VIDEO CAMERA 1999

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STANDFIRST

DV camcorders with FireWire input are now coming out of the woodwork and about time too! The latest and smallest -- so far -- is the very cute little JVC GR-DVL9600

 

COPY

The GR-DVL9600 is a neat looking pocket DV compact with several interesting tricks up its little sleeves. But first the downside of that FireWire input. To you and us the DVL9600 is a camcorder, to the EU crazies the fact that it can record from an external source makes it video recorder and as such subject to a higher rate of import duty (an extra 10%). That explains why this machine costs the thick end of £2200. Yes, we know it's daft but if you don't need the DV input you can save yourself £200 and opt for the otherwise identical GR-DVL9500.

 

It's small and silvery with a 3.8-inch fold out LCD viewing screen and a 0.5-inch colour LCD viewfinder. Up front there's a 10x optical zoom with 200x digital magnification should you feel so inclined. It has a full set of creative features including image stabiliser, multiple fade/wipe options, digital effects (cinema, twilight, sepia, B/W, classic film, strobe, slow shutter, video echo). In truth there's not a lot to say about the design and layout. JVC have stuck with a tried and tested formula, put it in a dark room with half a dozen other DV compacts and we suspect most people would have trouble telling them apart. Plus points include the automatic lens cover and easy to access menu system; points are deducted for the fiddly rotary function control and stiff playback buttons.  

 

FireWire input, or iLink as we're supposed to call it now heads up the feature list but close behind is a something called 'Pro Slow' or 'High Speed'. Take your pick, JVC can't seem to make up its mind. The essence of it is that the recording rate -- normally 50 frames per second -- is doubled to 100 frames per second. When played back at half speed you get blur and jitter-free slow motion. It's a very clever bit of technical jiggery-pokery; JVC has managed it without increasing tape speed, instead twice as much data is crammed onto the tape but in doing so half the picture disappears. A Pro Slo recording looks like an ultra widescreen display with thick black bars at the top and bottom of the picture. It can be replayed at normal speed, or by pressing the high-speed button it goes into slomo mode, there's also an electronic zoom to inflate the image to full screen though with a noticeable drop in resolution. In case you were wondering, a Pro Slow recording replayed on a normal DC camcorder produces a horizontal split screen with identical images top and bottom.

 

Still recording has been given a high priority on this machine. In addition to a flash gun on the front, (with red-eye reduction), it uses progressive scan recording, for improved resolution -- when still images are downloaded to PC or video printer -- plus there's a selection of shooting options including border and borderless, single and multiple images and reverse/negative. The video facilities are mostly routine but the fade/wipe facilities deserve a mention if only because there are so many of them (17 in all…). There are old favourites such as fade or wipe to and from black and white, then there's a whole bunch of wipes and dissolves from previously recorded still images or the last shot, and a completely mad random mode. The digital recording effects are familiar too; there's a variable speed shutter, (1/12.5 and 1/5th sec slow shutter and 1/100, 1/250 and 1/500th sec fast shutter). Twilight mode fiddles white balance and focus to capture sunsets; then there's sepia, black and white, classic film/strobe and widescreen (letterbox or anamorphic). Most effects can also be used during playback, which can be quite handy if you forgot to do it when recording.

 

Basic editing is handled by JVC's RA-Edit system, this has an 8 scene memory and VCR control is handled by the remote which can operate the record/pause functions on almost 20 brands of video recorder.

 

The DVL9600 comes with JLIP control software for the PC and a new suite of image archiving and paintbox utilities from Presto. These are on CD-ROM and will run on most recent Windows 95/98 machines. All necessary PC and FireWire cables are supplied with the outfit and power comes from Lithium ion pack that typically gives between forty minutes and an hour recording time.

 

PERFORMANCE

DV recording quality is on a par with most other compact single-chip machines, that is to say resolution is a shade under 480 lines on our sample, noise is negligible, colours are solid, accurately registered and true to life in natural light. There's actually very little to add to that except to say that on full auto you're virtually assured a clean, watchable image under all but the most unfavourable conditions, in which case it has sufficient manual adjustments and AE effects options to cope. DV to DV copies are almost indistinguishable from the original, we had to go to a fourth generation before there was any signs of degradation, with some artefacts and a small reduction in colour contrast.  

 

Pro Slow is a bit of a mixed blessing, slomo replay is excellent but the loss of half the picture is a big drawback and unfortunately slomo recordings cannot be copied, except to another DVL9600, so it is rather limited in scope. Still shooting and the PC software is much more successful and it is possible to get some excellent-looking pictures with this machine.  

 

The 12 and 16-bit soundtracks both have a wide dynamic range, the microphones are fairly directional so the stereo image is quite shallow; they're well insulated against handling noises though some motor whine is evident in very quiet surroundings.

 

VERDICT

JVC has done its homework and come up with a perky little machine with a sensible specification and enough extras to make it stand out. We're still not sure about Pro Slo, it's an interesting idea but loosing half the picture seems like a high price to pay. What really sells this model is the FireWire input and its dual personality as a highly competent video and stills camera. The price could be contentious, we're hopeful it will come down, in which case it should give similarly specified DV cams from Panasonic and JVC a run for their money.

 

RIVALS

Panasonic NV-DX100 £2000, Sony DCR-TRV900 £2000

 

SPECIFICATIONS

JVC GR-DVL9600, mini DVC, £2200 ??

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/18, 5-50mm

Zoom                            10x optical, 200x digital

Filter diameter            37mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                       5ux      

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        90 mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes (JLIP)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                  

Manual focus                 yes      

Auto exposure               yes                              

Programmed AE                          yes

Fader                                        yes (17 modes)            

Manual white balance yes

Auto white balance             yes                                          

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                  yes

Audio dub                                  yes

Character generator                       no                    

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         yes                  

Video light                                 yes      

Battery refresh               n/a                                       

Accessory shoe             no        

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, variable-speed shutter (6-speed, 1/12.5th sec to 1/500th sec), tally lamp, built-in lens cover, 'Pro Slo' & High-Speed recording (see text), still/snapshot with built in flash, progressive scan, exposure/iris lock, DV in/out, RA-Edit (8-scene), digital effects (cinema, twilight, sepia, B/W, classic film, strobe, slow shutter, video echo)

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.55 in colour LCD, 3.8-inch colour LCD monitor

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       yes (2 x 16-bit or 4 x 12-bit)       

Wind noise filter                         yes

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes

Mic                                           twin unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    AV out, headphones, microphone, JLIP, edit control

(minijack), DV in/out (DV jack), S-Video out (mini DIN)

Dimensions                               72 x 94 128 mm                      

Weight                          0.75 kg (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (Lithium ion and lithium), straps, AC charger/power supply, PC serial lead, CD-ROM software, FireWire

AV lead             yes      

video light                      no                    

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor n/a                   

RF Converter             no        

Scart adaptor                 yes                  

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                                 <480-lines

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            very good

Exposure                                   very good

Auto focus                                  good

Audio performance                   very good

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money            7

Ease of use                   8

Performance                  9

Features                       9

 

---end---

R Maybury 1999 1502

 

 

 


 

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