Buying Satellite





Making unattended recordings of satellite TV programmes is fraught with problems, or at least it used to be, before the arrival of the Ferguson FV74LVX



Direct to home satellite television has come a long way in just four years but one problem remains largely unresolved, and that's a fuss-free way of making timer-controlled recordings from an STV tuner. On older receivers the only option is to leave it switched on, and set to the required channel; clearly this isn't very satisfactory if you're going on holiday for a couple of weeks, and in any case you can only make recordings from the one channel. Quite a few receivers nowadays have their own on-board event timers, which is a step in the right direction, but a recent survey suggested that something like three quarters of VCR owners had difficulty setting their machine's timers; what chance have they got with programming two timers?


Of course, you could always buy a video recorder with a built-in satellite tuner, there's at least three of them at the moment. With only one timer to set there's not much to go wrong but it's a fairly expensive solution, especially if your satellite system is still in the first flush of youth. On the other hand, if you are in the market for a new VCR then the Ferguson FV74LVX, on sale now for just under 400, could be just what you've been waiting for. It's a rather distinctive-looking twin-speed machine, with mono sound and its fair share of trick-play facilities, but what sets this one apart from the crowd is its Video Plus timer system.


Video Plus, as you're probably aware by now, is the simplest timer-programming system yet devised. All the user has to do is enter a string of numbers, called a Plus Code, into the remote handset. The numbers (two to eight digits long) are printed next to program schedules in newspapers and TV listings magazines. The numbers are the key to a computer algorithm which tells the VCR timer the date, channel, start and stop times of the programme to be recorded.


So far so good, but what has this got to do with satellite TV? Well, many newspapers and magazines now carry Plus Codes for the main UK satellite channels. The FV74's Video Plus timer is configured to work with a broad range of satellite tuners, listed in the instruction manual, (a list of compatible receivers should also be available at Ferguson dealers). It works like this. The Plus Code for the programme is entered into the machine in the normal way, and the times, date and channel are displayed on the screen so they can be checked, or altered; pop in a tape press the VCR's 'timer' button, and that's all there is to it. At the appointed time the VCR switches itself on gets ready to make a recording, at the same time an infra-red emitter on the top panel of the machine starts sends out a stream of commands to the STV receiver, switching it on, and selecting the chosen channel. When the recording has finished the VCR switches the STV receiver off again.


It couldn't be much simpler, though to get to that stage you will have made your way through a number of  fairly lengthy set-up procedures. They're based around a menu-driven, on-screen display system. Ferguson have tried hard to make them simple to follow, and there's accompanying help messages to guide the user, but from start to finish, including teaching the VCR how to operate the satellite receiver and reallocating channels, could take a newcomer to this technology a while to complete. That's if it goes smoothly; after wading through the FV74's entire library of IR control codes we still couldn't get one STV receiver, a Maspro ST8,  to works at all. The brand is listed in the instructions as compatible but the codes for this particular receiver are not included. Ferguson assure us the code library is being constantly updated and their dealers will have detailed lists of compatible makes and models, there are still a lot of gaps, so check first, before you buy.


Once set, however, the FV74 is as docile as a kitten and it works well too, with on-screen resolution approaching 240-lines and minimal picture noise; that's good for any sub 500 machine.  It has a useful assortment of trick-play facilities, including a very stable still frame, variable slomo and picture search. The mono soundtrack is about par for the course, some background hiss but okay for most routine recordings. We hope there's going to be a stereo version of this machine sooner, rather than later. Additional convenience features include: automatic index marking at the start of each new recording, for rapid tape access; intro scan, to review the first few seconds of each recording on a tape; a child lock; continuous play and record, and Startext. Startext is a clever timer aid that, unfortunately, has never really got off the ground. The idea is that it will self correct the VCRs timer for late or unpublished schedule changes, and programme overruns. At the moment only Channel 4 broadcast the necessary control codes, the BBC and other ITV companies remain lukewarm to the idea, so its not a big selling point right now.


If you've ever wanted to record satellite programmes whilst you're out the FV74 could be the answer to at least some of your prayers; it won't necessarily be of much use if you're going to be away for more than a few days, though, as Plus Codes are not normally published more than a week in advance. The FV74 has a conventional timer which can be programmed up to a year in advance but it does not operate the STV receiver. The FV74 is an ingenious idea and one that we hope catches on; there is room for improvement but we're convinced Video Plus is the only way to go, especially  if you're fed up with the current generation of timer programming systems. A very promising start but we're keen to see an expanded library of control codes, and a stereo version as soon as possible.



Make/model:          FERGUSON FV74LVX              

System price:       399

Address:               FERGUSON LTD, Crown Road, Enfield, Middlesex EN1 1DZ

Telephone 081-344 4444



Sound                                ***  

Picture                               ****

Ease of use                        ***

Features                             ****

Value for money                 ****


Starting to make sense of recording satellite on video but why not stereo?

Buying Satellite Rating:   90%


System:  VHS VCR with Video Plus and STV tuner control Features: 49 channels, auto operation,  variable slomo, variable pic search, still frame, index search, intro scan, instant record, Startext, child lock, continuous play/record Audio: mono Sockets: RF bypass,  AV in/out 2 x (SCART) Dimensions 398(w) x 85(h) x 338(d)



R.Maybury 1993 0910



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