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If you are thinking about buying a new TV then you have our deepest sympathy. Never before has the choice been so varied, with literally hundreds of different makes, models, styles, shapes and sizes on the market, and to confuse matters even further TVs are sold through a bewildering number of outlets, from traditional high-street dealers, to multiple electrical discount houses, even DIY stores and supermarkets, so where do you start?


For we British the first consideration is usually the price; forget performance, features, looks even size, we just sort through the special offers and price tags until we find the least expensive set we can get away with, that won't blow a hole through our credit card or overdraft  limit... At least, that's the rather cynical view held by many of the major consumer electronics manufacturers, but to be brutally honest they're not far wrong; our buying habits differ markedly from consumers in most other industrialised countries, where they take a more considered view and price is often a secondary consideration.


So if you are about to buy a TV try not to live up to the stereotypical image and rearrange your priorities, the first of which should be screen size, followed by performance, features and only then should you start to think about the price! In any case, trying to save a few pounds now can be a false economy; cheapo TVs tend not to last as long, have fewer features and go out of date more rapidly. Hopefully we can give you a few pointers to look out for when you're shopping around; there's far too many TVs on the market for us to make specific recommendations, but we can help you to narrow your choice, and highlight a few models in each of the main product categories, that we think merit closer inspection. 



There's still some confusion about screen sizes, that arose about ten years ago, when set manufacturers began using FST or flatter, squarer tubes, the type most often used in 'monitor-style' TVs. All screens are measured diagonally, FSTs are normally stated in centimetres, referring to the visible screen area, in other words the size of the picture; TVs with rounded corner screens are quoted in inches and the measurement relates to the size of the tube. Nowadays you can get TVs with screens that vary in size from under 5cm (2-inches), to 89cm (37-inches), and if that's not still not big enough, there are projection TVs that can throw up an image up over 5-metres (200-inches) across, so there's bound to be one to suit you.


Size and performance often go together and as a general rule larger sets produce a better picture than smaller ones. That might sound like a contradiction, you may have noticed that small-screen TVs produce quite sharp-looking pictures, that's because the line structure of the image is less evident, so designers of larger screen sets, 51cm (21-inches) and above, have to work that much harder to prevent  the picture looking grainy. There are also fewer companies manufacturing larger TV tubes and they tend to put more effort into research and development, and quality control, as defects show up more clearly.


The general rule of thumb for the main living room or family TV is to get the largest one you can comfortably live with, so unless your living room is really small you shouldn't consider one that has a screen less that 59cm (25 inches) across, if you're at all serious about your TV viewing.


Now we come to the vexed question of a normal or widescreen display. At the moment it has to be said they're a rather expensive luxury for most people, unless you're a committed movie buff. The number of suitable movies on TV and satellite, tape and disc is still quite limited, moreover on-going developments mean that the current generation of 16:9 TVs could well be obsolete in a few years, if broadcasters start using widescreen transmission systems, like PALplus. That's without other complicating factors, like high-definition and digital TV, so our best advice is to wait a little while longer -- a year or two -- after which the future direction of TV should become clearer.   


It's a lot harder to choose a second TV as they generally have to fulfil a number of quite different roles, from mundane things like TV viewing, to visual displays for video games and home computers, so screen size may be a secondary consideration to the additional facilities which we'll come to in a moment. However, screens from 34 cm (14-inches) to 48cm (21-inches) across tend to be the most popular.


If portability is the main consideration then screen size becomes an overriding factor. Pocket TVs, with flat LCD screens, two to five inches across, are relatively inexpensive (100 plus)  but picture quality can be quite poor, compared with a tube display. Obviously they're not much use for communal viewing  but their small size and battery power packs mean they can work anywhere there's a good TV signal; and models equipped with video input sockets make handy mobile colour monitors for camcorder owners (see also this month's Shop Window). Some of the more up-market designs have multi-standard tuners and displays so they can be taken abroad.


Between five and fourteen inches the choice is more restricted and this segment of the market is one of the last bastions of the black and white TV. Small colour tubes are expensive to make, and the picture can be quite tiring to watch after a while. Screens under 10 inches are widely used in specialised applications, like computer monitors.



In recent years TV have evolved from passive displays for a handful of terrestrial TV television channels into sophisticated visual displays for a staggering variety of audio-visual sources, including VCRs, camcorders, satellite tuners, laser disc players, cable TV, the list goes on and is growing all the time, so an aerial socket and one AV socket is simply not enough anymore. The minimum requirement, as far as we're concerned, is two, preferably three SCART sockets, a front mounted AV terminal for camcorder hookups and at least one S-Video (Y/C) input, either on one of the SCART sockets, or better still a separate mini-DIN socket. Any less and you're going to regret it, maybe not now, but remember, a TV brought today has a life expectancy of between seven and ten years and who knows what you'll want to hook it up to in the future. Of course, if it's a second set you can get away with just one AV terminal but if you're thinking about using it for editing or with a video game it's best to have the sockets on the front as it makes life a whole lot easier.


The sound that comes from a TV set is just as important as the pictures and for a living room set that means NICAM stereo, at the very least, and Dolby Surround if you watch a lot of movies and you fancy the idea of a home cinema system. We touched on this last month, but it's worth repeating that the best stereo sound comes from sets with speakers that are set either side of the screen, better still if they're detachable, or there's a facility to connect up external speakers or pipe the audio output through your hi-fi. A growing number of smaller screen sets are now being fitted with NICAM, which is good, though it has to be said that those we've tried, with built-in speakers, produce a fairly limited stereo image 


Now we come to the convenience features. Some things, like remote controls and on-screen displays used to be expensive options, now they're near standard fitments, so we'll move on to one of the more genuinely useful extras, well worth the 20- to 50 it adds to the price. That's teletext, the wide-ranging news and information service broadcast alongside most terrestrial and satellite TV channels. Most sets now have the more responsive fastext type decoder which helps sift through the hundreds of pages most channels now carry.


If you're a habitual channel-hopper then look out for a facility known as PIP or picture in picture, this will allow you to watch several channels simultaneously, on small sub-screens inset into the main picture. The sub-screen displays external video inputs, so you can click through the broadcast channels on your VCR, or check what's on satellite, without missing a moment of the program you're watching. Some widescreen sets have a facility called POP or picture out of picture, with sub-screens arranged down the normally blanked out side of a  4:3 picture.


Finally the gadgets and toys. Quite a lot of TVs now have built-in timers, to switch the set off after a pre-set interval, that's useful on sets for the bedroom, or if you make a habit of falling asleep in front of the box. Some sets will automatically turn themselves off when the station being watched goes off the air for the night though, many channels broadcast around the clock, so it's of questionable value. Small screen set manufacturers love gadgets, which help to sell their wares in a very competitive market. We've seen sets designed specifically for the kitchen, with timers to remind the cook when the roast is ready; on-screen calculators and even something called a 'mood light' which turns the screen a fetching shade or red, green or blue. Who knows, that could be just the feature someone somewhere has been waiting for...



Relax, we're not about to bore you silly with another long discourse on the economics of TV manufacture, profit margins and the fact that the market is being swamped by sales of ultra-cheap tellies  from places like China and Taiwan, you probably know that already. However, it's worth just saying that this most recent rash of imports is forcing a lot of established companies to re-think their marketing strategies in the UK, some could even go out of business! A number of prestigious brands have already pulled out of the UK market altogether, ultimately reducing the choice.



In the end only you can decide which set is right for you, but to give you something to think about here's a run-down of  some of the TVs which have caught our eyes and ears over the past year or so, starting with the home-cinema blockbusters. If you've got the room and the cash (3,000) the Philips Matchline Superscreen 0894 takes some beating, it's a 117cm (46-inch) back-projection widescreen set with all the bells and whistles you could wish for. Its only shortcomings are a fairly narrow viewing angle and the proprietary surround system which isn't a patch on Dolby Surround.


The best all-round picture quality comes from a CRT but there is a practical limit to their size. The biggest FST currently in production is 89cm (37-inches) across, and it's featured in a range of giant tellies manufactured by Grundig, Mitsubishi and Panasonic, none of which will leave you any change from 2,500. Coming down in to 78cm (33-inches) has a significant impact on the price and there are several excellent models in this size range, made by Mitsubishi, Panasonic. Toshiba and Tatung, selling for between 1,400 and 2,000. Sony's Trinitron tube has a well earned reputation for image quality and their largest set, the KVS3412 has one measuring 80cm (34-inches across), a snip at 2,000! 


Although we're still advocating caution for the average TV viewer, widescreen TVs are heaven-sent if you've got a collection of widescreen movies on tape or better yet, video disc. The widescreen effect is most impressive on larger sets but we've been smitten by the Philips 8762 (66cm/28-inch) which delivers an exceptional picture. The big Nokia SFN9294 (86cm/36-inches) is well worth a look and there's an optional on-board satellite receiver. The Ferguson C76W (76cm/32-inches) is one of the most elegant widescreen sets we've seen lately, and it too can be retrofitted with an STV tuner and D2MAC decoder, to pick up widescreen broadcasts from French and German satellite channels. The cheapest widescreen sets start at around 1,600 for the Ferguson model, rising to almost 3,000 for the all-singing, all-dancing Nokia SFN9291 with on-board satellite TV tuner.


The concept of a home cinema has finally taken root in the UK and one of the most convenient ways to enjoy the stunning surround-sound effects from recent movies shown on TV, or on tape and disc, is to get a TV with a built-in Dolby Surround decoder. Toshiba were the first to use this facility and now they've just added three Dolby Pro-Logic (4-channel surround) sets to their current range, (which use the less sophisticated 3-channel 'passive' decoder); the new ones are the 51cm 2132DB, 59cm 2535DB and  66cm 2835DB and like all Toshiba Dolby surround TVs, they come complete with outboard speakers and cables.

Hitachi are the new kids on the block and they've just launched three 'Cinema Sound' TVs, all with 'active' Pro-Logic decoders. The numbers to look out for, and cast a critical ear to are the C2574TN, C2874TN and C2984TN. All three boast internal sub-woofers, for window-rattling bass, and come supplied with four extension speakers and cables as standard.


You're spoilt for choice if you're looking for a big-screen NICAM TV and you really can't go too far wrong with any set made by Sony JVC, Panasonic, Mitsubishi, Philips, Grundig Toshiba, Nokia  and Ferguson, look and listen to as many as you can, and don't think about the price... 


The competition really hots up in the small-screen sector of the market, that's TVs with screens of 51cm (21-inches) or less, here too you will find the greatest variation in, shape, size, features, price and quality, so be on your guard. Remember too that the larger companies have better service and back-up facilities, we have heard tales of spares for some less well known brands of TV taking several weeks to be delivered! For a more detailed run-down of what's available in the way of pocket TVs turn to our Shop Window feature on page XX.



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Whatever happened to VCRs? There's certainly no shortage of new ones and at the last count there were over 150 different models available in the UK, ranging in price from less than 200 to a little over 2,000, with the majority costing less than 350, so there's never been a wider, more affordable choice. But with very few exceptions they're mostly boring black boxes aimed at the uncritical mass-market. That's fine if all you want is a cheap and efficient means of recording TV programmes, or replaying rental tapes but if, like us, you have other interests, like video movie-making, there's been very little to whet the appetite lately.


A couple of years ago we could have singled out a score or more machines that we would classify as 'edit decks', today there's fewer than half that amount, and judging by the latest crop of VCRs for the 93/94 season, it's not getting any better. The reasons are clear; in these difficult times manufacturers are naturally going to concentrate on the high-volume sectors, and that means budget-priced single and twin-speed decks, and stereo machines for the burgeoning 'home-cinema' market. New convenience facilities, like Video Plus, have also tended to divert manufacturers attention away from other areas, but its also true to say that developments in editing and post production accessories have lessened the need for specialist machines. 


It's not all doom and gloom though, picture quality on machines from the brand leaders is at an all time high, VCRs are still very good value, in spite of recent price increases, and compared with machines a few years ago they're easier to use, have more convenience features, go wrong less often and last longer. So where does that leave the camcorder owner?


There has been a small but encouraging increase in the number of new machines fitted with front AV terminals, and tape search facilities, like jog/shuttle dials are now appearing on budget models. Unfortunately there's been a decline in the incidence of machines with audio dub and, and features like insert edit and edit terminals are still mostly confined to top-end machines.


Time to get down to cases with our selection of  VCRs to look out for in each of the main product categories. We've divided the market into four sections; the first consists of basic single and twin-speed machines, for general day to day use, copying and editing. Section two is the main growth area, and this includes stereo NICAM decks, reflecting the success of stereo broadcasting and interest in the idea of the home cinema. The third group of machines are the top-end models, the ones most likely to have editing facilities, as well as advanced picture and sound circuitry, plus sophisticated convenience features. Lastly there's the small group of Super VHS VCRs which nowadays are aimed at owners of high band (S-VHS and Hi8) camcorder owners, there's little or no pre-recorded software and recordings of off-air programmes look little better than those made on standard VHS VCRs.



It goes without saying that edits decks are somewhat scarce at the budget end of the market but if all you need is a decent quality mono VCR for copying or editing recordings from your camcorder then you're spoilt for choice. Avoid the ultra-cheap decks and obscure brands, picture performance tends to be quite variable and if you're using an edit controller with an IR commander you may run into trouble with unusual control codes. You're fairly safe with budget machines from the majors, like Ferguson, Hitachi, JVC, Panasonic, Sharp, Sony and Toshiba, which all score well in terms of picture quality but otherwise tend to be quite basic. One machine that has attracted our attention is the Samsung VIK-320 which sells for around 240; in addition to a jog/shuttle dial and index search it's one of the very few sub 300 machines to have audio dub and a front-mounted AV terminal, for another 20 or so the VIK320 provides the same assortment of features with the addition of long play.



If you've got a stereo camcorder and/or a stereo TV it makes sense to buy a VCR with stereo sound as well. It's no longer a luxury feature, indeed several machines costing less than 400 now have it, though we'd suggest spending a little more if you want good sound and picture quality. That said, the recently-launched Samsung VI-375 (350) looks as though it may be worth investigating, though we haven't had the chance to try one out yet.


Sound quality is a high priority on JVC stereo machines and the newly-launched HRD-J600 (479) qualifies as good source machine for home cinema set-ups. We also like the sound of the latest Ferguson models (FV68 and FV77), plus Mitsubishi's M58 and M68, the latter having insert edit and front AV terminal. Philips stereo VCRs are usually good value for money, and they work well too, but tend to be a little limited in the editing department.



Only two manufacturers, Panasonic and Sony, fit editing terminals to their machines, so they can be used with their own edit controllers. It's worth pointing out that these machines  are really only of interest to people who have suitable camcorders made by the same manufacturer. There's three Sony VCRs to look out for, the SLV-715, SLV-815, and the SLV-835, which replaces the SLV-825, one of our current favourites. The new machine is basically the same as the 825 but it has Video Plus programming and costs 50 more, at 850. Panasonic have been getting a little lax lately and the only one of their current VHS machines has a 5-pin RMC edit terminal. It's the NV-F77, which is worth searching out, though it's nearing end of the line. The Hitachi F780 has a feature that might appeal to owners of VHS-C camcorders. It's a built-in edit controller that can be programmed to replay selected segments of a recording, at the same time controlling the record-pause function on a destination machine.



Only a couple of new Super VHS video recorders have been launched so far this year. The most important newcomer is the JVC HR-S6800 which, like the Hitachi 780 and it's S-VHS variant, the S890, has an on-board edit controller. The only other new arrival is the Mitsubishi HS-M1000, a fine machine but with few serious editing features. Panasonic have no less than four Super VHS machines; the FS88 and FS200 are fairly conventional (though quite expensive) home deck machines, and they both have edit terminals. The other two, the NV-W1 and NV-8000 are specialist products, the W1 is a digital multi-standard machine costing 1,800; the 8000 is a serious edit machine which works with both full-size VHS and C-cassette tapes. It has no tuner or timer and it costs around 2,100, dedicated movie-makers only need apply...



R.Maybury 1993 1009



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