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GROUP TEST

 

NICAM VCRS

 

AIWA HV-FX7800 £150

Aiwa has an admirable track record for producing attractively priced, well-specified VCRs and the FX7800 earns its place on the list but unlike previous models this one is not a particularly memorable design. True, it's a compact mini-system sized machine and the purple trims on the front panel are quite eye-catching but it lacks any of those novel little extras that we've come to expect from Aiwa.

 

In fact there's nothing that makes this machine stand out from the crowd. The only thing that could be described as vaguely unusual is Favourite Program recording. This works by storing the data used to make time-shift recordings; the idea is that if you want to record a programme that goes out at the same time each day or week you only have to select it from the list of previously recorded programmes instead of having to reprogram the timer for every episode. Doubtless someone somewhere will find it useful but it's unlikely to excite most VCR users. One Touch Playback is quite handy, it automatically rewinds and plays back a recording but it's not exactly new, and the front mounted AV sockets could come in useful but for some reason the much trumpeted postcode security feature of previous models has been dropped. Maybe Aiwa VCRs are not considered nickable any more…

 

Picture quality on Aiwa VCRs has always been good for the price, but the world has moved on. VCRs from top name manufacturers can now be found for the same sort of money as the FX7800, often incorporating more advanced picture processing circuitry. The picture on the FX7800 is okay but it's not as crisp as some of its near rivals, picture noise shows up in heavily saturated colours like the bright reds in Queen Amidala's robes and headgear in the Phantom Menace. Darker background look a touch grainy but it also takes the edge off well-lit outdoor scenes, like the excellent tank chase in Goldeneye. 

 

Dolby Surround effects on the stereo hi-fi soundtracks make it through without loosing any of their impact and suffer little from relatively low levels of background hiss.

 

Not so long ago Aiwa would have been one of the few names you'd recognise on a budget VCR. Times have changed and now everyone is in on the act. The FX7800 is a decent enough little machine but at £150 or thereabouts it's just not that special but if you like what you see shop around, there could be some bargains to be had.

 

Aiwa (0990) 902902 www.aiwa.co.uk

 

FEATURES

NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC playback, multi-speed replay, one touch playback, Favourite Program recording, 30-second Ad-Skip

           

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

 

XTRA INFO

One area where Aiwa has made a major improvement over previous models is in the design of its remote control handsets. To date they've tended to be poor little things with lots of tiny, close packed buttons. The one that comes with the FX800 is a big step forward. The most frequently used buttons for tape transport and the on-screen menus are a good size, clearly labelled and easy to find, and in the case of the record and one-touch playback keys, colour coded as well.

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            3

Movie Sound                  4

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

VCR BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

AIWA FX7800   

£                                  £150

VERDICT                      3

SCARTS                       2

COMMENTS            fair performance but uninspiring features

SAT CONT                    N

NTSC                            Y

ISSUE              96

 

 

 

BUSH VCR-923

A NICAM stereo hi-fi VCR for less than £100 -- albeit by only by one penny -- but what's the catch? The simple answer is that there doesn't appear to be one. Assuming that it's not programmed to break down the day after the warranty expires or there is some fatal design flaw we've missed – and we have no reason to suppose that either scenario is likely -- the Bush VCR-923 looks like a genuine bargain. Needless to say you are not going to get top class picture and sound quality for that sort of money and the feature list is fairly brief but as we shall see AV performance is nothing to be ashamed of and it is by no means basic.

 

Whilst the 923 has nothing that comes close to qualifying as a luxury feature it does have several useful extras, like a bank of camcorder-friendly AV sockets on the front panel, it also has a 120-second commercial skip function and auto satellite recording. This isn't satellite control as such and it depends on the satellite receiver having a built-in timer, but it's worth having nonetheless. The machine is a compact size and will fit in with mini-sized hi-fi components, just like the Aiwa machine in this group test in fact, with which it shares a common parentage.

 

Off air recordings in SP mode are very acceptable, there's some picture noise but it's not excessive; very fine detail tends to be a bit mushy but colours have a fair amount of depth and subtle shades and skin tones look reasonably lifelike. During playback of pre-recorded movies the slightly soft picture shows up in busy sequences, like the pod race in The Phantom Menace, where textures and very small objects tend to be a bit indistinct. On the plus side it has no problems with sudden changes in brightness and explosions in action movies like Goldeneye – and there's plenty of those in the pre-title sequence -- retain all of their impact.

 

The hiss on the stereo soundtracks is about average but you only really notice it during quiet passages, otherwise it sounds fine and Dolby Surround effects, big and small come through without any significant losses.  

 

Considering the price – and we're talking pocket money here -- AV performance is impressive, borderline home cinema in fact though like most budget VCRs we'd hesitate to recommend using it on larger screen sizes.

 

Bush 020 8594 5533

 

FEATURES

NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC playback, 120-second commercial skip, auto satellite record, continuous play

           

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

 

XTRA INFO

Because of the price we have looked hard to see where the corners have been cut but there really is very little evidence of penny-pinching. Build quality is generally good and even the casework, where you would expect to find some evidence of skimping is as solid as most other budget VCRs, though it has to be said that the front panel is a bit plasticky. The deck mechanism appears to be a good quality item, it's not especially noisy or clunky and tapes load and eject quickly and smoothly.

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            3

Movie Sound                  4

Build Quality            4

Features                       2

 

VCR BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

BUSH VCR-923

£                                  £100

VERDICT                      4

SCARTS                       2

COMMENTS            great value, very fair performance

SAT CONT                    N

NTSC                            Y

ISSUE              96

 

 

 

JVC HR-S6856 £230 BADGE WINNER

The S-VHS format has been enjoying a modest revival over the past five years since JVC bought the price down to put it in with contention with top end VHS video recorders. The HR-S6856, in common with most recent S-VHS machines uses 'Expansion Technology' (ET) to record high quality S-VHS video material on regular VHS tape, neatly sidestepping one of the formats main disadvantages namely the need to use specialised and costly high-performance blank tape.

 

 

---NEW PARA---

 

As a matter of interest Super VHS video recorders have always been able to do this but were prevented from do so by an ‘ident hole’ in S-VHS cassettes, which determined the VCRs recording mode. However, soon after the format was introduced in the early 1980s it was discovered that by carefully drilling a hole in a normal VHS cassette it was possible to fool the machine into thinking it was an S–VHS cassette. Inevitably the use of lower quality tape results in a small increase in noise but this is more than offset by the format’s broader bandwidth, which results in more detail and crisper colours.

 

---END NEW PARA---

 

JVC product styling has tended to be unremarkable, especially its video recorders and although the S6856's front panel is a bit of an odd shape it doesn't look half bad with its translucent green fascia cladding – shades of Philips Cool Green perhaps – and this particular model is designed to blend in with JVC's Futurevision and Cinema 100 range of AV components. Incidentally it's also available with blue tinted (S6857) and clear (S6855) front panels.

 

It's very well equipped too with aspirations that go beyond time shifting and home cinema into home movie making. The key editing and copying features are a set of front-mounted AV sockets, with an S-Video connector – plus an unusually agile tape deck with a rapid-response jog dial on the front panel. The rest of the line-up includes satellite control, a tape library feature, tape tuning a multi-brand TV remote control and a 30-second skip search button that's handy for skimming through ad breaks.

 

Normal VHS picture quality is excellent, as good as anything you'll see from the other top brands. Off-air recordings look crisp and detailed with plenty of colour depth and comparatively little noise. On S-VHS ET recordings the noise remains so it's worth using high-grade tapes. There is a small increase in detail but like recordings made on premium S-VHS tape it doesn't really make much difference to TV broadcasts. S-VHS quality does shine through on copies and edits of camcorder recordings and it does a very good job on digital camcorder footage.

 

The EP recording mode, which gives up to 12-hours recording time on a 4-hour blank is good enough for time-shifting your favourite soaps when you're away from home for a few days but the picture is quite hairy with a fair amount of noise. 

 

When it comes to replaying pre-recorded material once again it does a bang-up job, the bright and richly coloured cityscape scenes in Phantom Menace and rapid movement looks much more fluid, compared with DVD and this is apparent on fast-paced action movies like Tomorrow Never Dies and the multi-story car-park chase sequence.

 

The hi-fi soundtracks have lightly less than average amounts of background noise and Dolby Surround effects emerge in good condition with the channels well separated and dialogue stays sharply focused on the centre channel.

 

Even if you are not particularly interested in Super VHS the S6856 has to be well worth considering if you're in the market for a well appointed, top-end VCR. However, it really starts to pay off if you also have a camcorder, in particular a high band (S-VHS-C or Hi8) or digital model, and you want to edit or copy recordings to VHS, without incurring a big drop in picture quality.

 

JVC UK 0870 330 5000, www.jvc.co.uk

 

FEATURES

S-VHS ET, EP record mode, NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, tape navigation, NTSC playback, multi-speed replay, TV remote, NexTViewLink, BEST tape tuning, satellite control, 30-second skip, picture control,

           

Sockets            Rear: 2 x SCART AV in/out, stereo line audio out (phono), RF in/out (coaxial), satellite control wand (minijack). Front: AV in (phono), S-Video in (mini DIN)

 

XTRA INFO

S-VHS ET recording takes advantage of a trick that video teccies have known about for years, namely that if you drill a hole into the case of a standard VHS cassette you can fool Super VHS video recorders into treating them as high performance S-VHS blanks. With a bit of tweaking here and there JVC has managed to improve the performance to the point where it's very difficult to tell the difference between S-VHS recordings made on regular tape and increasingly expensive and hard to find Super VHS blanks. 

 

Overall              5

Picture Quality            4

Movie Sound                  4

Build Quality            4

Features                       5

 

VCR BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

JVC HR-S6856

£                                  £230

VERDICT                      4

SCARTS                       2

COMMENTS            Great picture and excellent value

SAT CONT                    Y

NTSC                            Y

ISSUE              96

 

 

JVC HR-S8850 £350

From the outside the HR-S8550 doesn't look significantly different to the S6856, there's a couple of extra buttons above the shuttle dial, a winking audio level bargraph in the display and the fascia panel lacks the green tint of it's stablemate, so it's not immediately clear why this machine should sell for £100 or more than its stablemate.

 

One clue lies in those extra buttons, labelled audio dub and insert, which marks the S8850 out as a top-end editing machine. Insert editing is a complicated process, allowing new footage to be dropped seamlessly into an existing recording. This depends on a widget called a 'flying erase head' (see Xtra Info) and some additional circuitry to ensure the beginning and end of the new material marries up perfectly with the recording it's being inserted into. The S8850 also has advanced digital noise reduction circuitry and a timebase corrector, the latter improves the stability of old, and noisy recordings copied or edited on the machine. Finally there's a remote pause connection on the back panel, which allows other components, like suitably equipped VCRs and camcorders, to control the record/pause function on this machine to automate the editing process.

 

Like the S6856 it has an S-VHS ET recording mode, which allows Super VHS quality recordings to be made on ordinary VHS tape The main home cinema features are basically a re-run of the S6856 with an EP recording mode, satellite control, tape navigation and a multi-brand remote (this one also has an LCD display and controls some cable and satellite boxes).

 

The extra digital processing has a noticeable effect on the image when using the trick play options and the picture takes on the harder textured look of DVD but without the fine detail. This disappears during normal replay and it retains the familiar softness of tape but there is a small reduction in noise.  The pod race in Phantom Menace looks superb, colours are bright and vibrant, tiny details and textures really stand out; you want to keep going back over the audience shots to spot all the brilliant little animated aliens.

 

Using high grade VHS tape there's even less difference between S-VHS and S-VHS ET recordings and the lower picture noise levels suggests that once again all of the digital doohickeys are earning their keep. Sound quality is unchanged from its stablemate and very well suited to home cinema.

 

Is it worth the extra? Picture quality is certainly a notch up on the 6856 but it's most noticeable on S-VHS recordings, which mainly benefits camcorder owners and movie-makers, and they should definitely include it on their shortlists.

 

JVC UK 0870 330 5000, www.jvc.co.uk

 

FEATURES

S-VHS ET, EP recording mode, NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, tape navigation, NTSC playback, multi-speed replay, TV remote, NexTViewLink, BEST tape tuning, satellite control, 30-second skip, picture control, insert edit, audio dub, timebase corrector, 

           

Sockets            Rear: 2 x SCART AV in/out, stereo line audio out (phono), S-VHS out (mini DIN) RF in/out (coaxial), satellite control wand & remote pause (minijack). Front: AV in (phono), S-Video in (mini DIN)

 

XTRA INFO

A flying erase head is an extra recording head mounted on the spinning tape head drum. It's an editing feature and its job is to enable new sequences to be dropped into the middle of an existing recording. The flying erase head and its associated circuitry overcomes the problem of a lack of synchronisation between the recording on the tape and the new material, coming from another VCR or a camcorder, making sure there is no picture disturbance at the beginning and end of the new segment.

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            5

Movie Sound                  4

Build Quality            4

Features                       5

 

 

VCR BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

JVC HR-S8850

£                                  £350

VERDICT                      4

SCARTS                       2

COMMENTS            Excellent home cinema performer and edit deck

SAT CONT                    Y

NTSC                            Y

ISSUE              96

 

 

PANASONIC NV-FJ620, £180 BADGE WINNER

From the moment you take it out of the box you know the FJ620 is going to be good, and boy is it good! It feels altogether more substantial than your average run-of-the-mill VCR. It gives the impression of being solidly built, the case mouldings and trims are more sharply defined and even the remote handset looks like it means business.

 

---NEW PARA---

 

Panasonic build quality is almost legendary, which partly accounts for the slightly higher retail price of many of its AV products but this usually pays dividends in reliability and longevity. Panasonic VCRs tend to last longer and need fewer visits to the service centre than most other makes. This could be an important consideration, now more than ever as the VHS format is on the way out. Most of us have built up fairly substantial tape collections and this may be the last VCR you’ll buy so it’s worth thinking about what you are going to play all those tapes on in years to come.

 

---END NEW PARA---

 

 

In spite of the highish price you get little in the way of frills and fancy features; it has an EP recording mode, NTSC and S-VHS replay plus an impressively quick 35x picture search but there's not much else to get excited about. It doesn’t even have satellite control, which has become an almost standard fitment lately, though it will make recordings from satellite and decoder boxes that have their own built-in timers. Recording begins as soon as the satbox switches on and a video signal is detected on the SCART lead connecting the satbox and VCR.

 

Convenience features are thin on the ground, the handset can control the main functions on a TV but only if it's also made by Panasonic and things that sound quite promising, like the Replay Function, turn out to be a bit of a let down (it rewinds and replays the last ten seconds of a recording). Some things don't do anything at all, like the Still Album button on the remote and Panasonic has had to go to the trouble of putting a little notice on the handset to the effect that 'some functions may not be applicable to your VCR'.

 

All is forgiven, however, when you see what it can do. Picture quality is brilliant, and not just on SP recordings. The EP recording mode is easily the best we've seen, it even manages to look better than the SP recording mode on some other VCRs we could mention. Maybe it's not quite good enough for long-term archiving but it's fine for everyday use and the facility to squeeze up to 12 hours worth of programmes on an E-240 tape makes it genuinely useful.

 

Recordings made in the SP recording mode don't get any better than this, the FJ620 is operating at the edges of the VHS performance envelope; it might even have pushed it back a bit… Off-air recordings are pin-sharp with lively and natural looking colours and picture noise is insignificant but it's the machine's ability to resolve fine detail that puts it head and shoulders above the opposition. This is how good it is, you can count the spots on Jar-Jar Binks' nose in the Phantom Menace and tell the time on Bond's watch when he bursts into the hotel room looking for Elliot Carver's wife in Tomorrow Never Dies! 

 

Audio performance is well matched to what's happening on the screen. The ever present background hiss on VHS stereo hi-fi soundtracks is at an unusually low level, which leaves more room for the stuff you want to hear, like Dolby Surround effects. These come through loud and clear with all four channels well separated, giving full reign to loud dynamic sounds like explosions and bass rumbles.

 

This is VHS at its best, whether it's off-air recordings or pre-recorded tapes, true the FJ620 costs a few bob more than most entry-level VCRs from an A-band manufacturer but if you're serious about picture and sound quality see one in action and judge for yourself. We reckon you'll agree that it's worth every penny!

 

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

 

FEATURES

NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC playback, EP recording mode, S-VHS replay, multi-speed replay, TV remote, QLink, Record Link, intro scan, 35 x Jet Search

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

The VHS EP recording mode is a relatively recent innovation on PAL VCRS; it has been a feature on NTSC machines for years as the system uses a slightly higher tape speed. EP recordings are made at one-third normal speed, so tape running times are tripled. (LP mode recordings run at half normal speed). EP has become a viable proposition due to a combination of factors that include improvements in video processing and noise reduction, tape head and deck design and the fact that most blank video tape sold in this country is of a suitably high quality.

 

Overall              5

Picture Quality            5

Movie Sound                  5

Build Quality            5

Features                       4

 

VCR BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

PANASONIC NV-FJ620         

£                                  £180

VERDICT                      5

SCARTS                       2

COMMENTS            Outstanding AV performance

SAT CONT                    N

NTSC                            Y

ISSUE              96

 

 

PHILIPS VR-720 £180

In the last two or three years Philips video recorders have become quite civilised and the VR-720 almost qualifies as normal though it's not without the odd little quirk. The Tape List feature on our sample occasionally, and for no apparent reason, took over the controls after loading a new cassette, and nothing worked until it was satisfied that there's nothing on the tape it needed to know about. Then there's the awful instruction book, peppered with an annoying cartoon character called 'Phil', presumably a response to complaints that Philips manuals used to be hard going…

 

The trouble is you have to read the book because the 720 has lots of little features that are easy to miss or misunderstand, like the Tape List and satellite/digital TV decoder control. Incidentally this is one of the few VCRs that can control both Sky Digital and ITV Digital boxes (via a wired remote IR control module called a 'mouse'). Playback quality can be adjusted using a four-mode Smart Picture facility plus there's continuous play and Record Link, that lets you make time-shift recordings from satellite receivers that have their own built in timers.

 

Playback quality of pre-recorded tapes on our sample was frankly disappointing. Resolution is a little below average and it managed to make the Phantom Menace, a movie that even on tape should leap off the screen, look lifeless. Skin tones appear blotchy and the opening sequence in Tomorrow Never Dies, which goes from one extreme of light and colour to another is flat and uninteresting. Fiddling with the Smart Picture control doesn't help, the alternative settings (Sharp, Distinct, Soft) only made the picture look worse. Off-air recordings made on the machine are no better, even when using the highest grade tape. On a more positive note noise levels are no worse than average and picture stability is generally good, even on older recordings made on other machines.

 

Its one saving grace is the hi-fi soundtracks which carry Dolby Surround effects well, there's also very little in the way of background hiss and sudden loud effects and bass sounds come through largely intact. 

 

The 720 has the makings of a good machine, the feature list is well balanced, it doesn't look too bad, the price isn't outrageous for a VCR from such a high profile brand and in the scheme of things the picture isn't the worst we've seen but when it comes down to it you can get a VCR with the same or better AV performance and more features for the same or less money.

 

Philips 020 8689 2166, www.philips.co.uk

 

FEATURES

NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC playback, multi-speed replay, TV remote, tape tuning, satellite control and Record Link, picture control, Tape List, SCART cable included

           

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

 

XTRA INFO

The Tape List feature on the VR-720 is a fairly sophisticated design and information is stored in the VCR's memory and on data recorded on the tape. However, it seems to do a lot of searching when tapes that are not fully rewound are loaded and it can only manage the details of up to 9 cassettes. This seems a bit mean when a lot of VCR users can have a dozen or more tapes on the go, and collections that run to scores, and in some cases hundreds of cassettes.   

 

Overall              3

Picture Quality            3

Movie Sound                  4

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

VCR BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

PHILIPS VR-720           

£                                  £180

VERDICT                      3

SCARTS                       2

COMMENTS            Well specified but mediocre picture performance

SAT CONT                    Y

NTSC                            Y

ISSUE              96

 

 

SAMSUNG SV647V £160

The SV647 gets nine out of ten for distinctive styling but whilst the full width drop-down front panel looks very smart, the round window does a great job of obscuring the clock display when the flap is closed. Build quality is not that hot either and our sample had a disturbing tendency to go into forward picture search if you pressed lightly on the upper right hand corner of the cabinet…

 

The feature list is fairly routine for a VCR costing the thick end of £160 – Samsung classifies it as a 'De-Luxe' model, whatever that might mean – even so the only ones that stand out are Info Tag, which is a tape library system, it has audio dub, a multi-brand TV remote, fast rewind and it is housed in a compact 'midi' sized cabinet but there nothing that really lives up to the expectations created by that dramatic-looking front panel design.

 

Picture detail is not too bad but it stumbles a bit with graduated colours such as flesh tones, and there's plenty of that on show in Tomorrow Never Dies, but it looks rather flat. Bright and saturated areas are not as vibrant as they should be either. Picture noise is about average but it only really starts to show in darker scenes, like spaceship interiors in The Phantom Menace. None of this is terribly serious though and picture quality is quite passable, good enough for a mid-sized home cinema TV at any rate.  Trick play is impressive with three forward and reverse slomo speeds, there's also a variable picture soft/sharp control and Intelligent Picture Control, which adjusts sharpness automatically, though it was hard to see what effect it had on any of our test tapes. Off air recordings showed the same characteristics as pre-recorded movies with a tolerably sharp picture but slightly dull-looking colours.

 

There's nothing untoward to report concerning audio performance, if anything background noise on the hi-fi soundtracks is a little below average. NICAM TV sound, movie soundtracks and Dolby Surround effects are crisp and clean.

 

Once you get past the cosmetics you are left with a generally likeable little machine but it's up against some stiff competition, including a couple of machines with rather more in the way of features and superior on-screen performance. We're a little concerned by the machine's lack of solidity, the case metalwork is thin and the unadvertised picture search facility doesn't bode well, we just hope it's an unfortunate one off.

 

Samsung 0800 521652, http://www.samsungelectronics.co.uk/

 

FEATURES

NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC playback, multi-speed replay, multi-brand TV remote, picture control, Info Tag, AV Link, audio dub

           

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

 

XTRA INFO

The Info Tag tape library system on this machine stores details of up to 50 recordings on each tape and the machine goes through a brief search routine  every time a cassette is loaded. The tie taken depends on how far through the tape has been wound. The data, which is embedded in the tape's control track, include time, date and channel info and there's a facility to compose a title for each entry. The Info Tag screen lets you select a programme from the list, fast wind to the beginning and start playback.

 

Overall              3

Picture Quality            3

Movie Sound                  4

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

 

VCR BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

SAMSUNG SV647V           

£                                  £160

VERDICT                      3

SCARTS                       2

COMMENTS            smart looks but average perfomance

SAT CONT                    N

NTSC                            Y/N

ISSUE              96

 

 

 

SHARP VC-MH834 £150 BADGE WINNER

VCR manufacturers tend to be a fairly conservative lot especially when it comes to exterior design cosmetics and control layout but every so often a manufacturer dares to be a bit different. The Sharp VC-MH834 is a minor but very welcome break with tradition and that coupled with a useful-looking set of features and keen pricing makes this machine well worth a closer look.

 

The front panel is something of an oddity with round and elliptically shaped buttons and the deeply recessed audio and video input sockets but the most unusual feature is a tiny LCD panel, instead of a fluorescent panel. It changes the whole character of the front panel; it hardly looks like a VCR at all. LCD panels are a mixed blessing though, and if you happen to rely on your VCRs clock display for the right time (and most models these days are very accurate as they're set automatically by Teletext signals), then you're going to hate it because the display is unlit when the machine is in standby mode, and even when it's on it is so small as to be barely legible across a normal living room. It could also do with a separate Recoding mode indicator – preferably a red LED -- as it's not easy to see what the machine is up to from the display panel.

 

There are some real surprises on the features list, like an EP recording speed that gives up to 12 hours recording time on a 4-hour cassette and S-VHS replay (at normal VHS quality or course), and the satellite control system works with Sky digiboxes, but not ITV Digital receivers. The remote control will also operate the main functions of a wide range of other makers TVs it has a 30-second skip search function for whizzing through adverts and Sharp's postcode security facility identifies it as yours, should it be stolen.

 

---NEW PARA---

 

The machine’s deck mechanism is a real formula one jobbie with a high-speed 60-second rewind on a 3-hour tape cassette, fast forward takes a little longer but it’s still a good deal quicker than average. Rounding off the list there’s the usual collection of stalwarts including NTSC replay, NexTView Link and a pair of SCART sockets on the back. For the record the VCRs auto installation system took a little over 2 minutes to tune in five terrestrial channels and set the time and date. The customary internal inspection revealed that build quality was up to Sharp’s usual commendable standard.

 

 

---END NEW PARA---

 

EP recordings made on this machine are not half bad, needless to say there's a fair amount of noise in the picture and not much in the way of fine detail but it's perfectly adequate for one-off time-shifting and a boon if you're going on holiday and don't want to miss your favourite shows. Picture quality improves dramatically in the SP recording mode, colours are reasonably natural looking and with the Super Picture control switched on the image sharpens up well, without looking harsh.

 

The MH834 does a great job replaying re-recorded movies, our Phantom Menace test sequences were handled well, even the tricky forest and underwater sequences which can look quite gloomy on some machines. It renders fine textures cleanly, fast movement is smooth and it has no difficulty with the rapid changes in brightness in action sequences like the rooftop helicopter chase in Tomorrow Never Dies.

 

Background hiss on the stereo hi-fi soundtracks is generally well suppressed which benefits Dolby Surround effects and meaty bass sounds like explosions have plenty of depth.

 

We like it! The MH834 is a quirky design and although the LCD panel imposes some limitations on the machines ease of use it has allowed Sharp's designers some extra freedom to experiment and the effect is quite pleasing. It's good value and it has several features that rarely, if ever find their way onto sub £200 machines and finally it works well and easily qualifies as a well-rounded home cinema machine.

 

Sharp, 0161-205 2333, www.sharp.co.uk

 

FEATURES

NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC playback, EP recording mode, S-VHS replay, multi-speed replay, multi-brand TV remote, satellite control NexTViewLink, postcode security, 30-second skip search

           

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

 

XTRA INFO

Satellite control is not an unusual feature, even on budget VCRs but until very recently surprisingly few VCRs could control Sky digiboxes. Now that Sky is winding down its analogue satellite services this facility has taken on a new relevance and more new VCRs now have this facility. The MH834 is slightly unusual in that it doesn't have a separate infrared wand, to control the satbox, instead IR signals are beamed out of the front of the machine and reflected back to the sat box from walls and the ceiling.

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            4

Movie Sound                  4

Build Quality            4

Features                       4

 

 

VCR BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

SHARP VC-MH834

£                                  £150

VERDICT                      4

SCARTS                       2

COMMENTS            Well featured, attractively priced and good AV performance

SAT CONT                    Y

NTSC                            Y

ISSUE              96

 

 

SHARP VC-S2000 £240

If memory serves it has been almost ten years since Sharp last produced a Super VHS video recorder, that was the VC-S1000 and back in 1991 it cost a whopping £1000, which must be getting on for £1500 or more in today's money. The S2000 looks like a much better deal, it's certainly better equipped with ET (Expansion Technology) and EP (Extended Play) recording modes, plus digital picture noise reduction, satellite control (this includes Sky Digital coverage), postcode security, a 30-second ad-zapping skip search function and a multi-brand TV remote.

 

Sharp obviously has its eye on home movie makers, a set of front-mounted AV sockets, including an S-Video input, makes for easy camcorder hook-ups there's an audio dub facility for replacing the mono soundtrack and it has timebase correction for stabilising dicky recordings. The front panel is quite busy and there are some more controls behind the drop-down panel that conceals the front AV socket. In contrast the remote handset looks surprisingly spartan, until you open it up and behind the flap is a forest of little buttons that take some time to learn to use.

 

Recording quality in the S-VHS mode is satisfactory, our sample's ability to capture fine detail was a little below par and picture noise levels were very average. Using a good quality HG tape noise levels in S-VHS ET mode increased only slightly, off-air recordings in both cases looked fine but we suspect most people would be hard pressed to tell it apart from a good quality VHS recording. S-VHS copies and edits from camcorder footage does look clean though and the facility to use standard VHS tape makes it a economic means of archiving recordings from high band and digital camcorders. Movie replay was adequate, our benchmark movie, The Phantom Menace failed to sparkle though and at times, especially in darker scenes – Obi Wan addressing the Jedi Council for example -- the picture looked decidedly murky, showing a lot of grain. Bond James Bond fared little better and a scene in Goldeneye with a light aircraft flying over a forest, the fine detail in the foliage collapsed into an indistinct green mass.

 

Sound quality was fair to middling, noise levels on the hi-fi soundtracks was no worse than usual and Dolby Surround effects retain almost all of their impact.

 

Unexciting is about the best you can say about the S2000; average features, average performance and an average price.

 

Sharp, 0161-205 2333, www.sharp.co.uk

 

FEATURES

S-VHS ET, EP record mode, NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video + timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC playback, digital noise reduction and timebase correction, multi-speed replay, multi-brand TV remote, NexTViewLink, satellite control, postcode security, 30-second skip search, audio dub

           

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

 

XTRA INFO

Timebase correction is a useful facility that should be of interest to home movie-makers. It is mainly used to rejuvenate recordings where, for one reason or another the picture has become unstable, either through old age, an increase in noise levels or it being made on inferior equipment. This kind of instability is most often caused by the synchronisation pulses in the video signal becoming weak or distorted. The timebase corrector analyses the recording and then reconstructs the synchronisation pulses, which are re-inserted back into the original signal, which the VCR records.

 

Overall              3

Picture Quality            3

Movie Sound                  4

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

VCR BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

SHARP VC-2000    

£                                  £240

VERDICT                      3

SCARTS                       2

COMMENTS            rather average features performance and price

SAT CONT                    Y

NTSC                            Y

ISSUE              96

 

---end---

 

Ó R. Maybury 2001, 0308

 

 

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