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GROUP TEST

 

BUDGET NICAM VCRS

 

GRUNDIG GV-9401, £150

We can't recall exactly when Grundig stopped making video recorders, or sourcing them from its one-time partner Philips but it has been quite a while, so needless to say the GV-9401 is a badge-engineered special. All the indications are that it comes from the same factory as Aiwa machines. There's certainly nothing wrong with that and Aiwa has produced some fine VCRs in the past, moreover they are generally well specified and good value, however, Grundig seems to have opted for the most basic spec available.

 

Detailing the features won't take long, in fact once you get past auto installation, NICAM sound, Video Plus+ and NTSC replay we're into barrel-scraping with the likes of front-panel AV sockets, auto repeat and index search, which we hesitate to mention because almost most VCRs have some of all of them these days. It may be more interesting to list some of the more commonplace features that this machine hasn't got. The most obvious one is a second SCART socket. That's a real oversight and it could cause real problems for those with older TVs or complicated AV systems. It has two speed picture search and slomo, but the latter only works in the forward direction. With a selling price of £150 or less you can forget things like satellite control, tape tuning, archiving or anything like that, but even little odds and ends found on many recent VCRs, like NexTViewLink and PIN/postcode security are missing.

 

Head on the plain and simple front panel doesn't look too bad and it's worth mentioning that it's only 380mm wide, which might be relevant if you're pushed for space. The remote handset looks quite snazzy and the buttons are mostly well labelled and where you expect to find them. It's well behaved too and the on-screen displays and menu system are all reasonably easy to follow.  

 

AV performance on Aiwa VCRs is usually quite good and this seems to have rubbed off on this model, though without the benefit of advanced noise suppression and other video processing goodies some recordings can look a bit whiskery. New tapes look okay though and it copes well with the fast movement and rapidly changing light and colour levels in the Pod Racer sequence in The Phantom Menace. NICAM stereo and Dolby Surround fare reasonably well on the hi-fi soundtracks though some background hiss is evident, especially during quiet moments.

 

The missing SCART socket is a bit of a let-down; otherwise the 9401 is more or less what you would expect from a budget NICAM VCR, except the price, which is a reflection of the brand. Our advice, if the specs appeal, is to have a look at the Aiwa equivalent, which cost a little less, and comes with a couple more features.

 

Grundig 0208 3249400

 

FEATURES

NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC playback, multi-speed replay, auto repeat,

           

Sockets            Rear: 1 x SCART AV in/out, stereo line audio out (phono), RF in/out (coaxial). Front: AV in (phono)

 

BOX COPY

So why do you need two SCART sockets on a VCR? In an ideal world you wouldn't but the problem is many TV manufacturers still can't seem to grasp the fact that a lot of people these days have three or four (or more) AV devices that they want to plug into their TVs, and one or even two AV sockets simply isn't enough anymore. The point of a second SCART on the back of a VCR is that it can make up for a deficit of sockets on the TV, so you don't have to keep swapping leads around.

 

Overall              3

Picture Quality            3

Movie Sound                  4

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

GRUNDIG GV-9401

£                                  £150

VERDICT                      3

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Lacklustre budget machine, check Aiwa alternative

NTSC                            Y

SAT CONT                    N

SCARTS                       1

COMP’NT VID            N

ISSUE              93

 

 

 

HITACHI VT-FX960, £170

Over the past couple of years Hitachi has shown that there is still plenty of life left in the VHS video recorder. It has pioneered a succession of innovative features, including Commercial Advance (the one that fast forwards through ad breaks), tape library and subtitle display and now we can add the Daily Soap Timer to the list, which makes it debut on the VT-FX960. It's not in quite the same league as Commercial Advance but it's an interesting twist on the tape library idea that makes it easy for users to automatically record their favourite serials. More on that in a moment.

 

Sadly Commercial Advance didn’t make it onto the FX960's feature list, though given the price that's not surprising, but it does have plenty of other extras, including tape tuning, Movie Text (displays Closed Caption subtitles on pre-recorded tapes) and the tape library system, called Tape Navigation. This stores details of up to 200 recordings in the VCR's memory and in addition to time, date and channel info recordings can be categorised by genre (movie, sport, music, kids, fish??). Another feature allied to Tape Navigation is Navi Lock and this prevents recordings from being accidentally over-recorded. The Daily Soap Timer works by taking the start, stop and channel details of a program stored in the memory and using the information to program the timer to make subsequent recordings, either daily, or on specified days of the week. 

 

Visually it’s a bit of a mish-mash and we are not terribly keen on LCD front panel displays, which all but disappears when the VCR is switched off. It doesn't have a satellite timer as such but it will automatically record from satellite boxes that have their own built-in timers when it senses a video signal on the SCART AV lead. There's lots to play with and it's easy to use thanks to a well thought out set of on-screen displays and a moderately easy to use remote handset.

 

The tape tuning system on our sample was effective on both standard and higher grade tapes, however, picture noise is fairly average on some pre-recorded tapes, and already murky scenes like the meeting of the Jedi Knights in The Phantom Menace looks a touch flat. It's not a problem when there's plenty of light, the flying sequences in Top Gun are fine, and colours and shades are natural looking. The stereo hi-fi channels have very little background noise and big set piece Dolby Surround effects have plenty of punch, but without swamping low-level sounds. 

 

A generally agreeable machine, AV quality is okay and there are some useful features that should appeal to dedicated time shifters.   

 

Hitachi 0345 581455, www.hitachitv.com

 

FEATURES 100

NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC playback, MovieText display, Tape Navigation & Soap Recording, tape tuning, Video Link satellite recording

 

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

 

BOX COPY

Tape Navigation on this machine stores details of recordings in the VCR's memory, and on the tape itself. Time, date and channel info is recorded as digital data in an unused portion of the video signal. A similar technique is also used to record Closed Caption subtitles, now available on a lot of pre-recorded tapes. These are displayed using a facility Hitachi calls MovieText, and it is not a coincidence that this machine has both features since the necessary processing and decoding for both facilities is carried out by the same set of chips

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            4

Movie Sound                  4

Build Quality            4

Features                       4

 

VCR BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

HITACHI VT-FX90    

£                                  £170

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            A likeable, well specified machine of special interest to Soap fans

NTSC                            Y

SAT CONT                    see text

SCARTS                       2

COMP’NT VID            N

ISSUE              93

 

 

JVC HR-J680, £160

The HR-J60 is a strangely old-fashioned looking VCR, in fact it bears a striking resemblance to a couple of JVC video recorders dating back to the early 1980's but fear not, beneath the skin there beats the heart of a 21st century VCR. The low price rightly suggests that it is a no-frills NICAM machine but it's not completely devoid of features. In addition to staples like auto installation, Video Plus + with PDC and NTSC replay it can also replay S-VHS tapes (in VHS quality), it has JVC's B.E.S.T. tape tuning system, satellite control and the remote handset controls basic TV functions.

 

About the best thing we can say about the front panel control layout is that it is satisfactory, it's definitely not going to win any beauty contests and we thought blanked out panels  (for AV input sockets on models higher up the range) were a thing of the past. On the plus side the buttons you'll use most often are a good size and reasonably easy to find. The remote control handset looks quite busy but we'll let that go because four of the buttons are involved with programming the timer, which is quick and easy.

 

The satellite control function is a proper remote control system, using a plug-in infra-red 'wand' to control the satellite receiver, unfortunately the control codes are mostly for analogue receivers, and it can't cope with ONDigital receivers. In addition it has an auto satellite record function, which sets the VCR to record when it detects a video signal from a satellite receiver, though for this to work the sat box must have its own built-in timer. Auto installation is fairly sedate but it gets there in the end and once it's up and running it is reasonably easy to use with clear on-screen displays.

 

JVC proves the VCR still has a place in home cinema and our Phantom Menace test tape never looked better with sharp vivid colours and smooth fluid movement. The tape tuning system also makes the most of old tapes and the original Batman movies lost none of its impact, with lower than average noise levels, even though it has been played hundreds of times. The stereo hi-fi soundtracks are also deftly handled and Dolby Surround effects are sharply focused and unhampered by excessive amounts of background noise. 

 

Looks aside the J860 is a competent enough machine with some useful facilities and AV performance is well up to the kind of standard you'd expect from a mid-market machine. Not the prettiest VCR we've seen lately but it's good value and £160 is not a lot to pay for a NICAM VCR from a top-name manufacturer.

 

JVC 020 8450 3282, www.jvc-europe.com

 

FEATURES 100

NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC & Quasi-SVHS playback, multi-speed replay, TV remote, NexTViewLink, tape tuning, satellite control

           

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

 

BOX COPY

Satellite timer control used to be a good thing to have but now, with the old analogue services winding down, it is of questionable value. The trouble is only a handful of VCRs can control digital satellite boxes, and we've yet to find one that can cope fully with ONDigital or cable TV boxes, but even then VCRs can run into problems recording some programmes, especially movies, which can be copy protected with Macrovision spoiler signals, which can render recordings unwatchable on most analogue VCRs.

 

Overall              5

Picture Quality            5

Movie Sound                  4

Build Quality            5

Features                       5

 

 

VCR BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

JVC HR-J680    

£                                  £160

VERDICT                      5

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            great picture and sound, useful features and a sensible price

NTSC                            Y

SAT CONT                    Y

SCARTS                       2

COMP’NT VID            N

ISSUE              93

 

 

 

LG BM999NI, £140

Just when we thought VCRs had become boring and predictable LG goes and surprises us with the BM999NI. It's a real oddity, not least because we don't normally associate LG with radical design features, though these days it's hard to tell who makes what bits for who and we suspect the background to this machine could be quite colourful.  However, back to the business in hand and the first thing you notice about the BM999NI (apart from the highly memorable model number) is the complete absence of any knobs or buttons. There's no florescent display either, instead it has a green backlit LCD display that looks suspiciously like the ones fitted to some Hitachi VCRs. Instead of control buttons it has touch-sensitive pads, which is not something we've seen on a VCR before, and it's just not the kind of thing you expect to see on a budget machine.

 

The case design cosmetics are unusual, it has slab side panels like a piece of high end hi-fi kit (actually they are fake) and there's a translucent panel attached to the front of the machine. Unfortunately it sticks out a bit either side and looks liable to get knocked off, or chipped if its too close to other components or the sides of enclosures.

 

Considering the price it is well appointed. Items of interest include so-called 'ez' (easy) one-touch controls, ez-repeat is a sort of A-B repeat that plays a designated section of a recording twice over and ez-power off stops playback, rewinds and ejects the tape and switches off. It has a Commercial Skip function that puts the machine into fast picture search in 30-second increments and there's a simple tape-tuning feature that adjusts playback according to tape quality, finally there's an odd-ball energy-save mode, which kills the clock display, but since it's an LCD any power savings are probably miniscule. 

 

Pre-recorded tapes play well on this machine, an ancient copy of Robocop looked as good as new and new material, like the underwater sequences in the Phantom Menace showed plenty of sharp (for VHS) detail, solid colours and comparatively little noise. Off-air recordings made on the VCR also look detailed though the tape tuning system doesn't seem to discriminate between standard grade and high-grade blanks and levels of picture noise -- not enough to be concerned about – is the same on all tape types. Some background noise is apparent on the hi-fi soundtracks but it’s no worse than average. Dolby Surround effects come though unscathed.

 

The BM999NI makes a refreshing change and LG are to be congratulated for daring to be different. It's an interesting little machine that should liven up the budget end of the market and hopefully inspire a few more manufacturers to break with convention.

 

LG Electronics 01753 500470

 

FEATURES 100

NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC playback, multi-speed replay, NexTViewLink, one-touch stop/rewind/eject/off, A-B repeat play, energy save mode, Commercial Skip, tape tuning, soft touch controls

           

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

 

BOX COPY

Touch sensitive controls are something of a rarity on AV equipment in fact we can't recall the last time we saw them on a VCR. The system LG has used appears to rely on body capacitance, which tends to be more reliable than the alternative conductance system (this depends on skin resistance, conducting a small current). The BM999NI's controls work, even if you have dry fingers, it seems to be reliable and able to discriminate between a positive touch and accidentally brushing against the buttons.

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            4

Movie Sound                  4

Build Quality            4

Features                       4

 

 

VCR BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

LG BM999NI     

£                                  £140

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            innovative budget models, attractive price and spec

NTSC                            Y

SAT CONT                    N

SCARTS                       2

COMP’NT VID            N

ISSUE              93

 

 

 

PANASONIC NV-FJ625, £190

There is little doubt about the headline feature on the FJ625, it's EP recording mode, which gives up to 12 hours recording time on a 4-hour (E-240) cassette. If you have ever used the LP recording mode on a VCR you will know how poor the picture quality can be, so what's an even slower recording speed going to be like? Surprisingly it's not half bad, but more about that later.

 

The FJ625 has a several other handy features, including one of the fastest deck mechanisms in the business, it can replay S-VHS recordings, it comes with a multi-brand TV remote, there's Owner ID (so it can be identified if it's pinched) and something called Still Album Record. This last one is aimed at the growing number of owners of digital still cameras (DSCs). Don't get too excited, basically all it does is record for preset intervals of between 3 and 20 seconds, for taping sequences of still images from the video output of a DSC.

 

It's not an especially interesting machine to look at but the front panel layout is functional and the AV input sockets are tucked away behind a little hinged flap. The remote handset is not too bad either, frequently used buttons are easy to identify and timer programming is made easier by the individual channel, date and time keys. On screen displays are big and bold and generally speaking it is simple to set up and use.

 

EP recording speed is a genuine innovation, a boon for heavy-duty timeshifters and Soap fans who take long holidays. Picture quality is quite good, in fact it's better than the SP recording mode on some cheapie VCRs, though there are a couple of provisos. For the best results you should use the best quality tape you can lay your hands on, such as high grade or Super VHS. Ordinary SP tapes – especially the cheapo stuff -- tends to produce a fairly noisy picture that can become tiresome to watch. Standard grade tape is fine for SP recordings though, and off-air recordings are crisp and detailed. The same goes for pre-recorded material and efficient noise reduction manages to make well-used tapes look almost new and new tapes positively shine.

 

The crowd scenes in The Phantom Menace, especially the long shots usually end up looking like a blurry quivering mess on most machines, on the FJ625 there is so much more detail and you can get a much more authentic taste of the incredible amount of work that went into the special effect. There's very little background hiss on the stereo soundtracks, which leaves more room for the quieter sounds and big set-piece effects.

 

A refined and very capable machine though you seem to be paying a bit of a premium for the EP recording feature which, good though it is, has a fairly narrow appeal. 

 

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

 

FEATURES

NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC & quasi S-VHS playback, EP recording speed, multi-speed replay (35x Jet Search), QLink/ NexTViewLink, multi-brand TV remote, Owner ID, audio dub, Still Album record

 

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

 

 

BOX COPY

EP recording speed on PAL video recorders is a relatively new development that's come about because of steady improvements in tape formulation and video processing technology. The obvious winners are soap fans, going on holiday for a couple of weeks. Up to 12 hours recording time per cassette means you won't miss a thing. It's also ideal for watch and wipe timeshifting but the quality is not really good enough for archiving, and there's always the danger that your next VCR won't be able to play EP recordings…

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            5

Movie Sound                  5

Build Quality            5

Features                       4

 

 

VCR BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

PANASONIC NV-FJ625,

£                                  £190    

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Pricey but good performer and EP recording mode could be useful for some

NTSC                            Y

SAT CONT                    N

SCARTS                       2

COMP’NT VID            N

ISSUE              93

 

 

SONY SLV-SE810, £200

Sharp styling was one of the things you could usually depend on with Sony VCRs. Now, we're not saying that the SLV-SE180 is an ugly machine -- far from it -- but the exterior design and cosmetics are all rather ordinary. In fact the front panel looks like a parts-bin special, no real coordination, very un-Sony.

 

As far as the features are concerned it ranks as a fairly basic home cinema machine, there's nothing particularly innovative or unusual in the line up. It has Sony's Smart Search tape library system, but it is quite rudimentary and not especially easy to use. The only other features of note are a set of front AV inputs, audio dub and it comes with a multi-brand TV remote control

 

There is one item of interest and that's on the front panel. It's the Dial Timer knob, and this is a very good idea. It's a dual-action twist and click jobbie. Turn it one click and you have immediate access to the VCRs clock settings, (though why you should need it a bit of a mystery as the auto set-up takes care of that). Turn it one more click and press it in and you can set a single timer event. Now this is most impressive, it's fast and intuitive and even if you've never used it before you can set the machine to record a program – up to a month in advance – in around ten seconds flat. In fact it's so good that it ought to be on the remote handset as well because programming the timer on this machine is otherwise a bit of rigmarole.

 

It is very easy to live with and the on-screen displays are well presented, though a number secondary functions have been shoved away under two vaguely labelled 'Options' menus. The handset is a good size with large well-labelled controls. An apparently random selection of buttons are secreted away under a hinged flap, this has a habit of coming off in your hand if opened too vigorously.

 

Picture quality on our sample was okay, this machine lacks the sophisticated tape tuning and processing elements of it's higher-priced cousins and it shows up on older and well-used recordings, and an ancient copy of Top Gun, which has been through the mill a good many times looked a bit more fluffy than usual. Nevertheless on newer tapes and recordings made on the machine there's a fair amount of detail in the image, colours are crisp and noise levels are a little below average. It sounds fine, noise levels are low and the classic, fast-moving Dolby Surround effects in Top Gun still sound as fresh as a daisy.

 

An unusually bland machine from Sony and not especially good value either.

 

Sony (0990) 111999, www.sony.co.uk

 

FEATURES

NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC playback, multi-speed replay, multi-brand TV remote, security code, SmartLink, syncro record, Smart Search tape library, audio dub

           

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

 

BOX COPY

Sony was one of the pioneers of tape archiving and library systems though its very sophisticated SmartFile system, with a microchip embedded in the tape spine label didn't last very long as the labels cost almost as much as blank tapes. Smart Search on the SE810 goes the other way and it is very basic. Unlike quite a few other systems it doesn't store program titles or categories, just time, date and channel details of up to 24 recordings on the tape, whilst the VCR hold data on up to four tapes.

 

Overall              3

Picture Quality            4

Movie Sound                  4

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

VCR BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

SONY SLV-SE810

£                                  £200

VERDICT                      ***

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Okay, but not one of Sony's best

NTSC                            Y

SAT CONT                    N

SCARTS                       2

COMP’NT VID            N

ISSUE              93

 

 

 

TOSHIBA V-711, £150

You can't go far wrong with Tosh VCRs and the V-711 is the latest in a long line of solid home cinema machines. What it lacks in visual charm it more than makes up for with a very long list of features and the price is now much more in line with the competition.  It is well equipped, nothing too dramatic – that's not Toshiba's way -- but it does have one or two small surprises. The most eye-catching extras are satellite control, and this is one of the few machines that can handle digital sat boxes, it comes with a multi-brand TV remote plus audio dub, high-speed rewind, eco mode low-power standby and a repeat play function.

 

One very unusual feature can be found on the back panel and that is three SCART sockets. It's meant for an external satellite unscrambler/decoder

 – common in some European countries not yet blessed by the great god BSKYB – but it's also handy for anyone with an older TV and connection problems. Unfortunately, whoever designed the back panel wasn't terribly bright and the AV3 socket is uncomfortably close to the stereo output sockets, so close in fact that a fat SCART plug can block access to the sockets.

 

Installation and routine operations are all very straightforward thanks to a well designed set of on-screen displays, sensibly laid out controls and a remote handset that should be an inspiration to others, with its big glow in the dark transport buttons. Even the instruction book is easy to follow, it's a model of clarity and the Plain English Campaign should be notified.

 

You may be a little surprised by the apparent lack of tape tuning and video processing gizmos. They're not something you see very often on Toshiba VCRs, that's not to say the enhancements are not there, as we shall see, it's just that they don't bother giving them fancy names with long winded or contrived acronyms. Picture quality on our sample was excellent and about as good as it gets on VHS, though it didn't do much for some old and very well used test recordings, which looked soft and borderline noisy. Otherwise pre-recorded movies and recordings made on the machine look very clean and managed to pick out a lot of detail in the dark and dingy chase through the streets of Gotham City scene early on in the original Batman movie. It works the same kind of magic on movie soundtracks too with lower than average amounts of background noise, which helps bring out low level sounds and background effects.

 

Since the only thing we could find to criticise about this machine was the layout of some back panel sockets, you can take it as read that we rather like it. If you've only got £150 to spend on a NICAM VCR see this one first and you might save yourself a lot of time!

 

Toshiba (01276) 62222, www.toshiba.co.uk

 

FEATURES

NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC playback, multi-speed replay, NexTViewLink, multi-brand TV remote, satellite control (inc digital), audio dub, repeat play,

 

Sockets            Rear: 3 x SCART AV in/out, stereo line audio out (phono), RF in/out (coaxial). Front: AV in (phono)

 

BOX COPY

Clumsy controls, poor handset design and hard to follow on-screen displays can ruin an otherwise perfectly competent VCR. That is not a problem with the V711, which is a joy to use and never puts a foot wrong. It is one of those very rare AV products that you can actually install and use without once referring to the instruction book, which is rather ironic, as Toshibas has also managed to crack that nut, producing one of the best manuals we've seen in ages!

 

Overall              5

Picture Quality            5

Movie Sound                  5         

Build Quality            5

Features                       5

 

VCR BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

TOSHIBA V-711

£                                  £150

VERDICT                      5

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            not much to look at but an outstanding performer

NTSC                            Y

SAT CONT                    Y

SCARTS                       3

COMP’NT VID            N

ISSUE              93

 

 

BOX COPY 1

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY VHS!

 

September 9th, put it in your diary because on that day exactly 25 years ago JVC launched the HR3300, the world's first VHS video recorder. A quarter of a century on and the format is still going strong, who would have thought it? Nevertheless, faithful old VHS is finally on the way out and fulfilling the industry credo that, on average, home recording systems have 25-year lifecycles (tell that to the compact cassette….), but it's not going to go down quickly, or without a struggle!

 

VCRs are still being bought in huge numbers and for good reason. Despite all of the hype surrounding recordable DVD and hard-disc video recorders, and whilst they have VHS beat hollow on picture and sound quality there is still no sensibly price alternative to tape, particularly when it comes to recording TV programmes. VCRs also win hands down for ease of use, convenience and compatibility and not forgetting price. It's easy to forget just how cheap VCRs are these days. We have seen basic mono machines being sold for as little as £50, though £75 is usual, and stereo hi-fi machines can be found selling for less than £100; that's silly money, they're almost giving them away!

 

As prices have come down so performance, features and reliability have all gone up. It's worth remembering that back in the late seventies first generation VCRs cost more than £800 (that has to be more than £1500 at today's prices). What's more they had timers so fiendishly complicated that only rocket scientists could use (no change there then…) and it took several years for things like motorised deck mechanisms, remote control and trick play to become standard fitments, stereo hi-fi sound didn't happen until 1985.

 

The VCR market has contracted somewhat in recent years as it has become apparent that recordable disc systems will eventually take over but perhaps the most dramatic changes have been bought about by an effect known as price erosion. Fierce competition has forced prices down to the point where very few manufacturers make money out of selling VCRs anymore, in fact the big name brands almost certainly loose on basic entry-level machines, which is why most of them now outsource their budget models and stick to making a small range of high value top-end machines. Even so, there is still a very wide choice of machines and specifications, and even the odd innovation, though the format has long since reached the limits of its performance envelope, and tape now looks decidedly antiquated besides digital disc-based medium with near instant access to any part of a recording, simultaneous record and replay and no reduction in picture quality, no matter how many times a recording is played back.

 

VHS is still going to be around for a few years yet but as things stand if your existing machine is getting on a bit and due for retirement anytime soon then the next VCR you buy could well be your last, so make it a good 'un, especially if you've got a sizeable collection of tapes. Don't forget September 9th and raise a glass to VHS, it's been a good friend!

 

 

HOW THE TESTS WERE DONE

 

We use a combination of specially prepared recordings and electronically generated test patterns to assess resolution – how much fine detail a VCR can record and reproduce – picture noise levels, contrast, colour accuracy and stability. Bench test results give us a good idea of a VCR's general recording and replay abilities but we also try them out under real world conditions, making off-air recordings and replaying pre-recorded movies. The latter are chosen for sequences that include plenty of fast action, lots of fine detail, rapid changes in brightness and of course, loud and dynamic surround soundtracks, preferably involving space aliens coming to a grisly end…

 

---end---

 

Ó R. Maybury 2001, 2205

 

 

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