DIGITAL VCR STANDARDS SETTLED?
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
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.
NEW COMPACT FROM HITACHI
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 exposure
* 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
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.
VIEWCAM TRIO TO BE UNVEILED AT LIVE 93
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.
VIDEONICS STUDIO IN A BOX
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.
CANON IMAGE STABILISER SOON?
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.
AUTUMN LAUNCH FOR VIDEO TECH PROCESSORS
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
* 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