VIDEO CAMERA 1993

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REVIEW

 

REVIEW -- TAPE TEST 3

 

INTRO

We conclude our three-part survey into blank video tape this month with an in-depth assessment of over thirty high-grade -- allegedly -- VHS and Super VHS tapes

 

COPY

As we have seen over the last two months there is not a huge difference between the best and worst camcorder tapes, and at no point in our investigations did we come across any tape that we would advise against using, on performance or technical grounds. So far the camcorder tape market has been spared the problems of the full-size VHS tape industry, which has been dogged by counterfeit and unlicensed products, and the almost complete lack of any grading structure. That means an unscrupulous manufacturer can give their products any grand-sounding title or quasi-technical acronym, giving the already muddy waters a further stirring.

 

In an effort to make some sense of this we've collected together over thirty blank VHS and Super VHS tapes that in one way or another purport to be better than the standard grade VHS tape we all use for everyday watch-and-wipe recording. These are the tapes we reccomend you should use, when making master recordings on full-size VHS camcorders, or for editing to, from a camcorder, where it is vital to use the best quality tape possible, to minimise the losses that occur during the copying process. High grade tapes are also worth considering if you habitually use your VCR to make recordings at the LP speed, or you have a older stereo machine, some of which can be quite fussy, when it comes to tape quality. If you have Super VHS VCR or camcordre you have no choice but to use an S-VHS tape, otherwise the system will not operate, these specially formulated tapes have ident-holes built into the cassette shell.

 

Now, it has to be said that some standard grade tapes are so good that we would be happy to use them for demanding jobs, like editing and copying but blank tapes are still so cheap that it's hardly worth bother of trying to save a pound or two, the extra money spent on higher grade products is, or should be a guarantee of performance and consistency, though that may not always be the case...

 

So what is the difference between a high grade tape, and a standard grade tape? In fact there are no industry-agreed specifications but it is generally understood that higher grade tape will have improved magnetic characteristics -- usually finer and more densely-packed particles -- which means more signal and less noise; the magnetic coating will have fewer imperfections and hence a lower dropout count. Higher grade tapes may also have additional coatings and lubricants, to reduce friction and improve 'runnability', moreover they should also be closer to, or exceed the mechanical tolerances laid down in the basic VHS system specificatons. In theory that adds up to a clearer, more stable picture, with less noise and interference.

 

We have used the same set of test routines as previous years, and in some cases the same equipment as well. The tests are simple and straightforward and include repetitive test recordings of electronically-generated patterns, as well as other procedures representive of the kind of use the tape will receive in the real world. We also consider things like the quality and alignment of the cassette shell, smoothness and noise during fast wind, presentation of the packaging and, the bane of our lives, value for money. As usual we have to say this is based on the manufacturers suggested or guide price for a 3-hour tape (unless stated otherwise), which often bears little relationship to the price of blank tapes in the high-street. All we can say is take this particular rating with a hefty pinch of salt and regard it purely as the maximum price you should ever expect to pay, in fact just shop around! Now for this year's batch.

 

VHS

 

ACADEMY E-180 SHG 1.99

Purchased from a stall in a South London car-boot sale, we were highly suspicious of this tape even before we tried it out as there were deep scratches on the shell, and it was covered in dust from the cardboard sleeve. To be on the safe side we tested this one last. The results confirmed our fears, there's no other word for it, it's rubbish, with unacceptable levels of noise and dropout. If, as the sleeve suggests, it is manufactured under licence from JVC, JVC should review their licencing procedures.

 

Chroma noise:          1

Dropout:                   1

Value for money:     0

 

BASF E-180 PREMIUM HG 3.99

A surprisingly good set of results, considering the price. Very little dropout and the kind of noise levels that wouldn't disgrace tapes costing two or three pounds more. We're also impressed by the sliding record/protect anti-erasure tab, a very neat touch. Well worth considering.

 

Chroma noise:          8

Dropout:                   9

Value for money:     8

 

 

BASF E-180 Hi-Fi PRO 4.99

No problems here; low dropout and minimal noise. A little over the top cosmetically, with the gold-coloured tape flap, but the sliding record/protect anti-erasure tab and unusual recording chart (part of the sticky label set)  makes up for this. A good all-rounder but we'd be just as happy with their Premium HG formulation..

 

Chroma noise:          8

Dropout:                   8

Value for money:      7

 

BASF EXTRA QUALITY E-300 6.99

The five-hour tape concept hasn't really caught on, and BASF are still the only manufacturer to market one. We've had variable results from this extra thin tape, and it seems to favour some machines more than others. Worth trying if you really need the extra length, but don't be surprised if the results are not that special.

 

Chroma noise:           7        

Dropout:                     8

Value for money:       6

 

 

BBC E-180 HIGH DEFINITION 3.49

One of this year's few newcomers. This 'high definition' tape is made under licence for the BBC in Korea of all places, and very good it is too. A reliable multi-purpose tape which we would be happy to use for routine editing and copying .

 

Chroma noise:        8         

Dropout:                 8 

Value for money:    9

 

FUJI E-180 SUPER HG 3.99

A perennial favourite that keeps on getting better, with a noticeable reduction in dropout and noise over last year's samples. They've reduced the price too, which makes this an especially good deal right now. Reccomended.

 

Chroma noise:          8

Dropout:                   9

Value for money:     8

 

FUJI E-180 SUPER XG PRO 9.39

Zero dropout on our sample and a superbly clean colours, definitely a candidate for master recording on full size VHS machines, and critical editing jobs. The hard library case is another plus point. Well worth the extra for demanding applications. Reccomended.

 

Chroma noise:          9

Dropout:                   10

Value for money:      8

 

JVC E-180 EHG 3.59

Introduced last year this magnetitie formulation shows very little noise with average to low dropout. A very reasonable tape for a very reasonable price from the people who know most about the VHS system. Reccomended.

 

Chroma noise:          8

Dropout:                   8

Value for money:     9

 

KONICA E-180 SUPER XF 3.29

Good results for a such a low cost tape, some dropoput and noise but not excessive. A good all rounder at a very fair price.

 

Chroma noise:          7

Dropout:                   8

Value for money:      9 

 

KONICA E-180 SUPER HG 4.29

No particular problems with noise but dropout was a little on the high side, especially for an HG tape that looks as though it might be sourced by TDK.ough it might be sourced by TDK Fine for routine watch and wipe applications and LP recordings but not our first choice for mastering or editing.

 

Chroma noise:          7

Dropout:                   6

Value for money:     6

 

 

MAXELL E-180 GX-BLACK 3.49

Very little dropout and negligible noise, in fact a fine performance all round, and at less than 3.50 a very godd deal too. Not quite up to master recording but we'd have no qualms about using it for LP recordings, as well as routine editing and copying.

 

Chroma noise:         7

Dropout:                   8

Value for money:     8

 

MAXELL E-180 HGX-BLACK 4.34

Last year we were impressed by the very low noise figures and near zero dropout on this tape. This years results are almost identical so once again we're happy to say this tape is well worth a try for editing and other demanding applications.

 

Chroma noise:        8 

Dropout:                  9

Value for money:     9

 

 

MEMOREX E-180 SUPER HIGH GRADE 3.49

No change from last year, and the year before! Still a tad noisy and a few more dropouts than we'd like to see. Suitable only for routine watch and wipe recordings.

 

Chroma noise:          7

Dropout:                    6

Value for money:      6

 

PANASONIC E-180 XP 2.99

 

 

 

Chroma noise:         

Dropout:                  

Value for money:    

 

POLAROID E-180 XHQ 3.69

This Korean made tape is Polaroid's first high-grade VHS tape, and very good it is too. Very clean colours and hardly any dropout. Well worth considering for editing and copying purposes.

 

Chroma noise:          8

Dropout:                   8

Value for money:     9

 

 

SCOTCH E-180 EXG+  4.99

A real old timer that just keeps going and going. No change again from last year with crisp colours and moderate dropout, not one of the star performers perhaps, but consistent and reliable.

 

Chroma noise:           8

Dropout:                    7

Value for money:      7

 

 

SCOTCH E-180 EXG+ PRO CAMERA 5.99

Another classic that's notable for its near zero dropout, which makes it ideal for camera recording and the kind of editing jobs where quality is paramount. Good value, considering it comes with a hard library case.

 

Chroma noise:        9        

Dropout:                 9 

Value for money:    9

 

 

SONY E-180 V 3.49

We would have dismissed the nasty glitch at the beginnning of one of our samples as an unfortunate one-off had we not experienced a similar problem on a Sony tape last year. Otherwise dropout levels and noise are both average to good.

 

Chroma noise:           8

Dropout:                     8

Value for money:       8

 

 

SONY E-180 UHG 4.99

Highly commended last year, and we see no reason to change our opinion this time. Very little dropout, and low noise levels, good enough to be considered for mastering and more than adequate for editing and copying.

 

Chroma noise:          9

Dropout:                   9

Value for money:     8

 

SONY E-180 PRO-X 7.99

Very clean, exceptionally low levels of noise produce sharp, vibrant colours, a little jittery at the beginning, though, which is a recurring characteristic on Sony tapes. No dropout to speak of, once you've got past the first minute or so. Well worth considering for mastering, and the hard library case is a bonus.

 

Chroma noise:          9

Dropout:                   9

Value for money:     8

 

 

TDK E-180 E-HG 3.99

Bright, natural-looking colours with very little dropout, which is an improvement on last year when we rated it as only average. Suitable for LP machines, plus routine editing and copying work.

Chroma noise:         8       

Dropout:                   8

Value for money:     7

 

TDK E-180 Hi-Fi 4.99

We discovered a nasty crease two minutes into one of our samples but apart from that this tape was little changed from last year, apart from a small increase in price. A good all-round performer, suitable for high-end applications.

 

Chroma noise:          8

Dropout:                   9

Value for money:     8

 

TDK E-180 HD-X PRO 10.99

In past years this has been a clear winner when it comes to noise levels, this year's samples were not quite so impressive, we still wouldn't hesitate to use it as a master tape. Not such good value as it used to be, even though it comes with a hard library case.

 

Chroma noise:          9

Dropout:                   9

Value for money:     7

 

 

SUPER VHS

 

BASF SE-180 6.99

No significant change from last year, apart from a significant reduction in price .With average to good noise and dropout results -- a fraction better than previous samples -- this tape now looks like very good value indeed. Recommended

 

Chroma noise:          8

Dropout:                   8

Value for money:     10

 

FUJI SE-180 PRO 9.99

The performance of this tape has remained virtually unchanged for the past three years -- it's an above average all-rounder -- there has been a welcome drop in price, though, so an extra point for Fuji there, but no credit at all for the cheapo cardboard sleeve.

 

Chroma noise:          8

Dropout:                   9

Value for money:     8

 

 

JVC SE-180 XG 7.99

The small amount of dropout we noted on last year's samples seems top have been eradicated and that, coupled with excellent noise figures and a new lower price means this one is definitely worth searching out.

 

Chroma noise:          9

Dropout:                   9

Value for money:     9

 

 

JVC SE-180 XZ 9.99

Simply the best, not a trace of dropout and some of the cleanest, sharpest colours we've seen. The reduction in price since last years means there's no need to cut corners anymore. Once again our best buy. Reccomended

 

Chroma noise:          9

Dropout:                   10

Value for money:     9

 

 

KONICA  SE-180 11.49

One of the very few Super VHS newcomers. A good tape, no doubt about it, but with slightly better tapes selling for significantly less we can see no reason to go out of your way to buy it, unless you come across one at a substantial discount.

 

Chroma noise:          8

Dropout:                   9

Value for money:     6

 

 

MAXELL SE-180 XR-S BLACK 7.69

But for a slight increase in noise over last years sample this tape would have ranked alongside JVC's PRO formulation, as it is, still an excellent tape, and very good value for money too.

 

Chroma noise:          8

Dropout:                   9

Value for money:     9

 

PANASONIC SE-180 XD 9.99

Some slight instability at the beginning, lasting  for about a minute, but in all other respects a high-performance tape with almost zero dropout and crisp colours. One of the few S-VHS tapes to have risen in price since last year but still good value.

 

Chroma noise:          8

Dropout:                   9

Value for money:     8

 

SCOTCH SE-180 9.99

Scotch still haven't got around to changing their packaging, which has the old S-VHS logo (changed in 1991), or are S-VHS tape sales really that slow? In any case there's no change to speak of  from previous years, average to good results in all departments.

 

Chroma noise:          8

Dropout:                   8

Value for money:     8

 

TDK SE-180 XP 9.99

TDK haven't quite been able to match the zero dropout count on last year's sample but this still ranks as one of the best S-VHS tapes with bright, vibrant colours. It would have been a contender, but for the price increase, at a time when others are reducing theirs.

 

Chroma noise:          9

Dropout:                   9

Value for money:     8

 

TDK SE-180 XP PRO 11.99

Very clean, no dropout so this one would be suitable for master recording on S-VHS camcorders. Not the best value around but on past performance this has always been a very dependable tape.

 

Chroma noise:          9

Dropout:                   10

Value for money:     6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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