TEST -- PART 1
camcorder or VCR is only as good as the tape it uses. Video Camera’s annual
tape survey looks at what’s available; this month we begin with high and
low-band VHS-C and 8mm camcorder tapes
past couple of years our annual blank tape surveys have begun on a rather
downbeat note, largely as a result of falling sales, and added difficulties for
manufacturers including shrinking profit margins and plant closures. This year
we’re a little more optimistic, not much, but the signs are the worst may now
be over. Sales are picking up, albeit only slightly, and although there’s been
very few new products, there’s a lot of bright new packaging around. Oh well,
every little helps...
holding at 93-94 levels; last year we said that considering the amount of
technology involved in their production, blank tapes were a bargain. They’re
even better value now, especially if you buy multi-packs and keep a look out
for promo deals. There’s going to be quite a few to choose from in the run-up
to Christmas, one of the blank tape industry’s peak buying periods.
news. Despite our usual trawl through street markets, car boot sales and the
less scrupulous end of the video trade we’ve failed once again to find any iffy
camcorder tapes. We spotted a few soggy C-cassettes on one market stall in
South London but anyone buying tape in that condition will need their heads
examining, all of them, including the ones in the camcorders...
the annual tape survey is in two parts. Part one covers all of the camcorder
formats, including high-band variants, part two next month deals with full size
VHS high-grades and S-VHS formulations. Next year we’ve got DVC tapes pencilled
in for examination but until then, without further ado, here’s this year’s
busily re-organising their camcorder tapes and the line up is due to change
soon. HG appears to have replaced Vision as their baseline formulation. It’s
good, respectable noise and dropout results, fine for everyday recording.
improvement in the dropout count, compared with HG, though the noise is around
the same. The low dropout makes this worth considering for copying or editing,
though maybe a tad whiskery for mastering
A new look
for Fuji’s standard grade tape, though we haven’t detected an significant
change in performance. It’s still a good general-purpose tape with average to
good noise and dropout, and it’s normally good value for money too. Fine for
everything short of mastering.
dependable performer, and they’ve changed the packaging. Fuji’s double coating
technology has delivered consistently good results for at least the past five
years. We’re always happy to use this tape for any recording job, including
demanding applications such as critical mastering.
friend, with near identical performance to last year (and the year before), in
fact we suspect they’re still working their way through old stocks, judging by
the ‘Official World Cup Sponsor 1994’ logo on the packaging. Useful sliding
anti-erasure tab, below average noise and dropout, always worth considering.
best high-end C-cassette, and the one we’d use for demanding one-off
applications, where the cost isn’t a factor, but performance is. You might have
to hunt this one down, though as they’re mainly distributed through specialist
its third year, GX Black has been very consistent from the beginning, dropout
is still quite average but noise is very low. A useful tape for day-to-day
recordings, the sliding erasure tab is a good idea and it can be very good
value, so shop around.
lower noise than the GX formulation but dropout is improved dramatically,
making this tape well worth shortlisting for important or one-off recordings,
and master tapes that will require editing.
detectable change from last year when we noticed a small improvement in dropout
on the previous sample. As ever a very dependable product, and good enough for
appear to be still sourcing their C-cassettes from JVC, though the tape and
shell are not the latest formulations or designs. Nevertheless it did well with
very low dropout on this year’s sample but only average noise levels.
on TDK’s C-cassettes. HS is still one of our favourites and the 1995 samples
have maintained the improvements we noticed last year in the reduced noise
winner, and we see no reason not to recommend it once again as it has the best
all-round tape for performance, and value for money. Still a gnats behind the
estimable JVC PRO formulation when it comes to noise performance, but you’d
have to be super-critical to spot it
packaging has changed but it looks as though BASF are staying with Maxell as
the source of their S-VHS-C product. Much the same results as last year.
packaging, otherwise the same familiar double-coated tape that has been with us
for the past three years, low noise,
low dropout for all serious applications.
change since last year, this is the one we’d go for as it consistently has the
lowest noise levels of S-VHS-C tape, and amongst the fewest dropouts. Once
again highly recommended.
relative newcomer; the dropout on last year’s samples was rather average but
this time around there’s been a definite improvement, and now it’s a little
better than average, which makes it well worth considering for all applications
This has to
be one of the longest-serving S-VHS-C formulations, nothing much has changed
since it was introduced five years ago. Noise and dropout have been good since
day one, very consistent.
It looks as
though Scotch have switched back to JVC as the source of their S-VHS-C tapes,
and although it’s not quite as clean as their PRO formulation there’s a
noticeable improvement over last year’s dropout figure.
TDK XP PRO
with last year’s near-perfect results XP-PRO had a tough act to follow and
although not quite a repeat performance, it is nevertheless one of the best
tapes you can buy, bettered only by JVC’s sparking performance this year.
Fuji 8mm MP
packaging looks very attractive but inside the cassette there’s the same
dependable double-coated MP tape, that we’re always happy to use for routine
surprisingly lacklustre performance last year but they’ve made up for it this
time around with dropout back down to 93 levels. New packaging too, well worth
shortlisting as a high-performance, multi-performance tape
new outer wrapping and what appears to be a new tape, replacing VX formulation,
though we couldn’t spot any actual differences. Better than average results,
one or too many dropouts for serious mastering but good for just about
trouble telling this tape from their VX formulation in past years but the 95
samples were outstanding, with a noticeable improvement in both noise and
dropout figures. Good enough now for mastering and all demanding applications
appear to source their 8mm tapes from a number of suppliers, and normally
they’re very good but this one is fairly ordinary with only average dropout.
Still fine for day to day recording, though.
predictable set of results for one of the 8mm format’s most consistent
performers. Maybe a touch more noise on this sample, compared with last year,
but still below average for a regular, everyday tape
If it ‘aint
broke, don’t fix it, seems to be the sensible and on-going philosophy at Sony.
HG remains one of the best 8mm tapes on the market, very reliable with
negligible dropout, making it a good choice for critical applications
dropout results a couple of years ago have been steadily improving and now it’s
back up with the best of them. A competent all rounder that’s now borderline
for mastering. Definitely worth considering
Not quite a
repeat performance of last year’s outstandingly low dropout figures but the
noise levels are still well below average. It’s one of the tapes we’re always
happy to use for all critical applications, up to and including editing and
BASF Hi8 MP
packaging change but inside there’s what looks like one of Sony’s finest. The
noise results were fairly ordinary last year, now they look quite health and we
wouldn’t mind using this one for all but the most demanding applications
BASF Hi8 ME
Sony product? It’s certainly consistent with last years results showing
virtually no change in the noise and dropout figures. Another good quality
Fuji Hi8 MP
packaging, in the distinctive green livery, but there’s been no apparent change
to the tape inside. Consistent and dependable, it works well in most machines
and is fine for all but the most critical jobs.
caused quite a stir when it was launched in late 93 and it has been getting
steadily better ever since, to the point where we’d say use it, unless you’ve
got a really fussy top-end machine. Try it, you might be surprised.
packaging is a definite improvement, but this seems to be their familiar metal
particle tape, which we’ve been seeing for the past three or four years. Very
consistent and fine for all routine recording jobs
change of image, and name, though apart from a small improvement in dropout
everything else seems the same as the old XD-P formulation. A good all-rounder,
suitable for mastering
A good set
of results, right down the middle, and apart from one or two extra dropouts,
almost identical to last year. Maybe not our first choice for mastering but
fine for just about everything else.
At last, a
new tape, launched earlier this year with some impressive performance claims,
compared with the previous year’s product. Maybe a tad less noise but it’s
difficult to spot as the tape was good to begin with. Still one of the best MP
newcomer, and like its stablemate, Sony reckon it’s better than the Metal-E
which it replaces. We couldn’t find any
difference, which is just as well as its predecessor had near zero dropout and just about the lowest noise levels of
TDK MP Hi8
slight increase in dropout, compared to last years sample, but the noise
figures are still good. Usually good value, fine for routine and day-to-day
recordings on mid-range machines
TDK ME Hi8
runner up to Sony; no change this time, Sony’s ME tape is a little better but
this one has stayed more or less the same, but that’s no bad thing, an
excellent all-rounder and worth considering for mastering.
differences between the best and worst camcorder tapes have been narrowing for
some time. That’s almost certainly due to a steady reduction in the number of
companies making tape, with more products coming out of fewer factories. Quite
frankly there were no bad tapes this year, or last for that matter, and any one
of them would be okay for routine or day to day recordings.
the redoubtable JVC PRO formulation came out best in the VHS-C tests, mainly
because little appears to have changed in this sector of the market. There has been
some jostling in amongst the 8mm cassettes though, and we had a tough time
choosing between the Fuji SHG Metal, Maxell XHG Metal and TDK E-HG Metal. In
the end we gave up, great tapes all.
to the Super VHS-C formulations, it’s another win for JVC with the outstanding XG
tape, but only just, both the Fuji Pro and TDK Pro cassettes deserve honourable
mentions. Finally we come to the Hi8 cassettes. The similarities in performance
are more evident here than in any other sector of the market, with very little separating
the brands. The only notable newcomer were from Sony and although the MP
formulation wasn’t that different to its predecessor, the ME tape was, with
excellent dropout results, making it this year’s Hi8 champion.
BOX COPY 1
performance is determined by a large number of factors, the most important of
which for the end-user is the relationship between the wanted audio and video
information stored on the tape’s magnetic layer, and the amount of unwanted
noise, in other words the signal-to-noise or S/N ratio. This is a direct
measure of the efficiency of the tape’s magnetic coating. Put simply it means
the amount of detail in the image and colour purity. That’s something you don’t
need sophisticated test equipment to see, the human eye is very good at
spotting the effects of noise, more than any other aberration. We’re also on
the look out for dropout, they’re white flashes or streaks in the picture,
caused by imperfections in the magnetic tape layer and are a clear sign of the
care that goes into the manufacture of a video cassette, and just as important,
the quality control mechanisms that are supposed to weed out faulty products.
with blank tape is that it is produced in batches which can lead to quite wide
variations in performance. That can be a problem for one-off test reports, but
not for us. Our reviewers have been conducting these kinds of assessments for
more than ten years and have built up a huge database of comparative results,
that we can use to determine how a particular manufacturer’s products have
changed (or not, as the case may be...) over the years,.
focus on real world performance, actual picture quality determined using
electronic tests patterns designed to expose flaws, and a range of equipment,
from sophisticated test instruments, to off the shelf VCRs and camcorders.
However, out most valuable asset is consistency, we use the same test routines,
and to a large extent, the same equipment every year, giving us a unique
insight into manufacturing trends, and the facility to spot freak results. Our
findings compared with literally hundreds of previous tests and condensed into what we hope is an
approachable easily understood and format.
Ó R. Maybury 1995 1610