Dan's Data letters #40

Publication date: 1-Apr-2003.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.

 

CRT revivification

I own a monitor. I bask in its radiation every day. It happens to be a Sony Multiscan 20se.

- It is a 20" display.
- It has a Trinitron tube of some sort.
- It is not quite a flat screen.
- It has 5 BNC connections on its rear, this is the only connection available.
- It is pretty old now. I bought it second hand quite a few years ago.
- It is obviously connected to my pc via a BNC > VGA cable.
- I run an Asus GeForce4 Ti4400 display card.

Problem: The picture ain't what it used to be. I don't think it was that great when I bought it (Can't really remember, sorry. I was young and stupid and the monitor was just so huge!). The white isn't very white, and text is fuzzy. Not crisp at all. Compared to my sister's new Sony G420 it is horrific.

I have played with the colour temp and the convergence and it does not seem to help.

Is there any way to return it to a "good as new" state, or somewhere close? Can I take it somewhere for a service and tune? How much should this cost?

Or has it just reached the end of the tube's life, and it will be off-white and fuzzy forever?

Would a brand spanking new BNC cable breathe some life into the old beast?

Mark

Answer:
Your monitor can't be completely rejuvenated, but it doesn't need to be taken out into a field and shot just yet.

The fuzziness is very probably curable with focus adjustment. Some monitors are good enough to make the focus adjustment externally accessible - via the on screen display for current models, or with a little potentiometer under a hole in the side, or something, that you can get at with a long screwdriver. If your monitor isn't like that, the lid will have to come off for the adjustment. Any competent TV/monitor repair person should be able to do the job. I don't recommend you try it yourself.

The rest of the tube's bad features can't be helped much. There may be another tweak dial or two inside the casing that can be used to goose up the brightness and colour saturation a bit, but CRTs do age, and there's nothing you can do about that.

The cable is probably fine.

 

DSC-lemon?

I was going to buy a Digitrex DSC-2100, but was informed by Computer World in Melbourne that they did not stock them any more as there had been a product recall on this camera.

Do you know anything about this, or was it just a ploy to get me to buy another camera (which I did, a Benq DC2300...quite a good camera, very happy with it, for about $AU250).

Chris

Answer:
I haven't heard anything about a recall. Aus PC Market are selling DSC-2100s and DSC-1300s perfectly happily.

It wouldn't surprise me if there was an earlier generation of the DSC-2100 that was recalled, though; I've had feedback from a chap in New Zealand who has a DSC-2100 that's a lot buggier than the one I got for review. I've also, however, had feedback from an Australian who bought a DSC-2100 from Aus PC Market and reports that it's a lot less buggy than the one I got.

Maybe it's a crapshoot, and any given camera may be fine, or dodgy, or awful. Maybe the early production cameras were rubbish, and were recalled, and I got a middle-production unit to play with. Who knows.

 

Partition fun

What is a good all around partition method for, say, a 40-80Gb HD running Win2K/XP NTFS file system? I see better response times putting the swap file on D:, and have read that D: should be for the swap file only. Is this so? And is it feasible to install large program files on D along with the swap file and achieve the same performance?

Gun

Answer:
You might get some slight performance increase by segregating the swap file on a separate partition; if nothing else uses that partition for anything, the swap file can't get fragmented. But the real world difference is lightly to be very slight; it's not at all like putting the swap file on a separate physical drive. If you don't have enough physical RAM, mucking about with swap file locations and fragmentation and drive speed will not help much; you just need more real RAM.

There can be other reasons for partitioning - simplifying backup and system recovery, multiple OS systems and so on - but as far as performance goes, there's nothing to get excited about, especially if you're using NTFS. Just leave it all as one partition, and you'll be fine.

 

LousyDubMania XIX

I have just recently bought about 20 ex-rental video cassettes, each about 3 hours long with wrestling matches throughout. I am getting tired of having to fast forward them, and was trying to put my favourite matches on one tape to save the hassle, when I found the quality was crap. I've dubbed other older ex-rentals into my own compilations with no trouble, so I assumed this is an anti piracy thing. I was hoping that there was a way around it so I can just get on with putting my favourite stuff on one tape.

Is it possible to alter my PAL VHS VCR or the tapes themselves to achieve good quality dubs? And if so, how can I do it?

Doug

Answer:
It's probably Macrovision copy protection.

There are "video enhancers" you can buy that block Macrovision, as well as doing high frequency boost to add a bit of sharpness and (in fancier models) retiming of the video signal as well. They just plug in-line in the video cable between the two VCRs you're using for your dubbing.

Any decent electronics store should know what you're talking about if you ask for a video enhancer box that blocks Macrovision.

 

MMMMMMmusicMMMMMM

I have a Audiosource powered subwoofer. It looks like it is the "SW Ten", shown here.

I have it connected through RCA to my Cambridge Soundworks DTT2500 amplifier. My main problem is that there is horrible feedback on the subwoofer sometimes. A lot of the time when I turn on my amplifier, the subwoofer will start buzzing, and it only goes away after I jostle the RCA wire for a little while. I am using Radio Shack RCA cables - an RCA Y-splitter and an RCA audio cable pair. Would different wires improve the matter? Also, the subwoofer can take "high level" speaker wires; would that help? It would still have to be RCA on the amplifier side.

My second problem is that the subwoofer has on "off" switch and an "auto" switch, but no "on" switch. And the subwoofer is not particularly sensitive, so the subwoofer will turn itself off if I'm listening to music quietly, and will keep turning itself off and on while I watch TV. Is there anything I can do about this? I'd rather have it be permanently on than anything else.

Jim

Answer:
I'm guessing that the buzz is an earth loop sort of problem, created by a bad connection to the shield of a socket (likely a dry solder joint where the socket connects to the sub's circuit board), or possibly by an intermittent conductor in the cable. Swap out the cables for known-good ones first, then suspect the sockets if that doesn't help.

It's very easy to resolder the plug contacts; anybody vaguely handy with a soldering iron should be able to do it, provided they can get the sub apart.

If switching to the speaker level inputs takes a bad contact out of the circuit, then yes, it'll solve the problem.

You won't be able to override the auto-off feature without some soldering. It might be pretty easy to jury-rig the sub so it was on whenever it was plugged into the wall, but not having seen the circuit board, I wouldn't hazard a guess.

 

Not enough pixels?

I have been doing video capture on a PC since the days of the Jazz Jakarta (1994). Ever since the BT848 came out, NTSC video capture cards have been limited to a vertical resolution of 480 pixels. I have a fair grasp of how NTSC works (that there are 525 horizontal lines with no fixed resolution). My question is, why have we been stuck with 720x480 captures for so long? If NTSC really is 525 lines, wouldn't we see a noticeable difference in quality going to 720 by 525 (or 524, since that's divisible by 4)? Accurately capturing every line would likely make writing IVTC and de-interlacing applications much easier, as you wouldn't have to detect the lines at all.

On a side note, this page seems to suggest that NTSC is 480 lines. While Nicky seems to write guides for the average Joe, it does not appear that the information that he provides is totally accurate.

So what's the deal?

Frank

Answer:
There are 525 transmitted lines in the NTSC signal, but not all of them are video lines. 20 lines at the beginning of each interlaced field (40 lines per frame) are used for "control information" - things like frame boundaries and sync info and closed captioning. So you end up with 485 lines in NTSC. PAL has 50 lines per frame of control info, so it has 575 video lines, from 625 transmitted lines.

What this means is that a vertical resolution of 480 pixels is actually almost perfect for capturing NTSC. 485 would be better, and eliminate aliasing and other scaling issues, but since 640 by 480 is standard VGA resolution and so firmly embedded in the computer world, it's fair enough that we should use it and not 485-by-something.

 

Scan of constant sorrow

I was recently lured into the budget picture scanning/editing/printing world. So I went out and bought a Canon N670U (about $AU120) and Epson Stylus C61 (about $AU200). I have no qualms about my C61; it's hardly what the blurb on the box states it to be, but it does a decent job of reproducing the colours I see on my screen.

The scanner, on the other hand, seems to do a particularly poor job of scanning photos (just normal ones from 35mm film with various finishes - matte/glossy/etc). They come out much darker and the colors seem all wrong. The photos also seem to lose their sharpness.

Some details: I'm scanning at 300dpi (which I assume to be plenty for a photo) with the standard Canon software. Is this normal for a scanner, or will others actually give me an exact reproduction of my photos?

I've read a few articles about how different scanning/displaying devices interpret the same colours in different ways - could that be the problem? I know that you can adjust brightness and so on after you scan the photo in, but I can never seem to get the same colours as are on the original photo.

Russell

Answer:
While scanning prints with a flatbed does give you the worst of both worlds - the inconvenience of film photography combined with the low picture quality of a cheap digital sensor - you can get perfectly good results this way, for domestic purposes. You've just got a crappy scanner, by various accounts. See this review, for instance.

The N670U is a high speed, low cost ultra-portable, but its photo scan quality is apparently not great.

Opinions seem to differ on exactly what image defects this scanner produces, but there seems to be agreement that it's not much good for photos. Colour calibration software would help, but it can only go so far; if you're recalibrating colours and tones by a large amount, you'll end up with banding and noise accentuation, as you stretch out the colour gamut in some places and squish it up in others.

So yes, a better scanner would probably give you much more pleasing results.

 

Pidgin jargon

I read your article on the Canon D60 carefully. Living as I do in a Cantonese environment I noticed you use the term "Yum Cha" in many of your reviews. For instance, "YumCha Technology Orchidtron 4300", "The 'Ultra' cards sound as if they should be fast, but they're actually slower than various cheap yum cha CF cards", "A yum cha 2X teleconverter will cost you about as much again. Maybe less, if you hunt around; quite a lot more, if you buy Canon's nicer teleconverter."

This is a new phrase to me in English, so here are three questions:

1. Is this a popular term in Australia, ie would most people understand it?

2. Would you agree that it is used to mean mediocre rather than average or good?

3. Do you think it comes from Cantonese phrase Yum Cha (= to drink tea &/or eat Dim Sum), or can you tell me of some other origin?

Julian

Answer:
"Yum cha" is, in my experience, fairly common parlance, or at least fairly well understood, among people who deal with consumer PC hardware in Australia. It's extensible to photo gear as well, whenever you're talking about the generic no-brand not-quite-as-good-but-so-much-cheaper version of anything.

The term's certainly not universally known here, but it's a handy piece of slang, and I figure people who don't know it can figure it out from context in my reviews. It probably wasn't coined, for this usage, by someone Chinese.

The term doesn't really imply anything about quality; it means generic, brandless (or, often, branded, but with some bizarre brand you've never seen before; each new shipment of Gadget X may have a different brand name), made somewhere in Taiwan or China (good luck finding out where), and cheap. Yum cha gear may well be cheap and nasty, but it's often cheap and cheerful.

Insofar as its etymology can be traced at all, I think it definitely does come from yum cha restaurants, where a parade of snack-sized dishes are on offer. They're of unknown origin and non-obvious in composition, but they're also often all perfectly good.

If you want to ask me a question, feel free - but please read this and this first.

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