies short but eventful history but videodisc autochanger systems have been on sale in the Far East for a while. We tend to forget that the Video CD format, which bombed in Europe and the US, has been a big success elsewhere. In fact it's going down a storm in China and some pacific markets and integration is nothing new. This has made it relatively easy for manufacturers to adapt existing Video CD devices to DVD and we can expect to see quite a few products of this nature coming our way in the not too distant future. System integration also holds out the promise of combi TV/DVDs and very soon, a DVD player with a built-in 5.1 channel decoder and AV amplifier, or is it the other way around? In fact we can expect to see DVD players turning up all over the place, in exactly the same way as CD has done. The first in-car player – with screens for rear-seat passengers -- has just been demonstrated, both Sony and Panasonic are marketing portable players and you can bet your boots that someone somewhere is working on a twin-deck recordable DVD machine with disc to disc copying facilities.

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1999 0507

 

 

 

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