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How to (and how not to) buy a flat-screen TV

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Part 4: Getting connected With luck and budget, you may by now have bought your flat-screen TV. But what if you arrive home to the horrible realisation that you cannot connect up your various entertainment devices to the new centrepiece of your home? In Part 4 of our series, JOEL KOPPING advises you on what connections you will find on TVs, the equipment that you are likely to connect to your new TV and the best connections to use.

In the homework part of this series I mentioned that you needed to have a look at how many inputs you’ll need on your new TV. But that alone raises numerous other questions, so let’s look at the issue in more detail.

You will typically find up to eight different types of connections on a new TV.

First, there are the traditional analogue connections:

RF or aerial input: The most convenient connection, as you get off-air audio and video from this. RF also unfortunately delivers the worst video quality.

Composite video input: This usually uses a single yellow plug. You only get video on this input, but it will be a little better looking than RF video.

S-video input: This uses a small multi pin connector, also only does video, but is s step up from composite video.

Component video: Here you’ll use the red, green and blue connections on the TV. Component is also video only, but offers the best analogue video quality.

PC input: this would be the same 15 pin connector that you’ll see on some monitors. It may be useful if you need a really big PC screen.

The next set of inputs is digital inputs, and these include:

LAN input: some new TVs can be hooked up directly to the Internet or to your home network. If the TV is DLNA compliant, you could stream movies from your PC directly to the TV by using the LAN input.

USB input: Like the LAN input: you could view images or movies stored on a memory stick by using this input.

HDMI input: HDMI is the latest and arguably the best video and audio connection to use on a TV. Because of its bandwidth, HDMI is the best and often the only connection that you could use to transfer High Definition video and audio to your TV.

I would suggest that you always use the best possible video connection between TV and any other video producing components that you will connect to your new TV.

Fortunately, all Blu-ray players have HDMI outputs, many new DVD players have HDMI and many games consoles have HDMI outputs too. Even DSTV’s HDPVR, being a High Definition device, has an HDMI output.

If we use the HDPVR as an example, the best audio and video connection to use would be HDMI, the second best video-only connection would be component video, and the poorest video connection would be composite video.

When using anything other than HDMI, you would also need another set of audio cables to get audio – red and white connections – from your decoder to your TV. HDMI includes audio and video.

Remember that if you want to upgrade to a better video cable, the best time to buy one is when buying your new TV.

Currently, three to four HDMI inputs seems to be the norm on new TVs. This means that you’ll be able to connect, for example, a Blu-ray player, HDPVR, PS3 (PlayStation 3) and a media server to your new TV.

There are ways to add even more HDMI-equipped components to a TV – such as using a home theatre receiver with its own HDMI inputs.

You should, however, remember that in many cases component video is almost as good as HDMI video, and even if you run out of HDMI inputs on your TV, you could then use one of the TV’s component video inputs.

While the number of inputs, both analogue and digital, is important, they come a distant second when compared to image quality.

You may curse having to switch plugs on the odd occasion you connect your digital video camera to your TV, and wish that you bought one with more HDMI inputs, but you’ll curse every time you watch TV if you don’t like the image quality.

What cable?

Off course, you do need cables to connect your components to your new TV. The questions are: What do you need? And how much should you spend?

Naturally those components that use HDMI outputs will need an HDMI cable to connect it to your TV.

Fortunately these are often supplied with your Blu-ray player, DVD player and even DSTV decoder.

These supplied cables will work perfectly for most applications.

The only time you really need to look for better quality HDMI cables is when the bit rate, i.e. the size of the video stream, is high. Here 3D comes to mind ‚ or when your TV is far away from your player.

If you have to buy a cable, an entry level HDMI cable will work for short runs up to a few metres. Slightly longer distances ‚ up to around 10 metres ‚ require slightly better cables, costing possibly a few hundred Rands. For longer than this, you really do need much better and more expensive cables.

On the analogue side, if you are using the component video connection, you will need to buy a decent quality 75 Ohm component video cable.

The whole analogue cable issue is a contentious one, so I have a general rule of thumb to help me decide which cables to buy.

If a dealer can demonstrate to me the difference between two cables, then I would be interested in paying for the better one. If the dealer can’t, or is unwilling to show me the difference between a cheap or an expensive cable, then I’ll vote with my pocket and buy the cheaper one.

Having said that, I should add that, while you may not initially see or hear a major difference, typically, better cables will last longer. So spending just a little more on a cable may be a worthwhile long term investment.

Next: 3D or not 3D

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Planet Radio TV tune in on any device

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Planet Radio TV plans to be Africa’s first online broadcaster that allows its listeners to watch via Internet and satellite TV as well as listen via FM or Internet radio. SEAN BACHER visits its studios.

Planet Radio TV (PRTV) is broadcast much like any other terrestrial radio station, allowing its users to tune into it with a standard FM tuner. But its owner, Planet Image Productions, is about to launch two other means of tuning into the station.

In the coming month, MultiChoice will place a new satellite in orbit that will, by the new year, allow Planet to broadcast to subscribers via the satellite. Planet has also announced the PRTV app, which can be downloaded to Apple, BlackBerry, Android and Windows Mobile devices, allowing users to stream the content to their phones and tablets.

‚”What makes this unique though is that our systems will automatically detect a user’s connection speed and stream content in a format that suits that speed, says Planet Image CEO Wale Akinlabi. ‚”For example, someone connecting through 3G will be able to view high-definition video and hear high-definition audio. A user with a slower connection will still be able to view and listen to the station, but at a lower quality.‚”

This, he believes, will eliminate the buffering issue which discourages many users from streaming video and audio to their devices.

The radio station comprises 80% African music, with the remainder being international, and is targeted at Africa’s youth.

‚”At PRTV we intend to change the way consumers view, listen and interact with television, radio and Internet mediums,‚” says Mabel Mabaso, chief operations officer and director at Planet Image. ‚”It is an exciting platform that synchronises three mediums, providing opportunities for consumers and advertisers alike.‚”

Planet RadioTV differentiates itself from other local broadcasters with its clever use of software and hardware. Planet Image uses a high-definition video-graphics (HDVG) rendering program, designed by Orad, an Israeli company specialising in TV production software. This software suite, combined with four Panasonic high-definition cameras, is able to detect and focus on a person’s voice. When the camera fixes on a voice, that camera is automatically activated and begins broadcasting. Should someone else begin talking, a separate camera will detect the voice and focus on that person.

The software controlling the cameras also performs basic video editing. Mabaso says that, although the initial cost of the equipment was more than that of standard cameras, it will prove well worth it, as it eliminates the need for a dedicated cameraman filming the show in the studio.

‚”Another payoff is that we don’t need that much office space,‚” she says.

Based in Randburg in Johannesburg, the studio is small in comparison to most others and the control room is just big enough for one person.

‚”The control room merely serves as a back-up should one of the cameras fail. It also allows us to control when and where visual adverts appear.‚”

The system is also tightly integrated with applications like Skype.

‚”We can interview someone overseas without having to send a crew there to perform recording. We simply communicate via Skype, making the interviewee’s Internet camera an extension of our own in-studio cameras.‚”

Besides featuring local and international music, the station has regular fashion, food and cooking, music and culture segments, which are broadcast to around 30 000 listeners around Africa.

Rounding up the technology aspect, PRTV has integrated Twitter and Facebook, allowing its listeners to interact with DJs.

Listeners can tune into Planet Radio TV by logging onto www.planetradio.co.za

* Follow Sean Bacher on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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Canon EOS M – small and simple

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Canon has extended the EOS range with the EOS M, its first compact system camera. Although not yet available in South Africa, the EOS M offers DSLR quality images and full HD recording in a compact, easy to use device.

Canon has expanded the EOS range with the launch of the EOS M. The company’s first ever compact system camera (CSC), the EOS M offers DSLR-quality imaging and full HD movie creation in a compact and easy-to-use model.

The EOS M is available in sleek black, glossy white, stylish silver or bold red colours, and condenses Canon’s EOS imaging heritage into a stylish, compact design. The model launches alongside two new lenses, the EF-M 22mm f/2 STM pancake and the EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM standard zoom, as well as a new compact EX Speedlite the Speedlite 90EX. For those who want to push their images even further, the EOS M can also use Canon’s range of EF lenses with the new Mount Adapter EF-EOS M, for even more creative freedom.

The quality of a Canon DSLR

The EOS M’s high-resolution, 18 megapixel APS-C hybrid CMOS sensor also allows you to blur the background for beautiful portraits, or for close-ups with impact.

With the inclusion of Canon’s DIGIC 5 processor, colours ‚’pop’ and skin tones are beautifully natural, while a super-fast shutter allows you to capture split-second action.

Shoot what you see and easily express your creative vision

Every aspect of the EOS M has been designed to make it simple to capture high-quality images. With the high-resolution, 7.7cm (3.0‚”), Clear View LCD II Touch screen, the EOS M gives you as much or as little control over your photos as desired. Simply select different shooting modes and settings via the on-screen icons, or let Scene Intelligent Auto adjust the camera settings according to the subject and shooting conditions, leaving you free to focus on composition and selecting the perfect moment to hit the shutter release button.

Turn film-maker with EOS Movie and Video Snapshot

When a moment calls for more than a still image, the EOS M lets you switch to Full HD video with stereo sound.

Extending the EOS System with dedicated accessories

In addition to compatibility with Canon’s existing EF lenses, accessories and Speedlites, the EOS M launches with its own range of accessories. Two new EF-M lenses offer portability and high performance when using the new model the EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM standard zoom and the EF-M 22mm f/2 STM pancake lens. Both feature new stepper motor technology for exceptionally smooth AF performance, as well as precision Canon optics, while their compact designs offer the perfect form-factor to complement the camera’s pocket-sized body.

Additionally, the EOS M will ship with the new Speedlite 90EX flash unit as standard. Lightweight and highly-compact, it offers a maximum guide number of nine and supports wide-angle lenses, making it an ideal general-purpose flash for everyday use. A wireless master function also allows the control of multiple flash guns wirelessly, allowing more advanced users to experiment with a range of creative lighting effects.

EOS M key features

· The quality of a digital SLR in a compact body

· Scene Intelligent Auto

· Be versatile with interchangeable lenses

· Create out-of-focus backgrounds for high impact

· Easy-to-use touch-screen

· Atmospheric photos in low light

· Full-HD video with Video Snapshot Mode

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