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HINTS & TIPS 72

 

STAR LETTER

 

BRAND LOYALTY

Name              Iain Wah, via email (iainwah@hotmail.com)                   

Kit                   wants to buy a home cinema system

Problem            Seventeen year old Iain is after a TV for his bedroom and would like some help. He says he wants a widescreen model, a DVD player and a set of speakers for 'Dolby Digital cinema sound'. If possible he would like to stick to one brand and he seems quite smitten with Sony products. Iain mentions the KV32FX60 and the fact that it has a 100Hz display, but is this suitable for watching football he asks? He also wants to know if it can display the full range of screen formats, like the Philips 32PW9534; if he watches a DVD with a 2.35:1 or 1.85:1 aspect ratio will the picture on the Sony TV be distorted?

 

Expert Reply  A single make system has some advantages – you may be able to get away with just one remote handset for example, and connectivity or compatibility won't be a problem  – but the downside is that you may have to make compromises on features or performance. That said, Sony has enough diversity in their model ranges to suit most people's needs and aspirations and performance is not usually an issue. Most 100Hz displays seem to have difficulty with very rapid movement, resulting in blurring and artefacts but it's very much down to personal taste, some people don't notice it. Iain should see the TV in question in action at his local AV dealer, preferably when showing a football match, and see what he thinks. He needn't worry about distortion on widescreen DVDs, that's taken into account at the mastering stage and on movies shot in an ultra-wide screen format the picture will simply have thicker black bars at the top and bottom of the picture. As far as speakers are concerned they are usually supplied as part of the package with an AV mini system (Sony has several good ones in their range). If he uses an AV amplifier (or AV receiver) he will need to choose the speakers to match the amplifier and the size and layout of his bedroom. 

 

TV/VCR AND SATELLITE QUERIES

 

REAR GUARD ACTION

Name              Alan Eisner, Bradley Green, Worcs                        

Kit                   wants a large screen back projection TV            

Problem            Alan says he want to buy a large screen rear projection TV but he wants one with a watchable picture in normal daylight conditions or a lit room, without having to stand in front of the screen. He says he knows that they are getting better but adds that short of visiting lots of retail outlets he can't find out which one gives the best picture. He's narrowed his shortlist down to the Panasonic PX47PT1, Philips 46PP9501 and Toshiba 43PJ3 and asks for our guidance, warning us that it's a lot of money to spend if we get it wrong!  

 

Expert Reply             Cheek! In that case we certainly won't be making any specific recommendations, in case he sends the boys round! As Alan has discovered the brightness and viewing angle of rear screen projection TVs is a lot less than a CRT and since there hasn't been any recent breakthroughs it's a limitation he'll just have to learn to live with. In fact all of the TVs he's listed can produce a fairly good picture in normal room lighting conditions. However, the one thing they can't cope with is direct or indirect sunlight shining on to the screen. It's a question of positioning the set carefully, well away from windows or facing light coloured or shiny surfaces. In the end Alan is going to have to get out and do a bit of legwork and see some of those sets on display. This will give him a good idea of how well they cope with room lighting, since dealer showrooms are normally brightly lit.     

 

SKEW-WHIFF TOSH

Name              Patrick McCann, via email                          

Kit                   Toshiba 28MW7DB 

Problem            Following our review of the aforementioned Toshiba TV Patrick went out and brought one. He says he's very happy with the sound and picture performance but there is one problem. The picture appears to be rotated clockwise by 3 or 4 degrees. Patrick says it's not normally noticeable but when text is displayed on the screen it trails off at the bottom of the picture. He wants to know if it is normal, if not can it be repaired or does it need replacing?

           

Expert Reply             No, it is not normal and yes it can be repaired, or rather adjusted. This sounds like a fairly simple case of mis-alignment, which can be easily corrected by an engineer in just a few minutes. Since the set is almost new it should be carried out under guarantee, so his first port of call should be the retailer, from whence it came.

 

SOCKET AND SEE

Name              Kiran Prasher, via fax                                                      

Kit                   Pace digibox, Toshiba 2835DB TV, JVC HR-DD855 VCR  

Problem            Kiran has linked the digibox by SCART cable to the AV2 input on the TV. The VCR is connected to the TV's AV1 SCART socket, and also by RF aerial leads. He says he has two problems. The first is the TV won't accept RGB signals from the digibox. The second one concerns the TV and VCR tuner. Kiran says he can't tune in any of the satellite channels, a friend has advised him to install an aerial (Kiran used to be on cable), so what do we advise?          

 

Expert Reply             Unfortunately the information in Kiran's letter was a bit sketchy but the most likely explanation for the absent RGB connection is that he is using the wrong sort of SCART cable. It needs to be a fully wired 'U' or Universal type. Ordinary video (type 'V') SCART cables do not carry RGB signals, you can usually tell by looking at the underside of the plug; type V cables normally have only a few pins whereas type U SCARTs have a full compliment. The problem with the VCR not being able to tune into the Pace receiver is due to the fact that there's no RF connection from the digibox to the TV or VCR. He should be able to solve this by connecting the SCART cable from the VCR's (AV in/out) to the second SCART socket on the back of the digibox, rather than the TV. The satellite channels will appear on the VCR's external or AV input.       

 

POLES APART

Name              David Waring, Chiswick                                

Kit                   three Sony KV32FX60s and one Panasonic TX32PF10     

Problem            David read with interest a recent query in Hints and Tips from a reader who suffered from colour staining on two TVs in succession. He says he has had similar problems with no less than four TVs, three Sony models and now a Panasonic TX32PF10. All four have been manually degaussed by engineers, but to no effect. David says that the engineers confirmed that he has a problem with magnetic interference and suggested rearranging the room, but that didn't work either. He has even tried using a compass and has found strong magnetic fields around his Nokia DVB980 ONdigital receiver and his central heating radiators. He wants to know if they could be the source of the problem, and notes that they are not 'earthed' as they are connected by plastic pipes. Can radiators be degaussed he wants to know? A friend has told him that 100Hz sets are more susceptible to magnetic fields. If so shouldn't consumers be told and should he go for a 50Hz model?           

 

Expert Reply             As we have said in the past magnetic staining on a colour TV screen is not unusual. The most common source of magnetic interference is unshielded loudspeakers close to the TV but it doesn't take much and even the Earth's own weak magnetic field can have an effect over time. However, most TVs automatically degauss the screen every time the TV is switched on so it is rarely a problem. In severe cases an engineer can manually degauss the screen by waving a large coil in front of it. In David's case I think it is very unlikely that such a strong and persistent field could be generated by nearby devices, such as a VCR or satellite receiver, but in any event the TVs auto degauss system should take care of it. A strongly magnetised radiator is a possibility but a compass is not a very reliable indicator since the needle will be drawn to it because it's made of steel. I'm tempted to discount that anyway since the TV would need to be within a few inches of the radiator for it to have any influence. I'm not aware of any way of degaussing radiators but if anyone has any suggestions we'd be happy to pass them on. I'm inclined to think the source is more deep rooted, literally so. Buried power cables, cast iron pipes running under the floor or metal reinforcements in the fabric of the building are prime candidates. Perhaps the plans of David's house can shed some light on the matter; he should also contact the local power company. He could also try moving the TV to another room and ask neighbours if they're suffering similar problems. If their TVs are okay then the magnetic source is probably small and localised. There's no reason why a 100Hz set should be any more vulnerable to staining than a 50Hz model, so he can discount that as a possible solution. Nevertheless if David cannot track down the source then the only solution would be to change his TV. The good news is that front and rear projection sets, Plasma panels and LCD screens are generally immune to magnetic staining.  

 

BOX COPY 1

GETTING STARTED

The dreaded year 2000 is almost upon us, and we're still receiving emails and letters from concerned readers, so now is a good time to lay to rest once and for all a few myths concerning the so-called Millennium bug and AV equipment. Even at this late stage there are still alarmist and mis-informed press reports claiming that VCRs and other home entertainment devices will keel over and die after midnight December 31st. That is complete and utter tosh. A tiny handful of older VCRs made in the mid 1980's may not be able to make time shift recordings in the New Year, if they're programmed before the date changeover. However, as far as we know this only affects a few elderly Akai machines, most of which will have been retired or scrapped by now. In any case after the date change those machines will behave perfectly normally. On other older machines it might be worth altering the date to February 29th 2000 to check to see if they recognise next year as a leap year, if not simply avoid timeshifting in late February. There has also been speculation that VCRs with VideoPlus+ timers were not Y2K compliant, again that's nonsense. These machines are not date sensitive as they receive time and date information from embedded teletext signals. All other AV devices are unaffected by the date change, and that goes for all of your other household appliances. The only exceptions are PCs and specialist devices like 'smart' burglar alarms. The simple rule of thumb is that unless a device has to be programmed with date information when you first buy it, it doesn't give a fig about the year 2000, or any other year for that matter.  

 

LD AND DVD QUERIES

 

STAR LETTER

 

WHO'S TO BLAME?

Name              Rupert Jordan, via email (rupert_jordan@Saatchi.co.uk)

Kit                   Panasonic TXW28R4DP TV, Toshiba SD-3107B      

Problem            Rupert bought his DVD player about six months ago. It's a modified all-region machine and is connected to the TV using high quality S-VHS lead. When he plays NTSC discs Rupert says there is a faint flicker, which is most noticeable at the top of the screen, and it continues to flicker when the player is in pause mode. He adds that there is no problem with PAL discs, Rupert asks if there anything he can do about it and wants to know is there a fault on the TV, the player or the discs, and who should he be angry with?    

 

Expert Reply             Take your pick! You could say it was the fault of the Hollywood studios for insisting that regional coding is written into the DVD specification. The company that sold you the player or carried out the modification obviously has a hand in this matter but in the end the only person you can blame is yourself. Toshiba were playing by the rules when they designed the SD-310 to only play Region 2 discs and nowhere in its literature will you find any mention of an approved All-Region modification. You chose to break those rules -- however questionable they might be -- when you brought a player that had been tinkered with. All region mods are notoriously troublesome and cause a lot of problems judging by the amount of letters and emails that we receive. You can be sure Toshiba won't want to have anything to do with the player since the warranty has been voided. The only people who can possibly help are the company that sold you the machine, though I'm fairly sure they will come up with all sorts of excuses, and you'll be very lucky to get them to do anything about it. 

 

ANNOYING BEE GEES

Name              Simon Lucarnes, via email                          

Kit                   Sony DVP-S7700 DVD player   

Problem            The Bee Gees 'One Night Only' DVD is giving Simon a headache as he keeps hearing loud clicks, which come from any of the five speakers, sometimes the sound cuts out altogether for a second or so. If he replays the disc the clicks do not appear in the same place and this is the only disc to have a problem. He want's to know if we've heard of this effect before and whether there are any compatibility issues with this disc and player?

 

Expert Reply             We haven't come across this problem but then again Simon is the first person we've heard from with a copy of this DVD… If anyone else has experienced something similar please let us know. However, in the absence of any other complaints about this recording and the fact that it doesn't happen with any other discs that suggests to us that it is probably confined to Simon's copy, in which case he should take it back to the shop and ask for another one.  

 

SENILE SONY

Name              Les Trusler, via email                          

Kit                   21-inch Sony Trinitron TV      

Problem            Les has a truly ancient Sony TV, it must be fifteen years old if it’s a day because Les says it has no input sockets, apart from the aerial connector. He would like to upgrade to a widescreen TV, however he's loath to buy a 28-inch model – which he says he can afford – since he knows he will only end up regretting the purchase, wishing instead he'd bought a 32-inch model, which he cannot afford. He want to know if there is any way he can get DVD on his trusty old TV or are there any cheap 32-inch TVs worth thinking about.             

 

Expert Reply             If Les has got a VCR he could connect that to the DVD player with a SCART cable. The output from the DVD player will be modulated onto the VCRs RF output and he could watch it on the TV's video channel. He could also get a device called a RF modulator, which converts an AV output into a RF signal. Maplin Electronics have one (code MZ65V) for £35 (telephone 01702 554000) or there's one made by Keene Electronics (code KRF) costing £30 (telephone 01332 830550). However, needless to say – but we'll say it anyway – piping high quality DVD through an aerial cable is not a great idea, the sound will be in mono and picture quality isn't going to be up to much either. The cost of 32-inch widescreen TVs is falling all of the time. If Les doesn't mind doing a bit of shopping around and keeping an eye out for end of line discounts he should be able to get the price down to £850 or less without too much difficulty.

 

BUY NOW PLAY LATER?

Name              Stuart Macmillan, via email

Kit                   36-inch Panasonic widescreen TV, Yamaha RX-V592 AV receiver, Sky digibox, a broken CD player 

Problem            The situation with the duff CD deck has prompted Stuart to start looking around for a DVD player. He's carefully read all the reviews and shortlisted three models: Pioneer DV-717, Sony DVP-725 and Panasonic DVD-A360. Stuart's AV amplifier does not have any Dolby Digital or DTS decoding but it does have a six-channel input, so his first question is whether or not it is worth paying extra for a DVD player with both Dolby Digital and DTS decoders? We've said other models are in the pipeline, should he wait? Would it be better to get a separate digital decoder, if so which one? Alternatively, should he ditch his Yamaha AV amp and buy a new one with built-in decoders?      

 

Expert Reply             DTS has managed to stir up the already muddy waters even further, however, for most people I think it is still a bit of a side issue. There is a small difference in DTS sound quality – the sub channel can be very dramatic -- but it's not enough to get excited about, especially after it's been through the mangle of most TV sound systems or a mid-market hi-fi and a set of AV speakers. Region 2 DTS recordings are also very thin on the ground and are likely to remain that way for some time to come. If Stuart is of a finicky disposition he should go for the Panasonic A360 or better still, the recently launched Pioneer DV-626, which is quite a good deal at only £450, but to make it worth his while he should also invest in a decent sub-woofer. If Stuart decides to upgrade later he should find that by the time there's a few more discs around – in a year or two's time – the cost of stand alone Dolby Digital/DTS decoders and AV amplifiers will have fallen quite dramatically. It's my guess that by then DTS won't add anything to the price of equipment with an on-board Dolby Digital decoder.

 

SPEC CHECK

Name              Boon Koi, via email                        

Kit                   thinking of buying a DVD player   

Problem            Boon has been reading the magazine reviews and has come up with a wish list of five DVD players. They are the Sony DVP-S725, Yamaha DVD-S795, Pioneers DV-505 and 717 and Toshiba SD-2109. He has three questions, starting with are any of these players capable of playing DVD from all regions? Question two concerns the Sony DVP-S725, is it available in any colour besides black? Number three are any of these players capable of decoding DTS signals?

 

Expert Reply             The players Boon has listed can only play Region 0 (region free) and Region 2 discs. Various companies market modified all region versions of these machines but in all cases this will involve voiding the manufacturers warranty, and the results can be variable. Good news on question 2, a silver version of the Sony DVP-S725 is available. None of the players mentioned have on-board DTS decoders, so the answer to question 3 is no, but they are all DTS compliant, so they can be connected to an external decoder or AV amp, via their coaxial or optical digital outputs.

 

DTS DOUBTFUL

Name              Roger O'Halloran, via email                                

Kit                   Panasonic DVD-330 DVD player, Yamaha DSP A2, Philips 32-inch widescreen TV

Problem            Roger's DVD player is an all region model, which he imported from Hong Kong. As he points out his Yamaha AV amp is a well-specified model with on-board decoders for both Dolby Digital and DTS signals. Roger was looking forward to giving his system a thorough work out so he purchased some Region 1 titles with DTS soundtracks. Everything appeared to go smoothly and he connected the DVD player to the amplifier using a TOSlink optical cable. He says he thought that everything would be okay but when he played his DTS discs it all went quiet, not a peep from the amplifier. The discs play okay, there's a picture but no sound, so what's gone wrong?

           

Expert Reply             This is yet another cautionary tale for those trying to save a few bob, or beat the system by buying AV equipment abroad. Be sure you know exactly what you are buying, there are many pitfalls, as Roger has now found out to his cost! The A330 is a Region 3/4 player (Asia and Australia) and was never officially sold in the UK though there's a lot of them about because it is relatively easy to modify for all region playback. However it's been around a while and according to all the information and data we have been able to get on this machine it doesn't appear to have a DTS enabled bitstream output. In other words it can read discs with DTS soundtracks but has no way of outputting the data. We're not aware of any upgrades or mods, so if Roger wants to play those discs he's going to have to chop it in for a new player.

 

BOX COPY 1

GETTING STARTED

 

BOX COPY 2

DVD nearly didn't happen. The major movie studios were extremely concerned about the formats potential for piracy. During the initial development stages Hollywood insisted, and succeeded in having several quite powerful copy protection measures included in the specification. Software piracy is back on the agenda once again with the development of DVD Recorders.  

 

Macrovision is the top layer of protection, to prevent 'casual' copying from a DVD player to a VCR. It's an analogue system that uses chips inside the player to add extra colour signals and mess around with the vertical-blanking signal on the composite and S-Video outputs. This makes recordings pulsate, the picture can also become unstable and broken with colour stripes. Unfortunately Macrovision signals can also upset some older TVs

 

PCs with DVD-RAM drives scare the pants off the studios. In theory a suitably equipped PC could simply read the data files off the disc and make perfect copies or clones by writing the data back to blank discs. The Content Scrambling System or CSS is supposed to stop that happening. The information on the disc is encrypted, special decoder chips are needed in DVD players and DVD-ROM/RAM drives in order to read the data coming from the disc.

 

The Digital Copy Protection System (DCPS) is also meant to stop cloning, but this time it is targeted at the next generation of digital video products, such as DVD recorders. Devices will be fitted with chips that recognise other approved devices when they are connected together by a digital link. Before any data can pass between them they must exchange encryption keys, so that the signal can be unscrambled. This system is clever because it works with any disc moreover signals or 'flags' can be recorded on the disc that tell the equipment if copies are permitted or not. Another technology, known as Serial Copy Generation Management System or SCGMS, is designed to prevent copies being made using FireWire or IEE1394 data links. All DVD Recorders with digital connections will have to be fitted with DCPS circuitry.

 

Finally there is 'watermarking', this is an invisible marker that can be applied to DVDs, hidden inside each frame of video information. This works on both digital and analogue connections, if detection circuitry inside the DVD recorder senses a watermarked disc it will refuse to make a copy of it.

 

None of these systems are infallible and there is no doubt that pirates will figure out ways to defeat them but the intention is to make it more trouble than its worth. Good luck to them, we just hope they don't mess up picture quality or create new and unexpected compatibility problems…

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1999 1910

 

 

 

 

 

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