VIDEO CAMERA 1994

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1994 TAPE TESTS

 

PART 1 -- CAMCORDER TAPES

 

INTRO

Its tape test time once again and over the next three months well 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

 

COPY

The blank video tape market remains depressed, its 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 theres even talk of prices rising later in the year, if the recovery does indeed show signs of getting underway. That means its still very much a buyers 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 were 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 theres the wholly scientific approach, where a tape is analysed down to the last molecule, but the results wont necessarily tell you much about actual picture quality. Then theres 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 theres no consistency and point of reference.

 

Then theres the question of batch production. The quality of a given tape or brand can be quite variable, indeed weve seen tapes made in the same factory a few months apart that were as different as chalk and cheese, so youve got to look at the big picture, as well as individual samples. Weve 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 weve got a pretty good idea of whats 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 tapes magnetic coating and it just so happens that were more conscious of noise than almost any other aberration. Were also on the look out for dropout, theyre the brief white flashes you see on the picture, which are caused by minute imperfections in the magnetic coating, theyre a good indicator of the care taken during manufacture, construction and quality control.

 

We use the same tests, and to some extent, the same equipment every year and weve 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 present.

 

This year weve decided to drop the value for money rating, its 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 weve published manufacturers suggested or recommended selling prices though take them with a big pinch of salt and shop around.

 

Once again were pleased to report that weve 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 wed  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 weve seen on market stalls usually look okay, and have their original wrapping, but theres no way of knowing how theyve 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 well be looking at Hi8 and S-VHS-C cassettes, and in the October issue its the turn of VHS and Super VHS formulations. Heres what we found.

 

VHS-C

 

BASF  EC30/45 Vision 4.49/4.99

New Vision packaging, though inside its branded High Grade. It has a  distinctly Panasonic-ish look to it, and performs accordingly with average to good noise and dropout; suitable for everyday recording.

 

Chroma noise          7

Dropout                   8

 

BASF EC30/45 Premium High Grade 5.49/5.99

Very low 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.

 

Chroma noise          7

Dropout                   9

 

FUJI EC30/45 HQ 2.99/3.99

Good noise and dropout results, a dependable all-rounder that will suit most machines, most of the time. Not quite up to serious mastering but wed be happy to use it for pretty well everything else.

 

Chroma noise          7

Dropout                   8

 

FUJI EC30/45 SHG 3.59/4.49

A very familiar tape, Fujis double-coated SHG just keeps on going. Its a remarkably consistent product and once again its up there with the best of them. Recommended for all types of recording, from mastering down.

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   9

 

JVC EC30 EHG 2.49

A high-performance Magnetite formulation thats 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. Weve also noted a drop in the RRP, making it better value than ever -- on paper --  a fine quality general purpose tape.

 

Chroma noise          7

Dropout                   8

 

JVC EC-30 PRO 3.49

New shell 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 theres no longer any excuses not to use this excellent tape. Recommended.

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   9

 

 

KONICA EC-30 SHG 4.29

One of last years also-rans but we have noted some improvement this time around with fewer dropouts and slightly lower noise levels on what wed guess is now a TDK based product. Still room for improvement but now worth considering for routine recordings.

 

Chroma noise          6

Dropout                   7

 

KONICA EC-30 SXF 4.99

No change 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

 

Chroma noise           7

Dropout                    8

 

 

MAXELL  EC-30 GX-BLACK

Introduced 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, its a tape wed be happy to use for all but the most critical applications.

 

Chroma noise   8

Dropout            8

 

 

MAXELL  EC-30 HGX-BLACK

Maxells second magnetite formulation which, like last year differs from GX-Black mainly by having fewer dropouts. Another repeat performance and its on our shortlist of tapes suitable for mastering.

 

Chroma noise         8

Dropout                  9

 

MEMOREX EC-30 HIGH GRADE

No change from last year, despite the fact that Memorex have recently been taken over by the Chinese company Henny Magnetic. Rumour has it well be seeing some new products soon. We certainly hope so this current  HG tape is fairly ordinary.

 

Chroma noise         6

Dropout                  7

 

 

PANASONIC EC-30/45 HG

Remarkably 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 wed be happy to use it for mastering.

 

Chroma noise        8

Dropout                 9

 

 

POLAROID EC-30/45 XHQ 4.69/5.99

Polaroid 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.

 

Chroma noise          7

Dropout                   9

 

 

SCOTCH  EC-30 EG+ 3.99

Another 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.

 

Chroma noise            8

Dropout                     8

 

 

TDK EC-30/45 HS

A new look for TDKs 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.

 

Chroma noise         8

Dropout                  8

 

 

TDK EC-30/45 EHG

This tape 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 cant find the JVC tape this is our alternate VHS-C best buy.

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   9

 

 

8mm

 

BASF  P5-60/90 MP VISION 4.49/4.99

A big 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.

 

Chroma noise           7

Dropout                    8

 

FUJI P5-90 MP  4.99

No change on Fujis 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. Its on our shortlist once again, a very safe, predictable performer.

 

Chroma noise        8

Dropout                 8

 

 

FUJI P5-90 SHG 6.99

Whats this, a couple of dropouts, surely not? Last years SHG had one of the lowest dropout counts of any tape wed tested. Dont worry, its 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.

 

Chroma noise        8

Dropout                 9

 

 

KONICA P5-90 SXF 7.99

Looks like 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.

 

Chroma noise          7

Dropout                   8

 

 

MAXELL P5-90 VX-M

A perennial favourite, and this year a very slightly lower dropout count, so its better than ever. Not quite the best, but its very consistent and usually good value for money.

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   8

 

 

MAXELL P5-110 HGX-M

Not vastly different to VX-M this time; last year it had very low dropout, this year its crept up very slightly, though its still well within the variance we expect to see between batches. Noise levels remain low and wed still be happy to use it for most critical applications

 

Chroma noise             8

Dropout                      8

 

 

MEMOREX  P5-90 7.99

Smart new look for what appears to be a very close relation of a Maxell tape. Definitely an improvement over last years specimen, noise levels and dropouts are both down to very respectable levels, putting this tape firmly in contention for most routine applications.

 

Chroma noise            8

Dropout                     8

 

 

POLAROID P5-90 6.99

No change from last year and it looks as though theyre staying with a Sony sourced product, which explains the praiseworthy noise and dropout  results.

 

Chroma noise           8

Dropout                    8

 

 

SCOTCH P5-90 8.99

Some packaging changes, and possibly a new supplier but quality and performance remains unchanged with very low noise and dropout levels.  dependable and consistent.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        8

 

SONY P5-90MP 7.99

Reliable as ever, and thats how it should be, if Sony cant make good 8mm tapes who can? Without doubt one of the best MP tapes on the market, suitable for all applications, including mastering.

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   9

 

 

SONY P5-90 HG 8.99

Sonys MP 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.

 

Chroma noise         8

Dropout                  9

 

 

TDK  P5-90 HS

A new look for last years top 8mm performer, overall performance looks pretty much the same this time but the very slightly lower dropout count on Sonys 1994 samples tipped the balance in their favour, still an excellent tape though and one wed happily use for any type of recording job.

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   8

 

TDK P590 EHG N/A

New packaging and a general facelift for TDKs 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.

 

Chroma noise          8

Dropout                   9

 

 

THE VERDICT

The VHS-C 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 were happy to report that we havent come across any really naff tapes. We have noticed a slight across the board reduction in the dropout count, its 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 theres less variation between the various brands, which is good news for the consumer.

 

Although weve 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 percent.

 

So now we come to the dreaded bottom line, and this year its the format pioneers who take top honours, by the narrowest of margins. In the VHS-C category JVCs PRO formulation has always been the top performer but this years samples were outstanding and now that it is in the same price bracket as most of the other tapes its 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.

 

The 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 years Sony MP formulation gave the best all round performance, with TDKs HS and Fujis  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.

 

---end---

R Maybury 1994 1005

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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