Gill and I have just returned from a week in Cyprus. Our youngest boys (young men, actually) went for a week's training course in Glasgow so I decided to get the central heating system replaced while the house was empty. Apparently the work went smoothly until one our cats leapt head first through the new ventilation grid as if it was a cat flap! The plumber had just finished glueing it to the wall.
For the second time we were extremely lucky with the winter weather. Going to Cyprus in winter is always a lottery. The first time we went was in December, three years ago, and the temperature stayed at 24'C until the day we left. Likewise this time the temperature hovered between a warm 18'C and a slightly uncomfortable 24'C (uncomfortable but for the sea breeze) until the day we left. In fact it was a close call because, as we took our seats on the 'plane, they asked passengers to hurry as those still outside were getting wet!
As always, the people were friendly, the food excellent, and we borrowed a car from Norman, the local satellite TV expert. His "Normsat" shop is on the road to Tremithousa, just off the B7.
Driving on the left, having standard 13 Amp sockets and a population that mostly speaks good English is certainly a bonus, although Gill and I can manage a little Greek. In fact, for the first time ever, we needed to ask for directions and chose the one man in town who spoke no English. Thankfully, I know how to ask "where is the museum?" and could understand the answer after asking him to "pior argha" (slow down).
Interestingly, most of the menial workers in the hotels and restaurants are Russian or at least speak Russian (and not much Greek!) Once I'd realised this, it became obvious why I was getting nowhere ordering in Greek. I settled for saying "spasibah" (thanks - one of the seven Russian words I know) and at least raised a smile. Just for the record, "pajhalska" is please, "niet" is no, "da" is yes, "harashoh" is fine and "krasnia eekrat" is red caviar. How very useful!
The biggest problem I had was in telling the Russian room maid that our room was teeming with ants. However, after shouting "meermeengeea" (the Greek word for "ants"), and stamping my feet as if crushing ants, I managed to get her into the room. I'm not sure if this was because she understood or because it was the only escape route from a mad Englishman doing a war dance!
So we arrived home to snow (it's gone now) and a nice warm house which needs new carpets and wallpaper. I think I'll be saving up to get that done professionally because we're getting a bit old for such work.
By the way, for those of you with residences in Cyprus (about 40,000 expats!) Norman at "Normsat" in Tremithousa is currently testing a new broadband system. It uses a two-way dish (tx/rx) connected to a transmitter/receiver which you can link to your PC. The receiver near the dish can itself be linked to a bidirectional microwave link that uses a tiny antenna and tx/rx box with (I think) an Ethernet connection for your PC. In this way, several people can share the broadband connection from a single dish, provided that they have line of sight of the microwave antenna and are not more than a mile from it. The signal is tiny - just a few milliWatts - so there's no danger from it.
The satellite broadband service provides a 500Kb/s downlink - the contention ratio depends on the number of people sharing it simultaneously - and costs around £50 per month (although this may be negotiable if severable people are sharing).
Sky+ Repair Protection Plan
A quick note to ask your opinion on Sky's mail out offering a "Repair Protection Plan" - in other words an extended warranty at £99 for 12 months. This is sent out at the 12 month point after installation (although strangely ours dated 2/10/04 arrived this week).
The package is underwritten by Domestic & General Services who do a lot of extended warranty policies - which are now rather under attack by consumer bodies in the UK.
What I think looks odd is the pricing - at £99 p.a. why would anybody buy this rather than replace with a new unit? Customers aren't helped of course by Sky not telling them what a new unit would cost. My reaction was to go to your catalogue where I found the Pace DS430N "Rapier" at £149.81. This sounds better than paying £99 to (possibly) repair my 18 month old Amstrad unit.
I'm not familiar with the Plan but I suggest you read it carefully to see what the benefits are. What's the maximum call-out time? If you have to wait a week before anyone responds then you might no be too pleased. If they turn up with a "refurbished" DRX100 with a 3 month warranty you could be disappointed. On the other hand, if they offer a brand new replacement with same-day call out, 7 days a week, that sounds good to me. You also need to check whether the insurance plan covers failure of the LNB, damage to the cable or dish, movement of the dish and water ingress. Look at the limitations of the Plan.
If you are reasonably capable, you could buy a replacement LNB for a few pounds and fit it yourself. Likewise the cable and dish. A used Digibox could be bought for between £10 and £100, dependent on age.
Also look at the cost of the plan for a Sky-plus system compared with a standard Sky Digibox. The most common failure point in a Sky-Plus system is the internal Hard Drive. You could replace this with a larger capacity drive for around £50 plus the cost of a Torx screwdriver.
Piping TV in Spain
I've just been reading your "Piping...." book as I'm doing first fix wiring at our new house here in southern Spain. I don't think our exact situation is covered despiteall the options mentioned in the book. What I want to do is this:
Watch Sky Digital from a single digibox in our living room, with TVs in both the living room and bedroom not working simultaneously.
Remote control of channel change and TV sound and on/off in both rooms
This might appear simple, but because of PAL-I compatability problems with locally available TV sets, I can't use the RF output from the digibox. Just SCART. Is there a solution, perhaps using an RF system to send control signals and hardwired RGB with SCART for the TV signals? Please help if you can.
All the best.
Our RF Modulators will solve this. Set your Digibox output channel to 21 or 69 - away from anything else because you won't be using it and you don't want it to cause interference.
Connect a PAL-G RF modulator to the Scart socket. You'll find a cheap one (adjustable for "I" or "G") in our on-line catalogue. Connect the Modulator output to the Aerial Input of the Sky Digibox. Its output will now be present on the Digibox RF outputs so you can use RF Output 2 as normal, with its ability to recognise remote control commands from a "tvLINK" or similar! Feed its output to a suitable "Skylink compatible amplified splitter" to feed as many TV sets as required.
The RF modulator also has an aerial input so you can connect a TV aerial or VCR to it.
To begin with you need to set up the Modulator as follows:
Connect it to your Digibox and TV. Tune the TV in to it. Connect the aerial to it. If there's picture interference with the aerial connected, adjust the modulator's output channel and retune the TV. Finally, adjust the inside black core (care!) to get good quality audio.
We have recently signed up with another big warehouse and the result is less mistakes and a wider range of products. I'm looking at the possibility of offering you equipment such as time-lapse video recorders (security) and wide screen television sets, delivered direct to your (UK) door by next day delivery. What a great way to save time, hassle and petrol! These sets are guaranteed for 28 days by the warehouse (no quibble exchange at their expense). After 28 days and up to 2 years you simply phone the manufacturer and they will send someone to collect, repair and return the set. There's no "extended warranty" to pay for so bear this in mind when looking at our price.
However, if I start to sell TV sets I know that your first question will be "what's the code for my Sky remote?" So I'm contacting all the manufacturers to determine the answer before adding TVs to our range. So far Samsung have said that their TV sets are not compatible so we may offer a special universal remote that will control the TV and a Sky Digibox. I'm still waiting for information about this and for replies from the other TV manufacturers. But watch the on-line catalogue because our range of offerings is increasing each week.
NEW CODE MAKES IT EASIER TO CHANGE BROADBAND SUPPLIERS
16 service providers, accounting for some 70% of the ADSL market, have signed up to a new voluntary code of practice that will enable Internet users to change suppliers without the lengthy delays and disruption they often experience now.
The code will work alongside the new migration processes launched by BT Wholesale, under which customers wishing to change will ask their present supplier for an 'authority code', which they pass on to their new supplier as evidence that agreement to change has been reached. The new provider then arranges the transfer with BT Wholesale with minimal disruption. Service providers who have signed up to the code undertake to provide the authority code promptly with no strings attached.
The code does not relieve customers of contractual obligations and they will be expected to honour existing contracts or pay early cancellation fees as appropriate. 'Broadband service provider migration code of practice' is available at http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consumer_guides/bbm_cop/?a=87101 (Ofcom Enquiries; tel: 0845 456 3000).
OFCOM FAVOURS 'MINIMUM REGULATORY BURDENS' ON NEW VOICE SERVICES
Ofcom intends to subject the emerging new voice services, such as Voice over Broadband (VoB), which deliver calls over the Internet, to minimal regulatory burdens in order to encourage the market to develop. In a public consultation, it seeks views on the extent that the regulatory conditions applying to fixed line telephony services should apply to the new voice services and how consumers should be informed of the new services' capabilities.
VoB will offer consumers significantly cheaper calls, with the only cost where VoB connects to VoB typically being a standard monthly fee, regardless of whether the call is local or international. Ofcom believes the comparatively low cost of the technology will allow new providers to enter the market, so consumers will benefit from a wide choice of providers.
Ofcom has also published the telephone numbering available for new voice services. Providers will be able to offer consumers either: geographic numbers beginning 01 or 02 that make it easy to switch to VoB from a traditional telephone service without changing numbers; or non-geographic numbers beginning with a new code, 056, which could be used anywhere in the country. It has also published a consumer guide to new voice services.
'New voice services: A consultation and interim guidance' is available at http://www.ofeom.org.uk/consultations/current/new_voice/new_voice_services.pdf?a=87101 (Ofcom Enquiries; tel: 0845 456 3000). Responses by 15 November.
Cable Companies Launch VoD
NTL and Telewest are both introducing improved video-on-demand (VOD) services, though the two companies have made it clear that this does not mean the start of joint operations. They have been running a strictly limited joint venture, Front Row, that provided multiple showings of twenty-thirty movies at quarter-hour staggered times throughout the day. This is being replaced by the new services.
NTL is investing up to £40m on its new service, which was initially launched in Glasgow. In addition to a library of hundreds of films, it offers hundreds of hours of extra TV programming such as advertisement-free children's TV, a selection of top shows from the previous week and a music video jukebox. Content from the BBC, Jetix, Nickelodeon and Warner Music will be included. Telewest is to invest some £20m initially on its service, which has been launched at Bristol. It will initially provide films but will be extended to offer TV programmes as well.
The new services include pause, fast-forward and rewind functions. They will not require equipment upgrades, and will appear as part of the normal electronic programme guide. Some content will be free, but movies will cost up to £3.50 while music will cost between 20p and £1.50 per video.
The services constitute the first mass-market VOD to be launched outside the US. N7Us chief executive Simon Duffy said "This is a quantum step forward in terms of functionality and gives us a differentiation against other pay-TV companies. This really is what the cable network is for." The cable companies maintain that VOD services are more flexible and user-friendly than the use of a PVR such as Sky+, as there is no need to plan viewing and set recording instructions.
Telewest Broadband has nevertheless entered into an agreement with Scientific-Atlanta for the supply of new personal video recorder (PVR) set-top boxes, which will be made available to its customers later this year. The new PVR will include a 160GB hard drive with the ability to store about 80 hours of programmes, and three TV tuners that will enable viewers to record two programmes simultaneously while watching a third. It will include functions such as pause and rewind. Telewest Broadband's digital TV service will also deliver high-definition TV content in the future. No price details have been announced.
Meanwhile BSkyB is adding new features to its Sky+ PVR. These could include the ability to set up recordings using a mobile phone.
Samsung has developed the world's largest active-matrix driven OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) display for digital TV sets. The 21in. screen has a resolution of 6.22 million pixels. At present OLED displays are mainly used for mobile phones and instrumentation, but at the current rate of development they could challenge LCD and PDP displays within a few years. The OLED market is expected to increase to some £1.17bn by 2008.
Sharp Corporation is to build the world's first eighth-generation LCD plant at its Kameyama site in Japan, an investment that will involve some Y150bn (£0.8bn). It will join Sharp's existing sixth-generation facility at Kameyama. Production is expected to start in October 2006 at a rate of 15,000 panels a month. A second production line will then be added to double production. The eighth-generation glass substrates are the optimum size for the production of 40 and 50in. screens: eight 40in. or six 50in. panels can be obtained from a single eighth-generation substrate, whose sides measure more than 2m.
The decision to increase LCD production capacity at a time when there is a surplus (see News, December) and manufacturers are struggling to make profits emphasises Sharp's optimism about the market and its advantages as a pioneer. The company expects to be able to cut costs sufficiently to be able to challenge the present dominance of plasma panels in large-screen flatpanel TV sets.
Production of Sharp's Aquos LCD range passed the five million mark at the end of December. This figure is the total number of sets produced at Sharp's two LCD plants in Japan and others in Spain, Mexico and China. Total worldwide demand for flat-panel TV sets from 2001 to 2004 is estimated to have been approximately 14m. This suggests that Aquos models account for about a third of all flat-panel TV sets produced. Sharp introduced the Cl series (LC-20C 1, LC-15C1 and LC13C1) in January 2001 and has been increasing the size and resolution ever since. Model LC45GI31, with a 45m. screen, was launched in Japan last August.
Optical disc potential
Researchers at Imperial College London claim to have devised a technique that enables 250GB of data per layer to be stored on a CD-sized disc, ten times more than the proposed Blu-ray disc. It's based on a new data encoding technique. A double-sided, dual-layer Multiplexed Optical Data Storage (MODS) disc would be able to store 1,00OGB of data, enough for 472 hours of film. According to the researchers the playback system would be backwards compatible, i.e. the MODS system would be able to play CDs and DVDs.
We are currently testing a custom-made shopping cart which will hopefully be going "live" very soon. I apologise in advance for any early "teething troubles" but it's impossible to test it exhaustively enough to eliminate all possibilities. It has some features which are better than the existing shopping cart but it also has some which are not so good - so it's a compromise. One such compromise is that the cart will empty itself if you don't complete the order within 20 minutes. I think this is a darn nuisance but I'm told "it's a feature of the server and can't be changed".
However, on the bright side, it will allow our computer system to print out a "picking list", for the warehouse, and an invoice, automatically. This eliminates human intervention. At present, poor Nicola has to copy your emailed orders into the accounts computer then download your credit card details from the secure server. The whole business takes far too long and leaves plenty of scope for errors. The new system will let us process orders more quickly and more accurately, resulting in a better service for our customers.
If anyone is interested in helping with some testing of the new "cart" please email me for details.
Just a line to say "Thank you very much". For two years I have had a grainy picture and ghosting on some sky channels. Yesterday I found your site and "interference emanating from the TV on the Scart wires. Pin 19 (at the TV end)" I cut the wire and the picture is now as it should be.
Thank you very, very much.
Grundig digibox threw in the towel just over an hour ago. Your site came up bang on the nail with the problem. Only replaced one offending electrolytic in the PSU (fortunately had exact same in my personal stock). Voila! Back in bizz. I live in France and without internet I would be out of reach of the type of service you offer. My sincere thanks. Do you mind if I recommend your service on "French News" English language newspaper covering the whole of France?
From Sky Digi Online ( http://www.media247.co.uk ):
- "The Freeview Bible" February 16th 2005.
- "Piping TV Around the House" February 5th 2005.
- All eBooks have been moved to a secure server which requires a username and password. Please contact Me with your original Order number and ask for the new download information, stating exactly which eBook(s) you purchased and the EBK number.