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PHILIPS TL24, 24-HOUR TIME LAPSE VCR

 

STANDFIRST

When we first looked at the Philips TL24, 24-hour time lapse video recorder -- almost exactly a year ago -- we had one or two quibbles with it. It looks like someone was listening, its replacement the TL 24A is a very different kettle of fish…

 

COPY

It is immediately obvious that the Philips TL 24A is more than a simple facelift for the company's previous 24-hour time lapse VCR, the TL 24R. Some external features remain the same, like the centrally mounted Turbo Drive deck mechanism, but the front panel fascia has been completely revised. The basic specification is mostly unchanged, it has three recording modes -- 3-hours real time, 12 and 24-hour time-lapse, all with sound -- and the menu-driven on-screen display looks very familiar. Other features carried over from the TL 24R include pin-code operated security lock, programmable timer, variable speed playback and alarm functions. However, Philips has attended to some of the more serious operational shortcomings on TL 24R, in particular those concerning the alarm system, but more of that in a moment.

 

The numeric keypad has disappeared, and good thing too, it made the TL 24R difficult to set up and use. The jog shuttle control on the right side of the front panel is different; the transport keys and control buttons have been reorganised too. The display panel is smaller (though the actual digits are the same size and colour). Overall it looks much neater and the revised button layout definitely makes it easier to install and use.

 

The only minor niggle is what appears to be an unlabelled button, adjacent to the eject button. If you press it, and inevitably you or someone else will, it goes in, and stays in. It's not a button at all, but a blanking plug. Doubtless the hole has a vital role on some other model that shares the same front panel moulding, but leaving it like that is crude and inelegant.

 

Around the back virtually nothing has changed from the TL 24R. There are two BNC sockets for composite video input and output, Phono/RCA sockets are used for audio in/out and there's a 21-pin SCART connector for the audio and video links to a monitor or camera. The only visible difference is the alarm terminal connector block, which used spring connectors on the earlier model, and now has screw fixings. Closer inspection reveals that an extra connection has been added in the shape of a record check input on pin 9. The remaining functions are the same however and include the alarm I/O, serial input and output (for switching recording on a second machine), plus connections for camera switcher sequencing and a tape-end alarm.

 

The initial set up is now a lot simpler and quicker. Pressing the menu button calls up the on-screen display (OSD). During normal operation the OSD shows time and date, plus recording mode, this data is recorded and to avoid it obscuring detail it can be moved to any one of the four corners of the screen. If the power supply is interrupted a flashing 'PL' (power loss) appears on the screen.

 

There are five menu options (clock setting, basic settings, alarm settings, alarm memory and timer settings) plus a head use meter. Recommended service actions include cleaning the tape transport, head, upper and lower drum, capstan axle and pressure roller at 1000-hour intervals. Philips suggests servicing or replacing the drum and pressure roller every 2000 hours; the capstan motor and audio/control heads need replacing every 10,000 hours.

 

Menu selections are made using the outer shuttle ring and confirmed by pressing the OK button. Each menu item brings up a second sub-menu, with the settings highlighted; they are enabled or changed, using the inner jog dial, which effectively replaces the awkward numeric keypad on the TL 24R. This makes a big difference when setting the time and date or programming the timer.

 

On the Basic Settings menu there is an input source selector (BNC or SCART), time/date position and disable, camera synch, playback mode and security code enable. On the Alarm Settings menu there is a switch to enable or disable the facility, select the reset time (the VCR records in real-time/3hour mode for 1, 2, 5, 10 or 15 minutes, before returning to its previous state), and repeat record on/off.  Alarm Memory logs the last 8 alarm events; the machine will automatically fast-wind to the beginning of an alarm recording and start playback if the relevant line is highlighted, and the play button pressed. The memory is cleared if the tape is ejected but data is retained for a short while in the event of a power loss. The alarm timer can be programmed to make up to seven recordings at any time in a 31-day period, or set to record at the same time every day or for a preset period on the same day every week.

 

The biggest and most beneficial change has been to the way in which the alarm operates. On the TL 24R when the alarm had been triggered there was no visible indication once the alarm reset timed out. The event is logged on the Alarm Chart, but that would be lost as soon as the tape is ejected. If the operator didn't routinely check the Chart before exchanging tapes valuable evidence could be lost. The TL 24A overcomes all of these problems. As soon as the alarm has been activated an indicator lights up on the display panel, though it has to be said it is rather small, and might easily be overlooked. However, if the eject button is pressed (and an alarm even has occurred), the tape stays put and the Alarm Chart display flashes up onto the screen, to prompt the operator.

 

Whilst we obviously welcome these new safeguards it might have been helpful to have made some mention of them in the instruction manual. We only found them because we were looking for them; installers and end-users might easily miss this feature. The front panel indicator is very small, and pressing the eject button a second time will unload the tape and wipe the Alarm Chart memory. Nevertheless, praise where it is due and Philips have clearly given the matter some thought.

 

PERFORMACNE

We're please to report that Philips hasn't tinkered around with any of the VCRs recording and playback functions, though one new feature has appeared and that's Record Check. Pressing the record button for more than a few seconds -- whilst the machine is in the record mode -- replays the last few seconds of a recording.

 

Record quality -- at all speeds -- is very good indeed. Horizontal resolution on our sample (following a brief soak, to bed in the heads) was just over 240-lines or about as good as VHS gets. Noise levels were very low indeed, and like its predecessor it pays to use top quality SG or HG tapes as this can also help reduce noise. Colour accuracy is good and the slight red imbalance we noted on the TL 24R has gone. Still and slomo replay is very steady, the jog dial steps through the recording a frame at a time. The tape changes direction quickly and smoothly, with hardly any noise interference.

 

Audio quality in the 3-hour recording mode is the same as domestic VHS, it's not exactly hi-fi quality but perfectly adequate for capturing speech and incidental sound. Treble tails off significantly in the 12-hour recording mode, though it's still possible to make out people talking. The soundtrack on 24-hour mode recordings consists mainly of low-frequency rumble, it's possible to pick up the sound of voices but very difficult to make out what is being said.

 

CONCLUSION

Last year, despite the iffy alarm facilities and awkward controls we thought the TL 24R was basically a good machine. Now that Philips have actually gone and done something about it we have no hesitation in giving this machine a big thumbs up. Performance is excellent, it's now even easier to use, and the chances of valuable information being lost have been effectively minimised. If you're looking for a solid, well made 24-hour time lapse machine the TL 24A should definitely be at or near to the top of your shortlist.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, camera switch, tape end alarm, record check

Timer                          7-event/31-days

 

Additional Facilities

high-speed tape wind, quick-start deck mechanism, auto/manual 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                        4.6kg

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 1999 0608

 


 

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