VIDEO CAMERA 1994

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

PLAY IT AGAIN SAN...

 

INTRO

Audio take centre-stage for a change with the Sanyo VHR-874, the first VCR with Digital View Scan, but what is it?

 

COPY

Digital View Scan or DVS is the first major new audio facility on VCRs since NICAM, and that was back in the late eighties. Whether or not DVS will be as successful remains to be seen. DVS is a spin-off from Sanyoís work on digital audio, and in particular anti-shake systems used on their personal cassette and Mini Disc players. These have electronic sound Ďbuffersí that temporarily store a few seconds worth of music, which fills in any gaps caused by the off-tape or off-disc music being corrupted --  if the deck is shaken or knocked for example --  so as far as the listener is concerned thereís no interruption in the sound. In the case of the VHR-874 the technology is used for quite a different purpose and enables the user to hear the VCR soundtrack during fast picture search replay The sound is intelligible, replayed in real time and whatís more it comes out the right way around when the tape is going backwards! Weíll look at how this works in a moment, but what about the rest of the machine?

 

Well, thatís quite interesting too; itís a smooth-looking mid-mount design, it costs just under £500 and the feature list is headed by hi-fi stereo sound and NICAM. It also has Video Plus+ and all the usual convenience facilities, like on-screen displays, plus several items that will be of specific interest to video movie makers. They include a front-mounted AV terminal and audio dub with a simple mixing facility. Itís a 4-head machine, with a range of very steady trick-play options -- controlled from a shuttle dial on the remote -- this also means it has a passable LP recording quality, handy if youíre into serious time-shifting.

 

The initial set-up and alignment are all controlled via the machineís somewhat bossy on-screen display, which wonít let you play with it until youíve shown it you can figure out how to work the remote control. To be fair itís almost idiot-proof and you can even get by without reading the instructions, though keep them to hand, just in case. The Video Plus+ timer is, as ever, very easy to use and thereís an option to retrofit the machine with a PDC (programme delivery control) module, which will self-correct timer settings in the event of a late programme change or overrun. As and when the BBC and ITV companies other than C4 get around to using the system it might be worth having.

 

PERFORMANCE

Picture quality is generally very good, our well-used sample managed to resolve just over 240-lines, thatís quite respectable, and it was helped by lower than average levels of picture noise at SP speed. LP performance was unusually good, just below 220 lines on our machine, though noise levels increased quite significantly and trick play replay is in black and white. SP trick play was excellent, rock solid at all speeds with fairly unintruisive noise bars only at picture search speeds.

 

The stereo hi-fi and NICAM soundtracks were very good, crisp with only modest amounts of background hiss. The winking bargraph level display is a waste of space considering thereís no manual recording level control, in any case the automatic level controls worked well and would only irritate fussy audio buffs wanting to use the machine to record a lot of music-oriented material.

 

VERDICT

To be honest we expected to find the DVS facility a bit of a gimmick but after having lived with the machine for a while weíve grown to like it. We can see the attraction for sports fans where it re-establishes the link between the commentary and the action on the screen -- you could skim through an entire soccer match in just ten minutes, and not miss a thing -- though itís just as useful for locating a specific scene in a movie or programme. Picture search on DVS-less VCRs now seems strangely silent... DVS appears to have added about £50 to the price, itís the sort of machine that would probably sell for around £450 without it, so on balance we feel itís probably just about worth the premium but hope also that it will prove successful enough for Sanyo, and others, to eventually absorb the extra cost. Good gimmick, good machine, we like it!.

 

SIDEBAR -- DIGITAL VIEW SCAN -- THE INSIDE STORY

The VHR-874 has an audio buffer chip, a 256k DRAM if you want to get technical. Sound from the mono linear track is continually read into the buffer as digital data, irrespective of tape speed or direction. Once stored in this form it can be read out again, so that it comes out at the right speed, the right way around. Clearly there will be a timing discrepancy as the tape is moving faster than normal speed, so in order to keep up, the sound is read out in short bursts, six seconds long at nine times normal speed, and 3 to 4 seconds for double speed replay. This means you can whizz through programmes at picture search speed, and still keep tabs on whatís going on by listening to soundbites from the audio track.

 

DVS operates at all trick-play speeds apart from slomo (it can also be disabled ...). In still frame mode the last audio sample is replayed continuously. It works especially well at 2X normal speed where the sound appears almost to keep up with the on-screen action, the short jumps go virtually unnoticed. As DVS  is derived from the mono linear track audio the quality is understandably poor, with a fairly narrow dynamic range, lots of background hiss and audible digital artefacts, but itís fine for speech, which remains intelligible pretty well all of the time.

 

VCR SPECS

Make/model          Sanyo VHR-874                          

Tape format         VHS

Guide price           £500 

 

TAPE DECK

Max playing time             8-hours (E240- tape LP mode)

Timer                               6-events, 365-days

Remote control                full function

 

VIDEO

System                              PAL SP/LP, HQ

Replay speeds                   x9, x2, still, slomo

 

Main facilities

Slow motion          yes  

Multi-speed           yes   

Insert edit:          yes/no       

Jog/shuttle          no

On-screen display          yes   

Videoplus          yes

Index search          yes   

Intro Scan          yes

Instant timer          no     

LCD remote          no     

PDC timer          no (retrofittable)      

Repeat play          yes

Record search          no     

NTSC replay          yes

Quasi S-VHS replay          no     

Auto play          yes

Auto head cleaner          yes   

 

Additional facilities

Digital View Scan sound sampling

 

AUDIO      

Stereo Hi-Fi                yes   

Audio dub          yes   

Man level control          no     

Level display          yes

NICAM sound          yes   

Line output          yes   

H/phone level control          no     

     

 

GENERAL

Sockets                           

Front AV terminal                    yes   

Edit terminal           no

Microphone          no     

Headphones          no

SCART          twin  

Syncro edit          no

 

Dimensions (mm)     420 x 99 x 340

Weight (kg)              5.5    

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                                  240-lines

Colour fidelity         good

Trick play stability         very good

Colour bleed         none

Audio performance         good

Edit functions         average

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money                 8

Ease of use                      9

Performance                     9

Features                        8

         ---end---

R.Maybury 1994  1808

 


 

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