VIDEO CAMERA 1998

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WALK ON THE WILD SIDE

 

STANDFIRST

This is what digital video enthusiasts have been waiting for, an affordable DVC video recorder. The long awaited Sony GV-900 promises to be the solution to lot of problems!

 

COPY

Every so often -- maybe once or twice a year -- a camcorder or video gizmo leaps up out of its box and says buy me! If the Sony GV-D900 DV Video Walkman could actually talk it would hopefully apologise for not appearing sooner because this little gem is the answer to a lot of video movie-makers prayers…

 

The GV-D900 and it's stablemate the GV-D300 solves a bunch of problems that have been bugging DVC enthusiasts since day one. The main difficulty has been the lack of DVC recording equipment. EU regulations and import tariffs has meant hardly any DVC camcorders have an external recording facility, and there's only one DV video recorder, the very lovely but somewhat pricey Sony DHR-1000.

 

This makes life awkward, not to say expensive, should you want to edit or copy DV recordings, and remain in the digital domain to preserve picture quality. True, some DVC camcorders can be tweaked to enable their DV input recording facility, and it's possible to successfully edit digital recordings on fast, high-spec PCs, but what we've needed for a long time is a simple, affordable, no-frills DVC video deck. Here it is, or rather, here they are…  

 

We should begin by pointing out the principle difference between the two machines is the GV-D900 has a flip-up LCD display screen and built-in loudspeaker, and the GV-D300 hasn't. The screen and sound system adds £400 to the price with the D300 selling on the street for £800, and the D900 costing £1200. We'll tell you which one we prefer, and why, in a minute… But first what does it do? For the purposes of this review we're focusing on the D900. The first thing you notice is the size, it's about twice the size of a cassette Walkman, the clamshell lid opens to reveal the 5.5-inch TFT colour LCD screen. On the panel below are the controls and underneath that, the pop-up mini DV tape carrier. Composite and S-Video sockets, and a pair of line audio phonos are on the side; one set of connectors handles both input and output, which could be a mite inconvenient on some set-ups. The all-important FireWire DV in/out jack lives on the back and for good measure it has IR link facilities, for sending and receiving audio and video signals to suitably-equipped devices (TVs, VCRs, video printers, PCs etc.). A Control L/LANC socket provides an edit control interface and it has its own built-in edit controller, with a 20-scene memory. VCR record/pause control is via an on-board multi-brand IR controller.    

 

Additional facilities include audio dubbing -- when using the twin 12-bit stereo soundtracks -- it has a built-in title generator and cassette labelling (on DV tapes with memory modules). The DV Walkman has a built-in speaker and all secondary functions are controlled from a menu-driven on-screen display. The similarity between the way this unit operates and several recent Sony DV camcorders leads us to suspect the deck mechanics and control systems may be a common design.

 

Possibly, in order to keep the price down, the basic outfit comes with a mains charger/adaptor but no battery, it uses the same style of Infolithium pack as Sony DV camcorders. There's no remote control either, which is a shame, but the accessory pack does have a FireWire lead and a set of AV cables. As a matter of interest a clip-on TV tuner is available as an optional extra, (TG-V100, street price £140) and the machine can be connected to a VCR or TV (with AV out) to make off-air recordings.

 

So what can it do? The obvious application is editing, using the machine as a record deck, coupled to a DV camcorder. However, it's equally well suited as a replay machine and the on-board edit controller means it can be used on its own, for simple editing jobs, with VHS and S-VHS video recorders, but that's only part of the story. It could be a useful way of upgrading old camcorders to digital operation. All you have to do is plug your old machine into the DV Walkman -- using it as a camera -- to make pristine digital recordings, and as an added bonus you get crisp digital sound as well. The camera section in most camcorders -- even older low-band machines -- is normally capable of out-performing the camcorder's recording system so image quality, when recorded on DV tape, can be excellent. The G900 is also an effective means of converting analogue footage into digital video, and it could also serve as an A to D interface for multimedia PCs and editing equipment equipped with a FireWire input.

 

IN USE

All of the controls are neatly arranged on the top panel, choices on the on-screen menu are made using a small thumb-wheel with a click-press action (just like the ones on Sony camcorders) so it is fast and east to use. Display options include time and date plus data code and status information. In addition to normal play and fast picture search it has still frame and slomo replay. The edit controller displays a full set of counter displays for scene number, in and out points, total and elapsed times. An edit decision list shows all edit points, unfortunately data cannot be altered directly though individual edit points can be changed by re-running the scene. Edit timing can be adjusted to suit the characteristics of the record VCR, scenes can also be deleted, but not re-ordered, moved or copied, so it is quite basic.

 

The VCR control set-up is quite straightforward, the manual includes a list of compatible brands (there are 50 to choose from), and selection is made using a simple two-digit code.

 

PERFORMANCE

First the LCD screen, it's okay, not the best we've seen but it's adequate for monitoring purposes, watching a movie or TV recording on the move -- on holiday for instance -- but we hope the D900 will be put to more serious use. That includes recording DV and analogue footage, and in both cases we can say that a second-generation recording made on this machine involves no quality losses whatsoever (assuming DV to DV recordings are made using the FireWire connection). Using it as a source machine is equally rewarding, tapes recorded on the D900, and those made on DV camcorders show no reduction in resolution or any increase in noise or changes to colour fidelity. Coupled up to a Hi8 camcorder, using an S-Video connection, the D900 was able to capture in excess of 440-lines, an old VHS-C model, used as a camera managed an impressive 350 lines. The soundtracks were excellent, almost hiss-free with a clean, uncoloured response.

 

SUMMARY

The D900 is a truly wonderful little gadget but unless you actually want to use it as a mobile playback device the D300 is a much better bet, for DV editing and playback, or as a means of breathing new life into an old analogue camcorder. We have only one gripe and that's the single set of analogue input/output sockets, otherwise it's almost perfect and just what the DV format has been waiting for. Highly recommended!

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Sony GV-D900

Recording format               mini DVC

Guide price                                £1280

LCD screen                               5.5-inch TFT LCD (224.6k pixels -- 940 x 234)

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        90 mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        yes (see text)

Edit terminal                        yes Control L/LANC

 

FEATURES

DV record playback, 2 x 12-bit  & 1 x 16-bit stereo soundtracks, audio dub (12-bit soundtrack only), 20-scene edit controller, title generator, still & slomo replay, Laser Link AV connection, built in speaker

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       yes

Mic socket                                no                    

Headphone socket              yes      

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    Composite video and stereo audio in/out (phono), S-

Video in/out (mini DIN), DV in/out (DV jack), headphones & Control L (mini Jack),

peripheral interface (TV tuner etc, proprietary multi pin slide connector)

Dimensions                               148 x 62 x 135mm                       

Weight                          1.2 kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

AC charger/power supply, battery adaptor, shoulder strap

AV lead             yes

remote control            no        

Scart adaptor                 yes                  

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                                 480-lines

Colour fidelity                           excellent

Picture stability                         excellent

Colour bleed                              none

Audio performance                   excellent

Insert edit                                  manual inserts clean

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money            **** (DV900) ***** (DV300)

Ease of use                   ****                  

Performance                  ***** 

Features                       *****

 

---end---

R Maybury 1998 1809

 

 

 


 

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