Sugg. Retail: $119.99 (CAN)
Distributor: Thomson Consumer Electronics Canada Inc.,
5925 Airport Rd., 10th Fl.,
Reprinted From the Winter/Spring 2000 Issue
Over the past few years, the number of video sources has multiplied much more quickly than the number of A/V inputs on most televisions. It’s not uncommon for people to have three or more A/V sources: DVD player, VCR, satellite receiver or cable box, maybe a LaserDisc player and videogame console, and, from time to time, a camcorder.
A common way of dealing with this plethora of sources is to switch them using an A/V receiver or processor. That’s fine if your video sources are located near your audio system. But what if you want to keep them near your TV?
Many A/V receivers switch composite video, but not S-video. If your TV has an S-input, you certainly want to use it for DVD and satellite TV, since both of these carry luminance and the chrominance channels separately. If you use a composite connection, the source component squeezes luminance and chrominance together, and then the TV’s comb filter takes them apart again. No matter how effective the comb filter is, the process will generate some visible artifacts. The same applies to Super VHS VCRs, as well as S-VHS, Hi8 and DV camcorders.
If you wish your TV had more A/V inputs, especially S-inputs, you should check out RCA’s CVH920 video source selector. This flawed, but nonetheless nifty accessory has five sets of A/V inputs on the back, plus one set of output jacks for connection to the TV. The inputs are marked “satellite,” “DVD,” “LaserDisc,” “VCR” and “Aux 2;” there’s another set of inputs marked “Aux 1″ on the front. The labels are there as a convenience. All inputs are electrically identical; you can hook whatever A/V source component you desire to any input.
For each input, and for the TV output, there are two RCA jacks for stereo line-level analog audio, an RCA composite video jack and a DIN S-video jack. The documentation implies you can mix S-video and composite video sources, but there are possible performance prices to be paid for this; more on this later.
This device won’t necessarily answer all your switching needs. If you’re routing Dolby Digital/PCM audio from your DVD player to your amplifier, rather than just analog audio, you’ll need a dedicated connection. Ditto if you’re using a component video connection between your television and DVD player.
The RCA switcher is powered by a 12-volt AC converter brick, and has an internal video amplifier to minimize signal loss. Besides the Aux 1 inputs, the front panel has a main power switch, individual source switches and a “learn” button. You can switch sources just by tapping the appropriate source button - DVD when you want to watch a disc, VCR when you want to watch a tape etc. - or use your components’ remote controls.
You use the learn button to teach the switcher to respond to commands from your remote controls. The process is simple. Press the learn button, then a source selector button. Aim the corresponding remote at the switcher, press its power button, and then the learn button again. The switcher will then switch sources whenever you turn on any source component- your DVD player, your satellite receiver, via remote, your VCR. You can also teach the switcher to turn itself on whenever your turn on your TV.
I used several test patterns from Video Essentials to assess image quality, using a Toshiba SD-2109 DVD player and ISF-calibrated Toshiba CN-35F90 35-inch direct-view television. Comparing a direct connection between the player and TV, with a connection through the RCA switcher, I could see no evidence that the switcher reduces resolution or adds picture noise. As long as you use it to switch only S-video OR composite sources (i.e. if you do not mix S- and composite video), video quality is close to flawless.
Most readers probably have a combination of composite and S-video sources - a VHS VCR and satellite receiver, for example. Here, complications are possible. Many sets won’t accept composite and S-video on the same input; the mere presence of an S-video cable disables the composite input.
My two-year-old Toshiba TV will accept S-video and composite video sources on the Video 1 input at the back and Video 3 on the front. I connected the switcher’s S-video and composite outputs to my TV’s Video 1 inputs. There were two problems: a significant drop in brightness and a strange cross-hatch pattern on composite video sources. Even after boosting the brightness setting on my television, using the PLUGE patterns on Video Essentials as a guide, the picture seemed less vibrant. Using the same input on my television for composite and S-video, there was no way to get rid of the cross-hatch problem.
There’s a workaround if you have more than one set of A/V inputs on your set. Connect the composite output of the RCA switcher to one set of inputs on your television, and the S-video output to the other. You’ll have to use Y-connectors to divide the audio outputs, and you’ll have to switch sources both on the RCA switcher and the set. If, like me, you have more S-video sources than you have S-video inputs, you’ll find this workaround worth the trouble. Certainly, picture quality from satellite and DVD is markedly better through S-video. If you’re using all S-video components, none of this will matter.
I had no problem programming the unit to switch to satellite whenever I turn on my StarChoice satellite receiver, or to switch to VCR when I fire up my JVC VCR. But I couldn’t get it to recognize commands from the remotes for my Toshiba DVD player and TV. That means I have to switch sources manually whenever I want to play a DVD (not a big deal, since I have to go up to the TV to plunk in a disk), and I have to turn the switcher on manually when I want to watch the box. I asked Thomson Consumer Electronics about this problem. The infrared receivers used on some early production units did not recognize all IR carrier frequencies, the company said. It’s possible that my two review samples came from this batch. Based on my experience, it’s worth getting a commitment from the store that you can return the switcher if it won’t recognize commands for all your video components.
Even so, it’s a very worthwhile device, considering its excellent performance when switching one type of video signal, its convenience (assuming it will respond to your components’ commands) and very attractive price. By way of comparison, an Entech four-source A/V switcher sells for US$349, and is not remote-controllable. It’s a higher-end device, but I can’t imagine it performing better than this RCA box when it’s just asked to switch audio and S-video.