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STANDFIRST

Following on from the successful launch of the TL 720 time-lapse VCR, Philips have developed an attractively priced 24-hour machine. The TL 24R shares most of the features of its stablemate including the ultra fast Turbo-Drive deck mechanism and comprehensive on-screen display, as well as one or two of its less desirable quirks...

 

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Philips are relative newcomers to the low-end of time-lapse video recorder market, which is a little surprising considering their impressive credentials. Not only did they virtually invent the concept of video cassette recording back in the early 1970s, they have a long history in video surveillance and a impeccable record of technical innovation in this area.

 

With that kind of background the TL-24 R appears to be off to a very good start. It’s the second of two time-lapse VCRs launched by Philips in the past year or so, the first one being the TL720, which had a maximum recording time of 720 hours on a standard 3-hour VHS cassette. The TL-24R looks almost identical to its stablemate, internally as well as externally, but the key difference is a simpler 3-mode recording system, that records for up to 24 hours. The other two options are 12 hours, and standard VHS 3-hour real-time recording mode; audio is recorded at all speeds.

 

Philips are particularly proud of the machine’s centre-mounted Turbo-Drive deck mechanism. In addition to very quick operation, it has high-speed, fast forward and rewind, which allows for rapid access to any part of the recording. Winding an E-180 tape from end to end takes a little over 90 seconds.

 

Front panel controls have been kept to a minimum; tape transport is handled by a cluster of keys and the prominent jog/shuttle dial on the right hand side. The tape hatch and an alphanumeric green fluorescent display are in the middle of the white fascia.  A numeric keypad on the left side of the panel is used to operate and enter data into the machine’s menu-driven on-screen display system. Menu options include setting the built-in time/date generator, event timer, various operating modes, a security lock and the alarm facilities.  More about that in a moment.

 

Installation couldn’t be much simpler, rear panel connections comprise a pair of BNC sockets for the composite video input and output. Two phono/RCA sockets carry line-level audio input and output. All of the AV inputs and outputs are duplicated on a 21-pin SCART socket. It is the same type and configuration as those used on domestic televisions and video recorders, and a small but growing number of video monitors.  A 9-way spring terminal is used for the alarm I/O, serial input and output connections (for communication with a second machine, for continuous recording), there are also connections for camera switcher sequencing and a tape-end alarm.

 

The main on-screen display screen has sub-menus for the clock, basic operation, alarm configuration, alarm report and timer programming, at the bottom of the display there is an hour meter. Philips recommend cleaning and inspection at 1000 hour intervals; various parts -- including the upper and lower head drum and pressure roller -- should also be serviced or replaced every 2000 hours.

 

The basic settings menu includes such items as selecting the recording mode, input selection (BNC or SCART), the position of the on-screen display, camera  synchronisation and PIN-code operated control lock. The alarm settings menu is confined to enabling or disabling the alarm function and selecting the reset time. This determines how long the VCR records in 3-hour mode, following an alarm input. It also includes a repeat record function, so that when the tape reaches the end, it is automatically rewound, before recording begins again.

 

Logging the time and date of alarm events is the job of the Alarm Chart menu display. It shows the time and date of the eight most recent alarm-triggered recordings. The start of each sequence can be quickly accessed by moving a highlight to the relevant entry on the list and pressing the ‘play’ button. The machine then fast winds to the indicated time and commences replay. Unfortunately the Alarm Chart is wiped clean if the tape is removed, or there’s a sustained interruption to the power supply.

 

A built-in event timer -- similar to the one’s fitted to older domestic VCRS -- can be programmed to switch the machine on and off at specified times over a 31-day period. The memory can store a total of seven ‘blocks’, or it can be set to make one-off recordings at regular daily or weekly times.

 

The on-screen display is reasonably intuitive but the operating software and control layout could have been better thought out. The menu call button is on the left side of the display panel whilst the up/down cursor controls are on the right; the ‘OK’,  and data entry keys are bunched together on the left side of the panel. Basically this means most users will end up making a lot of mistakes, until they get used to the system. We suspect the designers would have benefited from a quick chat with their colleagues over at the consumer division, who mastered the finer points of OSD operation some years ago.

 

Ironically they seem to have learned some valuable lessons on the subject of tape transport control. A jog/shuttle dial is probably the most efficient and easy to use means of tape navigation during replay. The outer shuttle dial provides coarse speed and directional control, whilst the inner jog wheel steps the recording a frame at a time forwards or reverse, so that recordings can be reviewed in very close detail.

 

Whilst the simple, solitary alarm function appears perfectly straightforward, it does suffer from what appears to be a major flaw, a problem that it shares with its stablemate, the TL 720R. Assuming the alarm function is enabled, as soon as an alarm input is received the machine automatically switches to the 3-hour recording mode for the preset period (1, 2, 5, 10, 15 minutes or to tape end).Whilst that is happening  the letter ‘A’ appears next to the time and date display on the recording and monitor output, plus the word ‘Alarm’ is shown on the front-panel. However, as soon as the machine reverts back to time-lapse mode, both alarm indications disappear!

 

There are no other signs that the alarm function has been activated, apart from the entry logged by the Alarm Chart. That means that unless the operator makes a habit of interrogating the Alarm Chart, following unattended operation, or before the tape is exchanged, all records of the event could be lost. It could be easily remedied. A simple on-screen or front-panel indicator could be left on, or set to flash, to alert the operator. It would also be a good idea to inhibit the repeat recording mode, to prevent potentially important recordings from being over-written. Either of these measures would add little or nothing to the cost.

 

PERFORMANCE

Philips have a great deal of experience in the design and construction of video recorders, and it shows. Video recording quality is excellent at all speeds. Following a 100-hour soak period, resolution on our sample still managed to top 240 lines on standard grade tape; this remained more or less constant at all recording speeds. Picture noise levels were very low indeed, and they could be reduced still further by the use of high-grade tape. Dot crawl or ‘fizz’ in the picture especially in areas of fine detail were at a very low level. Colour fidelity is generally very good too, reds were perhaps a little exaggerated though there was little or no bleeding, even in areas of high saturation.

 

A time-lapse VCR is only as good as it’s ability to replay the tapes it has recorded and in that respect the TL24 does very well. The tape deck is unusually agile, able to change speed and direction quickly, with minimal on-screen disturbance or noise. Picture stability is outstanding in still and slomo replay modes, jitter is at a very low level, any juddering in the picture can normally be eliminated completely by using the manual tracking controls. The jog/shuttle control is exceptionally easy to use, and an absolute godsend when it comes to repeatedly reviewing a short section of a recording.

 

Needless to say --  from a hi-fi standpoint -- sound quality in the 12 and 24 hour modes is pretty dire, with severely attenuated treble response.  However, bearing in mind that the TL 24 is unlikely to be called upon to record anything more complicated than speech and incidental sounds, it is adequate for the purpose. Audio in the 3-hour is comparable with the standard VHS mono linear soundtrack.

 

CONCLUSION

In spite of the lack of a alarm indication and the slightly illogical OSD controls

the TL 24R comes across as a highly-refined and attractively priced piece of kit. Recording quality across all speed modes is at or close to the limits of the VHS format performance envelope. Installation, as part of a simple single or multi-camera system should pose no problems whatsoever.  Normal operation is very easy, requiring a minimum of operator training and all the indications are that with regular service, it should have a long and useful life. In situations where basic time-lapse functions are more important than comprehensive alarm facilities, or the machine’s operation can be effectively monitored, the TL 24 is well worth considering as an alternative to other similarly-specified models.

 

PRODUCT SPECIFICATION

Recording System multi-speed VHS, PAL CCIR

Recording speeds  3, 12 or 24 hours (E-180 cassette)

Video input/output            composite, 1 volt p-p (BNC)

Audio input/output            line-level 50k ohm, unbalanced (RCA/phono)

Alarm input/output            N/O, real time record mode enable

Timer                            7-event/31-days

 

Additional Facilities

high-speed tape wind, quick-start deck mechanism, auto head cleaning, auto repeat, multi-speed replay via jog/shuttle dial, on-screen display, security lock, hours meter, time/date generator

 

Power supply                 230 VAC 50Hz

Weight              5kg

Dimensions                   380 x 338 x 86mm

 

PSI RATINGS

 

 

Product             ****

Product design            ***

Build quality                  ****

Ruggedness                  ****

 

Operation                      ***

General functions            ***

CCTV functions            ***       

Ease of use                   ****

Instructions                   ****

Manuf. support            ***                   

 

Performance                  ****

Video quality                 ****

Audio                            ***

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1997 0409

 

 

 


 

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