VIDEO CAMERA 1994

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

THE LONG MARCH

 

INTRO

VHS picture quality is now about as good as it can get, or is it? Akai are still chipping away at the edges of the performance envelope with their latest range of Super Intelligent HQ equipped VCRs

 

COPY

We haven’t heard much from Akai over the past year or two, they’ve more or less pulled out of camcorders, and their most recent VCRs have had few, if any video movie making facilities. Now they’re back; no new camcorders, we’re sorry to say, but four out of the five new VCRs in their  94/95 range show a lot of promise as edit decks, starting with the VS-G415, which we’re looking at here.

 

The key features on all of these machines is Super Intelligent-HQ, a development of their I-HQ system which was one of the first successful ‘smart’ picture enhancement systems, that optimised recording and replay circuitry according to the nature of the recording and/or type of tape. S-IHQ goes several stages further and now includes a range of picture enhancements, including colour processing circuits and high-performance heads. This adds up to significant improvement in picture quality and, according to Akai, LP picture quality that is comparable with SP performance. Bold claims which we we’ve been putting to the test.

 

On its own S-IHQ probably wouldn’t have got more than a passing nod from us, after all this is a camcorder magazine, however, the 415 has several other useful movie-making features, including a front AV terminal, a second set of AV input phonos on the back, as well as the traditional SCART connector. It also has a good selection of trick-play options plus record search; that’s very unusual on a machine in this price bracket. It’s very useful for editing, helping to line up edit points  whilst the machine is in the record-pause mode. This is a mono machine but it does have four heads, and quite fancy ones at that, which are geared towards improving LP performance. When it’s not being used for editing the 415 is not found wanting as a timeshifter, with its Videoplus+ timer and PDC (programme delivery control) system. We’re still not convinced PDC is worth paying any extra for, at the moment anyway as it only works on C4 programmes, but at only £329 it doesn’t seem to have added noticeably to the price of the 415.

 

As for the rest of the machine, well, it’s quite a smooth-looking design, lots of flowing curves and a trendy mid-mount deck. The 415 uses a menu-driven on-screen for all of the initialisation and set-up routines, these are operated from a simple four-button cursor control on the remote handset. It’s a simple, easy to follow system, which is as it should be; Akai pioneered the concept of on-screen displays and remote programming back in 1982, it took the rest of the industry a good five years to catch up.

 

PERFORMANCE

We’ll come to the S-IHQ tests in a moment, but first our standard test routines showed the 415 to have a resolution of just under 250-lines, which is outstanding for a budget machine. Noise levels were average to good and general picture quality excellent. Flipping the S-IHQ on and off made little or no difference to SP recordings made on other machines. We came up with a couple of extra tests to put S-IHQ through its paces, the first involved making LP recordings on high grade tape. The results were most encouraging; resolution was above 230 lines and noise levels were well below average. It definitely lives up to Akai’s claims and LP recordings made on this machine, using S-IHQ and high grade tape, do indeed look as good, if not better than SP recordings made on some budget VCRs!

 

The really tough test, though is copying or editing from a camcorder, and once again the 415 did brilliantly. Second generation recordings made on high grade tape looked bright and clean, and there was little or no colour displacement, making the picture look noticeably crisper. There was still an increase in noise levels, but it was less than usual, so whilst the picture has less detail than the original, the amount of degredgation was significantly reduced.

 

Trick frame performance is good and audio quality, from the mono linear soundtrack, quite reasonable. We’re sorry to see 415’s intended for other markets have a microphone socket on the front AV terminal as well, suggesting that they might also have audio dub as well, we suspect Akai would have made a few extra friends if they’d left it on the UK version...

 

THE VERDICT

The 415 lives up to pretty well all of Akai’s claims and it delivers the best LP performance we’ve seen on any machine this side of £500, and even then we’d have to think hard about one that is better. However, what impresses us most is the copy quality, and second generation recordings look significantly better than normal, good enough in fact for us to reccomend this as a mono edit deck.

 

SIDEBAR -- S- IHQ -- THE INSIDE STORY

So how does S-IHQ work? It’s a combination of improvements, starting with something called CACC or current auto chroma control, which adjusts the colour signal recording level according to the level of the incoming signal, which has the effect of reducing noise on signals with low saturation levels. Next there’s Direct VCO chroma, another colour processing circuit that filters out harmonics, caused by signal interaction; then there’s Linear PB-EQ, which adjusts the tape playback equalisation gain in 256 steps, (most other machines only have three or four steps). The Pro GX heads are wider, with deeper gaps, for improved tracking and more sharply focused magnetic flux. Lastly there’s  new chrominance processing circuitry which Akai say solves the problem of vertical displacement, a fairly common problem on budget and mid-range machines where coloured parts of the picture appear to be shifted slightly from their proper position. This fault shows up even more clearly on second generation recordings, so anything that makes edits or copies look better gets our vote.

 

The S-IHQ system really comes into its own when making LP recording using high-grade tape. Pressing the S-IHQ and record button together starts the tape tuning process, it takes around fifteen seconds during which time the VCR makes a short test recording, and analyses the results so ti can adjust its recording circuitry to suit the type of tape being used. For best results Akai suggest using high performance Super VHS tape.

 

VCR SPECS

Make/model                         Akai VS-G415                          

Tape format          VHS

Guide price                      £330

 

TAPE DECK

Max playing time            8hours (E-240 tape LP mode)

Timer                               8-events/365-days

Remote control                full function

 

VIDEO

System                             PAL SP/LP, HQ

Replay speeds          still, x7, x5, x3, x1/10 both directions              

 

Main facilities

Slow motion          yes  

Multi-speed           yes   

Insert edit:          no     

Jog/shuttle          no

On-screen display          yes   

Videoplus          yes

Index search          yes   

Intro Scan          yes

Instant timer          yes   

LCD remote          yes   

PDC timer          yes   

Repeat play          yes

Record search          yes   

NTSC replay          no

Quasi S-VHS replay          no     

Auto play          yes

Auto head cleaner          no     

 

Additional facilities

Fast servo mechanism, digital tracking, blank search, display dimmer, rental play (blank skip, rewind, eject and power off)

 

AUDIO      

Stereo Hi-Fi                no     

Audio dub          no     

Man level control          no     

Level display          no

NICAM sound          no     

Line output          yes   

H/phone level control          no     

     

 

GENERAL

Sockets

Front AV terminal                    yes   

Edit terminal           no

Microphone          no     

Headphones          no

SCART          single         

Syncro edit          no

 

Dimensions (mm)            425 x 90 x 276        

Weight (kg)                     4.0

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution         250 lines

Colour fidelity         very good

Trick play stability         good

Colour bleed         none

Audio performance         average

Edit functions         average

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money         9       

Ease of use                      9

Performance                     10

Features                        9

         ---end---

R.Maybury 1994  2208

 


 

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