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TOSHIBA V-730UK, £220, NICAM VCR

VERDICT ****

 

Why’s it here: It seems like only yesterday that Toshiba introduced the V729, a smart, fresh-faced NICAM VCR with satellite control that sold for just under £250, (actually it was last autumn….). Tosh VCRs have always been a bit dearer than the opposition, the V729 was a good home cinema machine but we still felt it was a tad pricey. It’s almost as if someone out there is listening to us because here’s the V730, a shiny new NICAM VCR with satellite control that you can pick up for £220 or less. Much as we’d like to take credit for consumer electronics companies marketing strategies this is more likely the handiwork of our old friend price erosion, which has resulted in top name NICAM VCRs selling for less than £200 in high street multiples. If you do your VCR shopping on the Internet and you’re not too fussy about brands you can find stereo machines for less than £100 nowadays.

 

Any unique features: The 360mm wide cabinet could prove useful if you’re short on shelf space but it might look a bit weird if you use it with an older 430mm wide satellite receiver, which has to perch on top in order to pick up IR commands from the window on top of the machine. Two new features that warrant a mention are front-mounted AV input sockets – just the job for a spot of camcorder editing or easy video game hook-ups – and audio dub, which is another useful home video movie oriented feature. Otherwise the spec is broadly similar to the V729 with full auto install and time/date set, it has NTSC replay, NexTViewLink and it comes with a multi-brand TV remote sporting luminous buttons. The deck mechanism is super quick, winding a 3-hour tape from end to end just over minute, and we forgot to mention that the satellite control system is programmed for Sky Digital set top boxes. Stickers on the VCR say it can control OnDigital STBs as well but on this point the instruction book becomes a little hazy so you had better double check before you buy if that feature is important to you.

 

How does it perform: Auto installation system fires up when the machine is plugged in for the first time and does its business in just over two minutes; that’s actually a bit slower than the 729 but we’ll overlook it this time. Picture quality is good with a healthy 240-line resolution on our sample. Colours are bright, detailed and fairly natural looking, picture noise is a little below average and trick-play modes are all very steady. DVD has made us more aware of background noise on analogue hi-fi soundtracks but we’re pleased to say the 730 is a notch up on most of its rivals, the response is wide and flat and it carries Dolby Surround material without any difficulty.

 

Our Verdict:            The styling is unimaginative, dull even, moreover the top and front panels feel thin and flimsy -- not the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from Toshiba -- but apart from that the V730 is a fine little machine, in fact all things considered it’s a bit of a bargain when you take satellite control into consideration and we’d certainly be happy to give it houseroom.

 

Toshiba (01276) 62222

 

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Features            NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC playback, satellite control, multi-speed replay, audio dub, low power standby, NexTViewLink, multi-brand TV remote

           

Sockets             2 x SCART AV, stereo line audio out (phono) RF bypass (coaxial) Front: AV in (phono)

 

Dimensions            360 x 94 x 298mm     

 

Rival Buys

Hitachi VT-FX860, £200

JVC HR-J665, £220

Sanyo VHR-889, £230

 

HEAD

PANASONIC NV-FJ760, £320

VERDICT *****

 

Why’s it here: Just when you thought VHS was coming to the end of the road, what with all this recordable DVD stuff we keep hearing about, someone goes and injects new life into the format. A couple of months ago it was JVC with D-VHS (great idea but disappointing implementation), now it’s the turn of Panasonic, which is first off the blocks with a VHS-EP machine in the shape of the NV-FJ760. We’ll look at VHS-EP in more detail in a moment, but this machine is significant for other reasons, it’s a true multi-role deck with the kind of feature that will appeal to home cinema enthusiasts and home video movie-makers in almost equal measure.

 

Any unique features: The specification for VHS-EP on PAL VCRs was only ratified by JVC a couple of months ago, basically it’s a new recording speed that trebles tape running times, so you get 9-hours with an E-180 and 12-hours on an E-240 cassette. In fact it’s not entirely new, US VCRs have had an EP recording mode almost since day-one but it was felt unnecessary on PAL machines due to lower tape speeds enabling longer tape running times. However improvements in tape formulation, tape head design and video processing circuitry has made it a viable proposition. On its own that would be enough to make us sit up and pay attention but the F760 has a number of other attractions, including a sophisticated tape library system that catalogues the contents of up to 999 tapes, satellite control, NTSC and quasi S-VHS replay and Teletext subtitle recording. Editing functions include audio dub, manual recording level control, insert edit, a front-mounted AV input terminal, a syncro-edit connection and a Panasonic 5-pin edit socket, for connection to an edit controller. There’s also an Album recording function designed for archiving still images plus and a good range of trick-play modes controllable from a front-mounted jog/shuttle dial. Needless to say the F760 has a full compliment of convenience features, like auto installation and clock set, a high-speed deck mechanism, a multi-brand TV remote control handset, advanced noise reduction, Owner ID and lots of timer programming options (Video Plus, quick-set, one touch).

 

How does it perform: Auto installation on our sample was over in a record breaking 28 seconds and at the end of it there’s an opportunity to store the owner’s post code in a non-volatile memory, which may help get it back if it’s nicked and later recovered. VHS SP recordings look superb, a full 250-lines with very low levels of noise, lifelike colours and a rock steady image. LP recordings are pretty dire, whiskery with flaky colour and the picture goes black and white and wobbly in trick play mode. The signs are not good for EP recording, but it turned out to be only a notch or two below SP in terms of noise, colour fidelity and picture stability. Resolution was down to just over 220 lines but the picture still managed to look good, as an added bonus trick play is in colour and best of all, the Teletext subtitle recording facility still works. Hi-fi sound at SP speed has the usual wide flat response; background hiss is quite well suppressed. Noise levels increase in LP and EP modes but not by very much and it’s still good enough to carry Dolby Surround information without too much loss of detail,

 

Our Verdict: It can’t have escaped your notice that you can buy a S-VHS video recorder these days for about the same sort of money as this one. However, unless you have a specific interest in editing high band or digital camcorder footage there are few advantages for everyday recording, in which case we’d say your money would be much better spent on an F760. EP recording is a genuine innovation for heavy-duty time shifting. The ability to record up to 12 hours on a single tape means don’t have to miss a single episode of Corrie or East Enders if you go off for a two-week holiday and once you’ve mastered the intricacies of the tape library system you’ve got a good chance of getting your tape collection into some kind of order. Good news too if you’re a bit mutton, Teletext subtitles are a boon for the hard of hearing and it looks really smart. Highly recommended!

 

Panasonic (08705) 357357, www.panasonic.co.uk

 

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Features            NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC & Quasi S-VHS playback, EP recording mode satellite control, multi-speed replay, audio dub, tape library system, Teletext subtitle display, Q-Link, multi-brand TV remote, manual recording level control, syncro edit & Album recording functions, insert edit,     

 

Sockets             2 x SCART AV in/out, stereo line out (phono), syncro edit (minijack), edit control (5-pin mini DIN), RF bypass (coaxial. Front: AV in (phono)

 

Dimensions            430 x 87 x 305mm     

 

Rival Buys

Hitachi VT-FX880, £320

JVC HR-S7500, £350

Philips VR-860, £320

 

 

HEAD

MATSUI DVD110, £180

VERDICT **

 

Why’s it here: The ever nimble Dixons was quick to jump in with a budget-priced house-brand DVD player but even they must be surprised by how fast the market is moving. To make matters worse Dixons and other high street multiples traditional roles as purveyors of high tech home entertainment goods has been usurped and nowadays you can pick up bargain price DVD players at the same time as a sack of spuds in supermarkets like Tescos and Asda. Woollies is doing a roaring trade in budget decks and the Internet is knee-deep in cheap decks. At the time the DVD-110 looked like quite a good deal but a few months on it is now looking decidedly under equipped and uncompetitive.

 

Any unique features: The only thing even slightly unusual about the DVD-110 is how crude it now looks beside many other similarly priced (and cheaper…) players. We were also a little taken aback by the opening screen, which includes Dixon’s help line number. It’s not very encouraging, DVD is supposed to be almost foolproof. Even so some owners may find the paucity of sockets a little confusing. There’s a single SCART socket but it only carries composite video output and there’s no S-VHS connection for those with suitably equipped TVs, who want to take advantage of the facility to get better picture quality. Playback facilities are limited to 4 forward and reverse slomo and search speeds and a picture zoom, but that’s not very accessible and takes ten button presses to engage. The on-screen displays are a bit confusing but the controls are generally easy to get to grips with.

 

How does it perform: Maybe the helpline number isn’t such a bad idea after all, the picture on our sample was not very good with numerous processing errors as the image froze and broke up into coloured blocks. Much of this is due to its low tolerance of dirty or scratched discs that the error correction on most other players is usually able to compensate for. Picture quality on a clean disc is okay but it’s not as crisp as we would like, colours and shades are not especially sharp and the contrast range could be wider as shadows and dark scenes mask a fair amount of detail. Dolby Surround on the mixed stereo output isn’t too bad but noise suppression is only average.

 

Our Verdict: We have to say we’re not terribly inspired by the DVD-110, it lacks quite a few important features, AV quality is disappointing and there are plenty of better equipped and better performing players on the market for under £200.

 

Dixons 08000 682868

 

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Features                       Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, picture zoom

 

Sockets                        1 x SCART AV out, mixed stereo & coaxial digital out (phono)

 

Dimensions                  

 

Rival Buys

Bush DVD-2002, £180

Mico DVD-A90, £180

Wharfedale DVD-750, £180

 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2000, 0906

 

 

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