VIDEO CAMERA 1994

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TAPE TEST 94 -- PART 3

 

VHS & S-VHS HIGH GRADES

 

INTRO

The third and final instalment in this year’s blank video tape survey concentrates on high grade VHS and Super VHS formulations

 

COPY

If standard grade VHS tape is so good, why on earth would anyone want to spend more money on higher-grade tape? Good question, the fact is decent quality SG tapes, costing an average of £2.50, are more than adequate for 95% of home video applications, like time-shifting and archiving, but what about the other 5%?  The situations when high-grade tape can make a visible or audible difference to recording quality include older VCRs with stereo hi-fi recording systems, some machines working in the LP recording mode, and movie-making, which is where we come in.

 

Firstly it makes sense to use the best tape possible when shooting video. Obviously in this instance we’re addressing owners of full-size VHS and S-VHS camcorders but it’s good advice, whatever sort of camcorder you’re using. Every shot is a unique and unrepeatable slice of time, if you want to get metaphysical about it, so you might as well shoot it to its best advantage. However, for most video movie-makers VHS tape quality only becomes an issue when copying or editing recordings from a camcorder to a VCR.

 

The plain fact is, copying video recordings on domestic equipment leads to a noticeable reduction in picture quality. The rots sets in on the second generation, with a loss of detail and an increase in noise, third generation recordings look even worse, with weak colours and an increasingly fuzzy appearance, and by the fourth generation colour has usually disappeared and the picture becomes unstable.

 

It’s impossible to prevent picture degradation this side of digital VCR technology but the effects can be minimised, using high grade tape. HG tape has finer, more consistent magnetic particles and fewer imperfections. That means more information ends up on the tape and less gets lost in the noise, generated by the tape and the recording equipment. However, it’s not quite as simple as that; improvements in standard grade tape has blurred the divisions between various types of tape, not that they were very clear to begin with. There is no officially sanctioned tape grading system for VHS, just the basic JVC specification. Providing tape stays within the format parameters manufacturers are free to fiddle around with formulations to their heart’s content and, unfortunately, call their tape anything they like. That has left the door open for all kinds of abuses, including rubbish tapes made heaven knows where,  with ‘high grade’ stamped all over the sleeve. Oddly enough that hasn’t been a problem with camcorder tapes but when it comes to VHS we strongly advise you not to buy any tape with an unfamiliar sounding name from anyone other than a reputable dealer, better still, stick with the top brands and you won’t go far wrong. If you’ve got a Super VHS camcorder or VCR you’re fairly safe, we haven’t come across any dodgy tapes, yet.

  

Out tests follow the same pattern used for camcorder tapes (see August issue), and there’s the same disclaimers, about video tape being produced in batches, so long-term consistency is just as important as the performance of individual samples. As in the two previous surveys we’ve dropped the value for money rating, it’s even more meaningless in this case. Instead you’ll find a catch-all Video Camera rating which covers everything from quality of manufacture to the type of packaging. Don’t laugh, this has an indirect bearing on VCR performance; some companies are still packing their tapes, assembled in conditions of absolute cleanliness, in dusty unsealed cardboard sleeves. Debris from the sleeves goes on to the tape and that ends up inside the machine, clogging heads and mechanisms.

 

So settle back, it’s time for the 1994 Video Camera blank tape survey.

 

VHS HIGH GRADES

 

BASF VISION PREMIUM HIGH GRADE

New packaging but what appears to be the same chrome tape inside as last year. BASF are being a bit naughty putting ‘NICAM Digital Stereo’ on the sleeve, there’s only the most tenuous of links between tape formulation and TV sound transmission systems. Nevertheless it’s still a good tape, hardly any dropout this time and very low noise. Fine for copying, editing and LP recording.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    8

 

 

BASF HI-FI PROFESSIONAL

No change from last year, Hi-Fi Professional continues to be a very competent tape, famous for it’s sliding green anti-erasure tab. Performance is average to good, but not significantly better than Premium HG to make us want to pay any more for it.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    8

 

DEFINITION SEG

Definitely one to avoid, we purchased this for £1.25 from a South London TV repair shop. It’s labelled ‘Super Extra Grade’ and the sleeve is covered with technical-looking graphs (though someone forgot to fill them in) and suspicious English. The tape is indifferent quality, but we’re more concerned by the greasy marks on the outside, and debris clearly visible inside our samples. Don’t waste your money or risk your equipment.

 

Chroma noise              6

Dropout                        5

VC Rating                    1

 

 

FUJI SUPER HG

Fuji clearly believe in the old adage ‘if it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it’, Super HG has been a perennial favourite, very low dropout and excellent noise figures, so why change? Once again we’re happy to recommend it for all applications, up to and including routine mastering.

 

Chroma noise              9

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    8

 

 

FUJI SUPER XG PRO

Last year this tape returned the lowest dropout figures of any tape we’ve seen; not quite a repeat performance this time, but almost. Definitely a candidate for serious master recording on full-size VHS machines, and the hard library case is a worthwhile bonus.

 

Chroma noise              9

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    9

 

KASHIWA HI-FI STEREO

A boot-sale bargain at only £1.99, and claiming to be made in the UK, but with a name like that? They guarantee against faulty workmanship or materials, but give no address to return it to, which we would have done because it was rubbish! Lots of dropout, covered in dust and remnants of sticky labels. Best avoided.

 

Chroma noise              5

Dropout                        5

VC Rating                    1         

 

 

JVC EHG

A highly dependable magnetite formulation, very low noise but only average dropout, not quite up to mastering but fine for just about everything else, including copying, editing and LP recording, where low noise levels are especially important.

 

Chroma noise              9

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    8

 

JVC PRO AV MASTER

The same outstanding formulation as their top-rated camcorder tape, or is it the other way around? Near zero dropout, very low noise and a handy library case, what more could you ask for? Recommended for mastering and all critical applications.

 

Chroma noise              9         

Dropout                        10

VC Rating                    9

 

 

KONICA SUPER HG

Konica appear to have dropped their XF formulation but Super XG continues unchanged, apart from a small reduction in dropout, compared with previous years; still not quite up to mastering but okay for copying.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        7

VC Rating                    8

 

 

MAXELL GX

A dependable middle-ranking performer with consistently low noise and dropout, making it suitable for most routine movie-making applications, including editing and copying.

 

Chroma noise              8                     

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    8

 

MAXELL HGX

Slightly fewer dropouts than GX but otherwise very similar characteristics, quite honestly if it came to a choice between these two we’d be happy to save a few  bob and stay with GX.

 

Chroma noise              8                     

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    8

 

 

NOVAREC HQ

This one isn’t specifically billed as a high grade tape but the man who sold it to our researcher (only £1.99 each or 3 for £5.00 in a Cardigan street market), said they were ‘surplus extra high grade tapes the big companies couldn’t shift’... No wonder, it was riddled with dropout and noise, we wouldn’t even bother using it for timeshifting...

 

Chroma noise              5

Dropout                        4

VC Rating                    2

 

 

PANASONIC HG

Based on a ‘newly developed’ magnetic particle (it might have been back in 1991 when it was first introduced), Panasonic’s HG tape continues to produce a quite healthy set of results. Noise levels are a little lower than average, so is dropout, and it would be high on our list for routine editing and copying

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    8

 

 

PANASONIC HI-FI

As in previous years we couldn’t see, hear or measure any significant differences between Panasonic’s HG and Hi-Fi grade formulations, apart from the price, so take your pick.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    8

 

POLAROID  XHQ

Polaroid have stuck with these Korean sourced tapes for another year, and why not, it’s proved to be very consistent. Noise and dropout results are both good, making it suitable for most jobs, from LP watch and wipe up to editing.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    8

 

SCOTCH EXG+

This has to be one of the longest-running formulations on the market, and apart from a packaging change in 1991 has produced more or less the same results for the past five years. It’s not going to break any performance records but it is very reliable and fine for most non-critical applications.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    9

 

 

SONY PRO-X

We’ve experienced some minor quality control problems with Sony tapes in past years but they seem to have sorted it out on this year’s samples. Near zero dropout and negligible noise means Pro-X would definitely qualify as a high-performance master tape

 

Chroma noise              9                     

Dropout                        9         

VC Rating                    9

 

 

TDK E-HG

Smart new packaging, slightly lower noise levels than last year and the same low dropout puts this tape up with the leaders. Suitable for most applications, it might even be worth thinking about for routine mastering.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    9

 

 

SUPER VHS

                       

BASF SUPER VHS

Green video cassette? BASF have given us samples of their German S-VHS tape. The packaging is 100% recyclable, no plastic, all paper and cardboard, with the outer protective cover doubling up as the label sheet. They tell us they’re thinking about bringing it into the UK, we hope they do. Meanwhile, the cassette inside is the same as the one sold over here in conventional card and plastic packaging; results are unchanged from last year, and as ever well worth considering for everyday use.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        7

VC Rating                    8

 

 

FUJI SUPER VHS PRO

Another old stager,  Fuji’s double coating technology has proved itself over the years and is as reliable as ever. Low noise levels and very little dropout, not quite the best but it comes close.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        7

VC Rating                    8

 

 

JVC XG

The small improvement we noticed last year seems to have been repeated with near zero dropout. Combine that with some of the lowest noise levels we’ve seen and you have this year’s top S-VHS tape!

 

Chroma noise              9

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    10

 

 

JVC SUPER XZ

This has been the ultimate S-VHS tape for as long as we can remember, but this year we have to say there’s something better --  JVC’s XG. Super XZ is as good as it’s ever been, but XG works out slightly cheaper, and the results are now almost indistinguishable, mind you, you do get a hard library case with this tape.

 

Chroma noise              9

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    9

 

KONICA S-VHS

Last year we rated this tape as only average; this time both noise and dropout are well down and we’d be more than happy to use it for routine mastering, the only thing to watch out for is the price.

 

Chroma noise              8                     

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    8

 

 

MAXELL XR-S

Noise is down, dropouts are down and now it is definitely worth considering as a ‘master’ grade tape, and what’s more it’s usually good value. Recommended.

           

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    9

 

PANASONIC XD

Another fine set of results, more or less the same as ‘93 in fact, though we’re glad to say there’s no sign of the quality control problems that marred last years sample. A good all-rounder but still a dropout or two too many for critical mastering.

           

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        7

VC Rating                    7

 

 

SONY VXSE

Outstanding! Near zero dropout and noise levels that are well below average. A high performance tape that we’d be happy to use for anything, from mastering downwards

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    9

 

 

TDK XP

An old favourite but with snazzy new packaging for 1994. We’re pleased to see it’s back on top form after last year’s uncharacteristic increase in dropout, it’s down again, almost to zero, putting it back in up in top three again

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        8

VC Rating                    8

 

TDK XP-PRO

Some slight packaging changes but the tape inside is as good as it’s ever been with near zero dropout. Noise levels are very low, making this an ideal candidate for critical mastering and all other applications where quality is paramount.

 

Chroma noise              8

Dropout                        9

VC Rating                    9

 

SUMMARY

No dramatic developments this year, one or two comings and goings but the video tape market appears to be in a period of relative calm. We haven’t spotted any major trends, though we have noticed that it is becoming harder to tell middle-market HG and S-VHS tapes apart from one another. Fortunately one or two still manage to stand apart from the crowd and this year top honours go to JVC Pro AV Master; behind it, by a whisker are Fuji’s Super XG and Sony Pro X. Very honourable mentions go to Fuji HG and TDK EHG.

 

Once again JVC come out on top of the pile in the S-VHS category with their XG formulation, now almost indistinguishable from the excellent XZ, which usually wins but costs slightly more. Sony’s VXSE came a very close second and JVC should be watching their backs because if it continues to improve it might well topple them next year, and that would be embarrassing. They should also keep an eye TDK who as ever produce some of the best high-performance tape there is, and this year’s XP-PRO is looking increasingly like a potential best of breed.

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1307

 


 

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