VIDEO CAMERA 1997

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OUT WITH A BANG...

 

INTRO

Pressure from compact digital camcorders have forced down the price of top-end Hi8 machines, but not the specification, as the Sony TRV94 clearly demonstrates

 

COPY

Eighteen months ago, when Sony launched the TRV100, we expressed some doubts about the appeal to the UK market of a Hi8 camcorder with 4-inch fold-out colour view screen, image stabiliser and a bucketful of digital effects, costing the thick end of £1800. As we predicted it didn’t hang around for very long but Sony don’t give up that easily. The TRV100 has been effectively re-born as the TRV94, with a similar specification but some £600 shaved off the price, bringing it down to a much more palatable £1200.

 

The camcorder market has changed a lot since the TRV100 made its short-lived debut, nowadays some first generation digital camcorders are selling for less than £1500. This has cast a shadow over high-end Hi8, and models like the TRV94 have to be a bit special to justify spending that amount of money, when for a few hundred pounds more you can get state-of-the-art equipment, with near broadcast quality AV performance. Sony might just have pulled it off. The TRV94 is packed to the rafters with interesting and unusual features but the one that will get it noticed is the fold-out 4-inch colour LCD screen.

 

To be honest it’s more of a family-oriented feature but the facility to instantly review a recording, with sound, for two or more people clearly has a wide appeal. However, it sets the tone for this machine which we suspect has been designed to meet the needs of ambitious enthusiasts, rather than serious or semi-pro users. There’s certainly plenty of scope to get creative, with a truly amazing assortment of effects and options,  starting with  a full-range manual iris. This is always well worth having, but we suspect most owners will come to rely on the set of seven program AE modes,  for those awkward shooting situations. They are:

 

* Spotlight -- for brightly-lit subjects against a darker background

* Portrait -- soft focus background

* Sports Lesson -- auto high-speed shuttering, to reduce blur on fast movement

* Beach & Ski -- exposure compensation for bright backgrounds

* Sunset & Moon -- night time recording, fireworks, illuminated signs etc.

* Landscape -- for shooting distant vistas through windows

* Low Lux -- gain-up mode for shooting in poor light

 

If you suffer from the shakes, or simply want to eliminate wobble from shooting from a moving vehicle or whilst walking, the TRV94 has an electronic image stabiliser. It imposes a small reduction in image quality, but the losses are relatively small and in any case they’re minimised by the Hi8 recording system. There’s plenty of things you can do, to make recordings look more interesting. The simplest is to add a title; if you’re feeling lazy there’s a selection of 8 ready made ones to choose from, like ‘Hello’, Happy Birthday, and the perennially yukky ‘Our Sweet Baby’, but it’s a simple enough matter to create your own. There’s two user pre-set title pages, with one line of up to 22 characters, in one of 7 colours and displayed in the centre, or bottom of the picture.

 

There’s more, lots more. The fader has two operating modes, normal to or from black, and a mosaic effect, made up of coloured blocks that increase or decrease in size. Mosaic pops up again in picture effects options, though this time the blocks are a fixed size. The others choices are: pastel, negative art, sepia, black and white, solarise, slim and stretch. Next, the digital effects:

 

* Still -- this superimposes a frozen image from the last shot, onto the next scene, the transparency of the still picture can be adjusted in 8 steps

* Flash -- a stroboscopic effect, with 8 speed settings

* Lumi -- aka lumakey, with moving video shown in bright portions of a frozen image, adjustable in 8 stages

* Trail -- after-image effect, with 8 intensity settings

* Slow shutter -- four speed settings, with the image refreshed at 1/25th, 1/12th, 1/6th or 1/3rd second intervals

* Old Movie -- a combination of sepia and slow shutter, for Keystone Cops wannabees

 

We’ve not finished yet. It has a photo recording mode, that records a 5-second still image, and it can be used with an optional HVL-FDH flash gun, that fits into the top mounted accessory shoe. This has a set of contacts, to synchronise the flash with the recording. There’s a two-stage wipe/overlap function, that wipes or overlays a previously recorded still image with the next scene. You have a choice of two cinema modes. Mode one superimposes black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, mode two is an 16:9 anamorphic compression effect, that squeezes the picture, so that when it’s shown on a widescreen TV, in stretch display mode, the picture fills the entire width of the screen.

 

Last, but most definitely not least is recordable still and slomo replay. This is quite unusual, normally you get a nasty mess if you try to record camcorder or VCR trick-play as the picture will not contain the full number of lines and synchronisation pulses (TVs can cope with this), but the video output from this machine is a full-spec 625-line PAL signal, that can be recorded, without any significant picture disturbance.

 

Some effects can be mixed together, to create an almost endless number of possibilities. Needless to say, with so many functions there’s a fair number of knobs and buttons to get to grips with. Sony have tried to make it as simple as possible, and most of the effects -- and the various options -- are controlled from a thumbwheel on the back of the machine, and shown by the on-screen displays. There’s one small glitch, the digital and picture effects buttons are on the side of the machine, behind the screen, so this has to be opened out in order to get at them. Fortunately, if you’re trying to save power by using the top-mounted colour LCD viewfinder, the screen can be opened just far enough to get your fingers in, without the main screen switching on.

 

Sony are big on power consumption right now, or rather, they’re trying hard to reduce it, and the TRV94 features in their ‘Stamina’ campaign, with a claimed 8 hour recording time, using an optional high capacity battery pack. They’ve also improved the energy efficiency of their deck motors and video processing circuitry, and there’s a little window in the top of the colour viewfinder module, that lets in sunlight, to help improve screen brightness and contrast.

 

It’s quite a handful at just over 1.1kg all up, but it feels well balanced with the LCD screen stowed away. Most of the controls are reasonably easy to get at, the only real exception is the rather small manual and deep set focus thumbwheel. It’s also very close to the microphone grille and it takes quite a lot of practice to avoid brushing against it, whilst focusing

 

PERFORMANCE

Starting with resolution, our test machine managed 380 lines without any difficulty, which puts it up alongside the high-band top performers. This figure was achieved using good quality ME tape, after the machine had performed its tape optimisation routines, which take around 10 seconds. Picture noise levels were very low indeed, and rose only very slightly using cheaper MP grade tape. Colour accuracy on scenes shot in good sunlight was on the button, there’s no manual white balance facilities but colours remained reasonably faithful, but subdued, in most types of artificial light.  

 

The two LCD screens are high resolution types, but we have to say the picture still looks quite coarse, and colours -- especially reds -- tend to be exaggerated. Despite fiddling with the controls, the picture on main screen somehow never manages to look quite right. The lack of fine detail makes focusing quite difficult, especially in poor light.

 

The stereo image produce by the on-board microphone is fairly narrow, forward sensitivity is good however, and background noise levels are very low. It will pick up handling noises, but only when the AGC is wound full up, or a stray finger accidentally brushes against the microphone.   

 

In common with a lot of other Sony camcorders we’ve seen in the past year or so the deck is quite sensitive to knocks and rapid motion. Even a gentle tap can cause a jump in the picture, during replay and record. Swiftly tilting the machine can cause the picture to loose lock altogether.

 

THE VERDICT

Comparatively little has changed since the TRV100, except the price, and that has made this a much more attractive proposition. However, the fact remains that the TRV94 comes close to the border separating high-band analogue and low-end discount digital camcorders, and if picture and sound quality are your prime concerns, then you may well feel that it’s worth digging a little deeper, or waiting a while longer. On the other hand the TRV94 has a great deal to offer to the adventurous family user, with an abundance of tricks, effects and exposure aids. In spite of digital video, Hi8 picture quality is still very good, more than adequate for most purposes, including semi-pro work. Worth considering.

 

THE RIVALS

The cost of mid-range Hi8 and S-VHS-C camcorders has fallen quite dramatically in the past twelve months, which has left the top-end of the market looking a bit thin. For £1200, or thereabouts there’s the ageing Hitachi Weathercam, though this has been widely discounted for some time, and it’s unlikely you find anyone still selling them at the recommended retail price anymore. In the same price bracket there’s the big Sharp Viewcams, VL-H240 and VL-H550 and the Sony CCD-SC55, they’re traditional single screen LCD camcorders, which in our opinion are a bit of an acquired taste. Not a lot to choose from then, which makes the TRV94 the best of the bunch.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Sony CCD-TRV94

Recording format               Hi8/8mm

Guide price                                £1200

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.4, 4.1-61.5mm

Zoom                            x15 optical, 30x digital

Filter diameter            37mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                       0.7 lux 

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        240mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes (Control L)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                                          

Manual focus                 yes      

Auto exposure               yes                              

Programmed AE                          yes (7-mode)  

Fader                                        yes (2-mode)              

Manual white balance no        

Auto white balance             yes                                          

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                  yes      

Audio dub                                  no

Character generator                       yes                  

Digital superimposer                 yes      

Image stabiliser                         yes                                          

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               no                                        

Accessory shoe             yes      

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, slow-speed shutter, record review, tally lamp, built-in lens cover, digital effects (overlap, wipe, pastel, negative, sepia, black and white, solarisation, mosaic, slim, stretch, trail), cinema (letterbox, 16:9), still superimpose, luma key,  program AE (spotlight, portrait, sports, beach & ski, sunset & moon, landscape, low-light), manual iris, backlight, tape optimisation, RCTC and data recording, index recording, NTSC replay, dry-battery operation

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       4-inch colour LCD, 0.6in monochrome

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count & timecode, shutter speed, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, title, zoom position, AE mode

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       yes

Wind noise filter                         yes                  

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           single point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    AV out (phono), S-Video out (mini DIN), microphone,

headphone  and Control L (minijack)

Dimensions                               108 x 123 x 203mm                      

Weight                          1.1kg (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (nicad and lithium), straps, AC charger/power supply,

AV lead             yes      

video light                      no                    

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor n/a                   

RF Converter             no        

SCART adaptor              yes                  

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                                 380-lines

Colour fidelity                           very good

Picture stability                         average

Colour bleed                              negligible

White balance                            good

Exposure                                   very good

Auto focus                                  average

Audio performance                   good    

Insert edit                                  very good

Playback thru adaptor              n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money         8         

Ease of use                  7

Performance               8

Features                      9

 

---end---

R Maybury 1997 2805

 

 

 


 

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