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Until recently VHS time-lapse VCRs have tended to fall into one of two categories: high-spec machines with recording times of several hundred hours; and cheaper, more modestly featured models, that run for between 24 and 48 hours  Now Philips have pitched their latest time-lapse machine, the TL720R, somewhere into the middle. It has a full set of time-lapse modes, up to 720 hours, but it costs several hundred pounds less than some top-end machines.


It’s clear from the feature list that the 720R shares a number of mechanical and electronic components with its domestic stablemates. Philips are particularly proud of the ‘Turbo Drive’ deck mechanism, which according to the publicity blurb, makes it: ‘the world’s fastest time-lapse video recorder’. Closer examination of that particular claim reveals it to be a reference to the rewind speed of an E-180 cassette. Theirs is several seconds faster than the competition...


Fortunately the rest of the feature list has rather more to do with the business of time-lapse recording. All together there are seven recording modes: 3, 24, 48, 72, 168, 336 and 720 hours, with audio recording possible on the 2 and 24 hour settings. There’s a matching set of replay speeds, including still and slow-motion modes, with tape speed and direction controlled using a jog/shuttle dial on the front panel. All of the machine’s secondary functions are controlled from a set of menu-driven on-screen displays, and there’s a 7-event/32-day timer (with daily and weekly settings) plus a range of alarm function, that we’ll look at in closer detail in a moment.


The machine is housed in a cream-coloured case, the layout of which bears a passing resemblance to some of their domestic VCRs of a year or two ago. It has a centre-mounted deck mechanism, with the main display panel underneath. On the right side there’s the transport controls, including the jog/shuttle dial, and on the right is a digital keypad, for making menu selections and entering timer data. The back panel has small assortment of sockets, two BNC connectors for video in and out, two phono/RCA sockets for audio in and out, a 21-pin SCART connector, carrying both audio and video signals, a 2-pin Telefunken mains socket, and a set of spring terminals for alarm and control connections.


SCART sockets are an unusual sight on video surveillance equipment, and another reminder of the 720R’s consumer electronics heritage. It’s actually a very good idea, and simplifies the connections to low-cost video monitors, a growing number of which also have SCART sockets. The spring terminal for the alarm wires is extremely fiddly, and very fussy about the thickness of the wires used. Burying it in a recess doesn’t help either.      


The main menu covers basic configuration settings, which includes time and date, recording duration, input source, on-screen display position, control lock and function beep. The Alarm menus have settings for reset time, and repeat record. The alarm chart menu is a log detailing the eight most recent events. Setting the timer is reasonably straightforward, with the operator required to enter the date, start and stop times, using the front-panel keypad.   


The alarm functions are quite basic. It has only one n/o input, events are logged by time and date on the ‘Alarm Chart’ on-screen display. An alarm trigger will put the machine into record mode, for a preset period, after which the VCR reverts to standby mode. Alarm events are not, however, recorded on tape, so locating a specific part of the recording has to be done with reference to the time log. There is an on-screen indication, and the word ‘alarm’ appears in the display window, though these disappear when the timed recording finishes, or the power is interrupted, so the only way of knowing if there has been a activation, is to call up the alarm chart display.


If an alarm activation occurs when the machine is recording, in a time-lapse mode, it reverts to 3-hour real-time recording, for the preset period, after which it returns to the previous set time-lapse mode, and again all on-screen and front-panel indications are lost. This is clearly a big disadvantage, and could result in important evidential material being inadvertently lost or erased, if operators do not routinely check the alarm chart.


One other concern was an unexpected rattle, when the machine was unpacked. After removing the top panel the cause of the rattle was found to be a deck component -- a guide roller and capstan assembly -- loose inside the cabinet, though it did not appear to belong to review machine. Had the rattle not been noticed the component could have easily become trapped in the deck mechanism, possibly causing a lot of damage.



Philips’ undoubted expertise in VCR design and manufacture shows through and generally speaking the machine works well. Resolution on recordings made using a good quality tape is in excess of 240-lines, irrespective of recording speed. Replay stability is very good, with steady slow-motion and still frame replay; the jog/shuttle dial is an extremely efficient way of searching through a recording, and the deck is remarkably agile, able to reverse direction and change speed with minimal on-screen disturbance. Audio quality on 3-hour recordings is reasonably good; treble response takes a dive in the 48 hour mode, speech is intelligible, but background noise levels increase dramatically.



The TL720R is basically a good machine, the VCR performs well, it represents good value for money but it’s let down by some of its alarm and display functions, and if our sample is anything to go by, quality control procedures need to be looked at.


It needs some form of visible or audible alarm-trigger indicator, to show that an event has occurred. As it stands there’s nothing to stop a careless operator wiping or over-taping a critical recording. Some form of on-tape indexing would be useful too. The instructions are rather vague as well, and we suspect will leave some installers and operators with some important questions unanswered.



Design and design features              ***

Circuitry and components                  ****

Ease of installation and wiring    ****    

Range and variety of functions            **      

Accompanying instructions                   **          

Technical advice and backup            **      

Value for money                         ****                           




Ó R.Maybury 1996 2910









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