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The first domestic Super VHS video recorder with PC connectivity and an analogue clock has finally reached the shops. Rick Maybury ponders whether the Philips VR-969 has been worth waiting for...



This somewhat elusive VCR was shown in prototype form almost two years ago. Philips reckoned it would be on sale by the middle of 1996, we finally got our hands on a pre-production sample last Summer but it wasnít reviewable, due to last minute changes to the software. The first shipments finally reached the shops a few weeks before Christmas 97. These things happen, but the wait for the VR-969 was made more frustrating by the fact that it promises to be the best equipped editing deck for several years.


The VR-969 has several points of interest for desktop video enthusiasts and video movie-makers in general. Firstly, it is a Super VHS video recorder, which minimises quality losses when copying or editing. Second, it has a some excellent edit features, including a flying-erase head, for seamless inserts. Thereís a built-in 10-scene edit controller, which can control replay on camcorders with Control L and Panasonic 5-Pin edit terminals. This also works for syncro-edit hook-ups, it can read GSE Rapid Time Code and get this, it has an RS-232 interface. More on that in a moment. For good measure thereís audio-dub, manual audio level control and it has jog/shuttle controls on both the front panel, and the remote handset. Philips have been very bold with the cosmetics. That analogue clock set into the front panel isnít just a pretty face either, it is radio-controlled, so it is extremely accurate.  


Editing and timekeeping are only part of the story. Itís an accomplished home cinema machine as well. It can replay NTSC recordings, thereís advanced video processing circuitry, including tape-tuning and a comb-filter for optimum S-VHS replay. The Super VHS recording system has sufficient bandwidth to record teletext data. Not just subtitles, but complete pages, so itís possible to call up information from recordings of off-air material. The machine has a built-in teletext decoder and thatís also used for making timer recordings. Itís even simpler to use than Video Plus+ (which it also has), all you do is select the program you want to record  -- using  a moving cursor -- from teletext TV information pages. Teletext data also has a hand in the auto-install system, naming channels and setting the clock, and thereís PDC (programme delivery control) as well, which also uses teletext type signals to automatically correct timer programming for late schedule changes and overruns.


EasyLink is a convenience feature for the future. Itís part of an industry-wide initiative to allow VCRs and TVs, from different manufacturers, to communicate with one another. Thus far Sony, Grundig and Panasonic are participating, though since theyíve all decided to use different names for their systems (NexTViewLink, SmartLink, Megalogic etc...) itís going to take a while for the message to get through. At itís most basic it enables a VCR to download the contents of the TVís tuner -- via the SCART AV lead --  for faster set-up. Thereís also a facility called Direct TV record or ĎWizzywireí (actually wysiwyr or what you see is what you record). In other words, if you want to record whatís currently showing on TV you need press only one button on the VCR remote. It may not sound much but the system will come into its own when multi-channel digital TV gets going; watch this space.


The RS-232 interface is a most welcome development, it has featured on a couple of semi-pro machines before, but this is the first outing on a domestic machine. Thatís the good news, the bad news is Philips are not supporting it with any software of their own. In fact when we followed up on the advice in the instruction manual and called their Help Desk, to find out more about what the RS-232 port can do, the helpline assistant claimed to know nothing about it, but promised to find out and call back. He never did. Later contact with Philips revealed they had no definite plans and recommend users make their own arrangements. There are a number of off-the shelf packages, intended for other semi-pro machines with RS-232 ports, which weíre hoping to try in the near future, but we get the impression that no-one at Philips UK has actually tried any of them yet...  



Operationally the machine is a little idiosyncratic -- some functions are a little slow to respond and others donít always do what you expect them to do -- but you quickly get used to its foibles. The VR-969ís primary editing role is to create edit masters from raw camcorder footage, shot on analogue high-band and digital camcorders, therefore everything hinges on recording quality. Our sample managed to record and resolve a healthy 400-lines in the S-VHS mode, which is about as good as it gets. Noise levels were low, not quite the lowest weíve seen but itís possible they could improve once the heads have properly bedded in, and itís always worth experimenting with different makes of tape, particularly as this machine has tape tuning circuitry. Nevertheless, picture quality is fine, colours are accurate and image stability -- at all playback speeds and still frame -- is very good indeed. There is a marked reduction in detail on normal VHS recordings, though resolution is still quite reasonable at a smidgen under 240-lines. Noise levels and colour fidelity were better than most top-end VHS decks. Insert and assemble edits were clean, editing accuracy using the on-board controller on non timecode material was generally to within 12 to 15 frames or around half a second of specified cut points.


The hi-fi soundtracks had some background hiss, but it was certainly well within tolerable limits, moreover the frequency response was flat and largely uncoloured.



The RS-232 port is a major plus point and so far unique on a domestic machine but weíre disappointed by the lack of support shown by Philips for this important facility. Nevertheless, the VR-969 is a highly specified machine, picture and sound quality are both good, itís ideal for editing and computer video applications and off duty it makes a superb home cinema machine.




Performance, PC connectivity and it looks good too...


How Much?



435 x 110 x 318mm




400-lines (S-VHS), <250-lines (VHS)


Main Features              

S-VHS, NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video Plus+ with PDC, teletext programming and recording, auto installation, Syncro Edit with LANC, Panasonic 5-pin, RS-232 interface, flying erase head, manual audio level control, NTSC playback EasyLink


Sockets                        2 x SCART AV in/out, S-Video in/out (mini DIN) edit terminals (minijack and mini DIN), composite video and audio in/out (phono)



Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444



Video quality                 5

Audio quality                 4

Build quality                  4

Ease of use                   3

Value for money            4


Overall rating            85%



R. Maybury 1997 0201




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