The VCR market would be a lot less interesting were
it not for Philips. Their latest NICAM VCR, the VR-757 certainly brought back a
few old memories
Back in the late 1980ís and early 90ís we would have
advised anyone seriously interested in video editing to give some Philips VCRs
a wide berth. That wasnít because there were any problems with performance, far
from it, picture quality on Philips machines has normally been quite good, but a
number of their early VHS models had somewhat idiosyncratic control systems. You could do some really odd things with some
of them, like change channel whilst recording, and several didnít have conventional
record-pause modes, so they couldnít be used as record decks with an edit
controller. However, for the past four or five years most of their VCRs have
been more or less normal.
The midi-sized VR-757 isnít quite a return to the
bad old days, but it definitely has some odd features, not to mention one or
two peculiar habits. For example, the Ďfrontí AV terminal is actually on the
side of the machine, making it extremely difficult to get at, if itís housed
inside a narrow enclosure, underneath a TV or in a racking systems. Similar
problems can arise with the front-panel transport controls, which this time are
on the top panel, above the fascia, where they may be obscured by shelves, or
other components in a stack.
Thereís more. You would expect the standby buttons
on the front panel and remote to switch the machine on and off, like it does on
99% of the VCRs weíve seen in the past twenty years. Not on the 757, it doesnít.
The standby button on this machine only turns it off, to turn it back on again
you have to press any other button, apart from eject (which ejects the tape).
Oddly enough it doesnít have power on and play facility, another near-universal
feature these days, and one that would have been quite handy in this instance.
Then thereís the jog-shuttle dial. On most other machines
with one, when in the play mode, turning the outer shuttle ring engages trick
play, slomo through to fast picture search, depending how far itís turned. Not
on the 757. Move it whilst itís in play mode and it drops out, to fast forward
or rewind, unless you remember to press the jog button first. If itís left
standing idle for more than five minutes, it will switch itself off, whether
you like it or not. That might not sound like a big problem, but it can be
irritating if youíre using it for editing, where there will be five minute gaps
between operations, and you have to remember to keep switching it back on.
The 757 doesnít have an
on-screen display; okay, we can live with that, if the other indicators and
displays are up to scratch. The front panel on the 757 is a good size, but itís
a single colour device, so you have to look quite closely to see what itís up
to, and to check if it really did accept that last command.
Now to be fair itís not all
bad news, and you can learn to live with this kind of unusual behaviour,
moreover one or two features on this machine are actually quite useful, though
in the case of one of them, Easy Link, only if youíve got a recent Philips widescreen
TV. Easy Link is not exactly a new idea, itís based on a system Philips
pioneered about five years ago, called D2B or the domestic digital bus. The
idea was that a range of home appliances, from washing machines to VCRs would have
an interface socket that would allow them to communicate with one another and be
controlled by a central home computer.
You could, in theory at
least, dial up the home PC while you were out and instruct it to record a TV
programme, draw the curtains, turn on the lights, and do the washing. All
clever stuff, and the demos we saw seemed to work well. Philips actually
marketed a couple of VCRs and TVs with D2B sockets but the idea bombed because
other manufacturers, most of whom were working on their own Ďbusí systems, wouldnít play ball. Easy Link is a
distillation of some of the best features of D2B. When the VCR is connected to
a suitable TV thereís no need to tune it in, as it will automatically download
the contents of the TVs tuner. It also simplifies and automates control
operations, but for the moment weíll contain our excitement, until thereís a
few more compatible TVs on the market.
Even if the TV itís to be
used with isnít Easy Link compatible the 757 can still do some impressive
tricks, provided theyíre connected together by SCART lead. The best one is
single button record, which switches the VCR on to record whatever channel you
happen to watching on the TV.
However, the 757 will
probably be remembered for one particular editing facility. In amongst the AV inputs
on the side of the machine thereís a socket marked Ďsyncro edití. Nothing
unusual about that, except that it works with a wide range of camcorders equipped
with Control L/LANC or Panasonic 5-pin
edit terminals. The VCR controls the camcorders transport functions, and it can
be programmed to replay a designated scene, thatís copied by the VCR. Unfortunately
it can only assist in the transfer of single scenes, and itís only accurate to
within a second or so of the Ďcutí points so it shouldnít be confused with a
fully fledged edit controller. Panasonic were the first to successfully develop
this kind of cross-platform compatibility,
now Philips have cracked it as well; itís a bit of a toe in the water exercise
at this stage but it must be a good omen for the future.
The 757ís other
edit-oriented features are well worth having too, they include audio dub and
insert edit, and we mustnít forget the jog/shuttle dial, even though it takes a
bit of getting used to. Thereís also quasi S-VHS replay, which will be of
interest to any anyone with a S-VHS-C camcorder, enabling them to replay their
tapes, though not at full Super VHS resolution.
Thereís a couple of other
items of interest: it will replay NTSC coded tapes on any reasonably recent TV,
and the remote control handset will operate key functions on other brands of
TV, though only a very limited selection, within the Philips Ďfamilyí, made by
Blaupunkt, Grundig and Siemens.
Picture quality is fine,
our sample came within a gnatís of the 250-line resolution figure we expect
from a top-end VHS machine. Noise levels, by comparison, were only average,
nothing to be concerned about but itíll win no prizes. Trick play stability is
good, and the deck is reasonably agile.
Sound quality is good too,
the stereo soundtracks have an even response, maybe a touch trebly at times,
and background hiss levels are no better than average but itís good enough for
demanding applications, like home cinema and movie making.
Philips could never be
accused of producing bland or boring video recorders. Having become used to
slick, well-behaved machines from the Far East, the VR-757 is a bit of a shock,
but itís one you can become accustomed to. Some aspects of the design are
questionable, though. The side-mounted AV sockets are a nuisance, and putting
the transport controls on the top must have seemed like a good idea at the
time. It looks okay when itís on
display, on dealers shelves, but we suspect quite a few owners will be cursing
Philips, once theyíve got it home and installed.
Make/model Philips VR-757
Tape format VHS
time 4-hours (E240- tape)
control full function
System PAL SP, HQ
speeds 15x, 7x, 2x still
S-VHS replay yes
head cleaner yes
control, direct record, Easy Link data link with compatible TVs
level control no
level control no
Sockets Rear: 2 x SCART AV, stereo audio
in/out (phono). Front: AV in
(phono), see text
AV terminal yes
terminal yes RMC/LANC, see text
edit yes, see text
(mm) 380 x 343 x 98mm
play stability good
for money 8
of use 8
R.Maybury 1995 1912