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GROUP TEST

 

DVD/VCR COMBI GROUP TEST (HE112)

 

HITACHI DV-PF2E, £250

 

You get the impression that a lot of first generation VCR/DVD combis are cobbled together from bits and pieces lying around on manufacturerís shelves. Thereís no getting away from the fact that the Hitachi DV-PF2 is a parts bin special but the plus side is youíre getting a VCR and DVD for little more than the cost of the two units bought separately.

 

With the DV-PF2 you get a decent, though not especially exciting specification, which includes such VCR essentials as NICAM stereo, auto installation and a Video Plus+ timer. Thereís also NTSC replay and a bank of front panel AV input sockets for a quick and simple camcorder or video game hookup. The DVD section features MP3 replay, SRS 3D sound, a picture zoom and around the back thereís a routine assortment of AV socketry. In addition to composite video outputs on phono and SCART thereís a mini-DIN carrying S-Video Ė for DVD replay only Ė but no RGB output. Audio outputs are confined to format standard analogue mixed stereo plus coaxial and optical digital bitstream, for a single cable link to an external 5.1 channel decoder or AV amp.

 

Hitachi has done little to disguise the fact that under the skin there lurks two quite separate devices. The VCR and DVD player operating systems are independent of one another so you have to muck about with two sets of menus, two sets of buttons and a mixture of front panel and on-screen displays. Needless to say this results in a somewhat bulky and button infested remote handset. The front panel display panel is devoted entirely to the DVD. The VCR uses on-screen displays to let you know what itís up to, and thereís no front panel clock display either. This smacks of laziness or maybe itís just an oversight but either way it is very inconvenient, making it harder to use but if nothing else a lot of people rely on a VCR clock display, which is usually the most accurate one in the home.

 

The DV-PF2 played all of our recordable DVD test discs and it redeems itself a little with slightly above average VCR performance. The picture looks very clean, colours are bright and lifelike and thereís hardly any noise. The big set-piece Battle of Naboo in Star Wars Phantom Menace is a real challenge for a VCR and on many machines it can look soft and cartoon-like but the PF2 does a very fair job, rendering all of the fine detail and background activity that brings the sequence alive and makes it so believable. For good measure it has a good assortment of replay speeds and the picture is generally very stable with negligible jitter.  

 

Itís a similar story playing DVDs, thereís a fair range of contrast, which helps to bring out texture in dark corners and shadows. Colours are sharp and it is unfazed by lots of movement or rapid changes in scene brightness, which happens a lot in the dance sequences in Moulin Rouge and whilst a smidge more colour depth wouldnít go amiss Ė skin tones can look a bit flat -- it is still a very acceptable picture for what is after all a budget deck.  

 

Thereís hardly any hiss on the VCRís hi-fi soundtracks, the response is wide and it carries Dolby Surround effects well, allowing loud dynamic effects and bass rumbles plenty of headroom. DVD sound on the analogue stereo channels is similarly untroubled by hiss; Dolby Digital and dts soundtracks emerge unscathed and in pristine condition on the bitstream outputs. 

 

At heart the PF2 is a solid machine but itís let down by crude controls and the absence of VCR and clock displays on the front panel. It claws back a few points with DVD and VCR picture performance and a very fair price, but it lacks any really interesting or useful features that might have helped set it apart from the competition.

 

HITACHI DV-PF2E

Features & connections            3/5

Ease of use                               3/5

Picture performance            4/5

Sound performance                  4/5

Value for money             4/5

Overall rating                 3/5

 

Price                             £250

What's good                  AV performance and a fair price

What's bad                    Poor front panel display and awkward remote

Overall comment             Performance is not too bad but definitely room for improvement when it comes to usability

 

Telephone  Hitachi 0345 581455, www.hitachitv.com


Multi-Region            no

Built in decoders            no

NTSC replay                  yes

MP3 playback            yes

Picture Zoom            yes

SCARTS                       2

Headphone socket  no

S-Video output            yes

Component video     no

Other features            VCR: NICAM stereo, Video Plus+ with PDC, auto tuning, NTSC replay, picture control. DVD: MP3 replay, SRS 3D sound, CD-R/RW replay

 

Weight              4.8kg

Dimensions (WHD)  430 x 98 x 330mm

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

HITACHI DV-PF2E

£                                  £250

VERDICT                      3

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            good price and solid if unexceptional performance

TYPE                            DVD/VCR COMBI

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       coaxial & optical bitstream

COMPíNT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE              112

 

 

 

THOMSON DTH-6000, £250

 

Thomson has always been a bit of a maverick and the DTH-6000 is very clearly not just another me-too product. It has the classic Thomson look, angular case, spartan front panel with a trendy mirror finish. You wonít forget the remote control in a hurry either, and not only because itís small and strangely curved, but nothing is where you expect to find it and it takes ages to get used to the layout.

 

There are other oddities too, like the provision of an RGB output on SCART 1 but thereís no S-Video connection, however, perhaps the weirdest feature is the lack of a DVD setup menu. Well, thatís not strictly true, there is one, but you donít call it up, itís on all the time, in place of the usual logo display or screensaver and it appears whenever you press the Stop button in DVD playback mode. Another peculiarity is the disc-loading tray, which sometimes closes automatically a few seconds after you pressed the open button (on the front panel Ė there isnít one on the remote), to remove a CD or DVD so you have to be quick if you are swapping discs.

 

VCR features are in line with most budget NICAM decks with Video Plus+ and auto installation and like all of the other machines in this roundup it plays NTSC tapes. Thereís a set of front panel AV inputs, the variable slomo and picture search are unusual though and the VCR tuner covers hyperband cable channels, which may prove useful if youíre thinking of moving abroad. There are no special DVD playback features to speak of, other than a pseudo 3D sound mode and 4-stage zoom. Incidentally, the remote handset has a volume rocker and mute buttons; a sticker attached to the machine claims it is a ĎMulti TVí design but thereís no mention of this potentially useful facility in the instructions.

 

Our sample played DVD-R and DVD+R discs without a hitch but wouldnít have anything to do with the DVD+RW test discs and it spat out a couple of our mankier CD-Rs, but others played perfectly. Picture quality on pre recorded and home-made tapes is good, resolution is about right for a budget deck, close too the picture looks a tad soft but colours are bright and reasonably lifelike. DVD performance is in the good but unremarkable category, the contrast balance favours brighter material but darker sequences are still full of texture, colours are sharply defined and skin tones look good so it makes a very fair fist of movies like The Lord Of The Rings, which contains a good few close-ups and plenty of deliberately underlit scenes.

 

Noise levels on the VCR stereo tracks are no worse than usual; the response is open and flat so itís well worth coupling it up to a decent AV system with Dolby Pro Logic. The analogue mixed stereo also does a good job of transporting Dolby Surround information and the almost complete lack of background noise helps to beef up explosions and localise quieter effects. There are no obvious problems with the bitstream outputs, and both Dolby Digital and dts soundtracks are worthy of being piped through a decent AV amp and speakers.

 

The DTH 6000 is a bit of an acquired taste and getting to know it may take a while but it can be worth the effort.  AV performance isnít quite in the benchmark setting class moreover the lack of an S-Video output is a real pain and will put some off. Nevertheless on a composite video feed the picture looks fine and if youíve got an RGB capable TV or display things improve markedly.

 

 

THOMSON DTH-6000

Features & connections            3/5

Ease of use                               3/5

Picture performance            4/5

Sound performance                  4/5

Value for money             4/5

Overall rating                 4/5

 

Price                             £250

 

What's good                  very reasonable performance from both DVD and VCR, good value

What's bad                    nasty remote, no S-Video output                 

Overall comment             given the low price the DTH-6000 stacks up well though itís not without its funny little waysÖ

 

Telephone Thomson 020 8344 4444, www.thomson-europe.com


Multi-Region            no

Built in decoders            no

NTSC replay                  yes

MP3 playback            yes

Picture Zoom            yes

SCARTS                       2

Headphone socket  no

S-Video output            no

Component video     yes (RGB)

Other features            VCR: NICAM stereo, Video Plus+ with PDC timer, one-touch recording, auto setup, NTSC replay, front AV sockets. DVD: 3D spatial sound, CD-R/RW playback

 

 

Weight              5.6kg

Dimensions (WHD)  430 x 98 x 330mm

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

THOMSON DTH-6000

£                                  £250

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Fair performance and good value

TYPE                            DVD/VCR COMBI

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       coaxial & optical bitstream

COMPíNT VID            Y (RGB)

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE              112

 

 

 

TOSHIBA SD-22VB, £280

Toshiba are not known for jumping on bandwagons so when it puts its name to a DVD/VCR combi you can be fairly sure that itís more than just a passing fad. The SD-22VB is not, perhaps, the most elegant specimen weíve seen to date but Toshiba has styled it to blend in with its current range of AV components, with the familiar green tinted Perspex panel for the controls and displays plus it feels solidly built. The remote handset is very rather busy with lots of small buttons, most of them dual mode with the labelling for the VCR functions picked out in tiny red lettering. One rather odd feature is the placement of the DVD cursor keys, which are only barely distinguishable from the surrounding buttons, on the other hand the main transport keys, for both DVD and VCR playback are unusually large and as an added bonus they glow in the dark.

                                       

AV connections are a bit of a mish-mash. The main AV output SCART connector carries composite video and analogue stereo audio for both DVD and VCR, and RGB for the DVD playback only and thereís an S-Video socket, also exclusive to the DVD player but thereís no separate composite video output, so some thought needs to be given to the cabling if itís going to be used with a TV and separate AV system. The initial setup is reasonably intuitive and although it uses two quite different on-screen display systems, they do share the same set of cursor controls, which makes life a lot easier.

 

There are no real surprises when it comes to the main DVD and VCR features, the tuner and clock are adjusted automatically when the machine is powered up for the first time and thereís a picture zoom, 3-mode audio processor (3D, dialogue and normal) and picture zoom/shrink, though these only work on DVD playback. 

 

We had no luck getting our sample to recognise a DVD+RW recording but it played DVD-R, DVD+R and CD-R/RW discs -- containing a mixture of audio CD and MP3 material -- without a murmur. VCR recording quality is outstanding, colours are bright and natural looking, there are negligible levels of picture noise and the image is almost jitter-free; the only minor niggle is the lack of reverse slomo. Pre-recorded tapes also look great and the Pod Race sequence in Phantom Menace is only slightly softened by the reduced resolution (compared with the DVD version).

 

DVD playback is in the same league as Toshibaís budget and mid-market players, images are packed with detail and it has a broad contrast range so that darker scenes and shadows look almost as sharp as well-lit daylight sequences and it has no trouble dealing with sudden changes in brightness or explosions. Phantom Menace on DVD is stunning and the space battles, which veer between extremes of light and dark never looked better.

 

VCR sound has plenty of depth and background hiss is well suppressed, Dolby Surround effects are tightly focussed and it picks out small incidental sounds that are often lost in the mush. DVD analogue sound is even better and you have to strain to hear any background noise during quiet passages. The bitstream output is as clean as a whistle and audio CD playback is comparable with mid-range hi-fi equipment.

 

The SD-22VB makes a convincing argument for the DVD/VCR combi, it has a few rough edges Ė the AV connections could have been better thought out and itís not much to look at but if youíre looking for a one-box, space saving solution, with the kind of performance that you expect from Toshiba and you can live with the slightly awkward controls then it deserves to be on your shortlist. 

 

TOSHIBA SD-22VB

 

Features & connections            3/5

Ease of use                               3/5

Picture performance            4/5

Sound performance                  4/5

Value for money             4/5

Overall rating                 4/5

 

Price                             £280

 

What's good                  excellent DVD & VCR picture quality, good value

What's bad                    small and hard to find cursor controls

Overall comment             Top quality AV and surprisingly affordable

 

 

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

 

Multi-Region            no

Built in decoders            no

NTSC replay                  yes

MP3 playback            yes

Picture Zoom            yes

SCARTS                       1/2

Headphone socket  no

S-Video output            yes

Component video     yes (RGB)

Other features            VCR: NICAM stereo, Video Plus+ with PDC timer, one-touch recording, auto setup, NTSC replay, front AV sockets. DVD: 3D spatial sound, CD-R/RW playback

 

Weight              4.5kg

Dimensions (WHD)  430 x 99 x 314mm

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

TOSHIBA SD-22VB

£                                  £280

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Great picture and sound and good value

TYPE                            DVD/VCR COMBI

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       optical & coaxial bitstream

COMPíNT VID            Y (RGB)

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE              112

 

 

 

 

SANYO HV-DX1E, £285

Most DVD/VCR combi manufacturers have at least a perfunctory stab at integrating the two technologies but the only common ground with the Sanyo DX1E seems to be the shared power supply, the remote handset and the box, and a splendid box it is too. The styling and casework on this machine is excellent, clearly a lot of thought has gone into the design and the front panel looks teccy and businesslike.

 

Unfortunately thatís as far as it goes, the DVD and VCR might as well be in separate boxes. Some strange logic has been applied to the AV outputs; the SCART 1 socket is okay and this carries composite video and stereo audio, no matter what the machine is doing (playing back DVD, tape or off-air broadcast), but thereís a separate composite video and stereo audio outputs, which only work for DVD playback, so cabling for a TV and AV system is made unnecessarily complicated, thereís coaxial only bitstream output, no S-Video or RGB outputs and the instruction manual is quite hard going.

 

The feature list is brief and the only extras over and above NICAM, Video Plus+ and auto install are a 30-second commercial skip mode during VCR playback and a 6-stage picture zoom (DVD playback only). Setup and day to day operations are under the jurisdiction of two on-screen display systems that have absolutely nothing in common, and the way selections are made is a complete muddle. The DVD menu makes straightforward use of the four cursor keys but the VCR OSD works on a different principle and if you try using the up/down keys whilst the menu screen is displayed it changes channels...

 

Chapter skip and forward and reverse picture search also share the same buttons on the remove, which inevitably leads to mishaps and just for good measure our sample locked up a couple of times after it has been running for several hours and refused to eject discs. The only way to get it to respond was to disconnect from the mains for a couple of minutes.

 

All recordable disc formats played straight away and it had no problem reading CD-R/RW discs containing audio CD and MP3 files. VCR picture playback was very ordinary, noise levels were a little higher than we would have liked and there was some bleeding around highly saturated colours, especially reds, the light sabre fights in Phantom Menace were little more than a very colourful blur.

 

DVD performance was much closer to the budget deck norm with a clean detailed picture, good strong colours and sufficient contrast range to prevent darker scenes and shadows descending into mush, the Mines of Moria sequence in Lord of the Rings is a case in point, the light from Gandalfís staff should be evenly graduated in the gloom Ė as it was in this case Ė whereas on a less capable player it will appear as a series of stepped gradients.

 

The VCRís stereo hi-fi soundtracks are a wee bit noisy, itís just about tolerable on an action blockbuster type movie but you may become aware of it on quieter, soundtracks. DVD sound was fine, though, noise levels are very low on the analogue output and the digital bitstream is squeaky clean. Audio CD quality is okay, on a par with a budget system or player and fine for general listening.

 

Itís a shame really, the DX1E really does look like a serious piece of kit but in the end you are getting a mediocre VCR and an ordinary budget DVD player, shoehorned into one box. Other than the saving on space thereís really not a lot to commend it and if you shop around you can find a decent VCR and DVD player for the same, if not less money.

 

SANYO HV-DX1E

Features & connections            2/5

Ease of use                               3/5

Picture performance            3/5

Sound performance                  4/5

Value for money             3/5

Overall rating                 3/5

 

Price                             £285

 

What's good                  stylish design

What's bad                    daft audio connections, very average VCR performance

Overall comment             a great looking machine but let down by poorly thought out connections and indifferent VCR picture quality

 

Telephone Sanyo, (01923) 246363, www.sanyo.co.uk

 

Multi-Region            no

Built in decoders            no

NTSC replay                  yes

MP3 playback            yes

Picture Zoom            yes

SCARTS                       2

Headphone socket  no

S-Video output            no

Component video     no

Other features            VCR: NICAM stereo, Video Plus+ with PDC timer, auto setup, NTSC replay, front AV sockets, commercial skip. DVD: 3D sound, CD-R/RW playback

 

Weight              5.3kg

Dimensions (WHD)  430 x 97 x 360mm

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

SANYO HV-DX1E

£                                  £285

VERDICT                      2

STATUS                       

COMMENTS    

TYPE                            DVD/VCR COMBI

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       coaxial bitstream

COMPíNT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE              112

 

 

 

PANASONIC NV-VHD1B-S, £370

The NV-VHD1 is the dearest combi in this group by a considerable margin and even when you take into account the Panasonic brand premium it still looks quite expensive, until you switch it on that is. Almost all of the combis weíve seen to date are based around budget VCR and DVD components, the VHD1 is clearly different, both in terms of styling and specification, putting it closer to mid-range and top-end AV products. It looks different because it has two separate front panel displays, which can be a little confusing at first but you quickly get used to it and beats the single display approach hands down.

 

The big news on the VCR is that it has a Super Long Play mode for recording up to 12 hours on an E-240 tape, perfect for catching a weekís worth of soaps, and it can replay S-VHS recordings, albeit in standard VHS quality. Then there are all the little extras, like Intro Scan, extremely quick rewind, an Intelligent Timer that makes the most efficient use of tape capacity and owner ID, which should make it easier to reunite the machine with its rightful owner if itís stolen and subsequently recovered. The remote handset Ė more on that in a moment Ė can also control the main functions on Panasonic TVs but for some strange reason thereís no disc or tape eject buttons.

 

DVD facilities are run-of-the-mill; it has a two-way slomo but no picture zoom, which is unusual these days. Panasonic hasnít stinted on the back panel connections though; composite video and analogue stereo from DVD, tape and the tuner are all available on SCART 1 and a set of phonos, it has an extra set of AV outputs, plus S-Video and sub-woofer output for the DVD player only, but only one (optical) bitstream audio output. SCART 1also carries an RGB video output for DVD replay and thereís a set of AV inputs on the front panel.      

 

So far it all looks quite promising but the remote handset is a minor disaster area. There are two problems; in order to move between DVD, VCR and TV operation you have to flip a little switch. The switch is not very precise, or substantial and we fear it may fail with heavy use. The other problem concerns the placement of the chapter/track skip buttons, which for some obscure reason, have been hidden away behind a sliding flap. The rest of the buttons are dotted around with no apparent rhyme or reason, in short itís a real swine to use.

 

It fell down a bit on recordable disc compatibility, failing to recognise DVD+RW recordings, and it had trouble with one or two CD-Rs. But forget all that, the VCR section works like a dream, recordings made on the machine are as good as it gets on VHS, bright, sharp, detailed with accurate colours. Even at EP speed the picture is still pretty good, certainly more than adequate for everyday time shifting. Phantom Menace on VHS looks brilliant and despite the analogue formatís more obvious shortcomings this machine makes watching old tapes a pleasure.

 

DVD performance is easily the best of the bunch, thereís the added depth that comes with a wider than normal contrast range, colours, especially skin tones, look natural and it manages to pick out the smallest details, even in darker scenes; you can actually make out the blood vessels in Nicole Kidmanís eyes in close up in Moulin Rouge, should you feel the urgeÖ Suffice it to say picture quality is well into high-end territory.

 

No complaints about audio performance either, the VCR hi-fi tracks are pin-sharp with near zero background hiss and the DVD analogue stereo is crystal clear, as is the bitstream output, with not a bit out of place

 

Itís a good bit dearer than the opposition but apart from the horrible remote this is a class act and a top-performing piece of home cinema kit.

 

PANASONIC NV-VHD1B-S

 

Features & connections            4/5

Ease of use                               3/5

Picture performance            5/5

Sound performance                  5/5

Value for money             3/5

Overall rating                 4/5

 

Price                             £370

 

What's good                  Superb VCR & DVE AV quality

What's bad                    clumsy remote and controls

Overall comment             A refined and accomplished combi but with some really annoying quirks

 

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



Multi-Region            no

Built in decoders            no

NTSC replay                  yes

MP3 playback            yes

Picture Zoom            no

SCARTS                       2

Headphone socket  no

S-Video output            yes

Component video     no

Other features            VCR: quasi S-VHS replay,

VHS EP mode, NICAM stereo, Video Plus+ with PDC timer, one-touch recording, auto setup, NTSC replay, front AV sockets, intro scan, Owner ID. DVD: 3D spatial sound, CD-R/RW playback

 

 

Weight              5.0kg

Dimensions (WHD)  430 x 335 x 90mm

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

PANASONIC NV-VHD1B-S

£                                  £370

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Expensive but a classy piece of kit

TYPE                            DVD/VCR COMBI

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       optical bitstream

COMPíNT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE              112

 

 

NB. All of the combis in this roundup were firmly locked to Region 2 and I was unable to find any hacks, or the promise of a hack for any of them

INPUTS AND OUTPUTS

DVD/VCR combi manufacturers have got themselves into a bit of a tangle over video outputs. The trouble is VHS recorders normally only have a composite video output signal but with DVD thereís the option of S-Video, RGB and component video, with successively better picture quality. Most manufacturers have opted for a SCART socket carrying a composite video output for both the VCR and DVD decks plus, in some cases, RGB from the DVD player, and if you are lucky a separate S-Video socket, also for the DVD deck. This sort of ad-hoc arrangement leads to confusion, complicated cabling and switching problems for the display device. Unfortunately the only solution would be to Ďup-convertí the VCRís composite video output to S-Video and RGB, so the VCR and DVD outputs can share a single cable connection, without compromising DVD picture quality. Thereís no technical reason why it canít be done, VCRs have had RGB connection in the past and Super VHS machines have S-Video outputs. Inevitably it will add to the cost and to date most combis have been pitched at the budget end of the market, so will be interesting to see if anyone takes the plunge with a high-end combi, preferably with a Super VHS deck. 

 

 

WEAR AND TEAR

The usual argument against Ďcombií products is that the main components invariably age at different rates, and what happens when one of them fails?  However, contrary to early expectation video recorders have had a generally good track record and there are plenty of ten-year old machines still going strong, some that have never even had their heads cleaned. DVD should be even more reliable there are fewer moving parts and little to wear out. Nevertheless, itís worth bearing in mind that the dearer models from the A and B brand companies are generally more durable and dependable.

 

 

THE COMMON TOUCH

Youíll know when the DVD/VCR combi has come of age when the first machine with unified on-screen displays and controls appears. At the moment itís a bit of a toe-in-the-water exercise and it is quicker, cheaper and easier for manufacturers to cram existing deck and processing components into a single box with a shared power supply. However, if the DVD/VCR combi concept takes off, and if past experience is anything to go by, second generation models (due out in the next year or two if everything goes to plan) will have a much more integrated feel to them.

 

 

---end---

 

R. Maybury 2002, 0311

 

 

 

 

 

 

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