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A formats war that promises to make the VHS Vs BETA battle look like a brief lover’s tiff may yet be averted. The formats concerned are the two rival digital video disc (DVD) systems, that we’re being threatened with next year. They’ve been developed by two multi-national manufacturing and entertainment groups; on one side there’s Philips and Sony with their MMCD (multi-media CD) system, on the other is the SD Alliance, headed by Toshiba and Time-Warner with the SD (super density) system. Last month, at the recent IFA consumer electronic show in Berlin the Philips-Sony consortium announced for the first time in public that they were having ‘discussions’ about standardisation with the SD Alliance.


The move was prompted by a press release, issued on August 14th, by the influential Computer Industry Technical Working Group, which repeated countless press commentaries and widespread feeling throughout the industry, pointing out the folly of developing two incompatible systems, that basically do the same job. This time it seems they’ve taken notice, though how far these discussions will go remains to be seen.


Philips in particular appear intractable, they’ve gone ahead and developed LSI (large scale integration) microchips for their systems, though their partners Sony, seem to be taking a more flexible approach and have not, as yet, committed themselves to costly chip production. This was clear from the technical presentations at the IFA show, with Philips demonstrating complete pre-production MMCD players. Sony on the other hand were clearly still at the prototype stage, with a player connected to a ‘breadboard’ processor module, the size of a couple of large suitcases.


Both machines performed well, though the key demonstration was the dual-layer disc technology developed by 3M/Scotch, where two recordings can be stacked on top of one another on the same disc; the laser pickup head can jump between the two layers by changing focus. The switch-over is seamless, with no visible disturbance on screen, making it possible to have continuous playback lasting up to 270 minutes. Dual layer discs also have a number of other applications, including two-format games, or a movie on one layer, with the soundtrack, or accompanying computer game on the other. MMCD discs will also have the capacity to handle 3-language stereo soundtracks and up to 32 subtitle tracks.


Meanwhile, the SD Alliance also made a series of announcements at the IFA. They remain bullish about the prospect of their system prevailing and repeated the assertion that they would launch a product by 1996, whatever the outcome of the discussions with the MMCD group. Time-Warner confirmed that at least 250 of their titles would be available from day-one, and that discs pressed for the US (NTSC) market would have Dolby AC-3 soundtracks. PAL standard disks would have an as yet unspecified MPEG soundtrack solution, which could include AC-3 formatted recordings or matrix surround. They also cleared up a few technical points; this included the proposition that all SD players would be able to replay up to six different types of multi-layer discs in the SD family, and that decks with recording facilities wouldn’t be a viable option for some time, not for any technical reasons, but due to the difficulties with copyright protection and spoiler systems, to prevent copying or ‘cloning’ digital material.


Both systems are now close to production and offer comparable near-broadcast quality pictures and multi-channel digital audio from a 12cm CD-sized disc. They both have sufficient capacity for two full-length movies; both systems promise backwards compatibility with audio-only CDs, and recording facilities at some unspecified point in the future. Over the past year or so they’ve drawn closer together, to the point where it would be difficult for most consumers to tell them apart. Clearly if it came to a head-to-head battle in the high street only one system will survive, probably the one with the best software support, though the buying public could just as easily give both of them the thumbs-down as without a recording facility neither of them offer any tangible benefit over and above what is already available from VHS. Will good sense prevail? Watch this space!




Panasonic are the latest manufacturer to introduce a camcorder with a built-in LCD monitor screen, and it was shown for the first time at the IFA show in Berlin. It’s the NV-V10, due to reach the UK in October, priced at £900. This smart-looking VHS-C machine has a similar layout to Sony’s VX-series models, with the screen mounted on the left side of the camera body. It folds out, to face the user, and can be flipped through 180 degrees, so that the subject can see themselves, whilst recording. The screen in question measures 4-inches across (diagonally) and has a 112k pixel display. A newly-developed silicate coating helps reduce reflections so playback can be viewed in daylight (it helps prevent a build-up of ugly-looking finger marks as well), the machine also has a conventional black and white viewfinder. The rest of the features include:


* 10x zoom/wide-angle lens

* 3-mode program AE (sports, portrait and twilight)

* power-saving anti ground-shooting mode

* 1.4 lux minimum sensitivity


Another camcorder making its European debut at the IFA show was the NV-S99, a Super VHS-C palmcorder with a colour LCD viewfinder. The S99 is based on the current S90 model, though there have been a number of changes, including new control layout and a 20x zoom/wide-angle lens. At the time of writing it was unclear whether or not this model would be sold in the UK, but it’s due to go on sale in Germany this month, priced at around £2,000.



Hitachi unveiled a new family of video cameras and recording systems at the IFA show in Berlin. The most unusual one is the Digital Palm-Size Video Camera. It looks like a sub-miniature version of their 8mm and Hi8 camcorders, but instead of tape it records up to 30 minutes of moving video on a 400 megabyte ‘flash’ memory. It’s not meant to compete with conventional tape-based recording systems, instead it’s targeted at computer-based multi-media and commercial applications, where shorter recording times and reduced image quality are not a problem,  it weighs just 350 grams.


The VM-H100L is a Hi8 combo with detachable camera module, which, like their ViewCam camcorder features an electronic stabiliser, and the camera section is waterproof to a depth of up to one metre. The deck portion, which can be slung over the user’s shoulder, or worn on a belt, consists of a Hi8 deck with a built-in 4-inch LCD colour monitor. The system can be used with an optional modem, to send and receive images over normal telephone lines.


Lastly there’s the VK-C32E, a palm-sized video camera . It’s also styled to look like a camcorder, but without a viewfinder. It’s powered by four alkaline batteries and the main features include auto iris and white balance and macro focusing down to 12cm. Applications include making video movies, when connected to a VCR, or for the growing number of multi-media applications.


The Digital Video Camera is still in prototype form, so we can’t even begin to guess the price or launch date. The memory module alone must cost a small fortune; based on the current price of mass-produced RAM memory that part alone would come to something like £12000, the flash memory used in this device is a lot dearer! The other two products are a lot closer, and we hope more affordable, but Hitachi are playing them close to their chest and won’t even speculate if we’ll ever see them in Europe or not, let alone how much they’ll cost, so you’ll just have to keep watching this space.



Hama, the German-based AV and cellphone accessories company were on home ground when they used the IFA show to launch a number of new products. Two of the most interesting ones are the Video Centre 320, and the Easy Cut edit controller. The 320 is based on the Videocut 22 edit controller, reviewed in the XXXX issue. In addition to the editing facilities it has a powerful set of AV processing functions, including a 3-channel stereo mixer, RGB colour adjustment, saturation, brightness, and contrast controls, plus a range of scroll, wipe, mix and fade transition effects. Like the 222 it also has a sophisticated titler, which can be used with an optional keyboard.  A formidable looking piece of post production equipment, it should be coming to the UK in the next couple of months; the projected selling price will be around £1000.


Easy Cut will be Hama’s entry-level edit controller. It’s a simple to use, no-nonsense 192-scene controller with additional video and audio functions. Easy Cut is actually part of a family of simple mixers and processors. All they’ll say at the moment though, is they they’ll be competitively priced, and available soon.



Ó R. Maybury 1995 2908









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