VIDEO CAMERA 1996

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SUPER SWANSONG

 

INTRO

£700 and five years too late... If the JVC HR-S7000 had been around a few years ago the Super VHS saga might have had a very different ending!

 

COPY

High-performance, near broadcast-quality video recording, widescreen capability, and the ability to record teletext. No, weíre not talking about the newly-developed digital video cassette (DVC) format. We had all that ten years ago with high-band analogue video systems like Super Beta and Super VHS. There was even talk of a high-band V2000 format but it and Super Beta, (which did make it into production), have passed into oblivion. Super VHS survived, but only just, its tiny share of the market has been almost entirely confined to video movie-making and a handful of demanding enthusiasts.

 

It failed to gain mass-market appeal for simple three reasons: the cost of S-VHS VCRs has remained prohibitively high -- only recently dipping below £1000 -- there is no pre-recorded software, apart from a few promo tapes, and recordings of off-air programmes only ever looked marginally better than those made on good quality VHS machines.

 

If the JVC HR-S7000 had been around five years ago it might have been a very different story. At just under £700 it is only a little dearer than some top-end VCRs. Such a machine might have stimulated sales, which in turn could have persuaded the software houses to release a few titles, giving the format the kick-start it so badly needed.

 

Unfortunately it has come too late to save S-VHS from its inevitable fate when DVC comes along, though it might just generate a small resurgence of interest in the growing home cinema market, and video movie-makers will need no persuading. Super VHS is the only way to go if you have a high-band camcorder, and want to minimise the quality losses when copying or editing video recordings on existing analogue equipment, though itís a fair bet there will be a mass defection to DVC, once the digital VCRs become available.

 

Thatís likely to be a few years down the line, until then S-VHS and the S7000 in particular still have a lot to offer. Itís a good looking machine, the layout is clean and uncluttered with a jog/shuttle dial on the right side, secondary controls are hidden behind a drop-down flap on the left side of the fascia.

 

JVC have given editing and movie-making top priority but perhaps we should being with some of the more routine features. They include a Video Plus+ timer with PDC (programme delivery control), this is tied in with auto tuning and clock-setting facilities. JVC are now the only major manufacturer not to have an on-screen displays on their top-end VCRs, the S7000 is no exception, but they have tried to make up for it with a large and informative front-panel readout, an LCD panel on the remote handset and extra function indicators mounted either side of the tape hatch. Donít get too excited though, itís just pair of two-colour LEDs that confirm various transport commands have been received and engaged.

 

Naturally thereís a full range of trick-play options with four fast search speeds, two slomo speeds and still frame. The deck is very responsive, able to change direction in a fraction of a second. Picture quality, and in particular picture noise has been given special attention with new and improved digital video processing circuitry.

 

Unusually for JVC the sound system is rather ordinary; it has a stereo hi-fi recording system and NICAM, but thereís no manual level control, nor are there any sockets headphones or a microphone. It does have audio dub and a useful assortment of editing facilities. They include insert edit and JVCís own RA (random assemble) edit system and a front mounted AV input terminal though this does not include an S-Video socket, thatís on the back, along with a pair of SCART sockets (one configurable for S-Video), an S-Video output socket, and a set of line audio inputs and outputs.

 

The RA edit system is pretty much tied in with other JVC machines with a compatible remote pause socket, unless youíre willing to shell out for an optional multi-brand controller (RM-V704U) costing £60. It has an 8-scene memory, that replays selected segments whilst at the same time controlling the record-pause function on the second VCR. Itís not especially accurate -- plus or minus a second or so if youíre careful --  and no substitute for a proper controller, but itís handy for putting together simple movies. Thereís an interesting footnote in the instruction book about the capacity of the RA edit system. Apparently it uses the timer memory, so if it has been programmed to make a time-shifted recording there will be proportionately fewer memory slots available for editing.

 

The remaining features include a multi-brand remote that can control the main functions of 8 brands of TV (including JVC). It has a simple child lock, that disables the machine by pressing the operate button for longer than 2 seconds, and thereís a  set of picture adjustments for increasing the dynamic contrast (when replaying widescreen recordings), three-step sharpness control, and repeat playback, that cycles the tape 20 times, before switching off. In fact the only significant omission in an otherwise very extensive feature list is NTSC replay.

 

Getting the machine up and running takes only a few minutes, the auto-tuning system searches out the four main terrestrial channels and locates them in a logical sequence on tuner presets 1 to 4. Weaker stations can be deleted and channels rearranged if necessary. The clock is set during auto-tuning, using PDC data, and itís checked once an hour, so it takes care of summer/winter time changes. There is a battery backup, that keeps the clock running and protects timer data but this only lasts for 3-minutes. Lastly thereís JVCís Ďreviewí feature, which has become a standard fitment across the range. An illuminated indicator on the front panel, lights up when a time-shift recording has finished; pressing the button switches the machine on, rewinds the tape to the beginning of the recording, and starts replay.

 

PERFORMANCE

Whatever sacrifices JVC have made in order to get the price down, it certainly hasnít affected picture quality. Resolution on S-VHS recordings is bang on the 400-line benchmark and noise levels are well below average. VHS recordings are also nudging the performance envelope with a clean 250-line resolution and similarly low levels of picture noise. Colours are crisp and well-defined, picture stability, on recordings made on this machine, is rock-steady. We notice a slight jitter on several tapes recorded on other machines, and occasionally the auto-tracking system had trouble sorting them out, though it usually disappeared when the override buttons was pressed. Trick-play is also very stable, with hardly any judder on still frame, though again it favours its own recordings.

 

Normally thereís not a lot of difference between off-air recordings made on S-VHS and VHS VCRs but the lower than normal noise levels on this machine -- possibly due to the extensive use of digital processing circuitry -- give TV programmes an added sparkle, that we havenít seen to this extent before.

 

Although the stereo hi-fi system doesnít have a manual level control the auto system copes reasonably well with sudden changes in the soundtrack, though background hiss becomes apparent during deliberately quiet passages as the AGC sets to work. The response is generally flat and uncoloured with noise kept in check, most of the time.

 

VERDICT

The S7000 is an excellent machine, though itís not without its faults. JVCís aversion to on-screen displays makes an otherwise docile and well-behaved machine a little harder to use than it could otherwise be. Thereís a couple of omissions, no headphone or microphone sockets for example, and we prefer the option to set recording level manually. Nevertheless, itís still an outstanding machine, at a fair price, that finally makes sense of Super VHS. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if only JVC and the others had managed to bring out machines of this calibre for this sort of price a few years ago, Super VHS might have had a much brighter future. Now, if only there were a few S-VHS movies to watch...

 

VCR SPECS

Make/model                         JVC HR-S7000                         

Tape format          Super VHS/VHS

Guide price                      £700

 

TAPE DECK

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

Timer         8-events, 365-days, Video Plus+ with PDC

Remote control         full function

 

VIDEO

System                             PAL SP/LP, HQ

Replay speeds          forward and reverse 15x, 7x, 2x & 2-step slomo              

 

Main facilities

Slow motion          yes   

Multi-speed           yes   

Insert edit:          yes             

Jog/shuttle          yes

On-screen display          no     

Videoplus          yes

Index search          yes   

Intro Scan          yes

Instant timer          yes   

LCD remote          yes   

PDC timer          yes   

Repeat play          yes

Record search          no     

NTSC replay          no

Quasi S-VHS replay          n/a    

Auto play          yes

Auto head cleaner          yes   

 

Additional facilities

multi-brand remote control, 8-scene random assemble (RA) edit system, child lock, 16:9 switching,  auto tuning and clock set, record review

 

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          Rear: 2 x SCART AV, S-Video in/out (mini DIN),  line audio in/out (phono), RA edit/remote pause (minijack), RF bypass (coaxial). Front: composite video and line audio in (phono)        

Front AV terminal                    yes   

Edit terminal           no

Microphone          no     

Headphones          no

SCART          twin   

Syncro edit          yes RA edit

 

Dimensions (mm)          426 x 94 x 341    

Weight (kg)          4.5kg         

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution         250-lines (VHS), 400-lines (S-VHS)

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         7

Performance         9

Features         9

 

---end---

R.Maybury 1995  1812

 


 

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