ASK RICK -- September
I was particularly interested to read the
review of the Panasonic NV-SX30 camcorder
(Video Camera February 1998) as I have just received one as an insurance
replacement for a NV-S70. The latter, I
found, was an excellent performer. I was therefore concerned to see that your
review was not very complimentary about the SX30. Resolution was quoted at
around 350 lines, but Panasonic advise that to be classified as an S-VHS format
machine, the resolution must be 400 lines.
This suggests the camcorder is not what it
claims to be, i.e., it is not up to S-VHS standard. Clearly there are major implications
of product mis-description here. I would welcome your views on this point.
Incidentally, even Panasonic agree that the location of the microphone is not
ideal and it is prone to picking up internal noise.
David Clough, Leigh, Lancs
I would be very interested to know where you
got that information about Super VHS. Panasonic and JVC have always been very
careful about making performance claims for the format, and have never -- to my
knowledge -- stated that a resolution of 400 lines was an integral part of the
specification. Super VHS is a sub-format of VHS and uses modified signal processing
techniques to cram more information on to the tape. The figure of 400 lines
resolution was bandied about in the early days as a comparison with standard
VHS resolution (250-lines on a good day) and as illustration of what could be
achieved. Out of the scores of Super VHS and S-VHS-C VCRs and camcorders I have
reviewed in the past ten years, only a handful ever achieved the magic
400-lines, 350 to 380-lines is entirely typical.
I have recently upgraded to Hi8 and following
discussions with my son-in-law -- who owns a Canon UC-C9Hi -- I went one step
further and purchased the UC-X40Hi. I am very please indeed with the
capabilities of the machine, especially with picture quality when played back
on my Sony TV, which has an S-Video input on the SCART socket.
However, there is a significant quality loss
when copying recordings on tape, using my JVC HR-825 VCR, which is
understandable, given that it is not a Super VHS machine. I intend buying an
S-VHS video recorder and due to my limited budget I would like your advice. As
the UC-X40Hi has good editing facilities I am not too concerned by this side of
the operation. Would the JVC HR-S7000 be suitable, it seems to be well
discounted at the moment?
I am concerned about playing back edited
copies of S-VHS recordings. Will they play on ordinary VCRs or will they have
to be played back via an S-Video connection?
Mike Winn, Barlborough, Derbyshire
As you may or may not have heard JVC are
about to knock an almighty hole in the S-VHS VCR market with the imminent
launch of the HR-S7500. In case you missed the announcement, it's going to cost
just £350, no that's not a mis-print, a well featured Super VHS VCR for about
the price of a good stereo VHS machine. You need look no further!
As far as playing back S-VHS recordings is
concerned, it can't be done on the vast majority of normal VHS video recorders.
A few models have what is known as SQ-VHS or 'quasi-S-VHS' replay, but this is
a comparatively rare feature and playback quality is only up to normal VHS
standard. The usual method is to edit from Hi8 to S-VHS, and use this as the
master recording, to run off VHS copies. Although they will be third generation
recordings, the quality can still be quite good, compared with a third
generation VHS recording. You can also replay direct from the VCR to the TV,
and if you use the S-Video connection you will get the best possible picture
Surely I cannot be the only person in the
world who wants to run a video recorder and camera from a 12-volt supply? No, a
camcorder will not do! Ideally I want a 12 volt VHS recorder, that is robust
enough to fit in a car or even a motorcycle, which has the ability to record
from a camera fitted on the vehicle. Have you any suggestions where I could buy
one or do you know of anyone who has a reasonably priced portable machine -- I
seem to remember Ferguson had one, with a socket for a remote camera.
G.J.Kemp, Taunton, Somerset
No, of course you're not the only one who
wants to use a video recorder in a car, but why does it have to be VHS? Sony makes
an excellent portable Hi8 recorder -- with a fold out LCD monitor screen --
called GV-A500E. Their pro division has even smaller units available that can
fit in a pocket. The A500 is small and
light and sounds as though it would be ideal for your purposes, and yes, it can
easily be run from a 12 volt DC source. There used to be quite a few portable VHS
decks on the domestic market (Ferguson badge engineered several JVC portable
decks in the early eighties), but as far as I'm aware no-one makes them any
more. You can still get professional S-VHS machines but they are horribly
expensive, you won't get much change out of £2000! The only other solution is
to scour the second-hand ads, or get in touch with specialist dealers, such as
Video Action (0181-209 0909), who might be able to point you in the right
I haven't been a camcorder user for very long
so I'm not too familiar with the jargon or the gadgetry. Can you tell me if a
voice processor is another name for an audio processor, and if they're not the
same, what do they do?
Newport on Tay, Fife
Teccy terms like these tend to be bandied about
by consumer electronics manufacturers but a lot of the time they mean very
little, or are misleading. Strictly speaking a voice processor is an electronic
circuit that operates on the narrow band of audio frequencies we use for
speech. They pop up in various devices, such as mobile telephones, where they're
used to make speech more intelligible, by filtering out unwanted noises and
sounds, or by boosting certain frequencies. The definition of an audio
processor is even vaguer; in fact it could be anything from a simple tone
control or equaliser to digital signal processing. That's where microchips mangle
and manipulate sounds in all sorts of interesting and unusual ways, to create
various special effects, such as spatial and surround sound.
I have a Panasonic S-VHS video recorder,
which I use in conjunction with my Panasonic S-VHS-C camcorder. I am thinking
of getting a digital video camera, will I be able to transfer digital tape
recordings to S-VHS and VHS tape, via my VCR? Will they be of better quality
than transfers made via an ordinary VHS video recorder? May I also ask if Hi8
tape copies would likewise be possible?
B. Irving, Barnsley, S. Yorks
Yes, you can easily copy or edit recordings
made on a digital camcorder to any video recorder, irrespective of format because
all camcorders, digital or otherwise, have standardised video signal outputs.
There's two, the first is called 'composite' video, and this is where all the key
elements in a video signal (brightness, colour and synchronisation information)
are bundled together. The second type is 'component' video, also known as 'Y/C'
or 'S-Video'. In this case the colour (C) and brightness (Y) parts of the video
signal are processed and conveyed separately, to prevent them interacting with
one another. Component video images look cleaner because they suffer less from cross-colour
effects such as moiré and herringbone patterning. Some digital camcorders also
have a 'digital' video output, (aka FireWire or IEEE1394 interface), but this
can only be used with other digital video products, like digital video
recorders PCs and editing equipment. (There's also RGB colour signals, but
they're mainly confined to specialist applications and PCs).
The only real problem with connecting
camcorders to VCRs, TV and editing or post-production equipment, is the diversity
of connectors. Component/S-VHS connections are usually okay because pretty well
everyone uses the 6-pin Hoshiden or mini-DIN plug and socket. With composite
video you will probably find a phono (aka RCA or cinch) socket on the
camcorder, and a SCART or phono sockets on the equipment it is to be connected
As far as quality is concerned, an S-VHS or VHS
copy of a digital recording will look as good as the VCR allows. In other
words, the signal from the digital camcorders contains more information than
any domestic analogue VCR can handle. Likewise, a VHS copy of a Hi8 (or
S-VHS-C) recording will look as good as a first generation VHS recording because
high-band (Hi8 and S-VHS) recordings contain more information than standard
FOCUS OF ATTENTION
Whilst in Australia my Sony CCD F370 was
damaged and could not be repaired so my wife bought me a CCD TRV14E and also a
VCL 0637A conversion lens which must be used on manual focus setting.
I followed the instructions in the manual and
tried focussing through wire and nets but the results were disappointing. I received your test report on the TRV14 but
there were no observations on using the focus dial.
On my F370E I always used manual focus so I
had clear pictures to infinity and cut out the hunting for focus. I know the TRV14E is all right because I
have made some good and clear recordings. Could you please help me by
explaining to me how I use the focus wheel?
The TRV14 uses an indirect, servo-operated
focusing system, it's also known as an 'inner-focusing' mechanism, because all
the moving parts are inside the lens barrel. This allows manufacturers to make
smaller, lighter lenses, but it means the moving parts cannot be easily
adjusted from the outside, hence the use of a small internal servo motor,
that's controlled by the thumb wheel. It's not quite as fast or responsive as
the purely mechanical focusing you're used to on the F370, but it covers the
same optical range, and you have to get used to the fact that there are no
end-stops. Once you've reached the near or far limits of the lens the thumb wheel
just keeps on turning. There's no reason why you shouldn't be able to manually
focus the TRV14 when the VCL-0637 wide-angle conversion lens is attached; it's simply
a question of getting used to it.
SPOT THE DIFFERENCE
At present I own a Panasonic MS4 video camera
and although I am very happy with its performance, I have heard that the
Panasonic DP800 is also a very good video camera. I have tried to get as much information on the above; however,
the details have been vague. Can you
please outline the main differences between the two in respect of accessories,
quality and price?
B. Sames Clarke
There are some superficial similarities
between the Panasonic NV-MS4 and AG-DP800. They're both full-size Super VHS
camcorders and from a distance they look alike, but that's about as far as it
goes. The MS4, launched in '92 is a domestic camcorder originally selling for
£1400; today, a good example is worth around £300. It has a single CCD sensor,
12x optical zoom (100x digital), stereo hi-fi sound, various digital effects
and a good assortment of manual exposure controls. The DP800 is a semi-professional
machine, launched in 1995 and currently selling for around £3800. It has a
triple CCD image sensor, bayonet mounted 14x zoom lens, 4 channel audio (2 x
hi-fi, 2 x mono linear), numerous manual adjustments and advanced digital
signal processing. Surprisingly the differences in picture quality are not that
great, the AG-DP800 will produce a slightly cleaner, sharper looking image, than
the MS4 and colours should be crisper and more accurate too, thanks to its
triple CCD image sensor, but the most telling difference is the weight. The DP800
is over a kilogram heavier, and that indicates a tougher, more hard-wearing body
and heavy-duty components designed to take the knocks and last longer in the
hard-working professional environment.
ã R. Maybury 1998 2206