VIDEO CAMERA 1995

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REVIEW

HEAD

DISH TOSH

 

INTRO

Toshiba VCRs haven’t been especially camcorder friendly of late but the new V-854 changes all that with several features to interest the home video movie-maker

 

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You won’t have seen many Toshiba VCRs on these pages lately. Not that there’s been anything wrong with them, far from it, but none of their most recent models have qualified as edit decks. Toshiba have been putting all of their effort into time-shifter VCRs and home cinema machines; the newly arrived V-854 is still a home-deck at heart, but it is designed to appeal to a wider market, with  a number of features to interest video movie-makers.

 

The one’s we’re most pleased to see are a front-mounted AV terminal, for speedy camcorder hook-ups, audio dub on the mono soundtrack, a jog/shuttle dial and better than average trick-play functions. A label on the tape flap says it also has flying erase head and something called a ‘flying amplifier’. We normally associate flying erase heads with insert editing, sadly this machine does not have that facility, nor is it clear from the instruction book or promotional literature, what the flying erase head and mysterious flying amplifier actually do, though the latter may have something to do with a curious little module sitting on top of the head scanner assembly.

 

Before we look at the more familiar features in detail let’s see what else can it do.  The 854 has a satellite receiver control facility. This is a nifty idea borrowed from Ferguson, and recently taken up by Hitachi. Basically it means this machine can make a Video Plus+ controlled timer recording of satellite channels. Normally time-shifting satellite channels is an awkward business, you either have to program two timers, one in the VCR and one in the satellite receiver -- if it’s got one -- or leave the satellite receiver switched on all the time, tuned to the channel you want to record. The 854 gets around this problem by having it’s own built-in remote control system. An infra-red emitter mounted on the top of the machine sends control codes to a nearby satellite receiver, switching it on and tuning it to the appropriate channel for the duration of the selected programme, during which time the VCR makes a recording.

 

It sounds more complicated than it is; all the user has to do is enter the correct Plus Code for the programme or programmes they wish to record into the VCRs remote handset. In case you’ve not come across Video Plus+ before,  it’s a near idiot-proof VCR timer programming system that uses a series of numbers (two to eight digits) to tell the VCR when to switch on and what channel to record. Plus Codes are the numbers you may have seen printed along side TV listings in magazines and newspapers. They’re the key to a computer algorithm that the VCR uses to work out dates and times.

 

There’s more besides simple timer programming, the 854 also has an on-screen display, and a multi-brand remote facility, so the TV can be controlled from the VCR’s remote handset. The handset’s command library is one of the most comprehensive we’ve seen, it covers some 48 brands, plus variants. Toshiba have put the facility to very good use with a feature called ‘all-in-one’. It concerns a set of three buttons on the handset. The ‘On/Play’ button switches both the TV and VCR on from standby; ‘Shut Off’, switches off the TV and sets the VCR to rewind then switch off, and ‘Prog Screen’ switches both the TV and VCR on, and puts the VCR into the Video Plus+ ready mode. By the way, did we mention the 854 is a dual-speed stereo hi-fi machine, with NICAM sound, automatic head-cleaner, NTSC replay, self-correcting program delivery control (PDC) timer, index search and intro scan, auto tracking, and it’s 16:9 widescreen compatible as well? You might also be interested in the price, it costs just under £500, which is a tad more than the similarly specified Hitachi VCR, but the same price as the rival Ferguson stereo hi-fi model with satellite control.

 

SET-UP AND USE

The initial set-up relies heavily on the menu-driven on-screen display, time and date information is entered via the remote. Setting the tuner is simple enough, but programming the VCR’s channel map for satellite stations can be a bit of a chore, thankfully it only has to be done once. Routine procedures, like timer programming (using Video Plus+) are all fairly painless, though. The only minor operational gripe we have is that the TV command code stored in the remote handset is lost when the batteries are changed.

 

Back now to those movie-making facilities. The front AV terminal is located behind a flap on the left side of the front panel. Here too is a microphone socket, and another socket marked ‘Sat Control’, the instruction say it used for satellite receiver setting. This might be something to do with a model variant with an on-board STV tuner, there’s certainly enough room inside the cabinet, and there are blanked off panels on the front and back of the machine, in any case it doesn’t seem to do much. The machine has a good range of trick-play speeds, accessed by the jog/shuttle dial on the front panel, or the transport buttons on the remote, all functions are available on the remote, with the exception of reverse frame stepping. Audio dubbing is very straightforward, thought he machine doesn’t have a manual recording level control, so the winking bargraphs in the display panel are all the more irritating.

 

PERFORMANCE

Toshiba VCRs have rarely been found wanting when it comes to AV performance. The 854 is a good all-rounder, picture resolution is as near to 250-lines as makes no difference, there’s very little noise in the picture, colours are crisp and well defined. Still and slomo replay are both very steady, though it sometimes has trouble getting a stable still frame on recordings made on other machines.

 

The stereo hi-fi tracks are clean, with no more than average amounts of background noise, and the ALC system worked tolerably well, though it’s still no substitute for manual control, when audio dubbing or making recordings of detailed musical performances.

 

VERDICT

It’s good to see Toshiba taking an interest in video movie-making once again, even if it is part of a wider trend to broaden the appeal of their top-end stereo machines. As a high-performance workhorse VCR it stacks up well against the competition; it’s the kind of machine we’d recommend to anyone setting up an AV or home cinema system, who also has, or is planning to get a camcorder as well. It’s not exactly a serious edit deck, but it’s the next best thing.

 

VCR SPECS

Make/model                         Toshiba V-854                         

Tape format          VHS

Guide price                      £500

 

TAPE DECK

Max playing time            8hours (E-240 tape LP mode)

Timer                               6-events, 31-days

Remote control                full function

 

VIDEO

System                             PAL SP/LP, HQ

Replay speeds          x13, x5, x1/6, x1/12, still -- both directions              

 

Main facilities

Slow motion          yes  

Multi-speed           yes   

Insert edit:          no     

Jog/shuttle          yes

On-screen display          yes   

Videoplus          yes

Index search          yes   

Intro Scan          yes

Instant timer          yes   

LCD remote          no     

PDC timer          yes   

Repeat play          no

Record search          no     

NTSC replay          yes

Quasi S-VHS replay          no     

Auto play          yes

Auto head cleaner          yes   

 

Additional facilities

Video Plus+ control over satellite receiver, multi-brand TV remote

 

AUDIO      

Stereo Hi-Fi                yes   

Audio dub          yes   

Man level control          no     

Level display          yes

NICAM sound          yes   

Line output          yes   

H/phone level control          no     

     

 

GENERAL

Sockets

Front AV terminal                    yes   

Edit terminal           no

Microphone          yes   

Headphones          no

SCART          twin  

Syncro edit          no

 

Dimensions (mm)    430 x 92 x 318

Weight (kg)             4.7

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution         250-lines

Colour fidelity         very good

Trick play stability         very good

Colour bleed         none

Audio performance         good

Edit functions         good

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money                 9

Ease of use                      8

Performance                     9

Features                        8

 

---end---

R.Maybury 1995  1901

 


 

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