VIDEO CAMERA 1995

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MINITESTS

 

BASIC ENTITLEMENT

Title generators are becoming increasingly sophisticated, which is good, but it’s getting to the point where you can spend more time creating titles, than making the recording in the first place, and still end up with something that looks like a dog’s dinner! There’s no chance of that with the Panasonic VW-VT1 title superimposer. It’s back to basics with a vengence, a simple, no-nonsense titler that’s not going to burn a hole in your pocket either. The price is just £133, which is not a bad deal considering it’s S-Video compatible as well. The titler is easy to set up and use, it connects between the camcorder and VCR when copying or editing, superimposing the titles on the recorded video.

 

The VT1 can create up to 6 pages using a single typeface. It’s a little blocky but it looks clean and is easy to read. There’s a choice of four character sizes, giving four display layouts of 24 characters on 12 lines, 14 characters on 6 lines, 9 charcters on 4 lines, and 7 characters on 3 lines. The international character set contains letters and symbols for German, French, Spanish and Italian, as well as English, though there’s no pound sign. There’s a choice of 8 character colours (white, yellow, magenta, red, black, blue, green and cyan) and an outline option; you can’t mix sizes, or colours on a page. It has only three transition effects, on/off superimpose, and scroll page up or down.

 

The titler has just two modes, edit and record; in the edit mode all character positions are shown, with the current position shown by a flashing cursor, this can be moved anywhere on the display field by four direction buttons. In the record mode the blank spaces dissappear, ready for the title to be cued. It’s basic and very easy to use; you can create quite decent-looking titles in just a couple of minutes. If that’s all you want -- and there’s nothing wrong with keeping titles simple and to the point -- then the VT1 has a lot going for it.

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model        Panasonic VW-VT1 Title Superimposer

Guide Price         £133

Features              6-pages, 4-character sizes, 8 display colours, up/down scroll, European character set, S-VHS compatible

Layout      24 characters x 12-lines/14 x 6/9 x 4/7x 3

Sockets                composite video in/out (phono) S-Video in/out (mini DIN) DC power

Power supply        8 volts DC

Accessories          mains adaptor, hard carry case

Dimensions         75 x 51 x 43mm

Distributor         PANASONIC UK LTD., Panasonic House, Willoughby Road, Bracknell, Berkshire RG12 4PF. Telephone (0344) 862444

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING 9

Simple and effective

 

SUPPORTING ROLE

Vanguard tripods have always come out fairly well in our tests but so far they’ve been fairly routine, middle of the road designs. The VT-432 could have ended up the same way, and we probably wouldn’t have even noticed it, but for a few extra little touches that set it apart from the crowd.

 

The price caught our eye straight away, it costs just under £40, which isn’t a lot for a tripod as well specified as this one appears to be. Fully extended it reaches 1.53 metres (5 feet), and it collapses to a modest 625mm or 2 feet. Tripods can be tricky customers to carry around, not so the 432 which has a combined carry strap and leg tie, that stops it opening up and behaving like a demented octopus. The legs are three-section telescopic with positive-locking clamps. At the base of each leg there’s an adjustable shoe which retracts to expose a spike, it’s rounded so it won’t scratch floors or soft surfaces. It’s a fairly lightweight design, and that usually means rickety, but it has a central leg brace that locks into position and prevents the legs from flexing too much. The central column moves smoothly up and down using a fold-away crank handle mounted on the ‘canopy’, the friction can be regulated by tightening or loosening the outer collar. A bubble level, mounted next to the crank handle, shows when the tripod is standing upright.

 

The pan-tilt head has a smooth action, Vanguard call it ‘fluid motion’ we wouldn’t go quite that far, but there’s no play or rough spots. Unusually the pan handle is mounted on the left side of the main bearing, it’s an odd shape too, though we don’t hold that against it. The mounting plate is hinged and moves through 90 degrees, (often a sign of a tripod’s photographic origins), the plate is detachable and can be reversed. Despite its spindly appearance it is a surprisingly rigid structure, even at full stretch, and it comfortably supported a 3kg load without any obvious discomfort.

 

We rarely get excited by tripods, which is just as well as there’s probably more of them than any other video accessory; the truth is there’s little to choose between the vast majority of them. The 432 is sufficiently different, though; it is light, well made and comfortable to use. It’s realistically priced, folds down to manageable proportions yet is tall enough to make itself useful, in fact if you’re in the market for a general purpose tripod we reckon this one has what it takes to merit your attention.

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/Model:                Vanguard  VT-432

Guide price:                 £40

Features:                     carry strap, quick-release mount, bubble level, leg brace, adjustable leg spikes

Max height:                 1530mm

Min height:                  625mm

Weight:                        1.75kg

Distributor:                   GUARDFORCE UK Unit 13 Thame business Centre, Wenman Road, Thame, Oxon OX9 3XA Telephone (0844) 213667

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   9

Well worth considering

 

RUBBER DRUBBER

This seems like a good idea, soft rubber pads that you attach to the underside of AV equipment. Vibration can do all kinds of nasty things to devices with electromechanical components, like CD players, turntables, cassette decks and VCRs. Spectra Dynamics, the company who make Foculpods (be careful how you say it...) even suggest they’re used on speakers, though current thinking is divided on that one; some say vibration from speakers should be encouraged to rattle the floorboards. Anyway, vibration is certainly bad for VCRs, and these soft squidgy pads do a good job of isolating the equipment from whatever it’s standing on, but there’s a problem, well, two problems.

 

The first one is the price, at £20 for four, (that’s a fiver each!) someone has to be pulling our peckers. There’s a long tradition of kidding hi-fi buffs into paying through the nose for suspect sound-improving gimmicks but please, not on video, we’ve enough nonsense to put up with already from gadget-mad manufacturers. Second, this low resilience polymer stuff they’re made from feels sticky, suspiciously like the goop they make those pocket-sized squishy monsters from, and they only cost about fifty pence each. Now there’s an idea.... Not only are they sticky, Spectra have the nerve to warn users that the pods may damage some surfaces, like polished hi-fi cabinets presumably. Being sticky they also attract dust at a rate of knots and become encrusted in a very short time. Nice try guys...

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model        Spectra Dynamics Foculpods

Guide Price         £20 for four

What are they?   Vibration absorbing supports

Eh, come again?  Low resilience polymer nodules with exceptional shock absorbing properties

But why?               To provide even contact and energy distribution             

Dimensions          It varies, but they were designed using computer modelling techniques...

Appearance        Sticky and rubbery                       

Distributor          Spectra Dynamics Ltd., Talargoch Trading Estate, Meliden Road, Dyserth Clwyd LL18 6DD. (01745) 571600

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   3

Sticky rubber lovers only

 

PLUS POINTS

In less than four years Video Plus+, the near idiot-proof VCR timer programming system, has become established as a world standard, it’s built in to most VCRs nowadays. Even if your VCR doesn’t have Video Plus+ you can still use the system, with a Video Plus+ handset costing around £50, but now there’s a Mark II version, called Control Plus+, which goes on sale this month for £60. It’s a completely new design, starting with the shape, it’s basically a cylinder, with a portion cut away for the keyboard and display; this means it can be stood up on its end, which is quite handy. Unlike its predecessor it is a true multi-function design, able to control a TV, satellite or cable box and one auxillary device -- another TV, VCR or cable box. The Video Plus+ timer can store up to 12-events and it has daily or weekly settings, Video Plus+ programming operates on satellite channels and fastext functions for the TV. However, the feature that caught our attention was CallSet, a facility to program the handset over the phone. If the codes in the book don’t work simply call a number in the instruction book, tell the operator the make and model numbers of the equipment you want to control; a while later they call back, ask you to place a microphone built into the base of the Control Plus+ handset next to the earpiece on the phone, they then send a blast of digital data down the phone to the handset, programming it with the relevent control codes. At least that’s the theory.

 

We followed the setup instructions to the letter, using the codes and alternates in the book, but it refused to work with either the TV (a Nokia model), or the satellite receiver (Maspro ST8) in our notional review system. This seemed like an ideal opportunity to put CallSet to the test. We phoned the number in the instruction book at 11.32 am on a Wednesday morning and judging by the operators surprise we suspect they’d not had many CallSet enquiries (this was in mid October, just a few weeks after the handset was due to have gone on sale). The operator took down our details and promised to call back shortly, ‘later this moning’, she said.

 

Two days later we had still heard nothing, so we called them again, this time at 10.00am, to get in before the rush... After two minutes the phone had not been answered so we hung up; the book claims the CallSet service operates from 9.00am to 6.00pm weekdays (Saturday 9.30 to 5.00pm). We tried again half an hour later, still no answer, it was the same story at 11.00. At midday the number was engaged but at 12.15 it was ringing again but still not being answered. There was no reply at 1.00 or at 2.00, at which point we gave up for the day.  At 10.00 the next day the phone was finally answered, we asked. ‘is this CallSet’? ‘It can be’, replied a rather bored voice; we were given no explanation as to why the phones were not being answered the previous day. After repeating our details the operator told us that Gemstar were in the process of obtaining codes for our TV and satellite receiver, but it could take up to a week, they would call us when they arrived. A week later and guess what? Nothing. As we go to press we’re still waiting.

 

Fortunately we were able to assess the handset’s VideoPlus+ capabilities, and yes, it works well. Once programmed wi tht erelevant Plus Code the handset can be left almost anywhere within five or six metres of the VCR, to automatically switch it on, select the correct channel, an set it to record for the duration of the programme. The upright shape and 360-degree IR radiation pattern means it doesn’t have to have an absolutely clear line of sight to the video recorder in order to work it. Control Plus+ seems like it could be quite a handy gadget for those who have older VCRs, and maybe several other items of AV equipment to control but only for those fortunate enough to have equipment covered by the built-in code library. It’s let down by the CallSet service; we’ll be charitable and assume they’re experiencing teething troubles but really this should have been up and running before handsets went on sale, and their endeavours to locate unlisted codes have not impressed us at all.

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model                   Control Plus+

Guide Price                     £60

Features                          multi-function remote control with Video Plus+ programming, built-in clock calendar, 12-event

Control functions      TV, VCR, satellite/cable, auxillary

Range                          6 metres

Dimensions                     180 x 58mm               

Distributor                       ACOMEX LTD., 7 Cinnamon Row, Plantation Wharf, London SW11 3TN. Telephone 071- 924 6666

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   8

Let’s just hope the CallSet service improves...

 

SOFT CEL

Celtel are being a little overzealous with the snappy buzz-words when describing their universal nicad charger/discharger; terms like ‘fuzzy’ and ‘microprocessor’ are bandied on the box and shipping carton but we could find scant evidence of either technology. Nevertheless it is still an interesting and unusual product, and a welcome change from the run of the mill charger/dischargers we’re used to.

 

Judging by the packaging it was originally designed with mobile phone users in mind, but as it uses an interchangable adaptor plate, to accomodate various different types and styles of nicad packs, the manufacturers obviously decided there was scope for a camcorder version. Adaptor plates are available to fit most popular camcorder packs, including the older 7.2 and 9.6 volt types as well. However, the most unusual feature is the large LCD panel on the front of the unit, not only does it show what the unit is up to, it gives a constant readout of charge conditions and it will also show if the battery is past help. The suggested price is £60, it comes with an adaptor plate of your choice, extra ones cost £10.

 

As soon as a battery is clipped on the display shows battery voltage, you then have 10 seconds to manually select an operating mode, if not it will start charging automatically. Pressing the function button once selects the discharge mode, twice puts it into automatic where it goes through a complete discharge/charge cycle, holding it down for more than two seconds shows the state of the battery and whether or not it will hold a full charge. When charging or discharging is in progress the display alternates between battery voltage and charge current. Two charge speeds are available: normal, which delivers a maxium charge current of 340mA; and fast, which raises the charge current to 1 amp. All thing being equal a standard 6volt 1Ah pack charges in around an hour at the fast rate, and just under 3-hours at the normal rate.

 

The accuracy of the readout, and the opertation of the so-called ‘retrieve mode’ which is supposed to show the battery’s condition, are open to question. The brief instructions aren’t particularly helpful on this last point, the diagrams mostly show the same thing and are ambiguous. The voltage discrepancy is only around 0.2 volts, which isn’t serious, but we can’t figure out what the current reading relates to, it certainly bears little relationship to the actual current flowing into the battery; they call it accumulating current capacity, we’ll just have to take their word for it, it looks good anyway...

 

The instructions suggest battery packs are charged and disharged on a weekly basic, to eliminate memory effects, we suspect this refers to mobile phone batteries which are in daily use, it would be rather harsh treatment for a camcorder battery. However, the charger/discharger works well enough, and even our most tired packs gained a temporary second wind after a couple of charge/discharge cycles. The LCD display looks impressive, though the calibration is suspect, moreover it’s meaning and use are not explained, so it’s of little practical value. Even so, it’s sufficiently different to warrant a second look, but only if you’re prepared to pay for the priviledge of being different, there are plenty of cheaper charger/dischargers around.

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model        Celtel Fuzzy Multi-Function Charger/Discharger

Guide Price         £60

Fitting                   most types available, inc mobile phones

Battery types      6, 7.2 and 9.6 volt

Charge current    340mA/1A

Features              charge/discharge cycle, LCD readout (displays mode, charge current, charge state, battery status

Power supply      mains adaptor and car cord supplied         

Distributor          CELTEL LTD, PO Box 135, Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG25 2HZ

Telephone (0256) 474900

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   8

Trendy teccies will love it...

 

 

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Ó R.Maybury 1994 2610

 


 

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