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Hitachi DZ-MV100/£1800 (blank discs '£20 plus')

 

Being first into the market with any new technology is always difficult, but Hitachi has really gone out on a limb with the DZ-MV100 DVD-RAM camcorder. Recordable DVD is still a very hot potato with three competing standards in contention but Hitachi and several other A Brand companies, including Panasonic are convinced DVD-RAM will win the day. In practice it may not matter too much which format comes out on top as the DZ-MV100 functions quite happily as a stand-alone product, provided blank discs continue to be available.

 

From the outside it looks conventional enough with a flip-out LCD monitor screen on the left side but on the right, where the tape cassette usually goes, there's a hatch for a double-sided 8cm DVD-RAM disc. Each side holds 1.4Gb of data, which is enough for 30 minutes of video or 999 still picture per side in 'fine' mode or 60 minutes of video per side in 'standard' quality mode. The disc is held in a protective caddy but it can be removed and read in a PC equipped with a DVD-RAM drive and there's the promise of several high-end DVD players with DVD-RAM compatibility later this year.

 

The camcorder side of things is quite straightforward, if you're feeling lazy you just point and shoot or there's a set of manual and programmed auto-exposure controls if you want to get creative and unlike tape you can't accidentally over-record previous shots, which is a useful bonus. The battery gives at least 90 minutes recording time and you can review shots on the spot on the monitor screen. Shooting stills is also easy, it has a flashgun and the megapixel CCD image sensor is capable of the same sort of image quality as many budget/mid-range digital still cameras.

 

Where the MV100 really scores is the way it uses the 'non-linear' recording medium, which, unlike tape, allows more or less instant access to any part of the disc. The machine has a built-in edit controller, special effects generator and titler, so it can playback scenes, or parts of scenes in any order, in real-time, inserting wipes and fades between shots as it goes. It's like having your own well-equipped video editing suite. Edited recordings can be viewed directly on a TV or copied to a VCR via composite and S-Video output sockets. Stills may be downloaded to a PC using a supplied USB cable and image editing software.

 

Picture quality is excellent, comparable with tape-based digital camcorders and the sound is pin-sharp, though the stereo soundstage, as captured by the built-in mike, is a touch shallow.

 

Verdict

Disc-based recording is the future, no doubt about it! Hopefully Hitachi hasn't jumped the gun, as far as formats are concerned, but being first often helps and any rival products are going to find this a very tough act to follow.

 

Hitachi 0345 581455, www.hitachitv.com

 

Ratings

Overall              4

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            5

Features                       4

Ease of Use                  4

Build Quality                  5

Value for Money            3

 

Pros

Excellent AV quality, impressive editing and post-production facilities

 

Cons

Pricey, discs are expensive too and the format question has still to be resolved

 

Rival Buys

Nothing yet but digital cams with comparable AV performance are available from £600

 

Quote

'Disc-based recording is the future, no doubt about it!'

 

 

SAMSUNG SV-DVD1E DVD/VCR COMBI, £350

It had to happen and it wasn't a surprise that the first 'combi' DVD player and VHS video recorder would come from Samsung, or that it would have a DVD to VCR copy facility, but don't get excited.  DVDs have efficient copy protection systems and we only managed to tape an old Video CD and a couple of non-copyright promo DVDs. Obviously making it easier to pirate DVDs was not the reason Samsung decided to integrate these two very different technologies, it's all about the supposed convenience of having all of your video source components in one box.

 

True, there is a significant space saving – it's no larger than a typical VCR or DVD player – it cuts down on the cabling and everything is controllable from one remote handset. However, it's probably not going to save you a great deal of money, if any. The VCR section has the specification of a fairly ordinary NICAM machine; it has all of the basics (auto installation, Video Plus +) and a couple of extras like audio dub and quasi S-VHS replay, but that's as far as it goes. Similarly the DVD player has the kind of feature list you'd find on a budget/entry level model, which means a fair range of replay speeds, 2-stage picture zoom and a 3D sound option but no extra convenience or luxury features.

 

It does have a full set of AV inputs and outputs, including a headphone socket and twin SCART sockets carrying RGB and S-Video signals during DVD replay. Sadly these are disabled when playing a tape, which could complicate matters on some installations. Operation can be confusing, it looks simple enough but the function and transport controls don't always behave as you'd expect when it's loaded with a tape and disc.

 

VCR picture performance is fine, though the superiority of DVD is painfully evident when you flip between tape and disc, nevertheless it's perfectly adequate for time-shifting TV programmes and the stereo hi-fi sound system has no more than average amounts of background hiss. DVD replay is good too with plenty of detail and solid colours but darker scenes in movies like the Matrix tend to look a bit mushy. Enabling the 'black level' option in the Setup helps a little but the picture can then look a bit washed out and you have to fiddle the TV's contrast to compensate. The stereo audio output carries the full breath and depth of a Dolby Surround soundtrack with negligible amounts of noise and the two bitstream outputs (optical and coaxial) are transparent to the raw digital audio data coming off the disc.

 

It's a decent enough VCR and DVD player but the cranky controls still make them feel like separate devices

 

Samsung 0800 521652

 

 

Ratings     DVD/VCR

Overall              4/4

Picture Quality            4/5

Sound Quality            4/5

Features                       4/4

Ease of Use                  3/4

Build Quality                  4

Value for Money            4

 

Pros

One box convenience, average to good AV performance

 

Cons

Idiosyncratic controls and potentially awkward connection options

 

Rival Buys

Nothing yet

 

Quote

'Obviously making easier to pirate DVDs was not the reason Samsung decided to integrate these two very different technologies'

 

 

 

TINY TPSL102 PORTABLE DVD PLAYER, £500

At £1000 plus all of the portable DVD players we've seen to date have been highly covetable rich kids toys, which is fine for rich kids... Now Tiny, PC makers of this parish, has bought out a neat little battery-powered player for less than £500, and that includes delivery to your front door.

 

The only obvious difference between this model (known elsewhere as the Audiovox DV-1680) and most other recent DVD portables is the 4:3 aspect ratio LCD screen. Otherwise, outwardly there are no obvious signs as to why the TPSL102 should cost less than half as much as its nearest rival; maybe the silver clamshell style case is a bit plasticky when you get up close and the bulky battery pack, which clips on the back is not terribly elegant but it is good for around three hour hours playback and it lacks for nothing when it comes to the core features and AV connections. It even plays MP3 music files on CD-ROM, which only a handful of homedeck players can manage.

 

The controls are fairly easy to get at and it comes with a handy little remote, all the AV cables you're likely to need and DC power cord for a car cigarette lighter socket. Points are deducted for an awkward disc lid release button, a rigidly enforced region lock -- a bit mean on a product that's designed to be used on the move – and a switch on the side marked 'in-out'. When set to the 'in' position the player appears dead and it was only when a second player turned up, with a warning notice about the switch, that we realised that the first player was not faulty…

 

With a bit of fiddling around it is possible to get a reasonable-looking picture, though fine detail, like captions and writing can be a touch indistinct. Bright colours are fine but skin tones and subtle shades are a bit coarse. Contrast is fairly average and on movies like Godzilla, which contain a lot of dark scenes, you find yourself moving your head to try and compensate, it's also important to angle the screen from bright lights as reflections can wipe out the image. Sound from the microscopic speakers built into the screen is just about loud enough to be heard in a quiet car, say, but it really needs to be used with headphones, or at a pinch the in-ear phones that come with it.

 

Picture quality lags a little behind portable players from the likes of Pioneer, Sharp and Sony but not enough to justify the huge price differential. If you've hankered after a portable player but baulked at the price your prayers might just have been answered.

 

Tiny 0870 165 6611

 

Ratings

Overall              5

Picture Quality            3

Sound Quality            3

Features                       4

Ease of Use                  4

Build Quality                  4

Value for Money            5

 

Pros

Very attractive price, easy to use

 

Cons

Fairly average picture and sound quality

 

Rival Buy

Pioneer PDV-LC20, £1200

Sharp DV-L80, £1300

Panasonic DVD-L75, £1100

 

Quote 20

'…outwardly there are no obvious signs as to why the TPSL102 should cost less than half as much as its nearest rival'

 

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 2001, 2604

 

 

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