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The first domestic Super VHS VCR with a PC interface has finally arrived but what can you do with it? Is this the killer edit feature weíve been waiting for, or is the Philips VR 969 a solution in search of a problem?



Philips has a habit of producing unusual video recorders, and thereís been quite a few of them over the years but we canít recall anything quite like the VR969. It got off to a shaky start; we first saw pre-production samples over two years ago. Normally by the time a VCR has reached that stage itís on course to be in the shops a few months later. In fact the first VR 969ís didnít reach the UK until just before Christmas 97. Philips has given several reasons for the hold-up, the most recent one being problems with the operating software.


Now that it has arrived we can begin to try and work out where this extraordinary VCR fits into the scheme of things. The VR-969 has several quite distinct personalities, so we had better begin with the general specification. Itís a Super VHS machine, with NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, a Video Plus+ timer with PDC, plenty of convenience features and it costs just under £800. Thatís the easy bit but right away youíll notice it is not as other VCRs; for starters thereís an analogue clock set into the drop-down front panel. Not just any old analogue clock mind, but a radio-time clock, that picks up fantastically accurate time signals from a network of radio transmitters. Itís probably accurate to within a half a nanosecond a century, though since it doesnít have a second hand itís a bit academic reallyÖ Nice touch though.


Look a bit further down the long feature list and youíll see mention of an ĎRS232 interfaceí. Thatís a first on a Super VHS video recorder designed for the domestic market. It means the VCRís main transport functions can be controlled using a PC or external controller; it can be connected to lots of other devices too, and weíll get to them in a moment.    


You donít see to many VCRs with teletext any more, the VR-969 has it.  Itís used to program the timer Ė itís almost as easy to use as Video Plus+  -- it can also display teletext pages on your TV, and hereís something else, it records the teletext datastream. In other words, when replaying a recording of an off-air TV program, you can call up whatever teletext pages were being transmitted at the time, including sub-titles. Itís actually an unadvertised facility of the S-VHS recording system; one or two other machines can do it too, though few do it as well as the 969.


Thatís all well and good, but the features weíre most interested to see are concerned with mainstream editing, and itís got them by the bucket-load. Top of the list is a 10-scene edit controller. It has several operating modes, including the usual program replay, so that selected scenes can be recorded on a second VCR, which it controls. However, the really useful option is to use it to control replay on a camcorder. It has Panasonic 5-pin (RMC) and Control L (LANC) editing terminals, which covers most machines made by Panasonic, Sony and Canon. Scene order can be changed, they can be moved and deleted, it can also be used to insert new sequences. Just for good measure it also has audio dub, manual recording level controls, a flying-erase head for seamless inserts, a front AV terminal, microphone and headphone sockets, syncro edit, it can read Rapid time code. The list goes on. Suffice it to say the VR 969 is exceptionally well equipped for the business of editing.


But what about the RS232 interface, whatís that good for? The truth is itís a bit of a disappointment. Not because of what it can or cannot do, but the apparent lack of interest by Philips. They do not support the facility with any software of their own, and when contacted Ė as recommended in the instruction manual -- their support line came back two days later with some vague references to compatible GSE equipment.


To make it work it needs a specially written PC-VCR program; thatís not the sort of thing youíre going to find in your local branch of PC World.  In short itís left up to the owner to track down this specialist software and figure out what to do with it. This highly useful editing feature will simply be lost on most owners, many of who will have a suitable PC, that they can use to control their VCR, but without more support from Philips its potential will simply not be realised.


Thatís enough griping the VR-969 is a most welcome addition to the edit VCR market. The styling is smart but restrained. Weíre pleased to see jog-shuttles dial on both the front panel and remote handset. The controls on the fold-down drawbridge that covers the tape hatch are a bit awkward to use. The labelling is not very good, and almost impossible to read in subdued light. Installation and set-up are reasonably straightforward; itís even quicker when the VCR is connected to a Philips TV with  EasyLink or models from other manufacturers with similar communications facilities, (Sony SmartLink, Grundig Megalogic or Panasonic NexTViewLink), as they can download the contents of their tuners into the 969.




Itís not enough to have lots of bells and whistles; picture performance is critical on a machine whose main function is to make copy recordings. Second generation VHS recordings, from 8mm masters showed a small increase in noise and some reduction in colour depth but the image remained stable, you would have to look quite close to see that it was a copy. Hi8 to S-VHS transfers fared even better; there was almost no increase in noise and hardly any change to colour fidelity. In terms of resolution our sample managed a creditable 400 lines on S-VHS recordings, and just over 240 lines on standard VHS tape. Picture stability was good in all replay modes.


Video inserts and scene cuts were very clean; cut-accuracy using a Control L link to a Sony camcorder was in the order of half a second, or a dozen or so frames. The stereo hi-fi tracks had no more than average amounts of background hiss, the response was generally flat.



Even without all the editing goodies the VR-969 would still have the makings of a classic VCR. With them it really is rather special, though once again we canít help feeling that Philips could have made a lot more of the RS232 interface. As it stands the feature has been sidelined and only determined enthusiasts will want to go to the bother of sourcing suitable software, and discovering what it can really do!



There are no other domestic VCRs with RS232 interfaces. Both Panasonic and Mitsubishi make PC-VCRs, but you can take it from us they cost a darn sight more than £800. The closest rival, in terms of S-VHS picture quality and camcorder connectivity is the excellent Panasonic NV-HS950; it also costs about the same as the 969. Most of the other S-VHS machines on the market have fewer editing facilities, so for the time being at least, Philips have this intriguing niche in the market all to themselves.  



Make/model                         Philips VR-969

Tape format          Super VHS/VHS

Guide price                      £800



Max playing time            4-hours (E240- tape)

Timer                               6-events, 365-days/Video Plus+ with PDC/teletext programming

Remote control                full function



System                             PAL, SP, HQ, NTSC

Replay speeds          15x, 7x, still frame, frame step (both directions)              


Main facilities

Slow motion          yes  

Multi-speed           yes   

Insert edit:          yes             

Jog/shuttle          yes

On-screen display          yes   

Video Plus+          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          n/a    

Auto play          no

Auto head cleaner          yes   


Additional facilities

Teletext recording, Insert edit, program edit (10 scenes) syncro edit control, direct record, Easy Link data link with compatible TVs, RS232 PC control, Control L & Panasonic 5-pin edit terminals, radio-controlled analogue clock, power save,



Stereo hi-fi          yes   

Audio dub          yes   

Man level control          yes   

Level display          yes

NICAM sound          yes   

Line output          yes   

H/phone level control          yes   



Sockets          Rear: 2 x SCART AV, stereo audio in/out (phono), S-Video out (mini DIN), RS232 (9-pin D-Sub). Front: AV in (phono), S-Video in & Panasonic 5-pin (mini DIN), Control L, microphone, headphone (minijack)


Front AV terminal                    yes   

Edit terminal           yes RMC/LANC, see text

Microphone          yes   

Headphones          yes

SCART          twin   

Syncro edit          yes, see text


Dimensions (mm)           380 x 280 x 94mm

Weight (kg)           5.4kg



Resolution         <400-lines S-Video, >240-lines VHS

Colour fidelity         very good

Trick play stability         very good

Colour bleed         none

Audio performance         good

Edit functions         excellent



Value for money         8

Ease of use         8       

Performance         9

Features         9



” R. Maybury 1998, 2701



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