VIDEO CAMERA 1995

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ANNUAL TAPE TEST -- PART 1

 

INTRO

Your 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

 

COPY

For the 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...

 

Prices are 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.

 

More good 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...

 

This year 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 crop...

 

VHS-C

 

BASF   HG

BASF are 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.

Noise               8

Dropout            7

 

BASF   SHG

A definite 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

Noise               8

Dropout            9

 

Fuji HQ+

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.

Noise               8

Dropout            8

 

Fuji SHG

Always a 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.

Noise               9

Dropout            9

 

JVC EHG

Another old 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.

Noise               8

Dropout            8

 

JVC PRO

Simply the 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 dealers.

Noise               9

Dropout            9

 

Maxell GX-Black

Now into 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.

Noise               8

Dropout            7

 

Maxell HGX-Black

Slightly 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.

Noise               9

Dropout            9

 

Panasonic HG

No 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 mastering.

Noise               8

Dropout            9

 

Scotch EG+

Scotch 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.

Noise               7

Dropout            8

 

TDK HS

No change 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 levels.

Noise               8

Dropout            8

 

TDK E-HG

Last year’s 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

Noise               8

Dropout            9

 

SUPER VHS-C

 

BASF   S-VHS-C

The 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.

Noise               8

Dropout            8

 

 

Fuji S-VHS-C PRO

New 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.

Noise               9

Dropout            9

 

 

JVC S-VHS-C XG

No apparent 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.

Noise               10        

Dropout            9

 

 

Maxell XR-S Black

Another 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

Noise               9

Dropout            8

 

 

Panasonic XD

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.

Noise               8

Dropout            8

 

 

Scotch S-VHS-C

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.

Noise               8

Dropout            9

 

 

TDK XP PRO

Compared 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.

 

Noise               9

Dropout            9

 

 

 

8mm

Fuji 8mm MP

The new 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 recordings

Noise               8

Dropout            8

 

 

Fuji SHG

A 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

Noise               9

Dropout            9

 

 

Maxell GX Metal

The snappy 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 everything else

Noise               8

Dropout            8

 

 

Maxell HGX Metal

We’ve had 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

Noise               9

Dropout            9

 

 

Scotch EG+

Scotch 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.

Noise               8

Dropout            7

 

Sony Video 8 MP

A fairly 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

Noise               7

Dropout            9

 

Sony Video 8 HG      

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

Noise               8

Dropout            9

 

TDK HS Metal

Mediocre 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

Noise               8         

Dropout            8

 

 

TDK E-HG Metal

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 mastering

Noise               9                     

Dropout            9

 

 

Hi8

 

BASF Hi8 MP

Another 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

Noise               8

Dropout            9

 

BASF Hi8 ME

Another Sony product? It’s certainly consistent with last years results showing virtually no change in the noise and dropout figures. Another good quality all-rounder

Noise               8         

Dropout            8

 

Fuji Hi8 MP

More new 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.

Noise               8

Dropout            9

 

Fuji Hi8 Metal Position

ME Position 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.

Noise               8         

Dropout            9

 

Maxell XR Metal

The new 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

Noise               8

Dropout            8

 

 

Maxell XD ME

Another 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

Noise               8         

Dropout            9

 

 

Scotch Hi8 MP

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.

Noise               8         

Dropout            8

 

 

Sony Super MP

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 tapes around.

Noise               9

Dropout            9

 

 

Sony Super ME

Another 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 any tape

Noise               9

Dropout            10

 

 

TDK MP Hi8

A very 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

Noise               8

Dropout            8

 

 

TDK ME Hi8

Last year’s 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.

Noise               9

Dropout            9

 

THE VERDICT

The 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.

 

Once again 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.

 

Moving on 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

THE TESTS

Tape 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.

 

The trouble 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,.

 

The tests 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.

 

 

---end---

 

Ó R. Maybury 1995 1610

 

 

 


 

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