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JVC HR-J680, £160

What goes around…There are only so many ways of arranging the front panel of a video recorder and JVC, as inventors of the format must have tried them all because they're now re-cycling them. The split, angled, two-tone fascia on the HR-J680 is uncannily similar in style and shape to the HR-D120, which first appeared in 1983, we have very long memories at HE!

 

However, the J680 is about as far removed from the D120, as it is possible to get in terms of price and facilities. The D120 was a 'budget' mono machine with a 1-event/14-day timer, costing a formidable £500; the 680 is an 'entry-level' NICAM stereo hi-fi VCR but all that really means is that it's going to sell for the relatively modest sum of £160, the feature list makes the D120 look positively pre-historic and includes auto installation and clock set, Video Plus + with PDC, quasi S-VHS and NTSC replay, satellite control, B.E.S.T tape tuning, multi-speed replay, twin SCARTs, NexTViewLink, and TV remote control. 

 

The styling, as we've said is distinctly retro 1980s, which in design terms is an era we'd rather forget and it hasn't improved with time. To be honest it's a bit of an ugly little blighter, the mish-mash of buttons and the thinly disguised blank panel on the front, where inputs sockets are fitted on models higher up the range, doesn't help. Fortunately, in most other respects it is bang up to date with an efficient (though not especially speedy) auto installation routine, clear and concise on-screen displays and a multi-brand satellite control that uses a wired IR module. The remote handset is a standard JVC item, not the best but the important buttons are a fair size and easy to find and manual timer programming is almost idiot-proof.

 

Picture quality is excellent -- pre-recorded VHS can still look really good -- resolution is about as good as it can get and noise levels – the bane of all analogue recording systems – is kept well in check on old and well used recordings like our Top Gun test tape. Colours look sharp and detailed, even in the dull and murky opening sequences in the original Batman movie and picture stability is very good indeed. The tape tuning system makes good use of higher-grade tapes and it's fast, taking only a second or two from the time a tape is inserted, to being ready for recording and playback. The stereo hi-fi soundtracks have a wide, flat and open response with no more than average amounts of background hiss and plenty of room for benchmark fast and dynamic Dolby Surround effects in Top Gun and Robocop.

 

Verdict

Cheap it may be but the J680 has a useful set of convenience features and it delivers the kind of picture and sound quality you would expect from top-end model. It's not a pretty sight but for that sort of money who's quibbling?

 

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

 

Ratings

Overall              5

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            4

Features                       4

Ease of Use                  4

Build Quality                  5

Value for Money            5

 

Pros

AV performance, a good spread of features and a very sensible price

 

Cons

Not the most elegant-looking design we've seen…

 

Rival Buys

Hitachi VT-FX960 £160, Panasonic NV-J610 £170, Philips VR-608 £150

 

Quote 20

'Cheap it may be but the J680 has a useful set of convenience features and it delivers the kind of picture and sound quality you would expect from a top-end model'

 

 

 

 

SONY DVP-S336, £299

There seems to be a widely held view amongst consumer electronics manufacturers that DVD players have to be dull-looking black or silver boxes. Sony is a notable exception and not just on the big-ticket models. The DVP-S336 is its baseline player, though at just under £300 (the street price is close to £260) it is a fair bit to pay for a machine with no on-board digital surround decoders and only a bare minimum of convenience features.

 

It certainly doesn't look like an entry-level product, or even a DVD player come to that. It's more like a high-end audio component with a front panel that's between a third and a half the height of most of its rivals, as a result the few front panel controls a DVD player needs don't look lost or like an afterthought, in fact we'll go so far ass to say that it's the neatest player we've seen so far this year. The feature list is unremarkable and almost completely devoid of any toys or widgets, even the trick-play functions are thin on the ground (2x. 10x & 20x and 2 slomo speeds) and not very helpfully labelled by the on-screen graphics, which is odd because the player's operating and setup menu displays are a model of clarity. The only small luxury, if you can call it that, is VES or Virtual Enhanced Surround, a three-mode spatial effect that Sony optimistically describe as multi-dimension sound 'creating virtual rear speakers' needless to say you need a fairly vivid imagination to actually hear them… Having so few extras means the remote control handset is quite civilised with large well-spaced and clearly labelled buttons.

 

We must have watched the Matrix a thousand times but the picture on this player is so good that we found ourselves watching it through again, spotting lots of little details and nuances, especially in the darker scenes like the Lobby Shooting, but it shifts gear effortlessly to render colours, bright backgrounds and skin tones in the rooftop 'dodge this', and helicopter escape sequences. Likewise sounds and analogue surround effects are crisply reproduced via the mixed stereo output; optical and coaxial bitstream outputs are both very clean. Audio CDs sound fine, there's possibly a fraction less depth and precision on really busy rock and orchestral pieces, compared with a top of the line CD player, but it's not enough to concern most hi-fi buffs, even the picky ones.

 

Verdict

It looks gorgeous, picture quality is outstanding and it doesn't sound half bad either. The S336 is probably not the best player for gadget nuts and in the scheme of things it's not especially cheap, but class rarely does and in the end it's what's up there on the screen and coming out of the speakers that really counts!

 

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

 

Ratings

Overall              4

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            4

Features                       4

Ease of Use                  4

Build Quality                  5

Value for Money            4

 

Pros

AV performance looks and slick operating system

 

Cons

A touch pricey, fairly basic spec

 

Rival Buys

JVC XV-M567 £280, Panasonic DVD-RV20 £280, Philips DVD-751 £260

 

Quote

'It certainly doesn't look like an entry-level product, or even a DVD player come to that. It's more like a high-end audio component…'

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 2001, 1502

 

 

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