Hi again, your top1000 loud mouth techy know-it-all here again. This guide is basically a useful techinical guide for translating common terms, telling you what they stand for and what it all means. Lets start with obvious ones.
Common shorthand abreviations when describing electrical components are:
OKAY BIG ONE - LCD OR PLASMA???
Well, LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) has a sharper image and better quality in smaller sizes (32" and smaller) but have their draw backs. For instance, when watching a football match, the panning of the camera when following the ball has a blurring effect as the Liquid Crystals can not process the information quickly enough for a smooth frame rate*. These devices were developed from Computer monitors and manipulated to turn digital inputs* into good quality images. Basically, if you are looking for a TV smaller than 32", buy LCD.
Plasma. These use plasma gasses which change the picture by heating the gasses. These also have draw backs such as, screen burn* and being very hot. They also crack, flash and sometimes bang when not in use to make sure the TV is setup for the next use. These plasma's range in quality but are far better the larger they go. The quality is not uite as good as LCD but the fluidity is far better. However, double panning can cause distortion in the picture. Situations like panning to follow an F1 car can cause falshing as the image is running to quickly for the gas inside to react. These should be considered for anything over 32". BEWARE OF CHEAPLY MADE ITEMS. I always use Samsung and always test the tv's on non HD source's in shops as most HD tv's look the same in HD form. Showing no-HD highlights the flaws in its engineering.
Input / output: these are basically what can go "into" the tv and what can be shown "out of" the tv. Inputs range from devices that can be plugged in like Sky boxes and DVD players. What an output is, is something that passes through the tv can be displayed onto another device. For instance you could "input" a Sky box through your tv and "output" the images through a dvd or vcr player.
Screen Burn: This is were a static image on a Plasma telly, causes the particles which collate into the image to burn an image which is very hard to remove. Any prolonged use can ruin a tv so be aware. Modern Tv's now use a special system that shakes the image ever so slightly that stops screen burn so make sure if you have a Plasma TV, that it is enabled or you could ruin your TV forever.
AV: Literally "audio visual". This is taken in the form of either a "SCART" socket or in the RED, YELLOW & WHITE wires that send Video footage from digital sources and two way sound input from the other wires (left and right speakers).
Composite: Basically, this uses the same audio wires (two - left and right) but uses 3 Video wires for a better quality picture. The purpose of the three wires, is for a faster frame rate* which delivers a clearer and more detailed picture. Normally found on high end DVD and Video Game devices.
HDMI: High Definition Multimedia Interface. This is what your "HD ready" means on your television. Think of these ports as a new, 21st century Scart input. These inputs replace the need for AV inputs as they include sound transfer and 4x the image quality, by delivering 4x the detail and far faster frame rates* than standard (digital) signals. These can be found now on HD-DVD players, Video game consoles such as the PS3 and Blu Ray players aswell as SKY HD. If your Tv does not have these ports, it probably isn't full HD ready.
720p, 1080i and 1080p: These are the variations that HD can be displayed in. The higher the number, the more depth and clarity the picture will have. 1080i is different from 1080p as the picture in 1080i is only upscaled* from 720p to deliver a slightly sharper picture. 1080p is more expensive but will be future proof* when HD becomes standard in a few years. In my opinion, I would discount any tv that doesn't offer 1080p and get the most expensive Tv you can afford.
Digital Ready: Basically, terrestrial Tv is out. Getting a Digital Ready TV basically means it includes the DVB* facility which will allow you to connect to the hundreds of available Digital TV channels currently available without the need for extra equipment.
DVB?: Digital Video Broadcasting. These broadcasts allow you to see what is on now, next using an EPG* and allow you to manipulate TV by pausing, rewinding and fastforwarding through those bloody adverts. You will require a TV with a HDD (or HardDrive)* or via a Set Top Box* with a HDD*
EPG??: Electronic program guide. Basically, TV times in your telly. This gives you the option to store your favourite programs and allow you to read reviews and descriptions by manipulating an easy to use program* stored in the software*.
HDD (Hard Drive): a hard drive in your tv will enable you to pause etc. and store your tv programs without the need for external inputs such as DVD recorders* or VHS recorders*. These HDD's come in various sizes using the terms GB (GigaBytes)* to determain how much you can store at any one time.
Now, electrical products that use a tv to display there functions, or whatever. Basically, input device jargon:
DVD: Digital Versitile Disc. These systems are now found everywhere. Once the symbol of richness until the technology filtered down to mainstream rivals, this has elimintaed the need for Videos and VHS* players giving better quality pictures and allowing for digital surround sound* and extra features on a wafer thin disc.
DVD RECORDER: A device that uses Digital inputs either from Tv systems or Digital boxes to transfer what you are watching into a hard copy for wathching anytime. These are devices that put the TV or film you want, onto a DVD. These use a DVD-ReWriter* to burn* an inprint onto a disc. These discs come in different forms so watchout.
BURN???: Yes burn. When mass DVD's are written (made), they are stamped using special equipment that imprints several thousands infact millions of different grooves, so small in size that they are undetecable to store information in the form of 1 or 0. eg. 1100101001000000101001. When DVD recorders "BURN" images, they burn in the 1 and 0 patterns that the stamping tool does by burning off a layer* of the disc.
Layer?: This is exactly what it says. The disc has multiple layers so more information (1 and 0 patterns) can be stored.
DVD R+, DVD R-, DVD RW+, DVD RW-:These can be split into two categories. The DVD R range are recordable ONCE. But the DVD RW, the W means re-writable. These can be added to, cleared and re-used many times over. These are more expensive and degrade in quality after time. I personally use the DVD R's and fill them before Finalizing* (Closing*) the disc. Different manufacturers tend to side with either the + or - System. You can identify your system by reading the manual and buying the correct matching discs to suit accordingly.
Finalizing? Closing?: Yes, when you have finished recording your tv, film, home movies etc. clicking this using the DVD recorder enables the DVD to play on other systems, PC's* etc. and enables functions such as scene selection*.
Scene Selection: This allows you to fly through the disc by pre alloted jump to points. So, if you have finished watching for the night, stop it, and fly throught the disc by "chapter skipping". Or, you could book mark the point where you have seen to so when you put the disc back in, it automatically starts from that point.
VCD: Video Compact Disc. This is where a lower quality Video is stored using a compact disc. Most DVD players play these and are normally of satisfactory quality.
KODAK or Picture CD: When you use your Digital Camera, if you "write" the photo's to a CD using a CD writer* you can view all of your pictures through Picture CD enabled players by putting the disc in and watching.
USB: Universal Serial Board (we will cover this various times). These compact little devices are little storage pockets for digital information. They are connected via a USB and come in thousands of varities. For the purpose of a DVD player, they normally allow MP3* and MP4* music and video files and pictures to be displayed through the DVD player and onto the TV.
MP3...: MPEG Layer 3: Oh dear, this is very confusing. MP3 formats range in quality and performance but I will go into more depth later. These are basically music files.
MP4: MPEG Layer 4: Again, I will visit this in more detail later. These are basically Video files.
DVD HDD: These are DVD players with the capability to store TV programs and unencrypted* Movies etc. directly onto a memory block located in the system itself without the need for DVD's etc. These harddrives are available in different sizes but for a good quality picture and sound you should work on the asumption of 1 hour to 2 gb of storage. So, a 160gb harddrive should store 80 hours worth of programs.
HD-DVD: High definition DVD (Digital Versitile Disc). These are players that can take the newer HD format discs and pictures. These players are now in a bitter war with the SONY developed Blu-Ray* HD format. These are the two next generation formats that will have to fight for your dosh. Currently, HD DVD is winning due to its capabilities of being backward compatible with DVD's and with the well known name. Manufactureres such as TOSHIBA, PHILIPS and SHARP are making players for the new format.Companies like Universal and Paramount are making titles exclusive to HD DVD players.
BLU-RAY: Blu-Ray players are of better quality with discs more capable of storing more information. But they are very expensive. These are the better products but every company is siding with a different format. SONY have developed the PS3 to work with Blu-Ray and Microsoft are rumoured to be including a HD-DVD drive in the 360 Xbox. Manufacturers such as SONY, SAMSUNG, PIONEER, LG, PANASONIC are backing the Blu Ray and production companies such as SONY Pictures, 20th Century, MGM and Disney are making films solely for the new system. Warner Brothers are making titles available for both formats and companies such as Samsung and Toshiba and LG are making both players. In fact LG are making a 2 in 1system to display both formats.
HD Upscaling: This feature is now available on DVD players with a HDMI socket in the back. These can take ordinary DVD's and can develop the image to a similar scale and picture quality to a lower rated HD source. Game consoles such as the 360 are able to upscale DVD's to a similar quality as 720p.
So, soon you will know what you are on about and you can ask the Currys man for a HD-HDD DVD RW to play on your Digital, 1080P HD READY LCD TV and know exactly what it means!
Okay so, now we will delve into surround sound technology.
DOLBY Digital: These are the geniuses that transform our enjoyment of films and certain TV programs into a sensory delight. The Dolby brand is a certificate that proves that the technology behind the soundtrack is of the best quality available, These systems come in various forms:
Stereo: This is a dual speaker system which incorporates a mild bass boost. This is very common and is often mainulated into TruSurround or SRS forms to give the sensation of Surround Sound in your living room without the need for those blasted speakers!
Mono: Now redundant. This Mono sound quality is very poor. The system can only handle one channel of sound at a time is usually found on old VCR players, Terrestrial Channels on TV and old Video Game machines such as the MegaDrive when sound in games was all "bleepy bleepy".
Surround sound: Normally in the form of 5.1. This refers to the speaker layout like so:
FRONT LEFT CENTRE (UNDER TV) SUB WOOFER FRONT RIGHT
REAR LEFT REAR RIGHT
The 5.1 determains how many channels the sound has to travel down. Each speaker has its own channel and works independantly to others. The .1 determains the bass speaker, which doesn't deliver much in actual sound but adds to the experience by giving deep bass at suitable moments.
2.1: This is a front left, front right and bass speaker set up not normally developed for DVD players. It is more commonly found on PC's.
Okay now that that has been established, let's move onto digital TV sources,
FREEVIEW: Now fitted to 70% of modern Televisions. This will soon be mandatory and already has quite a selection free of charge. You can choose from E4, More4, FILM 4, Sky Sports News which are not even free to view on SKY packages. At the moment, there are around 40 decent channels all in digital quality which is very respectable especially as more are signing up every week.
SKY: Now in 3 variations, SKY, SKY + AND SKY HD. Sky has the biggest backing of all the digital subscription services. Prices range from 15 pound to 40 pound or more if you subscribe to extra services like Setanta Sports. SKY + requires two Aerial inputs in the back of the box, which allows you to record one program whilst watching another via an inbuilt HDD. This is the package to get at the moment, and it is now very reasonable in price. SKY HD encompasses the sky+ feature with the ability to receive a few HD channels. Movies, Sport events and documentaries are now being displayed with 4x the picture quality. This is the future, but more mainstream channels are still developing the technology, such as BBC, iTV and 4.
VIRGIN MEDIA: Currently called that after it was rebranded after Mr Virgin himself bought out Cable broadcasters Telewest and BlueYonder. After a disagreement, Sky channels like Movies, sports, 1,2,3 and news are no longer screening. This is a better value package, especially with current broadband and phone deals circulating. The Media centre allows for viewing of your favourite TV on demand, which is a fantastic feature. I believe that the HD experience is good, but at the moment Sky is best for that.
BT VISION: Over priced and without much backing. This system I can see going out like Top Up TV. It is confusing, slow and overpriced and brings nothing new to the table.
SETANTA: They are currently offering subscriptions through every available source and a re currently developing a stand alone subscription service.
TISCALI TV: The broadband people are going to tackle three of the biggest names in the business, BSkyB, BT and Virgin. Good luck....
Okay then, so you know what TV to get, what DVD to get and what Sound system and digital service to subscribe to. Now, boys toys, the Video Games machines:
XBOX 360: This currently has the biggest available selection of HD games on the market. The device comes in one of 3 forms, ARCADE, PREMIUM & ELITE. At the moment, the Arcade system is the cheapest and best for people who don't want to go online via XBOX's broadband gaming service LIVE. The premiuim includes everything you could possibly need, including a HDMI socket for the first time and a 20gb harddrive which is capable of storing endless saves, a couple of movies, some music, your online profile and some game demos. The elite includes a 120 gb harddrive is only worth the extra if you are going to use the extra storage. The system is intuitive to use, has lots of 3rd party games and tons of exclusive must have titles like Halo, BioShock and Gears of War. However, they are plagued with problems caused by underdevelopment. These include the R.R.O.D. (Red Ring Of Death - I will be writing another article about this very soon) which signals a massive hardware failure. Microsoft admit to 3-5% of systems being susceptable to this failure. In fact, the real figure is more like 30%. Bare that in mind, but it is a very reasonably priced machine, can play dvd's, has the option of HD DVD player (at extra cost) and also plays old XBOX games (as long as you get the update via Live and have a HDD). Good, but that niggeling suspicion that it could break at any time will always be there. I know people who have had their Xbox replaced 4 times due to the problem. Current updates should cure that however.
NINTENDO WII: Ah yes, the Nintendo Wii. This game is not in competition with the XBOX or PS3 as it simply can not compare in any way. It is the least powerful, has the least games, has the least functions BUT, is THE console to have. Firstly, it looks cool, has weird remotes which you swing, stab, shoot and shake with and has been made by Nintendo, so you know that it is going to be good. This is not a review but more of a fact storming. It can play games from the GameCube, is WiFi* ready and has great games. It is also sold out everywhere. Few small problems with them, 2 small candles placed around 20-25 cms (10 inches) apart from each other emit the same amount of radiation that is necessary to confuse the WiiMote's sensors. It was also in the news that Christmas tree lights are also of the sufficient power and size to mess up your game. Mildly more worryingly, the thing takes ages, I mean ages, to update via the internet, well upto one hour and the drives for loading the discs are known to crash and jerk and sometimes to render the game discs useless as it gets stuck and scratches them. Bare all that in mind...
PLAYSTATION 3: Well, it has the most features, HDMI sockets, TV functions, Wireless controllers, gaming via WiFi*, intereactivity with the PSP, BLU RAY, Backward compatibilty with PS2 and PSONE and, the biggest price tag. At the present time, it is very good value as a BluRay player, but is simply too expensive as a games machine. Sony thinks that taking away the PS2 compatibility, memory card readers and taking a 1/3 of the memory is a great idea, but true gaming fans are not happy. Wait, there are not enough good games for this console, like for the PS2, so when the good games arrive, the price of the console will fall and then invest your money. Problems? Well, BluRay drives failing, hardware failures, compatibility issues with old games and updates and broken disc drives are all rife at the moment. BUT, nothing on the scale of XBOX's problems.
PLAYSTATION 2: Still around after almost 8 loyal years. Games are plentiful and run into the thousands. Faults are rare, designs have been updated and prices lowered whilst they slowly kill the PS2 off and slowly tempt owners onto the PS3. Games like EYE TOY, BUZZ, SINGSTAR, GUITAR HERO are great at parties, and the graphics are still good.
That sums up our look at common questions on what is what with TV's so, lastly I will recap with some FAQ's about techinal terms normally found on remote controls:
PROGRESSIVE SCAN MODE? This is the composite input mode described earlier. Pressing the corresponding button will enable the feature on the device selected.
FUNCTION/SOURCE? Common use for scanning through the different items plugged into your tv. Such as, DVB (Digital TV), SCART, AV in, HDMI in, Composite in etc. Pressing the button normally allows you to simultaniously scan through all of the devices.
DISPLAY? Use this to adjust Colour (adjusting the true colour to match an image), Brightness (to suit the current lighting situation), Contrast (using in accordance to brightness, this adjusts the blackness to give more definition) and Gamma, (common use is to give the colour more depth and is normally found in video games.)
SOUND FIELD? Found on DVD surround remotes. This adjusts where the sound is played either centre speaker, front speakers, front speakers and bass or true urround 5.1 (or 6/7.1)
MOVIE/MUSIC? This changes the sound quality for playing either a music (a clearer sound with less bass to distort the music) or for a movie (which is far more involving and has extra bass to give sound an extra layer to absorb you into the film).
Okay, still on records? What about cassettes? Well, sorry to say but you are way behind the times. Since cassettes we have had: Compact Discs, MiniDiscs, Mp3 players, Ipods, Mp4 players, Hard drives, UMD's, DVD's and more including the internet. So, what about these common derivatives of MP3? well here they are in plain english:
MP3: Moving Pictures Expert Group (MPEG)-1 level 3. Now you know why it is called MP3! This uses a form of compression that roughly translates to 1/10th of the size of the original cd track allowing for upto 200 songs on a disc compared to the 20 maximum. It uses clever technology that simply records a note, stores it, then keeps a file accordingly, then when that note is required again in the song, it triggers a reaction so the player knows what note to play and for how long. For example, there may be an F# 10 times in a song during a chorus, the mp3 format doesn't keep 10 files of the same note, instead keeping one note and playing that note again by requesting it via computer language. This is basically the standard format and the ones below have merely adapted it. MP3 is the common name and is accepted by all major manufacturers of high quality music systems.
WMA: Windows Media Audio. This is basically typically Microsoft. Jumping on the band wagon a few years after the development of mp3, Microsoft ploughed money into developing its own technology which is able to do the same as above but at far better compression. You could store a comparable music song at 1/20th of the size or, twice as many per cd as an MP3.
AAC: Advanced Audio Coding. This is once again, better quality than MP3 and has been designed to be seemless with all APPLE products. The iPod benefits greatly from having a lower bit rate compression for similar quality sound delivering more bang for less buck. Basically, it offers fast transfer rate without many draw backs. Anybody who uses iTunes would probably agree that at the moment, this is the greater of the MP3's. They are/have also developing/developed an MPEG4 AAC file which allows high quality movies to be played with a much smaller file size.
OGG: Nickname for Ogg Vorbis. Fairly uncommon and new to myself. This is basically "royalty" free software allowing for file sharing over the internet. Most players now accept this format, but iPods, PSP's and mp3 players are slow to catch on probably due to its connection to illegal downloads.
ATRAC: Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding. Atrac was developed for SONY's unsucessful MiniDisc device that did not really have the compression necessary to store your music library on one disc. It was mainly designed to shrink the size of the disc and not the file sizes or quality in the process.
They are the more common derivatives of music compression files and a little knowledge behind the software. So, what about other newer players with unknown features. Here are a list of the most common.
DAB: Digital Audio Broadcast. This is very similar to the new digital tv age. At the present time, digital radio is available across every digital TV subscription service or anything displaying the DAB or DVB logos and is free via the internet. They are higher quality digital radio signals that allow for more channels and higher quality of sound to be delivered. Problems are occurring however. The most popular place for listening to a radio is the car. Unfortuantely, the digital signals do not react well to constantly adjusting locations meaning that the current surge of DAB in car stereos have not been greeted with open arms. The advantages with DAB though are now and next program guides, lots more choice and the ability to pause and fast forward/rewind radio with DAB players with hard drives attached. The stand alone Machines differ greatly in quality and in price. A decent system should cost anything between 75 to 150 punds and that is without CD/MP3 functions. Add an extra 50 quid to that price. Good news is, these systems will have to drop in price as with the digital switchover looming, these signals will be cut off soon after.
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