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Eighteen years ago, on September the 9th 1976 to be exact, JVC launched the HR-3300, the very first VHS video recorder. Forget coming of age, eighteen makes VHS a very mature technology indeed, its retirement has already been planned and we can expect to see it being gradually pensioned off over the next few years as the next generation of digital VCRs are phased in.


It hasnít been a bad life though, and thereís still a few years left in the old dog yet, though engineers have squeezed just about everything theyíre going to get out of the format by now. To be honest 1994 hasnít been a classic year for video recorders, most manufacturers now seem content to produce fairly predictable middle of the road machines, to satisify what has become a steady replacement market.


Genuine innovations have been few and far between; the only one of consequence this year has been Sanyoís Digital View Scan, fitted to the VHR-874, reviewed last month. Itís the first significant advance in VCR sound since NICAM appeared in the late eighties, though arguably you have to go back to 1983, to the introduction of stereo hi-fi sound, to find anything as radically new. DVS is a clever application of digital processing, enabling the VCRs mono linear soundtrack to be heard, at normal speed, even if the tape is moving backwards, at picture search speeds. It works by digitising the soundtrack and passing it into a microchip memory or Ďbufferí, the data can then be read out again, back to front if necessary, so that it is sounds intelligible. It might not seem terribly important but as we discovered itís great for whizzing through sports programmes and movies, and once youíve used it other VCRs seem strangely quiet.


Now that timer programming has been rendered virtually idiot-proof by Video Plus+ VCR designers have turned their attention to the other most common source of problems, the initial set-up. Itís no coincidence that several different brands of VCR have appeared with self setting tuners and clocks, thatís due to the development of specialised chip-sets that do all the donkey-work, as soon as the VCR is plugged into the mains for the first time. The same (or a very similar) feature has several different names. Ferguson call it Auto Install, itís fitted to three of their latest models: FV81 FV82 and FV88, incidentally, the FV88 has a Video Plus+ timer that can also make timed recordings from a satellite receiver, using itís own on-board IR control system. Goldstar call their system Intelliset and itís also on three machines: GSE-Q504i, R-Q304i and R-C900i. You might also be interested to know that theyíve brought out a Video Plus+ version of their twin deck machine. Mitsubishiís Auto Set Up system is now available on four new machines: HS-M20, HS-M40, HS-M50 and HS-M60, that last one also has a new tape tuning system, another feature that enjoyed a minor revival this year.


Akai pioneered the concept of tape-tuning, where the VCR automatically adjusts its recording and replay circuits to suit the type or grade of tape being used. Their original Intelligent HQ systems has been through several stages of refinement to emerge as Super I-HQ, fitted to four of their five new machines this year. Super I-HQ has the biggest effect on LP recordings, which on at least one machine weíve tested (VS-G415) looks almost as good as SP recordings on other VCRs. Sony too have begun to fit tape tuning systems to their 1994 VCRs, thereís seven of them so far. They call it Tri-Logic and like S-IHQ it improves colour reproduction and reduces noise levels.


Video Plus+ now seems unstoppable and is fast becoming the international standard for timer programming. However, there are signs that program delivery control or PDC is making a small comeback. It has been appearing on a growing number of new machines this year. This follows rumours that the BBC and ITV companies may at last be willing to adopt the system, so far only C4 have shown any interest in it. Weíre still waiting for confirmation, but it seems the cost of fitting PDC circuits, which self-correct timer errors caused by late schedule changes, has fallen, and manufactuers are fitting them anyway.


Super VHS has had another indifferent year with only three new machines. JVC kept the flag flying with worthy but dull the HR-S5900, Philps managed to raise a few hackles with the VR-948, which was quite a good machine, when all said and done, but a big let let-down in the editing department. The only bright spot for high-band VCRs has been the Panasonic HS-1000, the S-VHS upgrade of the brilliant HD700 edit deck, and the incredible Sony EV-S900 Hi8 VCR, but at £1200 and £1500 respectively these were both specialist machines that most of us can only dream about.


Not a particularly memorable year but the VHS story isnít over yet and thereís bound to be a few surprises still to come before the digital revolution gets underway.



R. Maybury 1994 1609







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