VIDEO CAMERA 1994

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TAPE TEST 94

 

INTRO

Part two of our annual tape test takes us into high-band territory with this yearís crop of S-VHS-C and Hi8 blanks

 

COPY

If youíve got a Super VHS-C or Hi8 camcorder you will not need reminding that your choice of blank tape is limited. There are only a handful of tape manufacturing plants around the world equipped to produce these specialised products, and given the generally depressed state of the blank tape market, it seems unlikely that many more companies will be rushing to invest in expensive new facilities. The good news, though, is that high-band tape has been coming down in price, as demand has increased, to match the slow but steady growth in the high-band camcorder market.

 

So what makes S-VHS-C and Hi8 tape more expensive? The simple answer is the magnetic coating. It  has to store significantly more information than ordinary video tape, which means greater efficiency and higher all round manufacturing tolerances. There are a number of ways to achieve this; S-VHS-C and Hi8 MP tapes rely on smaller, consistently sized magnetic particles, packed closer together in more carefully formulated coatings or Ďbindersí. Metal evaporated or ĎMEí Hi8 tape uses even more elaborate production methods, to deposit a thin metallic layer -- just a few atoms thick -- onto the plastic base-film; this all takes place inside in an evacuated chamber at unbelievably high temperatures, we should be asking why ME tape is so cheap....

 

Originally Hi8 camcorders were designed to use ME tape but about five years ago Sony came up with a metal particle (MP) formulation that worked almost as well, noise levels were slightly higher but the results were perfectly acceptable, it was considerably cheaper, and at the time helped fill the shortfall in ME tape production. Other manufacturers have since followed suit and now almost half of the Hi8 tapes on the market are MP formulations. The most recent innovation has been pioneered by Fuji. Six months ago they launched ME Position, and sparked a minor controversy, though this turned out to be a failure by one section of the video press, to understand how the new tape worked. ME Position is a metal particle tape but the cassetteís ident holes are configured for metal particle tape, so as far as the camcorderís is concerned itís an ME tape and it adjusts its recording circuitry accordingly.

 

Apart from the new Fuji tape thereís a couple of other new arrivals, a few packaging changes here and there, and one or two minor alterations in marketing strategy but the actual product has changed little since last year. On a more general note we have detected a small reduction in the dropout rate on ME tapes, though it may just indicate a tightening up of quality control procedures, and improved storage, rather than any specific advances in tape technology.

 

As we mentioned earlier prices have continued to fall but weíve decided to drop the value for money rating as manufacturers suggested retail prices bear little resemblance to what you pay for blank tape in the real world. In its place thereís a Video Camera rating, which takes into account everything from performance to packaging. As in previous years weíve used the same set of test routines (see August issue) to assess performance, and compared the results with previous findings, so without more ado, letís see how this yearís S-VHS-C and Hi8 blanks fared.

 

S-VHS-C

 

BASF SE-C45

This is the first time weíve seen this tape, though itís by no means unfamiliar as there are unmistakable similarities between this and Maxell products. Some performance differences, though, and this tape was slightly noisier than Maxellís XR-S but otherwise a perfectly respectable set of results.  

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    8

 

FUJI SE-C30/45 PRO

Always reliable and consistently one of the best buys. This year is no exception with the same very low levels of dropout and noise  as our Ď93 samples. Definitely worth short-listing and itís normally very good value too.

 

Chroma noise              9

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    9

 

JVC SE-C30/45 XG

Same excellent tape but some packaging changes for 1994. Thereís a smart new library case and a sliding anti-erasure switch, similar to the one developed by Maxell. Outstanding noise figures and slightly fewer dropouts this time.  Recommended.

 

Chroma noise              10

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    9

 

KONICA SE-C30

No change at Konica with what looks like another TDK sourced product. Average to good performance and it may be worth shopping around for as prices are normally quite competitive.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    8

 

MAXELL SE-C30 XR-S

One of last yearís newcomers and the low noise figures confirm the success of their magnetite formulation. Fairly ordinary dropout this year, though. Full marks for the anti-erasure switch idea, which seems to be catching on.

 

Chroma noise              9

Dropout                        7

VC Rating                    8

 

PANASONIC SE-C30/45 XD

XD just keeps on going. Panasonic were the first to introduce a 45-minute tape, and that was about four years ago, since then not much appears to have changed, but thatís okay, it was a good tape then, and itís a good tape now.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    9

 

SCOTCH SE-C30/45

Clearly from the same stable as Fuji,  though judging by the slightly lower noise figure, not necessarily based on one of their double-coated tapes, nevertheless a good performer and

suitable for most recording jobs.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    8

 

TDK SE-C30/45 XP-PRO

Now that weíve eliminated price from the reckoning TDK are back in contention. Dropout is down on last year putting it ahead of JVC and Fuji by just a whisker making it this yearís best buy.

 

Chroma noise                9

Dropout                        10

VC Rating                    10

 

 

Hi8

 

BASF P5-90 MP

A distinct whiff of Sony about this metal particle tape. Dropout are few and far between but thereís no mistaking the slightly higher noise levels -- compared with ME tape -- evident in heavily saturated colours. Fine for everyday recording. 

 

Chroma noise              7

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    8

 

BASF E5-90 ME

It seems highly probably Sony are responsible for this one too. Dropout is down on last year but thereís been a slight increase in noise, though itís still well within tolerable limits and below most MP formulations.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    8

 

FUJI P5-90 Hi8 MP

Consistent as ever and still one of the best metal particle tapes, with noise levels approaching that of some ME tapes. We would be happy to use this tape in all but the most demanding situations, itís normally good value too.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    9

 

FUJI E5-90 ME POSITION

This yearís most interesting newcomer and the results have been generally encouraging. The first samples we tested late last year were outstanding, this time theyíre just very good, with noise levels comparable with some ME tapes and very few dropouts. We suspect you wouldnít spot any difference at all on some mid-market Hi8 camcorders, in which case it would represent a significant saving over ME tape. Try it.

 

Chroma noise              9

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    10

 

 

MAXELL P5-90 XR-M

Now into itís third year this is another consistent all-rounder, suitable for all types of routine recording. Average noise and dropout levels for a metal particle tape, very dependable and normally sensibly priced

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    8

 

MAXELL E5-90 XD-P

No noticeable change from 1993, so last yearís small but significant reduction in dropout has been maintained, bringing this tape up to the standards achieved by other brands. Not the best but a consistent and reliable product. 

 

Chroma noise              9

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    7

 

SCOTCH P5-90 MP

Another new face for 1994 but by the look of it, behind the label lurks one of Sonyís finest. A characteristically good performer with  low noise and very little dropout. As good an MP tape as youíll find.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    9

 

 

SONY P5-90 METAL-P

This tape made its first appearance last year and already it has established itself as the one to beat. Dropout is amongst the lowest of any tape in this survey and noise figures are as good as some ME products, another tape well worth trying if youíre machine isnít especially fussy. Recommended

 

Chroma noise              9

Dropout                        10

VC Rating                    10

 

SONY E5-90 METAL-E

Definitely the tape to use if youíve got a serious top-end camcorder, quality is a critical issue, and the machine is capable of squeezing those few extra percentage points of performance out of the tape. Quite simply this is the best domestic Hi8 ME tape weíve seen this year.

 

Chroma noise              10

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    10

 

TDK P5-90 HMP

Snazzy new packaging and apparently some performance tweaks though we must confess the test results looked pretty much the same as last year. Nothing wrong with that, though, itís one of the best MP tapes you can get, and look out for some special deals.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        8 

VC Rating                    9

 

TDK E5-90 HME

Another old favourite, despite the facelift. A past winner that was toppled last year by the old value for money rating. Now thatís gone itís back, and a very close runner up to Sony on performance grounds. Recommended.

 

Chroma noise              9

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    10

 

CONCLUSION

Itís getting harder to spot the differences between high-band tapes these days. Thatís partly to do with the small number of companies manufacturing the tapes, and the fact that thereís few performance gains left to be wrinkled out of the formats. We have also noticed that many of the most recent mid-market high-band camcorders are less fussy about tape formulation than their predecessors.

 

So we come to this yearís best buys. It was a very close run thing but this yearís top S-VHS-C tape is the TDK XP-PRO; it came out ahead on points by the merest whisker in front of the JVC XG and Fuji PRO. Itís close enough to say that if you have a choice between any of these tapes buy the one thatís cheapest.

 

As far as Hi8 tapes are concerned the award for technical merit goes once again to last yearís winner, Sony Metal E, but weíre aware that it can be somewhat pricey. TDKís HME is likely to be cheaper in the high street and itís the one weíd go for, unless we were using a semi-pro machine in a critical application, in which case we would stick with Sony. However, this yearís overall winner is Fujiís ME Position, which  sets the right balance between performance and price for todayís Hi8 machines

 

---end---

R. Maybury 1994 1506

 


 

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