VIDEO CAMERA 1993

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REVIEW -- CAMCORDER TAPES

 

HEAD

TAPE TEST '93 -- PART ONE

 

INTRO

It's time once again for our annual round of blank tape tests, we begin this month with VHS-C and 8mm camcorder cassettes

 

COPY

It's been an uncomfortable year for the blank video tape industry. Sales of camcorder tapes are down, prices are depressed, two companies have pulled out of the market, we know of at least one manufacturing plant which has shut down and according to some sources there is rather a lot of old stock floating around, which could depress prices still further.

 

Manufacturers had hoped that blank tape prices would begin to rise this year, following a lengthy price war which resulted in blanks selling well below their real market value, the recession put paid to that, though there have been some increases in the price of 8mm tape. The stagnant market has also meant that there have been fewer new products launched this year, in fact it's been one of the quietest years we can remember, and even changes in packaging design is big news...

 

The only people to have beneffited from all this gloom and doom is you and me, the consumer. Blank video tapes, and camcorder cassettes in particular continue to be extraordinarly good value for money, but it's not going to last. We can foresee prices rising quite swiftly as and when the predicted recoveries in the UK and world economies materialise!

 

And so we come to this year's batch of blanks; as usual we've been giving them all a very  thorough work-out over the past few weeks, to find out which ones produce the best picture and sound quality, and offer the best value for money. How well, or how badly a particular tape performs is determined by a number of factors but the most important, and visible ones are the signal to noise (S/N) ratios of the colour (chrominance) and brightness (luminance) signals, in other words how much unwanted noise there is on the tape, in relation to the amont of wanted signal.  S/N ratios translate directely into picture sharpness, detail and colour purity and are a clear indicator of the efficiency of the tape's magnetic coating.The other big problem is dropout, which is caused by tiny imperfections in the tape's magnetic coating. Dropout shows up as irritating white or black streaks on the picture, they're indicative of the care taken during manufacturing, and quality control.

 

Our tests concentrate on how well tapes work in the real world, that is actual picture picture quality, and in addition to more sophisticated measurements we also test them on the sort of equipment you can buy in the shops. However, our greatest assets are consistency -- our reviewers have been conducting these kinds of assesments for over a decade --  plus the wealth of comparative data which we've built up over the years, which we can use to judge how well a particular manufacturer's products have improved, or not, as the case may be. The ability to be able to compare present findings with previous and on-going test results is doubly important because video tapes are manufactured in batches; quality and performance can and does vary, so we can filter out one-offs or freak results which could lead to a particular tape from one batch being branded a stinker, whilst a sample from another batch might rate as a top buy.

 

Performance tests are easy, compared with calculating a value for money rating. The trouble is manufacturers are notoriously reluctant to talk about prices, and retailers less likely to stick to them. Add to that the confusion caused by special deals, multi-packs and promotions and you can begin to understand our problem. The rating we give is, wherever possible, based on the price given or 'suggested' to us by the manufacturer for a particular length, so everyone is on a more or less equal footing when it comes to the rating, but remember this may have little or nothing to do with the prices you'll pay in the high-street and as ever we suggest that you shop around.

 

Try as we might we've still not managed to track down any counterfeit brands of camcorder tape, though we still hear stories of dodgy goods from time to time. We reckon you're reasonably safe at the moment but always play safe and stick with the well known brands, including those in this survey. We have noticed a huge increase in the number of tapes now being sold in street markets, and at car-boot sales, often at very low prices. The tapes we've seen all appear to be okay, and provided they're unopened  in their original wrapping, and you check them thoroughly beforehand there should be little risk to your machine but it's worth bearing in mind that a lot of tapes are stolen each year, or come into the country by unconventional means; there's usually no easy way of checking the provenence of goods brought in a market, or any comebacks if they turn out to be faulty or stolen, so buyer beware!

 

This year, as in previous years we've divided the review into three parts, we begin this month with VHS-C and 8mm tapes; next month, in part two it's the turn of high band (S-VHS-C and Hi8) camcorder cassettes, and we finish off with high-grade and Super VHS tapes the following month.             So, if you're sitting comfortably, we'll begin...

 

VHS-C

 

BASF  EC30 Super High Grade £4.99

A fairly average tape, despite it's super high-grade tag. Virtually unchanged from last year -- even the price is the same -- though we have noticed a very slight reduction in colour noise levels on this years samples, which we suspect is due to minor batch variations. Fine for everyday recordings but a touch pricey.

 

Chroma noise          5

Dropout                   5

Value for money     7

 

BASF EC30 Hi-Fi PRO £5.99

Very similar to their SHG product but with marginally fewer dropouts. The Hi-Fi label implies tighter manufacturing tolerances and extra coatings, for smoother ruuning, which might be useful on older stereo machines. Noise, dropout and price the same as last year, so at least it's consistent, if unremarkable, apart from the price...

 

Chroma noise          5

Dropout                   6

Value for money     5

 

 

FUJI EC30 SHG £3.59

Another old friend but this year it's better value than ever and now rates as one of our best buys. Once again very good results from Fuji's double magnetic coating which we have found to have lower than average dropouts. Reccomended for routine recordings and mastering.

 

Chroma noise         7

Dropout                   9

Value for money     9

 

 

JVC EC30 EHG £3.99

JVC changed over to high-performance magnetite formulations last year, it was too late to include in the 92 tape test report so effectively this is a new product. This EHG tape is noticebly better than the one it replaces, with  far fewer dropouts and reduced noise levels. That, coupled with the very reasonable price makes this well worth considering for everyday recording.

 

Chroma noise          7

Dropout                   8

Value for money     8

 

 

JVC EC-30 PRO £5.99

Another 'new' magnetitite tape, this time aimed at the top end of the market, for master recording where quality and reliability are paramount. Our test results  suggests  that JVC have not been wasting their time, and the high price is justified with one of the lowest dropout counts of any of our test smples, and better than average noise levels. Worth the extra for important recordings.

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   9

Value for money     8

 

 

KONICA EC-30 SHG £4.29

We weren't terribly impressed by this tape last year, and little seems to have changed, though the high dropout count seems to have improved, slightly. A very ordinary tape at an ordinary price.

 

Chroma noise          5

Dropout                   5

Value for money     7

 

KONICA EC-30 SXF £4.99

One of this years few newcomers, and part of a concerted attempt by Konica to increase their profile in the camcorder market. If they maintain this kind of quality they could well become a force to be reckoned with. Our samples exibited very little dropout, with creditably low levels of noise. A fair price considering the better than average performance.

 

Chroma noise           7

Dropout                    8

Value for money      8

 

MAXELL  EC-30 GX-B £TBA

Maxell have been one of the busiest tape producers this year and their range of camcorder tapes have changed quite dramatically, on the surface at least, with new packaging. Although this tape uses the exotic magnetite magnetic coating it's essentially their standard grade tape, though the noise and dropout figures suggest it might well qualify as a higher-grade product. A fine set of results but at the time of going to press the price had still to be decided, so all we can say is reccommended, if the price is right!

 

Chroma noise   8

Dropout            8

Value for money  TBA

 

MAXELL  EC-30 HGX-B £TBA

This replaces Maxell's 'Pro' tape from last year, and again it is based on a magnetite formulation which is undoubtedly responsible for the low level of colour noise. The most impressive feature, though, is the very low dropout count, up there with the best of them. We'd be happy to use this tape for mastering, though precisely how happy will depend on the price, when it is announced.

 

Chroma noise         8

Dropout                  9

Value for money   TBA

 

 

MEMOREX EC-30 PRO £4.99

Memorex's use of the 'Pro' label is a little optimistic, there are far too many dropouts for this tape to have any serious professional applications. A similar set of results from last year, and previous years. We have heard that new products are in the pipleine so perhaps we'll have some more encouraging news next year.

 

Chroma noise         5

Dropout                  5

Value for money    7

 

 

PANASONIC EC-30 HG £3.50

A very reliable tape, average to good performance and a realistic price. Panasonic acheive this, apparently without any fancy formulations or trick additives, which makes it all the more impressive. A borderline case, as far as serious mastering is concerned but always worth shortlisting. Panasonic also market a 45-minute C-cassette but these seem to be rather thin on the ground lately.  

 

Chroma noise        8

Dropout                 7

Value for money   9

 

 

POLAROID EC-30 XHQ £5.29

Polaroid have given their tapes a much-needed, and long-overdue  facelift. Apparently they have also improved the formulation but we've not been able to detect any significant differences, which is not meanth as a criticism as their previous tapes were pretty good to start with. If XHQ has any faults it's the suggested price, which puts it at a disadvantage.

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   8

Value for money     6

 

 

SCOTCH  EC-30 EG+ £3.99

An old favourite, reliable and consistent, and still good value. Dropout and chroma noise are both below average, certainly good enough for serious work, almost in the pro-class in fact. Also available in a 45-minute length.

 

Chroma noise            8

Dropout                     8

Value for money       8

 

SCOTCH  EC-30 EXG+ £4.99

Another familiar face from way back and again dependable performance but not significantly different from Scotch's other VHS-C formulation. A very capable tape with better than average noise figures but we'd be content to save a few bob and use their  EG+ tape for most applications.

 

Chroma noise             8

Dropout                      8

Value for money        7

 

 

TDK EC-30 HS £3.49

TDK came out on top last year and it looks as though they're going to do it again, without even trying because their 93 range is unchanged. This year's HS sample exhibited a tiny increase in noise but dropouts remained very low, as is the price, which is the same as last year.

 

Chroma noise         7

Dropout                  9

Value for money   10

 

 

TDK EC-30 EHG £3.49

We were a little dissapointed by the unexpectedly high dropout count on EHG last year but TDK have redeemed themselves and this years samples were back down, where they should be. The suggested price, some 20 pence lower than last year finally tips the balance in this tape's favour, which we're happy to announce is our best buy for '93!

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   9

Value for money    10

 

 

 

8mm

 

BASF  P5-90 MP £5.99

No significant changes for BASF this year; their P5-90 MP maintains a consistently low dropout rate and average amount of noise. The price puts it into the worth considering category.

 

Chroma noise           6

Dropout                    7

Value for money      8

 

FUJI P5-90 MP  £7.29

It's swings and roundabouts at Fuji who  have made welcome price reductions on their C-cassettes, but increased the cost of  their 8mm tapes, without, apparently, making any significant changes to the product. Apart from that their P5-90 MP , which comes in a neat slipcase, is still an above average performer and well worth shortlisting.

 

Chroma noise        8

Dropout                 7

Value for money   7

 

 

FUJI P5-90 SHG £10.29

Fuji are being very brave asking over ten pounds for this tape, and not calling it a 'Pro' or 'master'  grade and packaging it in a proper library case, which is what it deserves. A very low dropout count, one of the lowest in fact, and colour noise levels are below average. Definitely a quality tape, a tad pricey, though.

 

Chroma noise        8

Dropout                 9

Value for money   5

 

 

KONICA P5-90 SXF £7.99

A complete change of identity for Konica who have dropped their Super MP tape  in favour of this TDK-cloned Super XF product, packaged in a neat slipcase. A change worth making as dropout and noise levels are both well below average.

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   8

Value for money     6

 

 

MAXELL P5-90 VX-M £4.99

A very respectable set of results, and good value too, though be aware that it is now only sold in twinpacks costing £9.99. Performance unchanged from last year, and the year before, so extra marks for consistency.

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   7

Value for money     9

 

 

MAXELL P5-110 HGX-M £8.12

You can't have too much of a good thing, so Maxell have decided to stitch on an extra 20 minutes worth of their finest HGX-M tape to last year's offering. Then as now it has a very low dropout count and very little to complain about when it comes to noise levels. Worth thinking about for master recording, and the extra length could be a bonus for heavy-duty users.

 

Chroma noise             8

Dropout                      9

Value for money        6

 

 

MEMOREX  P5-90 £7.99

Once again Memorex are being rather free and easy with words like 'Pro', this fairly mediocre tape is just about alright for routine recordings but it's no bargain, and noise and dropout preclude it's use for anything more demanding.

 

Chroma noise           7

Dropout                     6

Value for money       6

 

 

POLAROID P5-90 £6.99

Polaroid have stayed with Sony manufactured tapes but like their C-cassette, they've given it a new set of cloths, to help it stand out on the shelf. Performance is unchanged, and the Sony connection shines through better than average noise and dropout figures.

 

Chroma noise           8

Dropout                    8

Value for money      7

 

 

SCOTCH P5-90 £8.99

Chroma noise

Dropout

Value for money       6

 

 

SONY P5-90MP £7.99

Sony's standard grade tape is better than some other higher-grade formulations, which is as it should be as they developed the 8mm format. A good solid all-rounder that will suit any make of machine. Not quite in the bargain basement category but you're paying for reliability, consistency and the Sony name.

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   8

Value for money     6

 

 

SONY P5-90 HG £8.99

Like last year we had difficulty in identifying any significant differences between this and their standard MP formulation, this year we have noted a reduction in dropout and a  tiny decrease in noise levels, which makes this one of the best performing tapes in our survey.

 

Chroma noise         8

Dropout                  9

Value for money    6

 

 

SONY P5-90 SPT £10.49

It all depends whether you consider it's worth paying an extra £1.50 for a supposedly water-resistant case for an otherwise normal HG tape.  Last year SPT cost £3.00 more than regular HG, so maybe it's not bad value after all... If your tapes are in danger of getting splashed then it might be worth having, though a polythene bag might be just as effective.

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   8

Value for money     6

 

SONY P5-90 TR £10.49

Another re-packaging job for an HG tape, though this time less good value for money; we're not convinced it offers much more protection than a normal cassette case.

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   8

Value for money     5

 

 

TDK  P5-90 HS £4.99

TDK can't put a foot wrong lately, and they've caught our eye once again with this excellent multi-purpose tape which combines above average performance, with a below average selling price, which is unchanged from last year.  This year's best buy in camcorder tapes.

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   8

Value for money    10

 

TDK P590 EHG £8.49

The price differential between TDK's standard grade and high-grade 8mm tapes has widened a little but there has been little change in the on-screen results which continue to show outstandingly low levels of dropout, making this tape eminently suitable for master recording.

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   9

Value for money     7

 

* only sold in twin-packs, for £9.99

 

Chroma noise

Dropout

Value for money

 

THE VERDICT

The comparatively small number of changes from last year means that there's been only a slight shuffling of the pack when it comes to the winners and loosers. None of the newcomers have had any signifiant impact on the final outcome which meant that once again TDK take top honours in the VHS-C category. This year, because of a marked reduction in dropout and the suggested retail price, we have no hesitation in awarding our best-buy rosette to their EC-30 EHG.  TDK had better watch their backs, though, because Fuji's SHG came within a whisker of toppling them, and would have done, had it not been for a extra ten pence on the suggested price, and a slightly higher level of colour noise. If we remove value for money from the equation, and substitute technical excellence then JVC's  new PRO takes top honours once again, with a near-zero dropout count. Runners-up in this section are Panasonic and Konica who's tapes both managed better than average results.

 

Now we come to the 8mm tapes and this time TDK have had a rather easier time with their P5-90 coming out on top, as it did last year,  as the best mix of performacne and value for money. It's closest challengers come from BASF and Maxell's P5-90, though the latter are only sold in twinpacks.  Honourable mentions for technical excellence go to Fuji for their SHG formulation, TDK's E-HG, and Sony's HG which we would put at the top of the tree by a narrow margin.

 

 

 

---end---

R Maybury 1993 2705

 

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