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Later this month ten of the worlds leading VCR manufacturers are getting together to thrash out the final technical specification for the next generation of digital VCRs. The companies attending are: Hitachi, JVC, Matsushita (Panasonic), Mitsubishi, Philips, Sanyo, Sharp, Sony, Thomson and Toshiba. This conference is a concerted attempt by the industry to avoid the damaging format wars that killed off rival VCR formats during the 1980s. As a matter of interest the same group of companies got together almost exactly ten years ago, to agree on a unified strategy for the 8mm system, with the same aim, of avoiding a costly format battle...


Before them this time will be a set of draft specifications for domestic digital video cassette recording equipment, and outline proposals for a compatible high definition digital video recording system. The as yet unnamed SD (standard definition) system is based around two sizes of cassette containing 6.35mm (1/4-inch) wide metal evaporated tape, running at 18.831mm/sec (50Hz version). The larger of the two cassettes, for use in homedeck VCRs measures 125  x 78 x 16.6mm, that's about two-thirds the size of a Betamax cassette, it will last for four and a half hours. The smaller cassette, intended for camcorder use,  measures 66 x 48 x 12.2mm, which makes it a little larger than the tiny microcassettes used in pocket dictating machines; these will run for up to an hour. Digital VCRs will have to fulfil a number of basic requirements; they include high-quality recording and playback with no amplitude or phase distortion, and no reduction in picture quality when copying or editing; needless to say it will have to be able to record current TV systems (PAL, NTSC and SECAM). It will have 2 or 4 high-quality digital audio channels, with 16 or 12 bit quantisation, sampled at 48kHz and 32kHz respectively. In case you're interested the proposed system will have a video sampling frequency of 13.5MHz and a video data recording rate of 25 megabits per second, after DCT (discrete cosine transformation) bit rate reduction .


The proposals for the HD (high-definition) system are still sketchy but tape speed and data recording rates will be doubled so cassette running times will be 2 hours 15 minutes and 30 minutes respectively. 


If all goes well the conference committee will submit the agreed specifications to the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission), in the hope that they will become a world-wide standard, adopted by the participants, most of whom have been working individually on their own digital recording systems. We'll keep you posted.



This month Hitachi launches the VM-E53 8mm compact, which we briefly previewed back in the June issue. The new machine will be selling for around 700 and the features list includes:

* 16x and 24x digital zoom (8X optical)

* intelligent auto exposureNEW HITACHI

* dual-speed playback (SP only recording)

* credit-card sized remote

* AV dubbing


We're hoping to get our hands on one of these machines in the very near future so look out for a full review, possibly next month.


A new Hitachi Video Plus VCR also reaches the shops this month. It's the VTF-250, a well-specified NICAM stereo machine costing 430. In addition to hi-fi stereo sound it has a couple of features worth mentioning, they are automatic head cleaning, and super fast rewind which takes an E-180 from end to end in less than two and a half minutes. Finally, if you're thinking of buying a stereo TV take a look at Hitachi's new Dolby Pro Logic models. If you buy one right now you'll also get six month free movie rental from Ritz Video, if you purchase a stereo VCR at the same time you get a year's free rental. By the way, all Hitachi TVs and VCRs are now available with interest free credit, subject to the usual conditions.



We have learned that the revolutionary Sharp Viewcam, which is due to be officially launched in the UK this month at Live '93, will now be available in three different versions. The original Hi8 machine, with a 4-inch colour LCD screen will be selling for just under 1,500. It will be joined by a standard 8mm model, also with a 4-inch screen, retailing for around 1,100. The third variant will have a 3-inch screen, and a suggested selling price of a little under 900. We'll have the full specifications for you next month, and hopefully, a review of the first of the machines.



If you're coming to Live 93 have a look at the new Videonics Digital Video Mixer on the Bandridge stand. This amazing box of tricks contains an entire video production studio, offering the kind of effects previously only found in television studios. The features list is extensive, so bear with us. Right at the top is a digital synchroniser, with time-base corrector, for mixing together two independent free-running video sources. This allows seamless mixing and wiping between any two of the four input channels. Digital circuitry is also used to generate a PIP (picture in picture) sub-screen which can be positioned anywhere with the main screen area. Images can be frozen, strobed and zoomed, and there are solarisation, negative/invert and colour filter options.


Most, if not all of those effects have been around for a while but it has two new facilities, not seen before on a domestic video processor; they are picture flip, and Chroma Key. Picture flip, a familiar effect on pop videos, generates a rotating sub-screen that appear to tumble towards the viewer, growing in size as it fills the screen. Chroma Key is the technique used to superimpose forecasters on weather maps, the subject stands against a solid colour background, which is used as the 'key' for overlaying a second image. It's not only for budding Michael Fish's, with it you can fly like Superman, explore alien landscapes, or do battle with fearsome monsters, the possibilities are quite literally endless.


And so we come to the crunch, how much will all this super-sophisticated technology set you back? Well, bearing in mind that special effects equipment used in TV studios costs many tens of thousands of pounds, 1,500 for the Videonics Digital Video Mixer doesn't seem too unreasonable, and we suspect it could prove very popular with video clubs, commercial and semi-pro users.



News is filtering through of a new Canon palmcorder, equipped with an optical image stabiliser. You may recall that Sony and Canon collaborated on the 'Steadyshot' system, based around an ingenious device called a  variangle prism; it first appeared on the TR805 two years ago. Steadyshot avoids any reduction in image quality, one of the undesirable side-effects of electronic image stabilisers, though the trade-off, on the 805 at least, was increased bulk, and cost. Canon's machine will be called the UC5 and we understand it is based on the UC2; as yet we have no firm details about price, or UK launch; we'll let you know as soon as we do.



Video Tech Designs, based in Maidstone Kent have developed two new post-production units which are due to go on sale this October. The VEC-1030 is  ideally suited to home video movie-makers; it's a combined video processor and 3-channel audio mixer that will sell for 110. Facilities include brightness, saturation and sharpness controls, split/wipe to a variable shade background (black to white), bypass and fader.


The VCC-3010 is a high-resolution video colour-corrector and AV switcher and is aimed at the semi-pro or serious users, though the price, at just under 300 isn't beyond the reach of enthusiasts. Picture processing facilities include:

* variable brightness, contrast, saturation and sharpness

* red, green and blue colour correction

* negative/positive switching

* picture fader

* split-screen preview


The 3010 has both composite and S-Video inputs and outputs, (500-line resolution)  and is capable of converting S-Video to composite, and vice versa. The 3010, like the 1030 is designed and built in the UK.



R.Maybury 1993 1308






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