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HINTS AND TIPS 69

 

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TIME FOR DIGITAL

Name                          Martin Taylor, via email (*)                     

Kit                               Grundig digibox

Problem                      After exchanging his much loved Pace MSS500 for a Grundig SKY digibox Martin saw some marginal improvements in picture quality but he finds the Grundig receiver lacking in one important respect, it hasn't got a timer. He says he spends a lot of time away from home and in the past has been able to make multi-channel timeshift recordings, but now he can only record one channel, by leaving the receiver switched on. Sky Customer services couldn't help so he wants to know if we have any thoughts on the matter?

 

Expert Reply              Timeshifting is one of the extra facilities built into the electronic programme guide (EPG) on satellite digiboxes. The idea is you select a programme for viewing or recording and the receiver automatically switches to that channel at the appointed time. However, the feature has not yet been implemented but SKY tells us that it is going to happen sometime soon and the necessary software upgrade will be available for existing receivers, probably by an off-air or phone line transfer. In the meantime Martin has two alternatives. Panasonic have just introduced two new VCRs (HD675 & HD685) with satellite control systems, programmed to operate digital set top boxes (including the Grundig model), other manufacturers are likely to follow suit. The other possibility – that we haven't tried – is to use one of the more sophisticated 'learning' IR remote controls with macro programming facilities and built-in timers. In theory one of these could be set up to switch the sat box on and select a channel, and at the same time the VCR could be programmed to make a time-shift recording on its AV channel. A bit of a palaver, but it might work…           

 

 

TV/VCR AND SATELLITE QUERIES

 

MAINTAINING STANDARDS

Name              Nick Pitman, via email              

Kit                   Mitsubishi C25S7B TV, Mitsubishi HS-761 VCR, Nintendo 64 (NTSC)

Problem            Nick is a big fan of NTSC video. He has a Japanese Nintendo 64 games console and intends to buy a Dreamcast console on a forthcoming trip to Japan. He also tells us that he watches a lot of NTSC videos on his Mitsi VCR and TV and whilst in Japan may well buy a DVD player and possibly a TV as well. This prompts three questions: do TVs with NTSC playback give as good a picture as NTSC TVs? Would a 'chipped' DVD be able to play UK discs or are they PAL only? And if he bought a Japanese TV would he be able to watch UK broadcasts using an NTSC to PAL transcoder, using a digital TV box or a VCR as the receiver? While he's at it he also wants to know what causes 'ghosting' or shadows of other TV channels? He says it can't be the external aerial since the picture on his old portable TV is fine.

 

Expert Reply  Blimey, talk about making life difficult… From the top, NTSC playback on PAL TVs is a bit variable, at best it can be as good as a NTSC TV fed with pure NTSC signals, at worst the picture can suffer from all kinds of faults, from an unstable or distorted image, to washed our colour. Sorry, we can't give a definitive answer on that one except to say that buying a Japanese TV for use in the UK is a bad idea. Not only will he forfeit most – if not all – of his guarantee rights Nick will have to lay on a 110 volt supply and unless it is a multi-standard set with multi-band tuner he won't be able to receive broadcast TV programmes. It's highly unlikely Nick will make any savings either since by the time he's paid excess baggage or freight charges and import duty it'll have cost him as much, possible more than buying a multi-standard TV here in the UK. Importing a chipped or multi-region DVD has the same pitfalls since there's the same problem with the power supply, warranty and extra duty. It is possible Nick could rig up some sort of receiver system using an NTSC to PAL transcoder but it is likely to picture quality will be pretty ropey, unless he's willing to pay top-dollar for semi-pro gear.  In short it is always best to buy locally; multi-region DVD decks brought in the UK can usually replay PAL and NTSC discs, and he wont have so far to travel to take it back, if something goes wrong.

 

As far as 'ghosting' is concerned, the effect Nick describes sounds more like co-channel interference, swamping or 'bleed through' rather than ghosting, (which is a result of a multi-path signal generated by reflections from nearby buildings or large metal structures). Co-channel interference can be caused by a number of things, including poor design of the TVs receiver tuner circuitry and too strong a signal. It may be worth trying an in-line 'attenuator' in his aerial feed or using a more directional or less sensitive rooftop aerial.

 

BOXING CLEVER

Name              Simon Neal, via email                                                  

Kit                   thinking of buying a Toshiba 32MW7DB and Pioneer DVD and LD players           

Problem            Having read the reviews Simon is in the process of buying a Toshiba 32MW7DB or the 40-inch projector model. He want to know if he is going to need a Dolby Digital processor to connect the disc players to the TV, and if so which model would we recommend, given a budget of £450? He would also like to know if he could use the Denon AVD1000 DTS processor in the same set-up or is there a combined Dolby Digital and DTS processor that would do the same job for less than £800? One final question, Simon wants to know how he goes about receiving the free-to-air digital channels, without paying a subscription?

 

Expert Reply             This is a bit of an odd request since one of the key features of the TVs in question is a built-in Dolby Digital decoder, so there's no need for an external processor. All Simon has to do is connect the digital output from the DVD or LD player to the digital input on the TV, it has both types (coaxial and optical/TOSLink). If for any reason Simon want to go the separates route for Dolby Digital and DTS there are several AV amps and receivers on the market that might fit the bill. The Harmon Kardon AVR65RDS AV receiver is worth considering and is currently selling for under £600.

 

There's good news concerning receiving free-to-air broadcasts from SKY Digital. All Simon has to do is call 0870 243 8000, tell them the serial number of his digibox and he'll be sent a viewing card for the freebie channels (BBC1, 2, BBC Choice, News 24, C4, C5, Sky News, Sky Travel, QVC, CNN etc), free, gratis and for nothing. 

 

MARITAL AID?

Name              Derek Seymore, via email                          

Kit                   wants to buy a 32-inch widescreen TV, max spend £2000  

Problem            Here's another odd one. Derek says he has got it into his head that he needs a dual tuner TV that splits the screen in half, so that he can view two channels at the same time. This would come in very handy, he continues, for when he and the wife have a disagreement whether to watch a Champions League match or Coronation Street (though he doesn't say which programme he's interested in…). He has concluded that there are not many sets of this type on the market at present, does this mean they're not very popular he asks, and if so, why not? He says he knows he can get a large screen TV with picture in picture, but he wants something smaller with a dual screen.

 

Expert Reply   Who gets to hear the sound? We doubt very much if such sets would have many takers, the two pictures would either have to be vertically cropped or drastically reduced, to fit them into the screen area, and would both end up only a little bigger than the picture on a 14-inch portable. The obvious solutions are to get a second TV or tape one of the programmes…       

 

PATCHY PERFORMANCE

Name              Adrian Semple, via email                          

Kit                   Sony 32FX60 TV    

Problem            Although initially impressed with the picture quality of his new TV Adrian says that after a few days he has noticed a patch of blue colour in the bottom right hand corner and a larger yellow patch in the bottom left corner of the screen. Both areas of colouration are sometimes noticeable further up the screen. He asks if this is a design fault, possibly indicating convergence errors, or does he have a faulty set? If so is there anything he can do to remedy the situation?       

 

Expert Reply             It sounds like a classic case of colour staining caused by the magnetic fields emanating from unshielded speakers or some other electrical or electromagnetic devices close to the corners of the screen. Magnetic fields can build up on the aperture grille, which is a thin perforated metal sheet inside the tube. It happens all the time, even the earth's magnetic field can have this effect but the TV should automatically 'degauss' itself every time it is switched on. A coil attached to the outside of the tube induces a collapsing magnetic field in the screen, which should neutralise any staining, however it can only cope with relatively weak fields. The solution is to move any speakers or other sources of magnetism well away from the side of the screen (a foot or two at least), or replace the speakers with magnetically shielded types. Once the source of contamination has been removed the TV's degauss circuitry should eventually eradicate the staining, though there is a small chance that it is not working. If it persists Adrian will have to call in an engineer; he or she will also be able to remove any residual staining with an industrial-strength degauss coil.                 

 

HEAVY HERTZ

Name                          Colin Cook, via email              

Kit                               Philips 9525 TV

Problem                      Colin's 'Cool Green' TV performs well, until he watches football matches and the set seems to have trouble with fast movement. He says the picture is 'heavy' on the eyes, with colour bleed. He has had it checked out by an engineer who said it was within spec, and the problem is common with 100Hz TVs.  Colin says this is unacceptable on a TV costing £1400 and wants to know if things will improve when he gets SKY Digital, or will they get worse?

 

Expert Reply             The engineer was correct 100Hz displays can have difficulty coping with very rapid movement, and it does tend to show up more on live broadcasts, which often contain a lot more detail. It's not going to get any worse with SKY Digital, though he may see other digital 'artefacts', but these would show up on any TV, 100Hz or not. Digital processing and 100Hz displays have many benefits, and it is improving all the time, but for the moment at least there is a price to be paid.

 

BOX COPY 1

GETTING STARTED – 100Hz DISPLAYS

The idea is simple, a normal TV is built up in stages 50 times a second, but a lot people are aware of a annoying screen 'flicker'. It can become even more pronounced on larger screens and 16:9 TVs. The picture on a 100Hz TV is scanned twice as often, 100 times a second, which eliminates flicker, but the circuitry involved in processing the video signal has a real job on its hands, and this is where the problems begin. It's okay when there's not a lot of movement in the picture, which is the case most of the time. However, something like a football match, with panning cameras, players and the ball all moving at once presents the processor with more information than it can handle and those areas of the image can appear jerky or blurred. On some TVs it's possible to switch the 100Hz display off, which is a temporary solution, provided you are not bothered by 50Hz flicker.

 

LD AND DVD QUERIES

 

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FLAKEY SNAKE?

Name              David Green, via email (**)                               

Kit                   Toshiba 32MW7DB, Panasonic A350 DVD player, Yamaha A592 AV amp, Mission 700 series speakers        

Problem            David's Panasonic A350 DVD player refuses to play his Region 2 Snake Eyes disc. After many attempts, with lots of whirring noises and spluttering the deck finally kicks into 'life', but only to display a message 'Please insert a different disc' or 'Fault U11 Found'. David contacted Panasonic who confirmed U11 was a fault code, and referred him to an approved service agent. The player was duly sent off, after David checked to make sure that he was covered by the manufacturer's warranty. Due to staff shortages the player was not looked at for a week, several days later he had a call from them. They said they were awaiting assistance from Panasonic as they didn't have any idea what the fault code meant, meanwhile could he send them some discs, so they could check the fault for themselves. A colleague dropped in his copy of Snake Eyes and four days later he had another call saying the disc worked perfectly and the fault lay with the software, not the player. There was more bad news, the company told him that they were going to charge him £45, plus VAT, for the diagnosis, and would not release the player until he paid the bill. The company suggested Panasonic might like to pay the bill but to date David has had no reply to his emails from the Customer Service department. He would like to hear our comments, before taking legal advice.  

 

Expert Reply   We are not aware of any issues with Snake Eyes and Panasonic DVD players and our own copy plays perfectly well on the office A350, so it is fairly safe to assume that the root cause of this problem lies with a faulty disc. It's a tricky situation but the player apparently worked okay with David's other DVDs so we think he should have checked the disc first by taking it back to the shop for a swap (or trying his colleagues copy), rather than blaming the player.

 

Nevertheless, it does sound as though both the service agent and Panasonic could have been a lot more helpful. The U11 fault code is certainly not a mystery; we managed to find out what it meant in about ten minutes flat. It indicates the player is having difficulty reading the disc and usually means the disc is dirty scratched or the laser pickup needs cleaning. It's probably not what David wants to hear but we suspect his legal advisor will tell him that he will be on shaky ground, if he decides to pursue the matter. It should be worth his while writing a proper letter to Panasonic's customer service department, (emails sometimes go astray…), pointing out that if he had been told over the phone what the code meant the problem could probably been resolved there and then.

 

SNOW GOOD

Name              Julian Wigman, via email                          

Kit                   Pioneer DVD player, Yamaha DSP-A2 AV amplifier, Toshiba TV

Problem            After hooking up the Yamaha DSP     to his system – previously of good behaviour – the picture on Julian's TV is marred by interference (lots of diagonal lines all over the place). He describes DVD playback as like trying to watch a movie through a snowstorm. The interference manifests itself when the Yamaha amp is connected to the TV using a good quality 5-metre S-Video lead. However, to complicate matters the same lead worked perfectly well before the DSP-A2 arrived, and if the amp is connected to the TV using a standard 2-metre S-Video lead the picture looks clean. He has tried a process of elimination, switching off and disconnecting other components in the system (VCR, satellite digibox, PlayStation) but this made no difference. Julian is convinced it is the lead and wants to know if he should take it back, or do we know of another high performance 5-metre lead that he could try instead?

 

Expert Reply  S-Video signals have a reputation for not travelling well but we know of systems with 10-metre plus interconnects that work without problems. The 5-metre lead is certainly on the list of suspects – the shielding could be damaged -- but the interference has to come from somewhere. It may well be that that the longer lead is simply straying too close to another cable device or component. It's also worth making sure that the DVD player (or anything else for that matter) isn't sitting on top of the amplifier.  

 

DTS ID OK?

Name              Malcolm Dowers, via email                          

Kit                   Sony DVP-S715 DVD, Sony SLV-E820 VCR Sony 29-inchTV, Yamaha DSP A1 amplifier, Sharp XVZ1 projector

Problem            During the past few months Martin has noticed references to the Sony DVD players and their mixed ability to handle DTS discs. Martin has a multi region S715 linked to a DSP A1 via a digital coaxial cable. When he inserts a DTS CD the amplifier immediately recognises the DTS signal and switches to DTS mode. He hasn't yet tried this with a DTS DVD but he can't see why there should be a problem. His question is simple, how come some players can handle DTS signal and others cannot? Surely, he says, the audio data is streaming out of the player and it is the decoder, not the player that has to be DTS compatible? 

 

Expert Reply             In theory all DVD players should be able to play DTS DVDs – it was incorporated into the original DVD specification as early as 1996 -- and indeed some older decks that are not specifically labelled as DTS compatible such will happily play DTS DVDs. However, the trouble lies in a player's ability to recognise a DTS ID code in the data stream, some machines just ignore the ident. It's a software issue, it's possible that some manufacturers didn't think DTS would happen, they were simply too lazy or didn't have the time to include the necessary programming code. Some players can be upgraded and pretty well all new machines can play DTS DVDs, though Region 2 recordings are still rarer than rocking horse droppings.      

 

LOCK STOCK SHOCK

Name                          Malcolm Edwards, via email                    

Kit                               PC DVD player

Problem                      After experimenting with DVD movies on the DVD player on his PC Malcolm was immediately impressed with the results and now intends hooking his computer up to a big TV screen. He says he fleetingly considered 'bolting' a Dolby Digital sound system on to his hi-fi as well, but quickly decided that the cost would be prohibitive. He has now settled on a widescreen TV with a built-in Dolby Pro Logic decoder since all of the discs he has brought so far have Dolby Surround, as well as Dolby Digital soundtracks. He says he assumed both formats would be supported on DVD for the foreseeable future but has recently bought Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and was surprised to learn that it had only Dolby Digital soundtracks. He wants to know if this means that this disc will only play in stereo? Furthermore, he says, given the capacity of DVD, why are both DPL and Dolby Digital not included?

 

Expert Reply             They are, LS&TSBs does have a Dolby Surround soundtrack, the misunderstanding concerns the labelling. It's a bit like the early days of video, when you were never quite sure what kind of soundtracks you would get on a pre-recorded tape (mono, linear stereo, hi-fi stereo, Dolby Surround etc), come to think of it, you still don't… Some film companies -- or whoever is responsible for the design and information on the sleeves and inserts -- seem to take a remarkably lax attitude to telling the purchaser about the audio content on their products. However, you can take it as read that if the original theatrical release of a movie had surround sound content – i.e. most major Hollywood films made after 1979 – then it will end up on the DVD stereo soundtrack as Dolby Surround.

 

WIDE ASIDES

Name                          Mike Taylor, via email              

Kit                               Philips 32PW962A widescreen TV, Panasonic A350 DVD

Problem                      Mike recently bought two Region 0 titles (Robocop and Terminator), both are widescreen and both play back with black bars above and below the picture. Neither title causes the DVD player to switch the TV to widescreen mode, he says he has to do it manually.  He wants to know if this is anything to do with the fact they are Region 0 discs since display switching on his Region 2 discs work fine. Whilst he is on the subject of regional coding Mike has a couple of other questions. If he has his player 'chipped' will Region 1 movies stop switching automatically, if so, would he be better off sticking with single region playback and waiting for Region 2 titles to be released. Finally, he asks, when are MGM going to release 2001 a Space Oddity in Region 2? 

 

Expert Reply             Display formats generate almost as many queries as regional coding, which looks remarkably uncomplicated in comparison… It's not hard to see why there's so much confusion; DVD players have four aspect ratios or display modes. They are full frame 4:3, auto letterbox, auto pan & scan and widescreen. On some discs – notably those produced for Region 2, where players can be connected to TVs via SCART sockets, it is possible for codes on the disc the disc to tell the player to tell the TV to switch to a widescreen mode. (A signal is sent on pin 8 on the SCART cable). Thus discs intended for Region 1 – where SCART connections are not used – have no need for automatic format switching by the player, (this is handled by the TV). The same applies to Region 0 (all areas) pressings which are not specifically intended for Europe, and that is why Mike has to switch his TV manually. Having his player 'chipped' for multi region playback shouldn't affect his TV's ability to switch display formats. As for 2001, the latest information that we have is that it there's no date for a 1999 release but it will appear, eventually.

 

BOX COPY 1

GETTING STARTED – MORE ABOUT ASPECT RATIOS

Recordings on DVD can be formatted in one of two ways, with an aspect ratio of 4:3 -- the standard TV shape -- or 16:9 widescreen. The latter uses anamorphic compression to squeeze the widescreen picture into the 4:3 shape, (if you played it back on a normal TV everything would look tall and squashed). Some DVDs have both types of recording on the same disc. Anamorphic recordings are converted to 4:3 format by the player, for playing on a 4:3 TV. Discs containing anamorphic recordings are sometimes labelled 'Enhanced for Widescreen' or 'Widescreen Presentation'.

 

All DVD players should have an option in the set-up menu to tell the player which type of TV it is connected to. Most players also have an additional option for owners of 4:3 TVs, to decide whether they want to see the widescreen image in letterbox form – with black borders top and bottom – or automatically panned and scanned. In this case the widescreen image is unsqueezed and the sides are cropped. The central area of interest shifts from side to side under instruction from hidden codes in the data stream, put there by whoever transferred the move to video. However, as far as we are aware, no movies with auto pan & scan have been released yet. DVDs are 'tagged' in one of five ways, to tell the player, (and the TV, when the deck and TV are connected together by SCART cable) which display format to use. They are: full-frame 4:3, 4:3 letterboxed (instructs 16:9 TV to expand), 16:9 pan & scan and letterbox (manual switching), 16:9 letterbox only and 16:9 pan and scan only. In the latter two cases the player must present the image in letterbox or pan and scan mode.

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1999 2506

 

STAR LETTER ADDRESSES

(*) Martin Taylor, MJSJTaylor@aol.com

 

(**) David Green, theterminators@currantbun.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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