4k Movies and 3D Television Broadcasts

Shadow mask tube - first colour. 4K use LED/LCD and OLED Technology

4K Movies in the very Beginning

The trend for videophiles to spend thousands of dollars until they get the perfect picture continues. Can the human eye perceive the difference between 1080p and 4k and now 8k sitting 10 foot away from the display? This has become one of the arguments against ultra high definition and therefore 4K movies.

I am skeptical about a lot of things, chasing after newer and ‘improved’ technology before the previous has matured or implemented to it’s maximum capability is leading landfills to saturate. Many years ago – possibly 20 years ago at max, already there were arguments for and against what standards would be used to broadcast HD and gauging by what I currently see nothing was ever set in concrete. Actually, worse still, moving from 1080p to 4K where does this leave the consumer?  The older line standards of 525 and 625 were with us for nearly 50 years and is still with us in many countries – in our quest to make things bigger, better and faster we are still limited to what our eyes can or cannot see. Don’t always be fooled by the hype – in reality the more money you splash out the closer you can sit to the display. Expert opinion says that you cannot see the difference between a 1080p and 4K 65″ monitor sitting 12 foot away.



 

The old TV Standards in a nutshell – 525 and 625 lines of colour: NTSC, PAL and SECAM

Many years back the NTSC standard in the USA (RCA) allowed 525 horizontal lines at a frame refresh rate of 30Hz which is half mains frequency. The human eye does not detect this slow frequency switching. With colour broadcasts a sub-carrier was injected into the signal at 3.58MHz and the frame refresh reduced by a fraction of a Hertz to prevent hetrodyning of the chromo and FM sound signals.

NTSC transmissions brought about colour tone or hue shift due to ghosting which lead to Telefunken producing the PAL or Phase Alternating Line system which used a 4.43MHz colour carrier where the phase was reversed 180 degrees on each line scan. The PAL system used 625 lines and the frequency of frame was usually 50Hz/2 or 25Hz interlaced, which is also not detected by the human eye.

SECAM was developed by French company Compagnie Française de Télévision (Technicolor), It uses an FM chromo subcarrier sending the R-Y and B-Y in sequence. SECAM was originally designed to run at 819 lines. The system was not adopted in the west and most Asian countries (except N.Korea). Many SECAM countries later migrated to the PAL system.

Tube Design – above 1280 lines but not yet 4K

Shadow mask tube - first colour. 4K movies use LED/LCD and OLED Technology
Image:CRT color.png by Søren Peo Pedersen.

The Shadowmask Tube

1 = RGB Guns, 2 = electron beam RGB, 3 = Focus Ring, 4 = Deflection Yoke X/Y axis, 5 = Final Anode > 25kV, 6 = Shadowmask with either holes or slots for delta or in-line electron guns, 7 = RGB Phosphor, 8 = Zoom to Phophor.

The first delta and in line tube technology used shadowmask tubes. By their very nature they did succumb to convergence and efficiency problems, the delta tube being very much inferior in this regard. Numerous companies tried to improve their tube design but none were as successful as Sony which brought out the Trintron tube or aperature grille using vertical wires instead of a shadowmask – the picture was brighter, crisper and paved the way for flat tube technology used in computer monitors.


 


 

The Trinitron and most flat screens had one or two horizontal stabiliser wires to prevent shimmering and although not really visible on TV standard tubes at 625 lines was quite noticeable on computer monitors running a white background, the visibility thereof being a common complaint from users. Picture and high speed graphic quality even above 1600 lines was excellent.

Digital Vs Analogue

The older CRT based technology was mostly analogue, the tubes were either cathode or control grid modulated to get the relevant intensity of colour which was set up by grey-scale, convergence and purity. Purity rings around the neck of the tube could be turned to compensate for magnetic influences, especially earth’s magnetism after degauss. CRTs are heavy, could radiate X-Rays, are energy hogs and suffered from flashover which of course would damage circuitry if the energy was not properly contained. CRTs, which follow vacuum tube technology was also ‘old’ tech – LCDs were becoming popular in the 90s and although manufacturing costs for the first commercial panels and prescaler chips were exorbitantly expensive, LCDs paved the road to digital signal processing and our now lower energy usage footprint.

With all the fanfare though, for those of you whom can remember, this technology was full of surprises. Using a fixed frequency but via means of prescaling the LCD display could be run at different resolutions which for those using their computer as a text editor were mostly unenthusiastic about the image quality if not run at the native frequency. In fact early passive matrix LCD picture quality was pathetic, compounded by smear when using detailed and fast graphics which left gamers and programmers still sticking to CRT technology or buying really high end active matrix screens which still exhibited fairly slow response times, sometimes as low as 20ms.

LCDs, because they are not light emissive, require backlighting which in those early times were strictly fluorescent. Early displays were not uniformly illuminated and in poor design there was noticeable flicker. Purchasing one would have in all likelihood left you with a feeling of despair as well, many times they were shipped with dead pixels or worse still, a sub-pixel which stayed on. The panel was not shipped as an A-grade panel, these were reserved for professional series displays and even they had their fair share of problems unlike the ‘super A grade’ reserved for military and medical sectors.

With improvements in technology over the last ten years, LCD panels with LED backlighting have all but eradicated other forms of display used in notebooks, TV receivers and computers. Although LED backlighting has improved the black saturation of LCD displays they still do not compete with older plasma technology except in light output.  LCD television, with possibly the Sony Bravia technology being a big driving factor, have made big inroads however.

Plasma, for many, rules the roost – better colour saturation, black levels and faster image reproduction. With an affordable price tag too. Definitions are all HD, like LCD. Both LCD and Plasma now run at 2k or 2 000 horizontal lines. Panasonic has stopped manufacturing plasma, from 2013 which has left LG and Samsung on their own – so what next?

The general train of thought is that until 4k matures, users should stick to plasma. I agree. Both Samsung and LG may stop production of plasma as well once pricing for OLED technology drops, this is after all a significant role player in the buyer’s decision making process. Plasma means more bang for your buck.

4K – the step forward…

So with many manufacturers now opting to drop plasma (for the second time) for the favoured 4K standard we need to look at what is realistic or not. What can the eye see and what can we hear? Will we see new audio amplifiers being released with a 1Hz to 1MHz bandwidth? Can we feel the difference as many people think they can. As mentioned before – the picture on my plasma is better than the image I see out of the lounge window on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Have you watched brain games? Our eyes and brain are wonderful things, we can even perceive things to be there which just aren’t.

Personally and I am no neurosurgeon, I am very skeptical. 1080p is not even mature, yet we have moved on to a resolution which our eyes will tell us is better than 2K because our brain will tell us so. Just as people can hear 30kHz or 40kHz and get the feel for the sound.

Certainly, we can now create things to look better than we originally anticipated – but is it real? Using image enhancing software to make our photo look better or more realistic than the real thing seems to be the way we are going – comparing 1080p and the 2K models abundantly out there I see something which is surreal. It concerns me because we believe that 4k is better than 2k and now already there is talk of 8k. Early digital processing left a lot to be desired, LCD image qualities were inferior to CRT and there certainly was nothing ‘lifelike’ about the movies shown on these devices.



 

Plasma and 1080p took care of that. LCD with evolved LED backlighting still does not come up to the picture quality standards of plasma although there have been great strides through 2013 to put matters right. OLED and 4k is a technology which, like early LCD will become more popular over the next two years but right now, marketing is all around how close one can sit in front of the wide screen display, the size of the display, seeing crystal clear text and just be in awe at the definition. Our brain and eyes however, deceive us. There are also limitations. Continue reading “4k Movies and 3D Television Broadcasts”

Display Quality of Monitors and Television Receivers

Display Quality is not all what it Seems

Modern computer displays are so vastly different to the old CRT variety that it has created confusion amongst potential buyers. This article is not meant to tell you what display to buy but rather act as a guide. Often incorrect terms are deliberately used by sales personnel to misguide the end-user into buying a product which he or she is not looking for.

Display quality - it's all about the outside not just the inside.
14 inch CRT showing deflection coils, final anode connector, cathode and grid connectors and purity rings – source: Wiki/Blue tooth7

The television type receiver of the early 80s was a fixed frequency device, running at a fixed line frequency (scan from left to right), interlaced (scanning odd number of lines and then even) with a line blanking pulse (so you could not see the retrace as the dot moved from right to left) and a frame blanking pulse (where the picture would be blanked as the scan would move from bottom to top). The PAL television receiver may only have had 625 lines and a frame speed of 25Hz with a line speed of (frame speed x number of lines) 15,625kHz but for anyone purchasing a television receiver all you needed to know was screen size, delta, in line (or Trinitron). Not many people were even aware that the tubes were sometimes different. Modern technology has changed all that. Yes, the digital age has made things not easier but more difficult and compounded by the fact that as broadcast transmissions become more evolved so you need to change your receiving device. Technology of the 21st century has become so complex that manufacturers churn out different breeds every six months and if you want to keep up to Fred the neighbour you had better have a rock steady bank balance.

Some pitfalls of modern technology in display quality

Having serviced TV receivers and display devices for about twenty years there is one thing which is abundantly clear – modern technology does not allow one to hold on to any gadget for more than 3 to 5 years, unlike our older CRT television receiver which may have lived up to 20 years, possibly without ever changing the tube. Here we have plasma, LCD and now LED all coming out over a ten year period. Modern technology is not landfill friendly – we live in a throwaway age. That 3 000 Dollar plasma devalued faster than your car – the repairs are twice as much and who wants plasma anyway now that LCD is out? First generation plasma also drew more power than your old CRT, in fact it drew sometimes more than your swimming pool pump.  In came LCD, low power consumption and often a very dodgy gray scale. Analogue was simply better. Now we have LED which uncannily has the picture quality of LCD and the latest and greatest, OLED. Don’t be fooled, if that LED monitor or TV set costs the same as LCD it is LCD. With an LED backlight. And now plasma is back in vogue albeit less power hungry than it’s forefathers. As much as things change they don’t.

Buying OLED for better display quality

There are two types, PMOLED and AMLED, one being passive matrix organic LED and the other, of course, active matrix organic LED. Remember the first LED monitors? Also active and passive. If you can afford it stick to active matrix. Now of course you can also buy an LED unit which surprise, surprise is an LCD with LED backlight. It is superior to the CCFL or fluorescent tubes of first generation backlighting but with no visible flicker and a much longer lifespan. LCD panels just do not live up to being bigger and better so always check that plasma first. Horrendously expensive when they first came out, plasma screens are now larger and cheaper than first generation but not only that, are in many ways superior to LCD technology. OLED is another story altogether, lighter, faster and a really incredible detailed picture. At a price.

See what people say about plasma. My case rests Your Honour. In this author’s twenty years of consumer product repair the one product which stood out in reliability was the Panasonic television receiver. Simply the best. I am talking not only CRT but plasma as well. Panasonic television receivers were quick to fix and once repaired could run for another 100 years happily. Plasma? Shopping center down the road has been using the same plasmas for over ten years – not one failure. Only now are they replacing.

LCD and LED technology is the way forward unfortunately, with OLED being the main and of course natural winner by 2020.  Plasma for now offer better contrast and black/colour depth. If you prefer leaving your curtains open and having sunlight fill the room then LCD or LED is the way to go but as evening falls you may find yourself reaching out for the plasma remote. OLED technology is very expensive but gives you the best of both worlds.

Lastly on this topic, if your Apple computer says you can use other makes of monitor, only use OLED. I discovered this by chance – family needed to replace their monitor. The model equivalent given by Apple was three times the price of conventional LCD/LED backlit – it was of course OLED. The replacement was a Samsung.

Display Quality – Manufacturer Wars

Having repaired television receivers much of what I learnt 30 years ago still stands today. If you want to buy quality and reliability, buy a tier one brand: Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, LG – there are others of course but the bottom line is that many manufacturers are using competitor panels and chipsets. They just put them together. A company very rapidly coming into it’s own is Hisense. Don’t be fooled by the price tag – Hisense is out there to compete and they do this very seriously.

When making any purchase know whether the manufacturer has dropped the panel spec to make them more competitive. This is no secret. Also whether your warranty covers dead pixels. This is used to be very important 15 years ago – medical and military spec is very high compared to the different grades of consumer spec and price alone does not tell you the whole story. Manufacturers of today often have zero tolerance to any sign of pixel failure, such is their QC.

Digital Signage: Large Format Display Quality

Want a system which lasts forever? LFDs have fast made their way into malls, airports and well, almost all commercial and industrial sectors. Doing some research on the web does not bring much in the line of information except people with a lot of money wanting to use them for gaming and watching movies. Read here for an interesting rundown on LFDs and display representation.

LFDs are manufactured by almost all of the major companies which specialise in displays of any sort. Specialised displays are designed to be on 24/7, focusing on messaging and advertising. This means cooler running, top quality components and absolutely zero tolerance on panel defects.

For consumer use? Totally overkill, unless you game 24/7.

Projected Image Display Quality

There is no hard or fast rule to preferencing projectors for conference facilities over LFD or any flat panel. Indeed, flat panels and projectors are now both fitted with bluetooth – flat panels have an almost maintenance free advantage over projectors but projectors still remain supreme for mobility. Projector mounts often make maintenance work difficult – many companies are now opting to use a fixed flat panel or panels over projected images because the owners see the flat panel as having obvious advantages over projectors, a fact not always shared by projector manufacturers. The fact remains, there will always be a projector in the work place until someone develops a robust and inexpensive roll up OLED display. Projectors, with the current swing to use high intensity LED lamps are also becoming more popular – both from a mobility point of view as well as pricing. Projectors are also becoming increasingly smaller while panels get larger. So large in fact that mounting them becomes a problem.

Projectors will not disappear in to the woodwork overnight – their advantages still far outweigh the disadvantages no matter what the pundits of doom have to say.

Display quality, to conclude…

3D imaging, another subject, coming up in due course is the way the manufacturers have been plying their wares over the last five years. In it’s infancy, yet there have been immense strides in the technology used, moreover in the visualisation and 3D optometry used.  Sony have brought out some incredible equipment, from 3D ready to now, full 3D, matched to their 3D players but sadly the user has very little media to choose from.

From the ever reliable Panasonic Quintrix CRT, the Sony Trinitron and in-line tube technology our picture has improved 100 fold over the last 10 years. Running out of ideas, innovation has moved to quick connectivity and in the near future, fold up display units. We no longer talk about a TV set but a display, just as stereo has moved to home theater. Pictures are realistic and 55 inch panels come at a price of a 72cm CRT in 1995. All homes are using Wi-Fi, APs and routers – cable is becoming redundant. We have come a long way in 20 years – are we on the right track?

There is fierce competition out there but the cheapest will not necessarily win, product support and compatibility is still key to having a sales advantage but from what I see, having the trendiest system on the block is what sells – and that comes at a price. Product support plays second place, which includes that of an extended warranty. Until it fails.

Display quality is no longer just 1920 x 1080, it does include style and whether 3D can be rendered.

Next….

4K and 3D TV broadcasts – a passing fad or reality….

 

 

 

 

VIN Numbers – vehicle identification

VIN Number

VIN Numbers – why the secret?

The Vehicle Identification Number of your vehicle is it’s personal ID and of course we don’t advocate anyone send in a picture of his car, registration and VIN number for security reasons but what is that which makes the publication of batch numbers so secret?

vin numbers - a way to track your vehicle
Your VIN Number – a unique identifier

There are countries which publish batch numbers, publish the failures and even manufacturers publicly recalling vehicles for safety reasons. But yet, buying a manual for a vehicle falling within specific VIN numbers would be the easiest way to know that you have purchased the correct manual, that you do have a vehicle that has modification ‘x’ and certainly most importantly that the car you are buying is the car specified. There just seems to be no common ground yet auto trading is one of the largest and robust industries to be in.

The Canadian authorities have it right: Canadian Police Information Centre  – search a VIN to see whether it has been stolen. Sadly this is not a common trend, almost as if we want the car to remain stolen. Is this for insurance reasons – you don’t want the car back? Sorry, but this apathy galls me.

If you need to know more about VIN go to Wiki

Case # 1 – no reports, lots of action

Here’s an interesting case, my #1. I know two people having the same problems with their vehicle, same year and same model. Did a search on Google. No apparent issue. Asked the manufacturer whether there are any issues with this specific model – an alleged ‘no’.  A freelance mechanic told me that he makes a mint out repairs to these vehicles as it gets treated as out of warranty.

Case # 2 – lots of reports, no action

Case #2 – well known manufacturer, very popular vehicle, about 15 years back (1996~1998) – all with a common problem but explanations varying from “wiring problem”, “engine control”, the “black box thingy” to “poor riding habits”. All of these cars had one common problem though – intermittent in nature and engine would just die. Local newspaper has Mr. X taking one of the local dealerships to task – he paid $1300.00 to have his new vehicle fixed (replacement of ECU) which they treated as out of warranty. Not even a week later it failed again and they then wanted to charge him the same. Obviously he hit the roof – the newspaper got involved and hey presto, brand new car. No VIN number given, no recall, no nothing. My brother had the same car – he eventually traded it in – month after month this new car just gave hassles. Here’s the thing though, a certain government department bought a batch of these, all with the same problem. This information came from a friend who worked in this department. While we don’t like to be hoodwinked don’t you think it is time that Joe Public start become just a little bit more proactive?

Case #2 fascinates me because it just shows us how complacent we really are. What makes it better is that someone is going to buy this car second hand and it’s going to come with the very same problem that the original owner had. No, I do not know what the cause of the problem was although everyone suspects the ECU. No VIN numbers given, no recall but yet I still see these same cars parked on the side of the road 15 years later. Sad, very sad – but true.

Putting yourself in the legal spotlight

The problem as I see it is that manufacturers will do something about it (million kudos to Toyota, they may have had their own share of woes but their name always comes out fully intact) – if it is handled properly from the word go. But it won’t be handled properly, with social media we are going to open ourselves up to a civil lawsuit by making unsubstantiated claims based on hearsay which can hurt the reputation of a manufacturer because we don’t always know what is libel and what is not.

Furthermore, the internet makes us all invincible, we all read things which are wholly inaccurate and feel that as this is the case, let us act on it. Just how much harm do we do to ourselves when we self-medicate based on what we read on Snake-Oil Sam’s website with regard to herbs, spices and all things nice? Be cautious. The VIN numbering system is a very viable concept but it is not used anywhere near it’s full potential – it comes across as cloak and daggers stuff which is not good practice. This also depends where you reside. The good old American boys seem to have a good grip on things – and so they should. Elsewhere? Third World?

Invalid VIN Numbers

Do you own a car which has an invalid VIN? I do. The check digit is incorrect – after looking at the vehicle VIN on the chassis and comparing it to the registration papers I found the culprit, an incorrect digit had been given. One digit out and the whole thing is void. Now the question is a) how did the traffic authorities let this slip by and b) the car used to go for regular servicing but not once did the dealer correct this. Hence the reason for this article.

VIN Numbers – In the real world

One database – we don’t need to go to the GM website to look up a VIN number, it is supposed to be unique. Your car gets stolen – the authorities tag this car immediately in the VIN database under a stolen property section. You change the colour – ditto. You change the engine – ditto? Does this happen? No. In fact this is all supposed to happen. Your VIN is your auto social security number. And DNA. This article was not written to undermine what has already happened, there has been an immense amount of proactivity already as of 2014 but the problem is consolidating these records.

VIN numbers are your only way to track a car’s history and unfortunately most people are not aware that buying a stolen car can land you in a whole heap of trouble where you in all likelihood will lose the car once the whole mess is unraveled.

 

 

 

Sophisticated Machines – VCR Technology

VCR Technology - sophisticated machines

Consumer Electronics – VCR technology

Open up any DVD recorder and you will be disappointed to find the lack of wires, coils, relays, power transistors, motors and springs, most are hidden or neatly packed away in little plastic slots. Digital technology is impressive but for the geek not nearly as impressive as the electronics and mechanics of VCR technology. Whether VHS or Betamax, VCRs were extremely sophisticated machines and although pioneering the way forward to the modern DVD and Blu-Ray recorders, to many students of electronics the VCR remains king of complexity. Forget that DVD is instantaneous, forget that DVD is almost error free, forget that DVD is high definition, forget that DVD has more than 6 channel audio – the VCR relied on mechanical precision and in many cases hundreds of discrete semiconductors to amplify, limit, regulate, modulate and oscillate.

VCR Technology - sophisticated machines
VHS VCR – Wiki: Credit Dvortygirl

The VCR Beta, VHS and Open Reel formats



 

Whilst in optical recorders the modulation of light is key to data input and output in the form of 1s and 0s the magnetic tape system is far more versatile as can be proven by the billions of hard disks sold over the last ten years. Going back fifty years engineers already knew that an electromagnetic disc would prove to be very much more superior to the reel to reel system known then but the technology was also incredibly expensive. To get the required bandwidth for video recording or high speed data throughput a helical scanning system was devised. Toshiba was one company credited to the development of helical scanning systems in the late 50s and early 60s. With the helical scanning system a quarter or half inch tape could be packed with as much information at 1-7/8 inches per second as would be if the tape was running at 200 i.p.s. on a fixed head system. (VHS use 1.31 ips for standard play, 0.66 ips for LP and 0.44 ips for ELP, utilising four heads, switched for long or extra long play). The first helical scanning systems used azimuth recording with two heads angled at 15 degrees away from each other preventing cross talk, the one head recording odd lines, the other even at micron level, to make up the conventional interlaced television standard. To synchronise, VCRs had an ACTL or audio & control head which either records or plays back synch pulses to keep the tape speed in synchronisation with the video head. The synch pulses were recorded on the low or bottom section of the tape and the audio, the high or upper section of the tape. Tape speed was governed by the capstan motor and pinch roller and what appears to be a fairly simple but convenient way to pull the tape at a constant speed through the entire tape drive mechanism was also the most problematic.

Sony Betamax Vs VHS VCR Technology

For anyone whom services or serviced these machines, the Betamax was one tricky machine from a mechanical point of view. The Sony standard was based on the U-matic format which laced the tape around the head via means of a threading ring. The VHS system uses the simpler M-tape guidance system and for the technical guy or girl this was by far a simpler machine to service. Technically the Betamax system is superior. There is a lot of information on the web regarding which format is the better one but having lived through the Beta Vs VHS war, VHS to my mind was better marketed by the founding company JVC with the result of other manufacturers opting to use the VHS standard which of course lead to video rentals swinging in that direction too.

Some common issues in VCR Technology

From a technical standpoint although VHS used a simpler loading mechanism which reduced maintenance costs considerably, my findings were that although the Betamax machines had a complex loading mechanism they did indeed show less tape and head stress. I say this on a fundamental level – video machines by their very nature, although relying on a sophisticated mechanical design preventing unnecessary damage to the head and tapes still fall victims of owner stupidity. The tape entry or loading mechanism often found to be jammed by banana peels, pairs of scissors, nail-clippers and of course liquid spillage. They were never designed to be child proof. Adults would clean the heads by removing the top cover and running a cassette through the mechanism while the scan head was still damp which would instantly damage the tape and sometimes the head. I have had Betamax machines come in with the heads completely unwrapped of copper wire, the head windings lying all over the deck mechanism.

Depending on the manufacturer some cheaper VHS machines had a very flimsy transport mechanism which would just not allow synching when the machine was slightly stressed diagonally as would happen if placed on an uneven surface. The Betamax machines of course were more sturdily built but then again I only ever serviced Sony or Sanyo the two most popular manufacturers of Beta equipment. I doubt there was any control over whom could manufacture VHS which of course added to their popularity. The no name brands were the most dodgy – you get what you pay for.  Tape alignment is absolutely critical in any VCR, including the Philips 2000 format. Of course that covers DAT as well.

When it came down to serious fault finding the more dodgy the picture the easier it was to fix. Isn’t life just like that. Of course worn loading belts and pinch rollers were main culprits along with the inevitable dry electrolytic in the power supply but when it came to the more difficult faults it would always be the ones that were either intermittent or colour or head switching related. Without having Google at our fingertips and a smattering of literature, either over the top or just too little the best repair teams were always the agents whom received the most up to date repair information. Of course the British magazine ‘Television’  was of exceptional standard and a great assistant to repairing the host of decks manufactured at the time.


 


 

VCR Technology today

Nowadays, sadly, VCRs are almost extinct. Pawn shops and second hand stores sometimes want exorbitant amounts of money for the multi-head machines which may or may not work as they are intended to. Often one comes across forums where the questions posed are around using these decks for high fidelity recording and in 99% of cases the reply to this would be negative but in reality this is not so. D-VHS is a case in point, manufactured by JVC and a handful of other Japanese companies, the cassette tape used was the same as standard VHS but superior and more expensive magnetic composites allowed for high density digital recordings which required high bitrates. In many ways, at the time, D-VHS was superior (and cheaper) to other means of data storage for a given capacity but the sequential access storage limitation compared to the random access storage in hard drives made them obsolete fairly at the smaller storage levels fairly quickly. After all, why use a magnetic tape when a hard drive does all and more. There are however still many older data storage units which use magnetic tape in service today and compounded by the fact that major companies such as IBM are still innovating, data storage on magnetic tape is far from obsolete.

VCR Technology – natural progression

As an avid tinkerer don’t trash your VCR just yet, there are lots of useful bits and pieces, starting with the tuner, electric motors and oscillators. Get your service manual out and see what parts have value. Oh yes, if you have a 6 head system you may want to use your VCR as a ‘hi-fi’ audio recorder but well, with modern computers who worries about that. I love the synchronisation electronics in video machines – from the highly reliable and sophisticated heart of the drive system,  the capstan motor to the heart of the video, the helical scan head which has to spin at a controlled RPM. A good system has absolutely no room for error. Can we use that circuitry? The clock is another useful part of the older VCR – remember it is a timer and with timers we can do wonderful things. Lastly, the power supply which is usually on it’s own PCB with more than enough output voltages to assist you in testing projects. Strip down and put in your junk box – it’s worth more than the 20 Dollars you’ll get at the junk shop. Unless you don’t like electronics.

What now?

Out of all consumer electronics the home VCR is the most sophisticated, by a long distance. VCR technology, from the outset, encompassed digital and analogue electronics, therefore for the student of electronics knowing this technology is tantamount to filling in all the grey areas of TV broadcasts to the latest modulation techniques and servo technology used in Blu-Ray devices. It may be dated, it may be obsolete but thanks to the many engineers that made VCR technology possible we would be worse off.


 


 

 

 

Greatest inventions – through the ages

Greatest Inventions – Inspiration Vs Perspiration

There are literally thousands of pages on the world’s greatest inventions on the web and chronologically most start with an incredible man, Leonardo da Vinci. Discovery’s ‘Doing DaVinci’ goes out to prove that most of his plans were well thought out, documented and furthermore could be fully functional over 400 years ago.

Greatest Inventions - Martin Cooper and his DynaTAC 8000x
Wiki: Dr. Martin Cooper, the inventor of the cell phone, with DynaTAC prototype from 1973 (in the year 2007) – Photo Rico Shen

 

I am a firm believer in that what most of us see today in technology is merely a build on things discovered or invented one hundred or two hundred years back, heck, even longer. Mankind continues to seek ways to make things easier and simpler for us to run our daily lives and this does not always reflect ingenuity but more on opportunistic ways to make money.


 


 

Greatest Inventions – Perseverance

Many inventors were indeed very wealthy people and in the case of Thomas Alva Edison, was he truly one of the greatest inventors of the time or just an opportunist? Must one be a scientist to be a great inventor?  We’d like to think not. Many scientists were discovering great things in the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s and really did not know what the potential worth of the discovery was. Some, like the Curies were not aware until too late that their discoveries were potentially lethal.

Although Einstein was a theorist many of his ideas lead on to become inventions. In our mind the best inventors over the last three hundred years were scientists, whether from government sponsored programs, big corporate or the home tinkerer. The one thing all inventors have in common is perseverance. So just whom are all these great people and just what are the best inventions of all time?

Just what are these greatest inventions?

Paper making. What is the world without paper. So we thought the west was clever? Not so. China was very much advanced compared to their eastern brothers, just as the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians were thought to be ahead of the rest of the world. At that particular point in time. China comes in tops.

The printing press. Definitely not a western invention but rather accredited to China in the 11th century. Johannes Gutenburg is known as the father of the modern printing press.

The Compass. Known to exist in China about two thousand of years ago and used by masters of Feng Shui to tap into the earth’s power.

Gunpowder. The mixture of sulphur, potassium nitrate and carbon in it’s most primitive form comes from China.

Commercial radio. We had some unbelievable scientists living at the turn of the twentieth century, just too many to list and in our view, Maxwell and Hertz were two of our top five favourites – the glory goes to Marconi, however.

The steam engine. James Watt, need I say more? Actually it was a Spaniard, Jerónimo de Ayanz y Beaumont who patented the first steam engine. James Watt just made it better. Much better.

The internal combustion engine. Curved ball theories here because in reality an IC engine is one which covers many facets of combusting internally, including the use of any fuel and oxidiser – gunpowder being one of them. We rather believe that Niklaus Otto was the father of the four-cycle internal combustion engine – suck, compress, bang, exhaust! There were many patents before this but this is the one universally accepted as the 4-stroke compression engine. We also have the Wankel, 2-stroke and jet turbine – all ICEs.

The Telephone:  Again, foundations get laid on by great people – from the transmission of tones to voice in telephony. In modern times we credit Antonio Meucci and Alexander Graham Bell for the telephone system. Bell did file for patent in 1876, the first to do so.

Commercial television. Talking of fathers, another Scotsman, John Logie Baird, universally accepted as the grand-daddy of this great invention was in fact the first person to publicly demonstrate the first electro-mechanical version of television equipment. Philo Farnsworth makes less interesting study but is the grand-daddy of the modern television receiver using an all electronic system. There was lots of interest in what we know now as television in the 1800s but these two great pioneers made it all possible.



 

Radar. The idea behind radio detection and ranging is not a new one and of course don’t think that only one person invented this great ranging tool but a group of individuals, again Hertz and Maxwell are up in the front for their work on electromagnetic energy. There were many countries that contributed to the manufacture and use of modern radar – the magnetron tube was a breakthrough, contributed by Albert Hull (low frequency split anode) and even better, the cavity magnetron, a microwave device by John Randall and Harry Boot was THE invention that took radar from infancy to maturity.

The Jet engine. Lots of contest here but we hand this prize over jointly to Hans van Ohain and Sir Frank Whittle. Make no bones about it, the Germans were the leaders in many scientific fields through the 1900s (and still are), the ME 163 and 262 were no exceptions to this rule. Two things to note, one: both of these great men did not enjoy much approval from their superiors in pushing for R&D and two: Sir Frank Whittle remains almost anonymous in the eyes of the British government after more than 70 years. Read this sad tale here.

The home computer. Anyone doing research into this will hit a brick wall because of the many variants but looking at the home computer as being a fully programmable electronic device, possibly Konrad Zuse. I say this because on Discovery they also insist he was the father of the modern fully programmable device. On the other hand I will also give credit to Charles Babbage whom in the mid to late 1800s built a fully functional mechanical computer. Both men were obvious geniuses and using their skills with the latest of technology at the time. Moving into the 70s and 80s we have microcomputers and credit must be given Apple founders Steve Jobs and Gary Wozniak for their work. Should Bill Gates be mentioned here? Of course – any person turning the tables on IBM deserves a huge mention. There are many hundreds of super-geeks whom have added to the technology as we know it now but without the hardware, software and marketing skills of Gates, Jobs and Wozniak the home IT sector would have been a worse off place. Did I mention Sir Clive Sinclair? Anyone remember the ZX Spectrum? This page being dedicated to inventors, he just had to be mentioned. He is also one of my personal favourites.

The internet. What started as a defence project, the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) has become the World Wide Web or WWW, the Hypertext Markup Language developed by Jim Berners-Lee, one of the co-founders of the modern internet, but of course better known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. What may have started as a rather destructive ‘Big Brother is Watching’ has through social media become a rather comical ‘small brother is watching big brother’.

The cell phone. Martin Cooper is a world renowned expert in radio spectrum management and is accredited to be the founder of modern cell phone technology. Whilst working at Motorola and heading the team which developed the technology is also believed to have made the first call on the 10″ (25cm) long DynaTAC 8000x to rival company AT&T.  Whether folklore or not, Martin Cooper with his visionary and innovative approach to modern mobile telephony is possibly the greatest inventor of modern times.

Greatest Inventions – A word from Henry Ford

The list of inventors and their inventions is virtually endless, a bottomless pit of innovators and visionaries who all have one thing in common – perseverance. I do believe the Wright brothers and Igor Sikorsky do deserve mention but that is for another time and another list – Aviation and Martime.

As Henry Ford aptly put it: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration.”



 

 

Long Range Radar under the spotlight

PAVE PAWS -long range radar

 Long Range Radar, Early Warning Systems, Over The Horizon Radar

 

With missing flight MH370 being topic A at everyone’s dinner party these days it comes as no surprise that the press, plus a few learned individuals are crying out for an overhaul of our aviation communication and radar systems. Of course as most professional pilots flying international routes will tell you is that there are always blind spots and if you really want to take your aircraft out of sight, know your territory, get out to sea as quickly as possible and rely on satellite’s not picking you up.

PAVE PAWS -long range radar
PAVE PAWS operator Staff Sgt Paul Brawner -Service Depicted: Air Force
Source: Wiki/Credit CMSGT. Don Sutherland

Satellites are great at picking up things when it knows where to look – like the OTH radar systems used by the military.

Radar, here we look at secondary radar, sends out a signal, activates a transponder in an aircraft which in turn radiates necessary data to the receiving station.

Primary Radar – PAVE PAWS, DUGA-3 and JINDALEE long range systems

Now we have primary radar, our hot topic of the day. I read that this radar system is basically a pretty dumb machine – in what sense this article was written I don’t know but military radar nowadays comes out in many shapes and sizes. It can be continuous wave, modulated continuous wave, pulsed, rotating aerials, fixed arrays, high power, very high power and of course low power etc, etc. And of course when you need to find a surface to air missile or intercontinental continental ballistic missile or ICBM they had better be darn accurate. PAVE PAWS (Phase Array Warning System) is just that.

The Australian Jindalee radar system is used to detect aircraft and sea vessels up to 3000km north of Australia and deep into the Indian ocean, is shrouded in mystery and not surprising too as it is after all a military installation. Theoretically the radar can pick up sea vessels over 16m in length, or supposedly a 737 taking off from Singapore airport – How well it does this is anybody’s guess unless you were the installation or design engineer. What I do know is that theoretically it is very possible with modern technology. The Jindalee system would be pretty much a white elephant if it could not walk the talk.

Long Range Radar – Safety at Sea and in the Air

We can sit and concoct as many theories as we’d like but one thing is certain, nobody bullies any military organisation into revealing their latest technology – rightfully so. Whether the Australian government is holding secret top level information is anybody’s guess. Mine is a simple no. The Australians, in my honest opinion, hold the track record for having the most sophisticated search and rescue systems on planet earth – one being due to their AUSREP service. The US Coastguard have their AMVER system which although is an international system, seafarers are at the mercy of the territory they are in, unlike the AUSREP system. Having been to many Australian ports, the Aussies hold a very no-nonsense approach to mischief. Therefore I do not believe the Australians would be bullied into giving any information away with regard to the Jindalee system but neither would they hold information back if they had it if we had to look at the extent they value human lives on ships at sea. (or aircraft for that matter – their national airline has an impeccable record). This extent has no boundaries. This extent also covers civilian life.

OTH or over the horizon radar has been with us for the last fifty or so years and like most early warning systems the Jindalee system was on the drawing board in the 70s and 80s. The key to Jindalee’s success is an extremely powerful  digital signal processing system. The drawbacks are, however, a typical OTH scenario – the inconsistent Ionosphere: night effect, poor weather, high seas and anything else which would either increase noise or reduce the backscatter (reflections). The JORN system (Jindalee Operational Radar Network), like all OTH, uses the Doppler effect to range and this also has a typical downside, it will not detect a target moving tangentially to the transmission. Looking at this we must realise that JORN therefore is not totally reliable under adverse conditions, neither in other frequency spectrums which may or may not be line of sight. Was the JORN even pointing in the right direction – the HF transmission focuses on the area, (called tiling), where it needs to capture the data from, not like the rotating antenna system which uses line of sight microwave energy. JORN electronically steers a transmission – operators scan a specific tile which covers a designated area and cannot scan multiple areas such as altitude as in sea and air simultaneously. Or at least that is what we have been informed. JORN, although quite capable of picking up vessels in the ocean thereby stopping illegal entry has been failing to do just that. So what’s up?

OTHR is not unlike conventional microwave radar which requires a sizable window area of metal to be reflected – wooden craft will just not be seen. The Jindalee system requires a vessel class such as the Armidale to return useful input. OTHR on the other hand will detect conventional stealth aircraft because of the frequencies used.

Long Range Radar – Worldwide Coverage

To have a system so powerful to cover the entire globe it would need hosting countries or partnerships to exist. This will never happen from a military aspect and from a civilian aspect, these systems are hugely expensive which cannot be justified only based on the loss without trace of one or two aircraft or ships over the last few years. So what solutions do we have?

Long Range Radar – Military Objective

We have absolutely no control over what the military can or cannot do, as seems the case now, so we need to focus on international law overseeing civilian craft. Don’t hold a foreign government responsible if your own laws are lax – with this in mind modern communication and transponder systems must be designed to communicate with or without satellite assistance. The inertial navigation system and HF transmissions seems like a likely choice and for many this may be the first step to moving forward. HF communication, through the radiation of a suppressed sideband still has only ‘x’ amount of useable channels. Using an OTH system one could still interrogate the vessel or aircraft but again the installation would be manned by the military.

With MH370 missing the news media has been complaining about the fact that a cell phone location be obtained easily, why not the aircraft. Fact is that this means of recovery is based on triangulating microwave energy from three towers to detect location – this cannot be used on an aircraft.

Without all countries complying to an internationally agreed upon system for radio detection and ranging the Jindalee project is probably the best and only choice we do have for long range detection. Read more on the vulnerability of Aussie radar here.

The facts speak for themselves, OTH was not primarily designed for civilian aircraft search and rescue just as the satellite system we have is not designed for monitoring the movement of every civilian aircraft in the sky or on the ground. Sure enough, even technology from the 1950s and 1960s was sophisticated enough to detect targets through OTHR techniques, 21st century computer data processing just made it more powerful in the receiving end, which after all is the fundamental weakness of OTH. (actually all radar – both uWave and HF receivers are extremely complex devices).

From the first early warning devices in Alaska to the Russian Duga-3 OTH of the 80s, long range radar using Doppler shift has become strategically important in military defence. For all it’s sophistication, it is still a military installation and is used exactly for that purpose – defence. Not search and rescue.

Long Range Radar – in Conclusion

Although, for the average Joe a lot of what military radar can and cannot do is speculative, one thing is certain – they can detect aircraft from a long range off and based on design and usage, do not need to be manned.  The long range radar needs to be designed for a specific purpose – tiling and signature recording is nothing new, neither phase array systems. Not releasing what may be deemed as classified information is also not new – the mystery of missing flight MH370 has opened up a can of worms which for the naive lest be left alone. Unless there is a convention we are not certain about, all countries are fiercely protective over their defence installations.