Sun, sea, and sand, the essential ingredients of a seaside holiday, and
ironically, a camcorder's worst enemies. A single grain of sand or a drop of
sea water in the wrong place can destroy a camcorder, yet most machines have
minimal protection against the perils of beach, skiing or boating holidays.
True, you can get water-resistant or 'sports' housings for most popular
machines but these can be expensive and make them difficult to operate. Now
Hitachi have come up with the answer, it's the VMH70, the first compact
all-weather machine that can take just about anything you or the elements care
to throw at it.
The VMH70 is a similar size, shape and specification to the H37, their
first Hi8 machine, so from the outside it looks quite ordinary, no flourescent
colouring, nothing in fact to give the game away apart from a discreet
'weathercam' logo. However, the two-piece casing is both strong and
water-tight, it can withstand a force of up to 200 kg, equivalent to a large
man treading on it, and although Hitachi don't recommend it, it can endure
sustained immersion in water up to a depth of one metre. It's definitely not an
underwater camcorder, so don't try it, but it does mean that it should survive
an accidental dousing, and there should be no problems using it in the rain, or
snow, providing it's dried thoroughly afterwards, or before the sealed tape
compartment is opened.
Hitachi have deliberately pitched this machine at the top-end of the
market, and in addition to the high-performance Hi8 recording system it has
stereo hi-fi sound, which explains the £1,100 price tag. Even so, it's only
modestly equipped with creative facilities, and unlike most of its
contemporaries it relies heavily on automated exposure systems, using advanced
fuzzy logic to make all the decisions. This includes a novel white balance
adjustment which, amongst other things, takes into account the time of day.
Other features include a digital image stabiliser, 12x optical zoom and up to
36x electronic zoom, 3-mode fader (white, wipe or zoom), and a wide viewing
angle, equivalent to 30mm (compared with a 35mm SLR lens).
Two other features stand out: this is the first non-Sony machine to use
a Lithium Ion rechargable battery. It is small, powerful and suffers none of
the memory or imbalance effects of a nicad pack. The battery used by Hitachi is
actually made for them by Sony, it's rated at 1200mAh and lives inside the
machine, in a watertight compartment where it can be charged in situ. The other
unusual feature is an optional 4-scene edit controller and title-generator,
costing £30. It's a similar to the one supplied with some JVC camcorders and it
has multi-brand compatibility, so it can be used with a wide range of VCRs.
Unfrortunately Hitachi have stopped short of giving the machine a propietry
edit control system, like Control L, but it's a step in the right direction.
We're subjecting a VH70 to all kinds of
water-based tortures as we speak, so keep a weather-eye out for next
month's issue, to see how it fared.
Last Autumn we hinted that Philips were working on a new Super VHS machine
that could be of considerable interest to serious video movie-makers, well now
we can flesh out the details in advance of a full review, hopefully next month.
It's the VR-948, it is a SuperVHS upgrade of the 838, which will also be
featured next month. The most important features, from a camcorder-owners point
of view, are twin edit terminals, using Control L and Panasonic 5/11-pin
protocols. This puts the 948 in the unique position of being able to work with
just about any edit controller on the market, either as a source or record
deck, and being a S-VHS machine, it can work with both Hi8 and S-VHS-C source
material, minimising quality losses during copying or editing.
The 948 will going on sale this
month, costing around £800, which makes it competitive with rival S-VHS video
recorders. Key features include:
* NICAM sound
* Video Plus+ timer programming
* twin jog/shiuttle dials
* front AV terminal
* audio dub
* NTSC replay
* transparent text recording
That last feature will be good news for those with impaired hearing. It
has always been techically possible for S-VHS VCRs to record raw teletext data
but only one or two manufacturers have sought to develop this feature. It means
that teletext subtitles can be optionally displayed during playback as the data
is recorded along with the normal sound and vision signals. Normally VCRs with
subtitle recording facilities 'burn' the subtitles into the recording which can
be distracting for viewers with normal hearing.
Video Camera's roving reporter has been investigating the new trend in
discount warehouse buying clubs which have been springing up around the
country, to see if there really are any bargains to be had for video movie-makers. The idea is that
once you've paid an annual membership fee you can purchase goods at
significantly reduced prices. We took a look around the recently opened Cargo
Club near Croydon, in South London and found camcorders rather thin on the
ground, in fact there were only two models on display, the soon to be
discontinued Panasonic NV-S20, and the Sharp EC-30 View Cam. The recommended
retail price of the S20 is £599, though the 'street price' is closer to £575,
in Cargo Club it costs's £525, which would just about justify the cost of the
annual membership of £25, providing you didn't have to travel too far to get
there. The Sharp View Cam looked like an even better deal, the recommended
retail price is £900, however, shop around and you can pick one up for as
little as £775, the Cargo Club price is £784. A Panasonic spokesperson
maintained they were not supplying Cargo Club directely, and as a general
policy they were not entirely satisfied that warehouse clubs were the best
place to buy camcorders as they could not give the same quality of advice and
after-sales service as a specialist dealer.
The same general pattern emerged with TV's, hi-fis, blank tape and
accessories, Cargo Club prices were not significantly lower than the
high-street or mail order, and it could take a long time to re-coup the
membership fee if you were only joining to buy items of consumer electronics.
Panasonic have added two more 'slim' palmcorders their range this
month. They are the NV-A1 and NV-R30, both clear decendents of the NV-R50 which
first appeared last Autumn.The A1 is their new starter model and will sell for
just under £600. It has many of the automated features of its stablemate, the
R10 (reviewed in April issue), plus:
* 10x zoom
* single switch start
* large on-screen display
* 5-pin edit terminal
Drastic cost-savings are evident, though, and Panasonic have taken the
brave step of not fitting a manual focus control to this machine. The program
AE system has also been pruned. from three on the R10, to two on this machine
(sports and portrait). Other features have also dissapeared, including
backlight compensation and the anti-ground shooting system.
The NV-R30 looks like a much
better prospect. It is basically an R10 with stereo sound, but the
selling price is only £50 more, at £750. This can't help sales of the R50,
which is a mono machine selling for £900, the only additional features are a
colour viewfinder and digital effects. Look out for reviews of both the A1 and
R30 next month.
It looks as though Vivanco are the first accessory company to market a
replacement battery for the new Panasonic Slim Palmcorders. These machines use
a cut-down SP-style pack with a 4.8 volt output. The Vivanco pack is designated
BP1348 and has a capacity of 1.3mAh, they have used Panasonic Grade A cells, so
there should be no difference in performance, in fact Vivanco claim the pack
should be good for a minimum of 1,000 re-charges. The retail price is £29.99,
which compares favourably with the cost of a Panasonic own brand replacement
pack, currently around £XX.
It's a little too early to talk about trends but at least two VCR
manufacturers -- JVC and Sanyo -- have
come up with new audio features on their latest machines. JVC have revived an
old Panasonic trick whereby the sound is not muted during picture search, this
can be useful when audio dubbing, for precisely locating a specific event or
sound. This will be featured on a couple of new machines which we hope to tell
you more about next month. Sanyo have come up with something called Digital
View Scan or 'DVS' which will be featured on their new £500 NICAM stereo
machine, the VHR-874, due out later in the year. DVS uses similar technology to
that developed for Mini Disc, it's basically a sound memory or 'buffer',
whereby audio signals are constantly read off the tape and held in the buffer
until they're needed. So, even if the tape is moving faster than normal speed
sound signals can still be read out from the buffer, and heard at normal speed.
During fast picture search sound is read out in five second packets, so it
keeps up with what is happening on the screen. Now comes the really clever
part, DVS will also work when the tape is moving backwards -- reverse picture
search -- with the sound coming out
forwards, if you see what we mean. We're sure DVS has got a use, and as soon as
we get our hands on one of these machines, we'll let you know what it is...