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GROUP TEST

 

MID RANGE VCRS

BUSH VCR926NVP, £100
What's good compact shape, generally easy to use
What's bad lack of second Scart and stereo output sockets, mediocre performance
Overall The missing sockets and lacklustre performance rule this machine out as a serious home cinema component, just about okay as a bedroom VCR perhaps
Contact Bush 020 8594 5533

Format VHS SP/LP, Nicam, Hi-Fi
Quasi-S-VHS N
NTSC replay Y
Library N
AD skip Y
Number of Scarts 1
Front AV Sockets Y
S-Video output N
Other Features Auto install, Video Plus+ with PDC, child lock, auto repeat
Weight 3.3kg
Dimensions (WHD) 360 x 91 x 280mm

BUYER'S GUIDE EXTRA INFO
MAKE/MODEL BUSH VCR926NVP
PRICE £100
SCARTS 1
SAT CONTROL N
NTSC P/BACK Y
REVIEWED Nov 2002


JVC HR-J695, £130
What's good outstanding picture quality, plenty of useful features
What's bad uninspiring looks
Overall aside from the fact that JVC's VCR stylists seem to have been caught in a 1980s time warp this machine is a superb example of just how good VHS can be
Contact JVC UK 08703 30500, www.jvc.co.uk

Format VHS SP/LP, Nicam, Hi-Fi
Quasi-S-VHS Y
NTSC replay Y
Library N
AD skip Y
Number of Scarts 2
Front AV Sockets N
S-Video output N
Other Features Auto install, Video Plus+ with PDC, tape tuning, satellite timer
Weight 3.4kg
Dimensions (WHD) 400 x 94 x 270mm

BUYER'S GUIDE EXTRA INFO
MAKE/MODEL JVC HR-J695
PRICE £130
SCARTS 2
SAT CONTROL Y
NTSC P/BACK Y
REVIEWED Nov 2002



LG LV713, £100
What's good solid performance and spec for a budget machine
What's bad the Talking menu is an irritating gimmick
Overall A capable little machine, reasonably well specified, good value and fine for entry-level home cinema or as a second VCR
Contact LG Electronics 01753 50047, www.lge.co.uk

Format VHS SP/LP, Nicam, Hi-Fi
Quasi-S-VHS N
NTSC replay Y
Library N
AD skip Y
Number of Scarts 2
Front AV Sockets N
S-Video output N
Other Features Auto install, Video Plus+ with PDC, 'Talking' menu, self-diagnosis, child lock
Weight 4.0kg
Dimensions (WHD) 360 x 94.5 x 270mm

BUYER'S GUIDE EXTRA INFO
MAKE/MODEL LG LV713
PRICE £100
SCARTS 2
SAT CONTROL N
NTSC P/BACK Y
REVIEWED Nov 2002



PANASONIC NV-FJ630, £125
What's good excellent AV performance and some useful features
What's bad limited trick-play options
Overall typically Panasonic, built to last with above average picture and sound quality, good value too but somewhat lacking in the style and charisma departments
Contact Panasonic 08705 357357, www.panasonic.co.uk

Format VHS SP/EP/LP, Nicam, Hi-Fi
Quasi-S-VHS Y
NTSC replay Y
Library N
AD skip N
Number of Scarts 2
Front AV Sockets N
S-Video output N
Other Features Auto install, Video Plus+ with PDC, 'Intelligent' timer, owner ID, child lock
Weight 3.5kg
Dimensions (WHD) 430 x 87 x 282mm


BUYER'S GUIDE EXTRA INFO

MAKE/MODEL PANASONIC NV-FJ630
PRICE £125
SCARTS 2
SAT CONTROL N
NTSC P/BACK Y
REVIEWED Nov 2002



SAMSUNG SV-5000W, £500
What's good multi-system capability and fair to middling AV quality
What's bad the remote is a bit of a lump and check S-VHS replay if it's important to you
Overall definitely a specialist machine and probably not the sort of thing you'd buy just for watching movies and taping TV programs but if you can put its special talents to use it's a bargain!
Contact Samsung 0800 521652, http://www.samsungelectronics.co.uk/

Format VHS SP/LP/SLP, Nicam, Hi-Fi
Quasi-S-VHS Y (see text)
NTSC replay Y
Library N
AD skip N
Number of Scarts 1
Front AV Sockets Y
S-Video output N
Other Features Auto install, Video Plus+ with PDC, multi-system play/record/convert, (PAL/SECAM/NTSC), audio dub, Strobe/Art effects, child lock, jog/shuttle dial on remote
Weight 4.3kg
Dimensions (WHD) 430 x 98 x 295mm

BUYER'S GUIDE EXTRA INFO
MAKE/MODEL SAMSUNG SV-5000W
PRICE £500
SCARTS 2
SAT CONTROL N
NTSC P/BACK Y
REVIEWED Nov 2002



TOSHIBA VCR 852, £180
What's good top-notch AV and those potentially useful editing features
What's bad a touch pricey
Overall not quite a Jack-of-all-trades but certainly a master of home cinema and definitely worth short listing if you've any interest in home movie making and editing
Contact Toshiba (01276) 62222, www.toshiba.co.uk

Format VHS SP/LP, Nicam, Hi-Fi
Quasi-S-VHS N
NTSC replay Y
Library N
AD skip N
Number of Scarts 2
Front AV Sockets Y
S-Video output N
Other Features Auto install, Video Plus+ with PDC, satellite control, multi-brand TV remote, audio dub, mic input, jog/shuttle dial on remote
Weight 3.5
Dimensions (WHD) 430 x 94 x 240mm

BUYER'S GUIDE EXTRA INFO
MAKE/MODEL TOSHIBA VCR 852
PRICE £180
SCARTS 2
SAT CONTROL Y
NTSC P/BACK N
REVIEWED Nov 2002


VCR MEGA TEST

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CONNECTIONS

Bush VCR926 2/5
LG LV713 3/5
JVC HR-J695 3/5
Toshiba VCR 852 4/5
Panasonic NV-FJ630 3/5
Samsung SV-5000W 4/5

The humble video recorder harks back to a simpler age and for a long time the only way of getting pictures and sound from a VCR into a TV was via the aerial cable. Nowadays all TVs and VCRs have Scart sockets, carrying composite video and stereo audio signals. By common consent there's usually two of them on the backside of most VCRs, both to make up for the lack of AV input sockets on older TVs and to allow them to connect to and record from a satellite or cable TV box. Nicam stereo VCRs normally have a pair of stereo output sockets as well, so they can be connected up to an AV amplifier or hi-fi system to get a bigger sound out of your playback, and that's the way it has always been since time immemorial.
Now Bush has decided to break with this fine tradition and in what appears to be a clear cut case of penny-pinching has given the VCR926 a single Scart, which is bad enough, but to add insult to injury there are no separate audio outputs either. Quite simply it makes it virtually useless for home cinema use, at least not without a lot of complicated wiring and fancy cables.
Fortunately all of the other manufacturers in this round-up have stuck with the tried and tested formula, though the Samsung SV-5000 has only one Scart. However, as we shall see in a moment this VCR is a special case and it more than makes up for the missing Scart with two extra sets of phono AV outputs on the back panel, and two sets of phono AV inputs, one on the back and one on the front. The Toshiba VCR 852 also has front-mounted AV sockets and it addition to the normal stereo output connections there's a microphone jack as well. The Bush has front AV inputs too but it doesn't make up for the absent back panel connectors.

 

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The only other small oddity in this group of machines is a minijack socket on the back of the JVC machine. This is for an infra-red ‘wand’ that the VCR uses to control the mains functions (on/off and channel selection) on a nearby satellite receiver.


FEATURES

Bush VCR926 2/5
LG LV713 3/5
JVC HR-J695 4/5
Toshiba VCR 852 4/5
Panasonic NV-FJ630 4/5
Samsung SV-5000W 4/5

VCR manufacturers have largely stopped trying to outdo each other with superfluous gadgets and novelty features and these days most budget and mid-market video recorders have a more or less standard issue feature set. But we're pleased to see that there is still room for the occasional offbeat oddity, like the 'Talking' menu on the LG LV713. It must have been an afterthought because we could find no mention of it in the instructions, and more importantly, any clue as to how to switch it off (in fact there is a switch buried in the on-screen menu). As soon as you press the menu button on the handset a female voice - carried on the player's audio output - starts describing every option in a drab monotone voice. It is quite distracting and apart from the novelty value it is unlikely to impress most users, who are by now familiar with the way video recorders work. Though to be fair it might come in handy for anyone suffering from vision impairment.

 

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As a matter of interest ‘talking’ VCRs are not a new idea and a couple of manufacturers have tried it out over the years. Philips were responsible for the voice recognition timer which sank without trace when it was found it couldn’t understand Scottish accent…

 

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Panasonic flags up the Intelligent Timer on the NV-FJ630. 'Intelligent' is probably overstating it but it is quite clever and works by storing details of the last eight VideoPlus+ timer recordings. So if you're in the habit of taping your favourite regular show, you can quickly select the last time you did it and the details will be updated. It saves you having to go through the rigmarole of entering the code number. The FJ630 also has an EP (extended play) recording mode, which give around 12 hours recording time on a four-hour tape and a super-quick 35x fast wind

 

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One last item of interest on the FJ630 is a rudimentary ‘Library’ function. In fact it is nowhere near as sophisticated as those used on some mid-market machines but this one does let you know what’s on a tape, it quickly searches through the recording and displays a simple contents listing. You can then select and go to any of the recordings, however, it only works on one tape at a time and the list is lost as soon as new tape is loaded.

 

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Both the Toshiba and JVC have satellite receiver control systems for making recordings from digital set-top boxes. The Toshiba machine has an infra-red emitter (to control the box) built into the top of the VCR while the JVC machine comes with a remote IR 'wand' on the end of a cable that is placed close to the satellite receiver.

 

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Both satellite control systems can cope with most current SKY digiboxes as well as many older analogue receivers however, for obvious reasons don’t expect them to be able to control ITV Digital set-top boxes or indeed the new generation of free-to-air receivers.

 

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The Toshiba handset has a jog/shuttle control and is the only one of this group that will also control various brands of TV, though several of the other handsets, including those from JVC, LG and Panasonic can also control basic functions on the manufacturers' own TVs.
Other little extras worth noting include Quasi S-VHS replay on the JVC, Panasonic and Samsung VCRs (letting you play back, but not record, with high quality S-VHS tapes).

 

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By the way, replay quality is not up to normal Super VHS standards but the picture is noticeably sharper than bog standard VHS.

 

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Toshiba has given the Toshiba some additional audio features, which might prove useful if you're into making home videos. They are the separate microphone input mentioned earlier, and audio dub, which lets you replace the machine's mono soundtrack, so you could add a commentary to your most recent holiday movie or backyard epic, when copying or editing it to VHS.
Picture and sound quality enhancements have tended to be thin on the ground in recent years with the VHS format having reached the limits of its performance capabilities. Once again JVC wheels out it's torturously named B.E.S.T tape tuning system on the HR-J695 (Bi-Conditional Equalised Signal Tracking, if you need to know), and Panasonic has its Crystal View Control (CVC) system, which also monitors tape characteristics but this has disappeared into the background as an automated function.
However, the mother and father of special features has to be the Samsung's multi-system capability. This machine has the unique ability to work in just about any country in the world with its multi-voltage power supply and multi-system TV tuner. But that's not all, it can also record, playback and convert between any colour television standard, including of course PAL, NTSC and SECAM, but also the more exotic sub-formats used in certain countries, such as PAL-M and PAL-N, NTSC-4.43 and MESECAM. In short the SV-5000 can record and replay any VHS or S-VHS recording or TV programme on any TV, just about anywhere. For good measure, and probably as a spin off from all of the digital processing going on inside, it also has a pair of completely pointless special effects called Art and Strobe.

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Standards conversion is quite a complicated business involving adding extra lines, when the conversion process is from 525-line NTSC to 625-line PAL, and ‘culling’ lines when it goes the other way, the frame rare also has to be changed, from the 60Hz of NTSC to PAL’s 50Hz moreover the colour signal has to be changed and all this requires a fair amount of digital trickery, which goes a long way to explaining the machine’s significantly higher price. Even so, it’s worth knowing that the only other machine capable of this kind of electronic conjouring trick, the Panasonic NV-W1 – no sadly no longer in production – cost almost three times as much, and that was when fifteen hundred quid was worth something…

 

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EASE OF USE

Bush VCR926 4/5
LG LV713 4/5
JVC HR-J695 4/5
Toshiba VCR 852 4/5
Panasonic NV-HS630 4/5
Samsung SV-5000W 4/5

Auto installation has largely taken the sting out of setting up a VCR and not only will most machines tune in all locally available TV stations, and name and sort the channels, they'll also set the time and date for you, using PDC (Programme Delivery Control) data transmitted alongside teletext signals. All of the VCRs in this roundup manage to tune themselves in and are ready to use in two or three minutes, but some do a better job of it than others. With the exception of the Bush machine all of the VCRs in this group go into auto setup mode as soon as they are plugged in to the mains for the for the first time, though to be fair, instigating auto search on the Bush only involves pressing two buttons.

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In almost all cases modern VCRs also assign names to the five terrestrial channels and sort them into the logical order, i.e. BBC1 on channel 1, BBC2 on 2, ITV on 3 and so on but occasionally they get it wrong order. This can often be a problem in fringe reception areas or where coverage overlaps. None of our test machines suffered any difficulty in this respect but they all had reasonably easy to use channel tables, which allowed the station order to be changed.

 

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Panasonic has the best looking and easiest to use on-screen display (OSD) but it's let down by a cluttered and confusingly labelled remote control. Toshiba's OSD is straightforward and its handset looks promising with a large jog/shuttle dial but it too suffers from ambiguous labelling, though the tape transport keys glow in the dark. You could almost read by the light given off by the luminous buttons on the Samsung remote, and you won't lose it in a hurry either it's a real handful. Considering the machine's complexity the Samsung's on-screen display is very easy to follow. JVC's on-screen displays and handset are both functional and simple to use. The LG also comes across as user friendly too. The remote is at least fine from an ergonomic standpoint but it looks odd. The Bush remote and OSD are both basic that's no bad thing and it is easy to live with, though the deck mechanism is abrupt and it almost snatches the tape out of your fingers when loading a cassette.


PICTURE QUALITY

Bush VCR926 2/5
LG LV713 3/5
JVC HR-J695 5/5
Toshiba VCR 852 4/5
Panasonic NV-FJ630 5/5
Samsung SV-5000W 4/5

Unlike DVD, where there are only comparatively small variations in picture quality between the cheapest and dearest players, there are often wide differences between VCRs, even ones in the same price bracket, and the bad ones can really stink! Fortunately none of our six review machines came into that category, or even close, but you don't need to be an expert to notice that the picture on the Bush appears a little flat and grainy compared with most of the others. It's not due to any lack of detail - in fact resolution is quite good for a budget player - but colours look drab, especially skin tones and shades. Highly saturated colours also have a tendency to smear and picture noise levels are nothing to write home about.
Dull looking colours also take the edge off the LG's picture performance but this time the picture is a touch sharper with lower noise levels and slightly better resolution. However, it doesn't like sudden changes in brightness and contrast, which on a static scene causes a ringing effect that shows up as blurry lines close to sharply defined edges.
The Samsung's main talents lie in standards conversion, which involves a lot of extra processing and can show up in the picture as a light texturing in the background. PAL-to-PAL playback is fine though; the picture looks crisp with clean and accurate colours and if anything NTSC-to-NTSC playback is even better with very lifelike looking colours. Inevitably the conversion process involves a small reduction in quality. There is an increase in picture noise and, depending on the conversion mode, some digital artefacts as picture lines are added, or removed - which can result in jerky movement. But it's a relatively small price to pay if it's a feature you are going to use. The Samsung is billed as having Super-VHS playback (aka quasi S-VHS or SQPB) but on our sample it was dreadful with large horizontal noise spikes making the picture almost unwatchable.

 

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This may well be confined to our well used test sample but if this feature is likely to be important to you it is worth checking before you buy, if possible take a test take along to the dealer and ask to see it in action.

 

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The Toshiba easily qualifies as a home cinema machine and an able edit deck. Picture quality is almost as good as can be with VHS, with vivid, bright colours and pin-sharp detail. Picture noise levels are very low, though it seems to favour higher-grade tapes. The noise creeps up slightly on well-used tapes and recordings made on cheap'n'cheerful blanks, which suggests the Toshiba's tape tuning or optimisation systems may not be as refined as some of its rivals. Nevertheless, there's little or nothing to complain about; trick-play is very steady and the deck mechanism is unusually agile, able to change speed and direction quickly and with a minimum amount of disruption to the picture, justifying the presence of the jog/shuttle dial on the remote.
Repeated side-by-side comparisons between the JVC and Panasonic failed to expose any major differences or flaws in basic picture quality, which on both machines is outstanding, on normal VHS recordings at any rate. Resolution on the two machines is close to the limits of the VHS format, which translates as a crisp, sharp picture, but it's their ability to render colours that sets them apart from the rest. In both instances the picture has a far more natural quality, revealing shades and graduations that are often masked by lesser players or end up looking blotchy. The noise reduction and tape tuning systems on both machines are unusually efficient, perking up whiskery old recordings no end. Off-air recordings look great too, especially live material with a lot of bright or intense colours, though the JVC machine isn't as adept as the Panasonic when it comes to darker or more contrast-filled scenes, which end up looking gloomier.
The two VCRs are reasonably tolerant of tape quality but neither can turn a pig's ear into a sow's purse and there are visible differences in noise levels between the really cheap stuff and high-grade formulations. Trick-play performance on both cases is very smooth but the JVC wipes the floor with the Panasonic with its variable speed replay and reverse slow motion. The only minor disappointment was quasi S-VHS replay on the JVC, which was a bit rough with a fair amount of interference in the picture. The EP recording mode on the Panasonic machine turns out to be unexpectedly good. The picture is understandably a little ragged around the edges but it is more than adequate for general use where the 12-hour recording capacity would definitely come in handy for catching a week's worth of favourite programmes while you're on holiday.

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It’s probably not a good idea to use the EP mode for archiving programmes that you may want to watch again. Apart from the noticeable reduction in picture quality the EP recording mode is non-standard on PAL VCRs and we have found in the past that EP tapes recorded on one machine may not play on another model from a different manufacturer.

 

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SOUND QUALITY

Bush VCR926 3/5
LG LV713 3/5
JVC HR-J695 4/5
Toshiba VCR 852 5/5
Panasonic NV-FJ630 4/5
Samsung SV-5000W 3/5

None of the VCRs in this roundup disgrace themselves sound-wise and there are even one or two pleasant surprises - like the hi-fi soundtracks on the Bush VCR, which have below average levels of background hiss and a generally steady response. This helps significantly on pre-recorded movies with Dolby Surround soundtracks, big set-piece effects have plenty of impact and the smaller atmospheric sounds are not swamped by noise.
The LG and Samsung also do reasonably well, at least as far as handling busy movie soundtracks is concerned, but background noise levels are a tad higher than the Bush. Top marks for hiss suppression goes to the Toshiba; it's well below average, helping to bring quieter Dolby effects and incidental sounds into sharper focus. Although not directly connected to home cinema, the extra audio facilities on the Toshiba, namely the microphone input and audio dub, earn it extra points and may well be of interest to video movie-makers in the market for a basic edit deck.
As expected after the closely matching video performances, there is little to choose between the Panasonic and JVC duo. In keeping with tradition, both emerge as accomplished home cinema machines with neutral, evenly balanced soundtracks that give more or less equal prominence to loud and soft effects and high and low frequencies. There's some background hiss, a notch or two up on the super-quiet Toshiba maybe, but it's definitely not intrusive or damaging to Dolby Surround material and these two machines can be relied upon to generate a big and lively sound field when hooked up to a decent AV system and speakers.

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There was remarkably little difference in the performance of the NICAM decoders on these VCRs, when the audio output is fed straight through to an amplifier at any rate. Needless to say once the NICAM sound had been recorded and played back through the VHS stereo hi-fi sound mill each machine had imposed it own characteristics on the sound but overall there is little to add to the earlier comments concerning the playback quality of pre-recorded tapes.

 

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VALUE
Obviously the presence of the Samsung SV-5000 in this Mega Test skews the results but it serves as a reminder that unlike the bland conformity of budget and mid-range DVD players, the VCR market is still incredibly diverse and there is room and demand for specialist models. Yes, £500 is a lot to pay for a VCR these days but this machine has a very special talent and if you have friends or relatives living abroad, or you travel frequently then you can probably make good use of this machine's abilities.

 

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The SV-5000 is also a cost-effective alternative to dedicated standards converter devices. These have become quite popular of late with home cinema owners with older single standard TVs or display devices, unable to process the ‘raw’ NTSC signals coming out of some DVD players, modified for all region playback.

 

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Down in the bargain basement we have the Bush and LG models. Frankly the Bush VCR926 is a disappointment. Picture performance is so-so - about what we'd expect from a basic budget machine - but there's little justification for the lack of back-panel socketry. Without the second Scart or separate audio outputs it is a complete non-starter for home cinema, serious or otherwise. LG on the other hand has got it about right. The LV713 is basic but performance will be fine on small-to-medium-sized TVs. It has everything you need for watching movies and taping TV programmes, so it is £100 well spent.
JVC and Panasonic are old hands here and between them they practically invented the concept of the home cinema VCR back in the 1980s, so it would be very surprising if they didn't manage to get it right. These two models are closely matched in AV performance but the JVC HR-J695 boasts a couple of very handy extras, like satellite control and better trick-play facilities. Despite the Panasonic NV-FJ620 having the potentially very useful EP 12-hour recording mode, we think the JVC just manages to nudge ahead.
The Toshiba VCR-852, like the Samsung SV-5000W is another special case and at around £180 it is a bit dearer than the rest. Historically Toshiba VCRs were always a little more expensive than average and the company worked hard to maintain its status as a premium brand, but it's a tough world and nowadays we don't expect to pay extra for a badge. The 852 justifies the higher price with top grade AV performance and some extra features, aimed both at home cinema users (multi-brand remote and satellite control) and video movie makers (audio dub and microphone jack). Although it lacks the qualifications for a full-blown edit deck the extra connections and features are things many camcorder owners will find useful, and be prepared to pay a little extra for.

 

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