VIDEO CAMERA 1997

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EDITING ELITE

 

INTRO

You can use almost any VCR for editing, but only a few do the job well. Rick Maybury checks out some of the machines that make the grade...

 

COPY

Thereís no quicker and easier way to spoil a video movie, than to edit camcorder footage using an unsuitable, poor-quality or worn-out VCR. The trouble is no VHS VCRs are designed specifically for editing -- apart from a handful of expensive specialist machines  --  the best you can say is that some domestic machines are more edit -friendly than others, but how do you tell?

 

Clearly video and audio recording quality are key features, and there are some simple ways to sort the wheat from the chaff. To begin with you can eliminate all mono VCRs; a few of them would pass the video quality test, but VHS mono audio is pretty awful, moreover the deck mechanisms and video processing circuits on NICAM stereo video recorders are generally built to a higher standard. Make no mistake, you need stereo hi-fi sound. It makes for a more flexible and dynamic soundtrack; even if your current camcorder has mono audio, it will sound better and in any case youíre bound to upgrade sooner or later. The price differential has all but disappeared too; some NICAM machines now cost less than 4-head mono VCRs from leading ĎA-brandí manufacturers.

 

Other features to look out for include stable trick-replay and jog/shuttle dials, flying erase heads, insert editing, front AV sockets and audio-dub. Whilst theyíre all useful movie-making facilities in their own right, theyíre also a sign that the manufacturer has at least half an eye on editing performance, and that usually suggests that more care has been taken in relevant areas of design and build-quality.  Whilst weíre on the subject, itís fair to say that VCR manufacturers who also make camcorders -- especially high-end models -- often make high-performance edit-friendly VCRs as well.

 

The value of some other editing features is open to debate, or they are format specific. A few VHS VCRs have built-in edit controllers. They can be programmed to replay a number of designated scenes, whilst at the same time controlling the record-pause mode on another machine. These are mostly of interest to owners of VHS-C camcorders, with access to a second suitable VCR. An 8mm recording would have to be copied to VHS first, so you would be starting out with a second generation master. Consequently the final edited recording would be a third-generation copy, and probably very poor quality. Treat any mention of Ďedití sockets with suspicion. The vast majority are nothing more than a remote-pause connection, sometimes dressed up as syncro start. The latter helps transfer single scenes from a camcorder (sometimes a VCR) to another VCR. This may only work camcorders or VCRs of the same make.

 

The only editing sockets worth having are the same full-spec Control L/LANC or Panasonic 5/11 pin terminals used on some camcorders, that enable the VCR to be Ďhard-wireí controlled. However, almost all edit controllers use learning or pre-programmed infra-red systems to control the recording VCR. With so many makes and brands to contend with itís not surprising that there are gaps in the command libraries of a lot of edit controllers, so it makes sense to avoid obscure or unfamiliar brands of VCR, when shopping for an edit deck.

 

A word about Super VHS video recorders. Thereís only one in this roundup but you can take it as read that all of the half dozen or so other S-VHS VCRs on the market make very good editing decks. The extra expense starts to make sense if you have a high-band or digital camcorder (Hi8, S-VHS-C or DVC), off-air recordings and rental movies wonít look significantly better, however. Editing from a high-band camcorder to an S-VHS VCR reduces quality losses dramatically, and a third-generation VHS copy will often look better, or at least as good as VHS-C and 8mm originals.

 

Our tests are simple. Each VCR is used to make a series of recordings, using a test pattern generator, to give an indication of AV performance. We also use a test recording on reference VCR as a signal source, with the machine under scrutiny operated by an edit controller. The recording is then analysed, with particular attention paid to timing consistency and noise or instability at the edit points. Extra points are awarded for front AV sockets, audio and video dub, editing terminals and any other related facilities, that we reckon are worth having.

 

Akai VS-G855 £380

Akai VCRs have always been good value for money, with average to good performance, but this one is a real stonker! Copy picture quality is terrific, thanks to the Super I-HQ recording system, which optimises recording and playback according to the type of tape being used. It definitely pays to use high-grade tapes with this machine, Super VHS tapes work even better! Controlled edits are very clean and generally accurate, certainly more than sufficient for all routine editing jobs. However, thatís just the appetiser, it also has superb trick-play facilities, with a jog/shuttle dial on the handset, manual audio recording level control, insert edit and edit search (picture search in record-pause mode). Thatís in addition to a host of time-shifting and convenience features, like auto set-up, a Video Plus+ timer with PDC, intro scan, NTSC replay with stereo sound and blank search. Thatís the sort of line-up youíd expect on a mid-range or top-end NICAM VCR, costing upwards of £450, but this machine sells for just £380, making it one of the best deals around! Recommended.

 

Copy quality:                 *********

Editing facilities:            ********

Overall value:            *********

 

Akai VS-G2400 £1000

Only a very small handful of VCRs deserve to be called a Ďclassicí, the G24000 is one of them. It probably wonít be remembered as an edit deck, even though thatís a job it does extremely well. Itís main claim to fame is the on-board Dolby Pro Logic surround sound decoder -- it comes with cordless infra-red rear channel speakers -- and the fact that itís one of only two VCRs that can record teletext subtitles, which makes it very popular with the hard of hearing. However, the editing features are what interest us here and they include front AV sockets, manual audio recording level controls, jog/shuttle controls on front panel and remote, insert editing with flying erase heads, edit search and audio dub. Needless to say it has all the usual timer-recording and home cinema facilities as well. The S-IHQ tape optimisation system ensures excellent performance on HG tapes and edits are incredibly clean, not a trace of noise or instability. The only possible concern is the price. Itís a lot to pay for any VCR, even one as well equipped as this one, however, we understand Akai have a DPL machine planned for later this year that will cost around £500, no news of its editing capabilities yet.

 

Copy quality:                 *********

Editing facilities:            *********

Overall value:            ******

 

Hitachi VT-550,  £400

Hitachi make both camcorders and VCRs, though advanced editing features have been a little thin on the ground in both product ranges. The VT-550 has a number of useful facilities, though. Thereís front AV sockets, good trick-frame, a jog dial on the remote, video and audio dubbing, and syncro-edit that works with other, suitably equipped, Hitachi VCRs. Other non-movie making highlights are satellite control, (the Video Plus+ timer can also control a satellite tuner, using infra-red commands), NTSC playback, auto installation and the remote handset can operate the main functions on 15 other brands of TV. Edits are virtually noise-free and copy picture quality is clean, with only a small increase in noise levels and virtually no degradation of colour fidelity. The 550 rates as a good all-rounder, itís a capable editor, and an accomplished home cinema machine, the price is fair and it looks good; definitely worth considering.

 

Copy quality:                 ********

Editing facilities:            *******

Overall value:            ********

 

JVC HR-J935, £500

Two classic VCRs in one Shop Window? Itís true, the HR-935 is another milestone machine, this time famous for being the first VHS video recorder with a Dynamic Drum deck mechanism. Dynamic Drum is a genuine innovation, that enables noise-free replay at all speeds, in both directions. Itís coupled with a audio buffer, that replays snatches of the mono soundtrack, in real time. The upshot of all this is that you can whizz through a movie in about 15 minutes, without missing a thing. Dynamic Drum technology has several important spin-offs, including outstanding picture and sound quality, moreover edits are razor-sharp, courtesy a pair of flying erase heads. Sadly the super-smooth slomo and fast search cannot be recorded on another VCR, but thereís plenty of other edit-related goodies. It has a built-in assemble-edit controller, that works with JVC machines, and other makes, using an optional multi-brand controller. Thereís insert edit, audio dub, manual audio recording level control and remote pause, for good measure. Other facilities include a multi-brand TV remote control, NTSC replay and a full range of convenience features. Picture and sound quality are quite simply brilliant; weíd unhesitatingly recommend this VCR, were it not for the fact that we know JVC have three more Dynamic Drum VCRs in the pipeline, so it might be worth waiting a while, to see what the new models are like.  

 

Copy quality:                 **********

Editing facilities:            *********

Overall value:            ********

 

Panasonic HD-660, £500

The HD660 is a top-end machine that spans both the video movie and home cinema markets, and thatís reflected in the price. The main editing features are the all-important 5-pin editing terminal on the back, front AV sockets, syncro edit, insert edit, audio dub, multi-speed replay with a jog/shuttle dial on the front panel, microphone input and manual recording level control. The syncro edit facility is interesting because it works with both Panasonic camcorders, and machines equipped with a LANC terminal, that have a one-touch/synco edit option. However, it is not a LANC terminal as such, this machine can only be hard-wire controlled by edit controllers using the Panasonic 5-pin protocol. Panasonic VCRs have become a lot more user-friendly in the past few years, the HD-660 has all of the most useful convenience features, including a simple to follow on-screen display, auto installation, satellite control, Video Plus+ with PDC, NTSC and quasi S-VHS replay and a very approachable manual timer programming system. On screen performance is very impressive with above average resolution and very low levels of noise. Itís an ideal companion for sophisticated edit controllers with hard-wire control for the record deck. Recommended, particularly  if youíre also on the lookout for a top-flight home cinema machine.

 

Copy quality:                 **********

Editing facilities:            *********

Overall value:            ********

 

Panasonic HS900, £800

Super VHS failed dismally as a upgrade from standard VHS principally due to a lack of backing from the software companies. High prices didnít help either, but it has found a useful niche in video movie-making. The HS900 is an accomplished edit deck, capable of excellent results when used with a high band (Hi8 or S-VHS-C) camcorder, minimising quality losses during copying or editing. Edit features are broadly similar to the HD660; it has a 5-pin edit terminal on the back, front AV input, insert edit, audio dub, syncro edit, manual recording levels controls and a microphone input. Incidentally, the front AV sockets include an S-Video input, S-Video out is on the back. Unlike the 660 it doesnít have satellite control, though itís certainly not lacking convenience features, and itís easy to use as well, with full auto install, Video Plus with PDC and a multi-brand TV remote. The Super VHS recording system works very well indeed, a full 400-lines of resolution and very little noise, which translates as crisp, sharp and well defined images. Standard VHS recordings look very good too, very clean with negligible noise, especially when using higher grade tapes. Edit points are glitch free and very stable. Definitely worth considering if you have high-band equipment, and want a machine that can work with sophisticated edit controllers, and doesnít compromise on picture quality.

 

Copy quality:                 **********

Editing facilities:            *********

Overall value:            *********

 

Philips VR-768, £499.99

Philips have had an on-off relationship with camcorders over the years (we hear theyíll be on again soon...) and this has been reflected in their VCRs, which generally have few editing facilities. The new 768 makes up for some the lost ground, itís their most camcorder-friendly VCR for some time. Thereís a set of AV sockets on the front-panel, it has audio dub and insert edit, plus a rather unusual syncro-edit feature. It works with a variety of camcorders and VCRs, with edit sockets/terminals (Panasonic 5-pin and Control L/LANC, using optional connection leads) and syncro terminals, whatís more itís the only machine in this roundup to have adjustable timing for the pre-roll. On some Control L equipped camcorders transport functions -- including play and fast-wind -- can be accessed from the 768ís deck controls.  The insert edit feature is unusual too, thereís three options: replace video track and both mono and stereo tracks; replace video and hi-fi tracks only, and something called insert copy, where the picture is replaced, and the mono soundtrack is copied to the stereo soundtracks. Itís one of the few VCRs with teletext capabilities -- it can record subtitles, and timeshift using text pages; thatís in addition to Video Plus+ PDC, auto install, and the multi-brand TV remote. Copy picture quality is very good, noise levels are below average and cut points are clean. A well-presented, value for money package with good editing potential.

 

Copy quality:                 ********

Editing facilities:            ********

Overall value:            ********

 

Sony SLV-E1000, £699.99

Seven hundred pounds for a NICAM VCR? That sounds a bit steep even for Sony, but hang on, this one is a bit special. Heading up the feature list thereís a Control L/LANC editing terminal, that can be configured to master or slave mode. In other words the VCR can be controlled from an edit controller, or another VCR, or it will itself control another deck. That comes in handy when using the VCRís built-in edit 12-scene controller. All you need is a camcorder or VCR with a Control L socket. As an added bonus the E1000 also reads RC timecodes, for potentially frame-accurate cuts. Itís exceptionally easy to use, and control, with jog/shuttle dials on the handset and neat front-panel flap. Thereís plenty more to come, including audio and video insert edit, audio dub, manual recording level and balance control, microphone input and OPC tape-tuning, for optimum recording quality on higher grade tapes. Time shifting and home cinema features abound; thereís semi-automatic set-up (for that kind of money youíre expected to read the instruction book...), NTSC replay, Video Plus+ timer with PDC, multi-brand TV remote, child lock and an almost idiot-proof manual timer. Resolution is at or very close to the edges of the VHS performance envelope, colours are pin-sharp and thereís very little picture noise. Cut accuracy on timecoded tapes is about as good as it gets this side of a pro system. Yes £700 is a lot for a VCR, but for one as versatile and well-qualified as this one, itís almost a bargain!

 

Copy quality:                 *********

Editing facilities:            **********

Overall value:            *********

 

Toshiba V856, £499.99

Toshiba are not one of the VCR manufacturers you immediately associate with edit VCRs. True to form the V856 is first and foremost a home cinema machine, the feature list includes satellite control, a multi-brand remote NTSC replay with stereo sound. Itís a doddle to set up and use too, with full auto install, Video Plus+ with PDC and clever control logic, called Ďall-in oneí controls, where a sequence of functions are tied to a single button on the remote handset.  However, thereís a fair assortment of video movie-making facilities too. They include a set of front-mounted AV sockets, audio dub and insert edit, multi-speed replay and a microphone input. Noise reduction circuitry ensures a sharp picture, which helps to reduce the impact of a whiskery source signal. Picture quality is fine, resolution is just about what youíd expect from a top-end VCR, colours are bright and vibrant. Copy quality is good and thereís virtually no disturbance at edit points. Edit consistency is fine too, with negligible drift over a typical ten scene sequence.  Worth considering if your first priority is fuss-free home cinema, with occasional light editing duties.

 

Copy quality:                 ********

Editing facilities:            ********

Overall value:            *******

 

---end---

R. Maybury 1997 2602

 


 

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