Avi Greengart is an expert on the convergence of technology and entertainment: video, audio, computing, and wireless, how these are coming together, and what's likely to survive long enough to make a difference in your life.
Column #45 (2/4/03)
DVD 102: DVD Connections... and a whole bunch of mail (it's been a while since the last column)
It doesn't always have to be complicated here at Greengart.com -- we get plenty of basic questions, too. The first two here are for anyone first buying a DVD player and wondering about how to connect everything:
Please help! [I've deleted the picture she included of a person crying -avi] I need you to advise me on connecting a DVD to a 19" Sylvania TV/VCR combination that does not seem to have the necessary connection in the back. It has an audio and video connection in front but wouldn't think that would be used for DVD. I know it is not practical to buy the combination's but this was bought for me during Christmas. I want to buy a DVD to connect to this but assume that it would not do as well running through the VCR instead of the TV. First of all, can you do this and have a decent picture and sound? What is the best adaptor or gadget I need to buy to connect the two? Also, does it make a difference on what type of DVD player I get to do this? Whatever information that you can give me in reasonable time would be greatly appreciated!
Please don't cry - you can make these two work together. First, never route a DVD player through your VCR, as your VCR has Macrovision copy protection technology built in that will - deliberately - ruin the picture of signal passed through it.
There are three types of connectors on the back of most DVD players - composite, S-video, and component. Composite is the worst of the three, but even when using composite connections for DVD you'll still see a dramatic picture improvement over VHS. Composite connections have a single RCA plug for video (usually indicated by a yellow ring around the connector); there are also usually two RCA plugs for audio (typically with a red ring and a white ring) nearby. That's probably what you have on the front of your TV; it's intended for hooking up an analog camcorder or video game system. If you don't have a matching set of inputs on the back of the set, then use the ones on the front and enjoy.
Of course, if you scour the back of your TV and discover an S-video connection (looks like a round computer mouse connection), that would be noticeably better, and component video (three RCA plugs just for video) slightly better still.
If your TV didn't even have a set of composite inputs, you'd still have an antenna jack on the back (uses an "F" connector, that looks like a cable feed - a round cable with a collar and a thin wire sticking out). You can buy a gizmo at Radio Shack called an RF Modulator for around $30 that will convert the composite and audio signals. And it'll work. But I'd take it as a sign that it's time to upgrade your TV.
I connected the S-video cable from the Monitor out on the receiver to the TV, but got no picture only sound. I then connected an analog cable from the TV video 2 to the receiver and got the picture. If I disconnect the S-video from the TV I still get an picture from the analog cable. Could there be a defect in the S-video monitor out connection in the receiver?
No, your unit is fine. The vast majority of receivers do not convert one type of video to another - they simply pass the signal from composite in to composite out, S-video in to S-video out. If you have some sources connected via composite to your receiver (such as your VCR) and some sources connected via S-video to your receiver (such as your DVD player or satellite set top box), then you'll only get the VCR picture on composite video out, and the DVD picture on the S-video out. Your options? Hook up both composite and S-video from your receiver to your TV; this may or may not require switching inputs on the TV when you switch from VCR to DVD - depends on your TV. Another option is to buy an external composite-to-S-video converter and hook everything up via S-video; they sell for $39 for a single converter to $129 for a higher quality multi-input switchbox.
I just found your web site and was impressed by the quality of your responses to a range of questions. I have two sons 7 and 9 who are regular Sony PlayStation 2 game users, Unfortunately, we like others have problems with the disks getting scratched up, dropped, etc. $50 down each time. Is there a way to copy the disks using a DVD burner. I have seen a couple of references on the Web for books or software that will let you do this but I am not sure to trust them.
There's certainly no legal way to copy PlayStation discs, as you'd have to break the encryption scheme Sony uses, which is a violation of the Digital Copyright Millennium Act. What's more, each game manufacturer uses a different encryption scheme, so even the programs which allow you to illegally copy commercial DVDs using DeCSS (the encryption algorithm used on all Hollywood movies) won't work for PS2 or XBox DVDs.
Very useful web site ... good clear advice and information. Well done! I have a couple of questions to get your grey-matter ticking over...
#1: I noticed when watching The Two Towers at a local theatre, it advertised that it was using Dolby Digital Surround EX. Another local theatre did not claim to be using EX, and the sound there was not as good (although an equally new, same company, multiplex). What is Dolby Digital Surround EX?
#2: I currently have Dolby Surround at home, using a Yamaha DSP492, KEF 95C centre, 60S surrounds (x2) and Q35 left and right, plugged up to my Arcam Alpha amplifier. (I have Pioneer DVD and Panasonic VHS, with the Panasonic TV feeding the Yamaha with 2xphone.) If I want to go DTS6.1 (or better), other than a sub-woofer, what do I need? I presume I could simply replace the Yamaha with a DTS receiver? or add on a DTS decoder? Any help/guidance you could give would be much appreciated.
Glad to help. Surround EX adds a center rear channel in addition to the left and right surrounds. It's useful for "flyover" effects (ex: the pod race scene in Star Wars Ep 1), anything that spins around you (ex: the oven scene in Chicken Run), and adding extra ambience all over (ex: most of Monsters, Inc.).
To go from Dolby Surround to Dolby Digital EX/DTS 6.1 at home, you'll need a subwoofer, a rear center speaker (or two, depending on your room size and whose EX philosophy you choose to follow), and a receiver (or processor plus additional amplification for the rear center) capable of decoding Dolby Digital EX/DTS 6.1. The digital formats will push your speakers a bit harder - particularly the surrounds, which will now be getting a full range signal. Therefore, you might also consider upgrading all your surrounds at once to get the best sound.
Another "What Shape Should I Buy" Question:
I am in the market for a TV in the range of 40-50". I expect that today it makes sense to go HDTV. However, should I be buying a widescreen system or stay with a regular aspect ratio. I would expect that we use the TV for 60% + regular cable programming 20%+ video games and less than 20% DVDs. I like the idea of having the latest greatest format but will it be worth it given my viewing patterns?
In your situation, I would get a 50" 4:3 set with an HDTV 16:9 squeeze mode. That way, most of the time you'll get a nice, big picture that fills the whole screen, and won't have to worry about unevenly using the picture tubes (burn-in). When you watch DVDs or HDTV on the set, you'll get full resolution out of the DVDs. If you go with a 50" set instead of 40", the 16:9 picture area will still be large - in fact, it's the equivalent of a 45" widescreen (give or take a few inches).
And Another "What Shape Should I Buy" Question:
I'm about to buy a new TV for my bedroom and I'm facing the now common issue of deciding between 4x3 and 16x9. I thought I had made up my mind to buy the Samsung 3098 WHF 16x9 TV until I started reading about burn-in. While most of the TV my wife and I watch is in our bedroom after our kids have gone to bed, we actually don't watch much TV - about an hour or two per night at most. However, over 90% of what we watch at the present time is cable TV broadcast - 4x3 - and I don't plan on getting an HDTV receiver to go with the Samsung for at least a year or two. I also bought a progressive scan DVD player to use in the bedroom, so the other 10% would be rented DVD's, which would obviously look much better on the Samsung than on a 4x3 analog set.
I'm wondering if an hour or two per night is really enough to cause burn-in, and if the newer sets like the Samsung suffer less from this problem. I also believe this set has the ability to stretch a 4x3 image to 16x9, but I've never seen that, and I don't know how much I'd dislike the inherent distortion involved. Initially I had decided to get an analog set - the Sony KV-27FV300, on which I got what I think is a good deal at $599. After investigating further, though, I decided I don't feel like spending $600 on an analog set that's going to be a dinosaur in 3 years as HDTV becomes more prevalent, and on which watching DVD's now is going to be pretty unpleasant because the size of a letterbox image is going to be really small on a 27" 4x3 TV. At that point, I decided to get the Samsung and was ready to buy it ($1100, also a good deal, I think) until I came across this burn-in issue.
Please let me have your thoughts on this at your earliest convenience, as I'd like to avoid making a potentially $1100 mistake. Thanks very much in advance for your assistance.
You have to make the decision on your own, but I can confirm that unless you use that stretch mode, you will get burn-in using a CRT-based 16x9 set for mostly 4:3 material. Before making the decision you should spend some quality time with your retailer and see if the stretch mode bothers you; it drives me nuts. You should also do a mental rundown of what programming you watch - a fair amount of prime time network TV is now being broadcast in letterbox, and most widescreen sets have a mode that expands letterbox material to fill the screen without distortion (or black bars).
Another thing to keep in mind is that the prices of HDTV sets are falling; you could probably buy a decent 4:3 set today AND a 16:9 HDTV three years from now for a bit more than the HDTV today. If you're an MBA, you'd add in the net present value of the money and come out even (or possibly ahead - I never did finish my MBA). The buy now/buy later approach also benefits from picture quality progress in the interim and the resolution of the connector/tuner/cable tuner issues. Of course, unless you go with a 4:3 set that has an anamorphic squeeze mode, you'll spend the next few years watching a small, interlaced letterbox whenever you pop in a DVD. Decisions, decisions...
Dear Avi, I have an older Bose Lifestyle 12 system, and want to upgrade to 5.1, as well as add optical inputs. Is it possible to use the existing surround cubes with a new receiver and powered sub? Please let me know if I just suffer on with what I have (not too bad, actually) or if some options are out there.
Bose Lifestyle systems tend to be closed, self-contained units. This makes setting up and using them easier, but often prevents upgrades down the road. Driving the cubes with a new receiver would have unpredictable results - possibly blowing them up (probably not, but...). Even if you could get a good match on the amplification side, most subs don't play high enough to blend well with the cubes. Bose "subwoofers" really aren't - they're really "woofers" -- they bottom out at mid-bass (around 50 Hz) and go way up from there to match with the cubes (which are too small to have any bass at all on their own, even mid or upper bass like most bookshelf speakers). Most real subwoofers top out at 80 Hz (the THX spec) or at most 100 or 120 Hz. Unfortunately, to get digital surround sound, I have to recommend replacing the whole system.
If you liked how easy it was to install and use your current Lifestyle system, Bose will be happy to sell you a new, fully digital model. Some of their new models have room adaptive equalization (tailoring the system's sound somewhat to match the room you put it in), which is a pretty neat trick, though I haven't heard it myself in real-world conditions (it sounded lousy in the Bose store I went to). However, buying another Lifestyle system may land you in the same non-upgrade situation all over again a few years down the road.
HBO transmits their programs in HD and I have a Dish satellite system with standard dish receiver, do I still need a set top Tuner/decoder to watch their HD programs if I have an HDTV-ready TV?
No, but you'll need an HD-capable Dish receiver instead of the standard receiver - talk to your Dish representative, they'll tell you what models are available.
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