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HINTS & TIPS

 

QUERY OF THE MONTH

 

DIGITAL DOUBLE

Name                          Brian Willatts, 10 Summerhays, Great Linford, Milton Keynes, Bucks MK14 5EU

Kit                               Sony KV32DS60 digital widescreen TV, Sonly SLV990 VCR and planning to buy Yamaha DSP-A1, DVD player

Problem                      The problem Brian is facing is how to wire up his system, before and after getting the AV amplifier, particularly as he understands he won't be able to record one digital TV program whilst watching another, as he is currently able to do with analogue TV. He has one other related question, and that is on TVs with PIP and POP facilities, where more than one channel can be seen on the screen at the same time, why cannot one channel be sent to a VCR for recording?

 

Expert Reply              The reason why you can watch one analogue terrestrial channel on your TV and record another, (or an analogue satellite channel) at the same time is because there are separate tuners in the TV, VCR and satellite receiver. TVs with PIP and POP (picture in picture and picture out of picture -- sub-screens on a TV picture) either have twin tuners or rely on a VCR or satellite box to supply the signal for the PIP or POP screen. Since Brian has only one digital tuner -- inside his TV -- he can only record or watch one digital channel at a time, but there's nothing to stop him watching or recording an analogue channel at the same time. Eventually, when all TVs and VCRs have built in digital tuners it will be possible to watch and record two digital channels at the same time. As far as Brian's wiring problems are concerned, since digital (and analogue) TV channels carry nothing more complicated than Dolby Surround encoded stereo soundtracks all he needs to do is connect the stereo line output from the TV to the TV/DBS input on the amplifier. The audio output(s) from the DVD player go directly to the DSP-A1, though which type of connection he uses (optical/RF digital or separate channels) depends on the player.

 

TV/VCR AND SATELLITE QUERIES

 

MAGNIFICENT CON

Name                          Martin Todd, Belper, Derbyshire                            

Kit                               26-inch NICAM TV

Problem                      A mailshot from a local home cinema dealer contained an item that caught Martin's eye. It was an ad for a TV magnifier, a high resolution freshnel lens made from heavy-duty acrylic, which apparently would increase the side of the picture and at the same time make it sharper and clearer. Martin says that a lens that will increase the screen size of his current 26-inch NICAM TV to 30-inches costs around £60, should he or shouldn't he, that is the question?

 

Expert Reply             Martin shouldn't waste his money. Screen magnifiers are one of those daft gadgets that pop up from time to time, and the adverts always look very convincing, a bit like X-Ray spectacles, remember them? A freshnel lens is actually very clever, they're flat and the surface is embossed with tiny circular prisms, arranged in concentric circles. A large enough lens place in front of a TV screen will indeed magnify the image, apparently increasing its size but there are several problems. First, the lens reduces the viewing angle to the point where only one or two people sitting immediately in front of the screen will see the enlarged picture. Second, freshnel lenses create a lot of distortion and colour fringing and third, it looks bloody stupid! In the early days of TV, when the cost of producing CRTs larger than a few inches across was prohibitively high, magnifier lenses were a necessity. These days the cost differential between mid-sized TVs (21 - 26-inches) and large screen models (28-inches and above) is minimal; Martin should put that £60 towards a new bigger screen TV.

 

LIGHTNING STRIKES

Name                          Paul Mellor, Littlehampton, Sussex                     

Kit                               JVC TV and VCR

Problem                      A recent spate of thunderstorms along the sunny South coast has set Paul thinking. A friend's PC was fried when lightning struck a nearby power line. Paul also lives in a semi-rural area, where his electricity comes to him via an overhead cable, and wonders if the same thing could happen to his TV and if so, what can he do to prevent it?

 

Expert Reply             Fortunately, here in the UK lightning damage to domestic equipment is comparatively rare. PCs have a slightly higher risk of damage since they contain many more sensitive components and microchips and in any case it doesn't take a lot to upset Windows PCs, even a brief interruption to the mains supply can wreak havoc, let alone spikes and surges. Many PCs are also connected to the phone network and this provides another route in for damaging high voltage spikes. If Paul is worried -- and we must stress that the chances of it happening are quite rare -- then he could disconnect the mains plug and aerial lead when a storm is in the vicinity. Alternatively use a surge protection socket on the TV and seek advice from his local aerial installer about lightning protection. Anti surge sockets and adaptors are available from good electrical dealers, computer specialists and mail order companies such as Maplin Electronics (01702) 554000, http://www.maplin.co.uk

 

 

MESSY SCART

Name                          S. L. Taylor, via e-mail                                                    

Kit                               Amstrad satellite receiver, Grundig TV, Toshiba NICAM VCR

Problem                      Mr Taylor says he's suffering from some kind of local interference to the picture on his Grundig TV whenever the satellite receiver is on. He describes the effect as 'colour shimmying', it's almost as if there's another picture in the background, but it's not strong enough to make out shapes or anything. The same effect occurs on VCR recordings, but again only when the satellite box is switched on.

 

Expert Reply             What Mr Taylor is seeing is almost certainly some form of signal breakthrough from the satellite receiver. It can happen when signal paths -- i.e. the AV outputs from the sat box and the VCR -- are poorly screened and lie close to one another. It is very unlikely this is happening inside either the VCR or TV, which leaves the cabling. From the information supplied by Mr Taylor we know he is using two SCART leads, to connect the satellite receiver to the VCR and the VCR to the TV; one or both of them has to be suspect. If the shimmying effect changes when the leads are bent or flexed then this is almost certainly the cause, especially if they were very cheap or of uncertain origin. 

 

DOUBLE DISH

Name                          Andy Simmonds, via e-mail                         

Kit                               Pace analogue satellite receiver         

Problem                      Andy is almost certainly going to upgrade to a digital satellite system in the next few weeks but he doesn't want to install a second dish and he still wants to be able to watch the free to air foreign channels. He recalls seeing a gizmo that could allow one dish to pick up two satellites, he would like to know if it is still available and if so, would work with digital and analogue signals?

 

Expert Reply             Yes it will. The gizmo Andy is referring to is nothing more complicated than a small extension rod that that fits to the arm sticking out in front of the dish. This holds a second LNB (low noise block converter), it is positioned slightly off-centre to the original LNB, so that it picks up signals reflected back from the dish, from adjacent satellites. There also used to be a motorised LNB extension arm, so the dish could pick up signals from several satellites though we're not sure of this is still available. Most halfway competent satellite installers should be able to supply and fit a suitable LNB, adaptor and downlead to Andy's existing dish, though quite how this would work out -- as far as offsetting the cost against a normal digital dish installation -- we can't say.  

 

FREE LUNCH

Name                          Joe Tunney, via e-mail                            

Kit                               buying a digital satellite receiver

Problem                      Joe wants to know is there are any digital satellite receivers that can pick up the free broadcast channels -- BBC1 and BBC2 etc. -- without the need for a Sky Digibox?

 

Expert Reply             Yes, there are several DVB digital models on the market that can receive free-to-air transmissions. However there's comparatively little to be saved since most of them cost about as much as a dedicated Sky box, even if he buys one at full price (circa £400), i.e. without the subscription subsidy. Moreover, unlike a pukka Sky Digibox none of them contain the necessary Conditional Access Module or Common Interface necessary (with an external decoder box), to receive subscription channels. Joe might as well have done with it and get a Sky box. If he chooses not to take out a subscription he can watch free to air channels by calling a special department at Sky subscriber services for a free viewing card. This will allow him to watch BBC's 1, 2, Choice and Parliament (wey hey…), C4, C5 and a couple of SKY freebies like Sky Travel, QVC and an info channel. In fact this facility isn't widely publicised and you can end up getting the run-around, so to save you the trouble the number to call is 0870 243 8000. By the way, there's also a digital receiver card for a PC (actually two plug-in cards) that will pick up these channels, called the Kiss Skyvision, it costs around £250 (not including dish or PC or course). We've been trying one out and the results are quite good so look out for a First Test very soon.

 

BOX COPY 1

GETTING STARTED

THE HIDDEN COST OF HOME CINEMA

Have you ever wondered how much your TV, VCR or home cinema system costs to run? It's an important question these days with so many home entertainment devices having a 'standby' mode, whereby they're still consuming power, even though they are not operating. Bear in mind that there are around 20 million households in the UK, most of them with TVs and VCRs, all drawing power, around the clock, 365 days a year, you can understand why manufacturers are under pressure to reduce the power consumption of their equipment. In fact a couple of years ago it was estimated that all of the TVs and VCRs in the UK in standby mode consumed the equivalent of the output from one small to medium sized power station!

 

To give you an idea of what it is actually costing, take the example of a typical 28-inch TV made in the mid 1990s watched for 6 hours a day and left in standby for the other 18 hours. The VCR is used 2 hours a day and standby for 22 hours. The average power consumption for a two or three year old TV is around 150 watts when it is working and 6 watts in standby mode. For VCRs it's 18 or so watts running and 6 watts standby. In one day the TV uses 1008 watts, the VCR gets through 408 watts. Add those two numbers together and multiply by 365 to get the total for a year that comes to 516.8 kW/h. Taking the average cost of a unit of electricity at 7.5 pence that works out at just under £39 a year. It doesn't sound much, but when you consider most of that cost is incurred when the TV and VCR are not being used, and it's contributing indirectly to global warming, it's a cost we could do without.

 

The good news is that new TVs and VCRs should be a lot cheaper to run, in addition to being more power efficient, most European and Japanese consumer electronics manufacturers have pledged to progressively reduce the standby power consumption of their products over the next three years. One or two have already managed to get to 1 watt or below, which is the eventual aim.

  

LD AND DVD QUERIES

 

LETTER OF THE MONTH

 

FUNDAMENTAL FAULT

Name                          Andrew Cox, via e-mail (andrew.cox@pipemedia.co.uk)      

Kit                               Sony DVP-S715

Problem                      Andrew writes in response to the query from Ian Kilby in Hints and Tips (Lost Contact) in the January issue of Home Entertainment. Like Ian he has a Sony DVP-S715, modified to all-region playback, and he has also noticed a problem with Contact, and several other discs. He doesn't think the glitch is due to the modification. He took his copy of Contact to a local dealer and the same change to slomo replay occurred on another S715, this on was a Region 2 only machine. He has also tried the disc on friend's Panasonic and Yamaha decks and in both cases the movie played perfectly, so he concludes the problem lies with the Sony deck.

 

Expert Reply             Thanks to Andrew and the many other S715 owners who took the trouble to write in. A pattern has definitely emerged and following our report and others, it has emerged that there is indeed a problem with this machine that is not connected with any regional code modifications. It has subsequently been reported that Sony have admitted to a fault, that incidentally also affects the DVP-S315. It concerns an error in an instruction set in the deck's controlling software that also prevents if from playing some CD Extra discs. The solution is to replace a read-only memory (ROM) microchip inside the machine. This work will be carried out free of charge and deck owners should contact Sony Customer Services Department for details, the number to call is (0990) 111999.

 

MAKING THE CHANGE

Name                          Ricky Naylor                                                

Kit                               Grundig GDV 100 DVD player

Problem                      All this talk of being able to replay American Region 1 discs has whetted Ricky's appetite and he wants to know if it is possible to have his Grundig player converted? If so, where can he get it done, how much is it likely to cost and would it affect the playback of Region 2 discs?

 

Expert Reply             Ricky is in luck, the GDV 100 is based on a Philips chassis, and similar to the one used in the DVD 930. The Region coding on this model can be easily changed in the operating software, using nothing more complicated than the remote control handset. This hidden facility -- normally only known to service engineers -- is ostensibly for the benefit of those who move home, between different regions, however since it has been widely publicised on the Internet it's hardly a secret anymore. There are two small catches though. The first is that Region 1 playback is in NTSC only, so Ricky will need an NTSC-capable TV, the second is that in theory you can only change the coding 25 times (in practice it seems you can often exceed that limit and there are ways around that as well). However, we'll concentrate on how to make the change, and by the way, we take no responsibility if anything goes wrong, and be aware that it almost certainly invalidates the manufacturer's warranty. You have been warned!

 

With the player switched on, the disc tray empty and the main on screen display showing on the TV, press the Play button on the remote, then the numbers 2,7 and 4, in that order. The front panel display should now be replaced by a row of dashes. Next enter the following numbers: 0050 0012 8156, then press the play button. You won't be able to see the last digit but if the code is correct the screen changes to red and you're in. If nothing happens switch off and start again. To change it back again enter the Play - 2 -7 - 4 command again and then the Region 2 code number, which is 0020 0012 8156 followed by Play. One side effect of this action will the Grundig logos and screensaver will disappear and be replaced by the Philips background and name, so good luck explaining that to a Grundig service engineer, if anything goes wrong...

 

REGIONAL REASSURANCE

Name                          Warnock Mills, via e-mail             

Kit                               Philips 32PW9763 TV, Akai VCR, Sony DVP-715 DVD player

Problem                      Like a lot of DVD owners Warnock (great name by the way…) is a bit miffed by the current lack of titles available ion the shops, compared with what can be brought in the US. He understands it is possible to buy American DVDs via the Internet, and that it is possible to have his player converted to play them. His question is simple, should he go ahead and have the job done, if so is it better to have it done by a Sony dealer or is there someone better qualified? Will playback quality suffer in either mode and is there any difference in picture quality between US and UK discs?            

 

Expert Reply             The Region 2 catalogue is growing fast but it's unlikely we will ever have the same number or selection of discs as the US so if you want to see the latest movies first a Region 1 conversion is worth having.  The Sony deck is relatively easy to convert and from what we can gather it is generally reliable, though that particular model has other problems (see also Letter of the Month). No doubt Sony frown heavily upon any of their dealers who carry out this sort of work so Warnock will have to contact one of the specialist companies who advertise in this and other magazines. There are also DIY mod kits, for those who can wield a soldering iron (prices start at around £25). We feel obliged to remind anyone going down this route of the consequences, namely the loss of warranty and the fact that some mods won't necessarily work with all Region 1 discs, now or in the future. As far as quality is concerned, on the 'chipped' multi-region decks we've tried there is no reduction in Region 2 performance after the conversion. There is a slight difference in Region 1 and 2 disc picture quality, however. PAL Region 2 is better, due to the greater number of lines in a PAL TV picture and the subtleties of the movie to video conversion process, which favours the 50 frames per second structure of the PAL system.

 

TAPE VS DISC

Name                          Dennis Martin, via e-mail                

Kit                               Cinemaster PC DVD (Region 1, converted to Region 2)

Problem                      Having dipped a toe in the DVD waters on his PC Dennis now wants to purchase a proper player and has his eye on the Pioneer DV-717. He would like a multi-region model and would like some reassurance that if he were to buy DTS discs -- even though the 717 is DTS compatible -- would he still be able to hear regular stereo sound? Whilst he at it Dennis also wants our opinion about buying DVD now, as opposed to waiting a bit longer. He says that at least with VHS there are loads of players -- some good, some bad -- but at least they all play all VHS tapes. Will some DVDs be unplayable on certain machine? 

 

Expert Reply             Think of the DTS (Digital Theatre System) facility on the 717 as an add-on, a little bit of future proofing that might come in handy one day. It has no impact on the deck's other features or abilities, which includes the format-standard mixed stereo output. In other words this machine will replay all discs, irrespective of the soundtrack scheme used, whether it is plain vanilla stereo (available on all discs) or any other 5.1 system, such as Dolby Digital/AC-3 or MPEG audio. Buy now or wait? In our opinion DVD is now an established technology, that's not going to go away, so yes assuming there's enough movies that he wants to watch, it is safe to buy. As far as new format variants are concerned, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that VHS was in any way immune from this type of problem. Try playing a Super VHS or D-VHS recording on a standard VHS deck and see what happens… There were also several other VHS sub formats launched in Japan and the US that died a quiet death that we never heard much about. Doubtless in the future there will be discs that current decks won't be able to play -- it is already clear most machines won't be able to handle things like three or four layer recordings and there's no guarantee more complications won't arise over sound encoding. DVD like all consumer technologies evolve, it's a good idea to wait for all the bugs to be ironed out of first generation products but we're past that stage now (iffy Sony microchips notwithstanding…) so Dennis can take the plunge.

 

BAT BUG

Name                          Cathy Norman, via e-mail                         

Kit                               Denon DVD-3000

Problem                      Cathy has noticed something odd on Batman and Robin. No matter what she does it always come on with sub-titles showing, though they can be easily switched off. It doesn't happen with any of her other discs; she wants to know if there's a setting that will stop this happening, or is it a fault on the disc?

 

Expert Reply             This is a known 'bug' on Batman and Robin, it also happens on first pressings of A Time to Kill, Crimson Tide, Dangerous Liasons and Outbreak. Several other discs also exhibit odd behaviour; for example Dead Man Walking has sound coming from all surround channels at once during the last couple of minutes and the chapter/time selection feature doesn't work. Early versions of the Usual Suspects had wonky stereo and there are subtitles over captions on Jumanji. There are also several deck-dependent bugs, like Four Weddings freezing on some Pioneer machines and sporadic patches of yellow in the sky when Stargate is played on the Sony S715. Doubtless there are others and we'd be interested to hear about any oddities you may have encountered.

 

BOX COPY 1

GETTING STARTED

DVD-AUDIO -- HERE WE GO AGAIN…

The massive storage capacity of DVD makes it an ideal medium for audio-only material. You could, for example have full 5.1 channel surround sound or cram a artist or composer's entire repertoire on just a couple of discs. Multi-layer DVDs have the potential to store up to 8.5 gigabytes of information or around 13 times as much as a conventional CD. It sounds great, but hang on, there's a bit of a problem.

 

You guessed it; there's another format war in the offing. In the red corner we have the 'official' contender sanctioned by the DVD Forum called DVD-Audio, and in the blue corner there's a rival system from Sony and Philips, called Super Audio CD or SA-CD. Needless to say both types of disc are incompatible with one another, neither system will play on existing DVD hardware and you will need to buy a new deck.

 

We have neither the time, space or inclination to get into the politics of the dispute or list the technical parameters of each system, suffice it to say the higher capacity is the main selling point and they both sound a bit better than CD. However, you may well argue that normal CD is pretty good, and you would be right! On the evidence so far we suspect that the sonic differences between DVD-Audio, SA-CD and bog-standard CD are such that they can only be appreciated by really fussy bats, so what's the deal?

 

This kind of squabbling has become something of a tradition in the consumer electronics industry. We've seen it all before and right now we're at the posturing, sabre-rattling stage with both parties claiming technical superiority and threatening to launch hardware in the next few months. The next step -- if this spat follows the usual pattern -- will be behind the scenes meetings, followed by a public announcement that an outline agreement to satisfy the bean counters has been reached. After than the technical bods cherry-pick the best bits from both systems, someone comes up with a crackpot name for the new system, the software finally companies finally come out of hiding to back the new format and everyone lives happily ever after, until the next time…

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1998 3012

 

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