PART 1 --
test time once again and over the next three months we’ll be bringing you the
results of our exhaustive survey into the blank video tape market. We begin, as
always, with 8mm and VHS-C cassettes
The blank video tape market remains depressed, it’s been another
lacklustre year with sales down, prices static and a distinct lack of new
product, but, like the rest of the consumer electronic industry the feeling is
that there are better times are ahead.
The high stock levels of previous years are reported to be down and
there’s even talk of prices rising later in the year, if the recovery does
indeed show signs of getting underway. That means it’s still very much a
buyer’s market, blank tape has to be one of the bargains of the decade; there
can be few other mass-produced consumer products made to such incredibly high
standards, long-lasting and eminently re-cyclable.
So once again we come to the annual tape test and as usual we’re
concentrating on how well the stuff actually works. That may sound like a
fairly obvious thing to say but tape testing is a tricky business. At one end
of the scale there’s the wholly scientific approach, where a tape is analysed
down to the last molecule, but the results won’t necessarily tell you much
about actual picture quality. Then there’s the isolated one-off tests, the sort
of thing you see in Sunday supplements, and some other video magazines, who
have the disconcerting habit of changing the tests and the testers every time
they do it, so there’s no consistency and point of reference.
Then there’s the question of batch production. The quality of a given
tape or brand can be quite variable, indeed we’ve seen tapes made in the same
factory a few months apart that were as different as chalk and cheese, so
you’ve got to look at the big picture, as well as individual samples. We’ve
been doing just that for over ten years now, we have VHS test tapes that are
now over fourteen years old, as well as vast mounts of data to compares our
results with, so we’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s going on.
Tape performance is governed by a number of factors, but one of the
most important is noise, or the amount of unwanted information on the tape, in
relation to the audio and video signals.. Noise tells us a lot about the
efficiency of the tape’s magnetic coating and it just so happens that we’re
more conscious of noise than almost any other aberration. We’re also on the
look out for dropout, they’re the brief white flashes you see on the picture,
which are caused by minute imperfections in the magnetic coating, they’re a
good indicator of the care taken during manufacture, construction and quality
We use the same tests, and to some extent, the same equipment every
year and we’ve built up a large database of results, so we have an unmatched
ability to monitor trends, and weed out freak results. After condensing the
results we produce a set of easily digestible performance ratings that show how
well a tape has performed, but more importantly it reflects how well it has
performed in relation to literally hundreds of other blank tapes, past and
This year we’ve decided to drop the value for money rating, it’s been
nothing but trouble! All we have to go on are manufacturers recommended or
suggested retail prices -- when we can get hold of them -- which in our
experience bear little or no relationship to what you can expect to pay in the
real world. The picture is further complicated by promotions, multipacks, and
special deals, none of which we can safely take into consideration because of
their short-term nature. Where possible we’ve published manufacturers suggested
or recommended selling prices though take them with a big pinch of salt and
Once again we’re pleased to report that we’ve been unable to find any
dodgy camcorder cassettes. We still hear stories of counterfeit and bootleg
tapes from time to time but none have come our way, or been spotted by our
researchers in street markets and car-boot sales. As ever if you come across
any we’d be very interested to hear
from you. Talking of which, we still advise caution when buying tapes anywhere
other than pukka retail outlets. The tapes we’ve seen on market stalls usually
look okay, and have their original wrapping, but there’s no way of knowing how
they’ve been stored. Performance can suffer, and in extreme cases, damage can
even occur to both the tape and the camcorder if the tape has been kept in
excessively damp or humid conditions. Be aware that you could have difficulty
exchanging the goods, or getting your money back if they prove faulty. We
should also point out that a lot of blank tapes are stolen every year, or are
imported by dubious means and again you would have no redress if they turned
out to be ‘hooky’.
We kick off this month with VHS-C and 8mm camcorder tapes, next month
we’ll be looking at Hi8 and S-VHS-C cassettes, and in the October issue it’s
the turn of VHS and Super VHS formulations. Here’s what we found.
BASF EC30/45 Vision £4.49/£4.99
‘Vision’ packaging, though inside it’s branded High Grade. It has a distinctly Panasonic-ish look to it, and
performs accordingly with average to good noise and dropout; suitable for
EC30/45 Premium High Grade £5.49/£5.99
dropout and reasonable colour performance from what appears to be a JVC sourced
product. Improved shell design and new style library case (can be awkward to
open...). Worth considering for demanding applications.
EC30/45 HQ £2.99/£3.99
and dropout results, a dependable all-rounder that will suit most machines,
most of the time. Not quite up to serious mastering but we’d be happy to use it
for pretty well everything else.
EC30/45 SHG £3.59/£4.49
familiar tape, Fuji’s double-coated SHG just keeps on going. It’s a remarkably
consistent product and once again it’s up there with the best of them.
Recommended for all types of recording, from mastering down.
high-performance Magnetite formulation that’s been around for a couple of years
now, though now spooled inside a new shell with sliding anti-erasure tab and
smart new library case. Very similar results to last year with low dropout and
negligible noise. We’ve also noted a drop in the RRP, making it better value
than ever -- on paper -- a fine quality
general purpose tape.
and case, outstanding performance and
for the second year running this tape gets top marks for technical excellence.
Prices are down, so if you take your video movie-making seriously there’s no
longer any excuses not to use this excellent tape. Recommended.
EC-30 SHG £4.29
One of last
year’s also-rans but we have noted some improvement this time around with fewer
dropouts and slightly lower noise levels on what we’d guess is now a TDK based
product. Still room for improvement but now worth considering for routine
EC-30 SXF £4.99
from last year and it stacks up well against the other top performers in this
survey. A borderline master tape but definitely quite capable of holding its
own for everyday recordings
MAXELL EC-30 GX-BLACK
last year GX-Black has turned in another good set of results, consistent with
our previous findings, which is encouraging. Low noise and modest dropout, it’s
a tape we’d be happy to use for all but the most critical applications.
MAXELL EC-30 HGX-BLACK
second magnetite formulation which, like last year differs from GX-Black mainly
by having fewer dropouts. Another repeat performance and it’s on our shortlist
of tapes suitable for mastering.
EC-30 HIGH GRADE
from last year, despite the fact that Memorex have recently been taken over by
the Chinese company Henny Magnetic. Rumour has it we’ll be seeing some new
products soon. We certainly hope so this current HG tape is fairly ordinary.
consistent from year to year and always one of the top performers. Our 94
samples showed another small reduction in dropout. On the basis of this years
results we’d be happy to use it for mastering.
EC-30/45 XHQ £4.69/£5.99
obviously get their tape from the same Japanese factory as BASF as this is
virtually identical to their Premium High Grade formulation, down to the last
dropout and embossed batch number on the shell. The only difference is an older
style (easier to open) library case.
SCOTCH EC-30 EG+ £3.99
familiar face, almost certainly sourced from JVC, with all that implies in
terms of quality of manufacture and performance. Very dependable and usually
very good value, as always put it on your shortlist.
A new look
for TDK’s standard grade tape, which once again works better than many
high-grade formulations. Noise is back down to 92 levels, and the dropout count
well below average, an excellent all-rounder.
just keeps on improving and noise levels show a slight reduction on last years
excellent results. Performance now only a whisker behind JVCs’ PRO formulation,
though EHG is traditionally cheaper, the price difference may not be so large
anymore. If you can’t find the JVC tape this is our alternate VHS-C best buy.
BASF P5-60/90 MP VISION £4.49/£4.99
change for BASF this year as they consolidate their Vision range. This new MP
tape is actually made by them at their Manneheim plant in Germany, and very
good it is too, with minimal dropout and very low noise. Definitely worth
looking out for.
on Fuji’s 8mm tapes again this year,
just the same old boring high-quality tape that once again turns in
another better than average set of results. It’s on our shortlist once again, a
very safe, predictable performer.
this, a couple of dropouts, surely not? Last year’s SHG had one of the lowest
dropout counts of any tape we’d tested. Don’t worry, it’s still one of the best
tapes around, Fuji just have a lot to live up to. We would have no hesitation
using this tape for critical applications.
P5-90 SXF £7.99
another TDK sourced tape again this year, and the remarkably similar
performance results would tend to confirm that, mind you, there was a tad more
noise, but nothing to worry about. A good middle-ranking tape for everyday use.
favourite, and this year a very slightly lower dropout count, so it’s better
than ever. Not quite the best, but it’s very consistent and usually good value
different to VX-M this time; last year it had very low dropout, this year it’s
crept up very slightly, though it’s still well within the variance we expect to
see between batches. Noise levels remain low and we’d still be happy to use it
for most critical applications
MEMOREX P5-90 £7.99
look for what appears to be a very close relation of a Maxell tape. Definitely
an improvement over last year’s specimen, noise levels and dropouts are both
down to very respectable levels, putting this tape firmly in contention for
most routine applications.
from last year and it looks as though they’re staying with a Sony sourced
product, which explains the praiseworthy noise and dropout results.
packaging changes, and possibly a new supplier but quality and performance
remains unchanged with very low noise and dropout levels. dependable and consistent.
ever, and that’s how it should be, if Sony can’t make good 8mm tapes who can?
Without doubt one of the best MP tapes on the market, suitable for all
applications, including mastering.
tape is a hard act to follow and we were hard pressed to see any improvement in
their HG formulation which, needless to say is also excellent, with near zero
dropout and very little noise.
TDK P5-90 HS
A new look
for last year’s top 8mm performer, overall performance looks pretty much the
same this time but the very slightly lower dropout count on Sony’s 1994 samples
tipped the balance in their favour, still an excellent tape though and one we’d
happily use for any type of recording job.
packaging and a general facelift for TDK’s EHG tape, we noted a small reduction
in noise and dropout but it was a top performer to start with, which makes these
very small improvements hard to spot. Just a couple of dropouts separated this
tape from the Sony winner.
and 8mm blank tape market has been in the doldrums for the past couple of
years, and comparatively little has changed, apart from a few packaging
re-designs and some shifting of allegiances amongst the various brands. Once
again we’re happy to report that we haven’t come across any really naff tapes.
We have noticed a slight across the board reduction in the dropout count, it’s
probably nothing to get excited about though it may indicate a general
tightening up of quality control and/or fine-tuning of manufacturing processes
which is to be welcomed. It may also be a side effect of what appears to be a
consolidation in the number of actual manufacturers. It seems that fewer
companies are producing more brands of tape than in previous years, though its
not always easy to tell who makes what for whom. For example some companies spool
their own tape in other manufacturers shells, in any case it means there’s less
variation between the various brands, which is good news for the consumer.
we’ve reduced the relevance of retail
pricing in our deliberations it is still a factor. However, rather than look at
individual cases we have tried to consider general market trends, and here we
have observed a gradual levelling out of prices, with the dearer tapes becoming
progressively cheaper, in some instances falling in price by as much as fifty
So now we
come to the dreaded bottom line, and this year it’s the format pioneers who
take top honours, by the narrowest of margins. In the VHS-C category JVC’s PRO
formulation has always been the top performer but this year’s samples were
outstanding and now that it is in the same price bracket as most of the other
tapes it’s cheap enough to be used for both everyday recordings, and mastering.
TDKs EHG formulation is as good as ever, so we have no hesitation in awarding
it joint first place.
difference between the 8mm contenders is even harder to spot, and we have found
that 8mm camcorders are less fussy than their VHS-C counterparts, when it comes
to tape quality, however, in the end we decided that this year’s Sony MP
formulation gave the best all round performance, with TDK’s HS and Fuji’s SHG snapping very hard at its heels. Quite
frankly on another day, with tapes from a different batch the positions could
easily be reversed, it was that close.
R Maybury 1994 1005