VIDEO CAMERA 1994

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

SX IS NO JOKE

 

INTRO

Had the SX1 had reached us a just couple of weeks earlier it might have made it into this yearís awards as the best camcorder under £1000!

 

COPY

First impressions are important, and the overriding one you get with the GR-SX1 is that JVC have finally relented and gone over to 8mm...  Nothing could be further from the truth, in fact the latest sales figures suggest that globally the VHS-C/S-VHS-C formats might even be staging a minor comeback. Until now Panasonic have been doing most of the hard work with a succession of outstanding camcorders. JVCís range hasnít looked quite so exciting of late, good machines all of them, impressive in their day, but looking a touch dated now.

 

The SX1 puts them firmly back into contention at the top end of the market, and theyíre not exactly dragging their heels in other areas, as youíll see from this monthís news. Apart from its looks, that would pass for a classy 8mm palmcorder any day of the week, the SX1 has a number of other things going for it, starting with the price. At just under £1000 it is a head-on assault on the high-band camcorder market which until recently Sony and Canon have had more or less all to themselves.  Panasonic did their bit to shift the goal posts at the lower end earlier this year, with the superb NV-S70, now JVC are hoping to move in on another slice of recently acquired Panasonic territory currently occupied by the equally impressive S85 and S90.

 

The basic specification is undramatic, at least as far as flashy gadgets are concerned; thereís no stabilisers or fancy digital effects, for example. Instead JVC have concentrated on picture performance, and the kind of creative facilities that might just get used. The S-VHS-C recording system is augmented by stereo hi-fi sound with a dubbable mono linear soundtrack. It doesnít have an editing terminal as such, though it is fitted with JVCs own RAE (random assemble edit) system which works in conjunction with a remote control handset, to replay up to 8 designated scenes in any chosen order. The handset contains a multi-brand IR control library, to operate the record/pause function on a score or so different brands of VCR. The same handset also controls the machineís insert editing, audio dub, animation, interval and self-timer features.

 

Naturally the SX1 has fully automatic exposure controls but it also has a range of impressive manual and pre-set options. Unfortunately JVC have decided on a rather convoluted implementation but weíll attempt to pick the bones out of it. Thereís three exposure modes, full auto which weíve already mentioned, preset, and variable preset. Selecting preset, using the rather awkward slide switch on the side of the machine, and then the P.AE/Effect button to the side of the LCD display panel, brings up five options on the viewfinder screen, they are:

* Sepia -- re-creates the effect of an old movie or film with tinted black and white picture

* Sports -- shutter speed automatically set to higher speeds to capture fast movement

*  HI.S -- high-speed shutter preset to 1/4000th sec

* Portrait -- reduced depth of field to make subject stand out against softened background

* Twilight -- optimises colour balance for sunrise and sunset

 

Apart from sports mode the settings are all fixed, all the user can do is select them in sequence, using the P.AE button. In the variable preset mode the menu changes to another five options, this time, however, an different effect or mode can be assigned to each numbered option. It all gets a bit tricky at this point; in order to change a selection the P.AE mode has to be selected from the main menu, then the effect number has to be selected, and finally the effect chosen by stepping through the options. They include the presets already outlined, plus black and white recording and six shutter speeds. Once the options have been programmed itís easy enough to use but we found it a rather tedious and time-consuming business to change them, and stepping through the various modes can be annoying, especially if youíre in a hurry, trying to capture a shot.

 

Manual focus, via a knob on the front of the machine, is available in both the preset and variable preset modes, and thereís a exposure override control, which gives some adjustment either side of the auto setting. We judge this to be between two and three f-stops either side, though as the viewfinder display is uncalibrated itís difficult to say.

 

Once again JVC have gone slightly overboard with the white balance controls, though itís not quite as elaborate as previous models. This time thereís five modes: full auto, manual, sunny, cloudy and halogen; theyíre selected from the on-screen menu, and once again you need to set some time aside to make adjustments as the menu system is not especially easy to use.

 

Finally on the creative front thereís the good old pseudo Ďcinemaí mode, with black borders superimposed at the top and bottom of the picture. It has a three-way fader which can fade to black, white or monochrome. No, we couldnít figure out why anyone would want to fade to black and white either, maybe itís art or something...

 

That just about covers the main facilities but thereís a few other points of interest. The machine has a built-in lens cover, a reasonable colour viewfinder, combined power/mode/record switch, Ďquick-recordí function which makes a five-second recording, twin battery charger with refresh mode; oh yes, and a little bit of camcorder history, itís the first machine we can recall to have a built-in alarm clock. JVC gave us some old flannel about it being useful to remind people to record things at a particular time, but it comes into the category of gadgets that probably cost nothing to fit, so you might as well have it, and maybe one day itíll get used.

 

LAYOUT AND USE

One of the more unusual aspects of the design is the in-line optics, where the viewfinder is in the same plane as the lens. JVC say it improves stability and ease of use, we canít say weíve got any strong feelings one way or the other, it certainly doesnít adversely affect handling and the machine feels generally well balanced and comfortable. The main transport controls are hidden under a flap on top of the lens barrel, itís a bit fiddly and would be all but impossible to open wearing gloves. Most of the other controls are well laid out and accessible, the exception is the mode selector switch, and again it would be difficult if not impossible to use wearing gloves, itís bad enough with naked fingers...

 

Weíve got mixed feelings about the manual focus switch and knob; the selector button is deeply recessed and requires quite a bit of pressure to operate. The knob is also a bit noisy and a scraping noise can sometimes be heard on the soundtrack in very quiet surroundings.

 

Weíve covered JVCís RAE edit system before, so thereís no need to go over old ground; suffice it to say it is very easy to use, and, depending on the characteristics of the record VCR, works quite well. Obviously itís not a substitute for a proper Control L or 5/11-pin based system, but definitely better than nothing at all, and quite adequate for 90% of straightforward assemble editing jobs.

 

PERFORMANCE

Picture quality is excellent. JVC have added a number of extra tweaks to augment the S-VHS-C recording system, starting with the large-aperture F1.2 lens, which means more light gets through to the CCD image sensor. Picture improvement circuitry and extensive use of digital signal processing all play their part and our sample had no problems at all resolving a full 400-lines. However, the picture was unusually clean across a wider range of light levels; thatís almost certainly due to an AGC (automatic gain control) system that doesnít cut in until the light falls below 100 lux, so thereís negligible grain in the picture until you move indoors, even then thereís less than most other machines in the same conditions. Colour accuracy is spot on under just about any type of lighting condition and although there are a better than average selection of manual pre-sets we found the auto system quite capable of dealing with most types of natural and artificial light.

 

JVC claim to have done all kinds of clever things to the microphone on this machine, weíll have to take their word for it because it doesnít sound appreciably different from the single point stereo microphones fitted to most other camcorders. Forward sensitivity is good but the stereo sound stage is quite narrow. Incidentally, this machine has got a external microphone socket but no earphone socket. However, JVC showed us an interesting little gadget theyíve developed which plugs into the line audio output sockets on the back panel. It contains a small amplifier which drives an earphone or stereo headphones, power comes from the DC jack that supplies the optional RF converter. No model number or launch date yet but weíve been told it should cost around £20.

 

THE VERDICT

Itís good to see JVC back in the fray again; we thought Panasonic had the lower end of the high-band market pretty well sewn-up this year but reckoned without the SX1. Our only regret is that it doesnít support any serious editing or time-coding systems, were that the case it would definitely qualify as a very serious semi-pro camcorder. Nevertheless, itís still a very attractive and highly desirable little machine, and it should win back quite a few converts to 8mm and Hi8.

 

THE RIVALS

This time last month we would have had no hesitation pointing anyone with a feeling for performance and flexibility, and £1000 to spend, in the direction of the Panasonic NV-S85.  If all youíre interested in is ease of use then the Sony SC7 fits the bill, but donít expect to progress much beyond basic point and shoot movie-making with that machine. Most of what remains are older machines that are now approaching or past their sell-by date, as far as the latest features are concerned, though thereís still some excellent bargains to be had if youíre not obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses. The arrival of the SX1 changes the shape of this section of the market though, and unless youíre willing to fork out two or three hundred pounds more, or sacrifice versatility, this is now our first choice for a top-class sub £1000 camcorder.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               JVC GR-SX1

Recording format              S-VHS-C/VHS-C

Guide price                              £1000

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.2

Zoom                           10X

Filter diameter            46mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                     2 lux   

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        90mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes (see text)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                               yes                  

Manual focus               yes      

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    yes (4-mode) 

Fader                                       yes                  

Manual white balance            yes      

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           no       

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                yes      

Audio dub                                yes

Character generator                     no                   

Digital superimposer               no       

Image stabiliser                                  no                                           

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         yes                                      

Accessory shoe                 no       

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date/age recording, self-timer,  high-speed shutter (6-speed up to 1/4000th sec), record review, retake, tally lamp, interval timer, built-in lens cover, sepia effect, black and white recording, fade to mono, alarm clock, cinema mode recording, switchable AGC, RAE edit control, presettable effects, index recording, twin battery charger, quick record

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.7in colour LCD

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, shutter speed, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, zoom position, dew, head clog

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                      yes

Wind noise filter                                         yes                  

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              optional, see text        

Mic                                           single-point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    AV out (phono), S-Video out (mini DIN) remote control

edit control external microphone (minijack)

Dimensions                              103 x 114 x 185mm                      

Weight                         kg (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (nicad and lithium), straps, AC charger/power supply,

AV lead                        yes      

video light                   no                   

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor            yes      

RF Converter             no       

Scart adaptor               yes      

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                               400-lines

Colour fidelity                           excellent

Picture stability                         very good

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            excellent

Exposure                                   very good

Auto focus                                  good

Audio performance                   very good

Insert edit                                  good

Playback thru adaptor              very good

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money          10

Ease of use                     8

Performance                  9

Features                         9

 

---end---

R Maybury 1994 1209

 

 

 


 

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