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REVIEW

 

FIVE EASY PIECES  -- NICAM VCRS

 

GOLDSTAR R-C705i  £350

Goldstar, like their fellow Koreans Samsung, are now a force to be reckoned with in mid-market VCRs. The 705i is a bit of a scatter-gun approach, designed to appeal in more or less equal measure to time-shifters, movie watchers and movie-makers. Cosmetically itís a bit of a con, the central display panel and full-width flap create the illusion of a mid-mount machine when in fact the deck is on the left. With the cover closed it could easily pass for any one of a dozen top-rated Japanese or European machines. Itís a different story with the drawbridge lowered, and the shaped control buttons are a bit of a throwback to early eighties naff.

 

Camcorder-oriented features include a front AV terminal, syncro-edit socket, audio dub and a rather natty title generator. The rest of the spec is fairly conventional but praise where itís due, this is one of the very few stereo VCRs weíve seen lately to have independent manual recording level controls; minus points include the single SCART socket and lack of a headphone socket.

 

Resolution on our sample was a little below average, at just over 230 lines, noise levels were satisfactory, though nothing to write home about. However, the big surprise was the incredibly noisy still frame, or should we say, pause with picture, it definitely wasnít still. At first we thought it might be a fault but there is a clear warning in the instruction book, we canít remember when we last saw one as bad as this!  Audio quality is fairly good, a little bass-heavy perhaps but thereís comparatively low levels of background noise from the stereo hi-fi tracks, and the NICAM decoder is very clean. Itís cheap, and very well specified, but against that you have to weigh the iffy still frame and unexciting picture. 

 

Value  ***

Telephone (0753) 691888

 

 

HITACHI  VT-F350 £430

Hitachi are one of those Japanese companies that produce sensible, reliable video recorders year in year out, then every now and again something a little bit special comes along, like the VT-F350. Itís very compact, just 380mm wide, and the front panel is reasonably uncluttered, with no hidden doors or flaps, what you see is what you get. All of the main transport controls and channel buttons are grouped together next to the display panel, below that thereís an AV terminal, with an extra socket for syncro editing (accurately copying single scenes), with suitably-equipped camcorders. Everything else is operated from the remote control, and this deserves a special mention because it can also control the volume, mute, channel change and on/standby functions of a dozen or more different brands of TV. The handset also has a built-in clock, LCD display and shuttle dial, for precise control of replay speed and direction, which includes still frame and variable-speed slomo.

 

The 350 has a comprehensive, menu-driven on-screen display, auto head cleaning, and something called rental play. When activated this automatically rewinds and ejects pre-recorded tapes after they have finished. Thereís also an endless play feature which repeatedly replays an entire tape. The 350 has got twin SCART sockets but no separate line audio outputs, which is a little inconvenient for AV use; it also lacks a headphone socket but thatís not unusual, and we could do without the flashing bargraph level display, but at least itís small and reasonably discreet.

 

Our sample managed to comfortably resolve a full 250-lines, which puts it close to the limits of the VHS format, not bad for a machine costing less than £450. Add to that lower than average levels of picture noise, bright, vibrant colours, rock-solid trick-play facilities, plus crisp, clean-sounding audio system and youíve got one very impressive little machine.

 

Value ****

Telephone 081-849 2000

 

 

SAMSUNG VI-395  £380

The 395 is the Video Plus+ upgrade of the very successful VI-375 which appeared late last year and is now about to be phased out. Itís another of Samsungís value for money packages and more evidence, if it were needed, that the Koreans have almost caught up with the Japanese in terms of performance, specification and styling. The 396 is a 4-head, two speed machine and in addition to NICAM and Video Plus+ it has an on-screen display, shuttle dial, audio dubbing and front-mounted AV sockets. Those last three features are clearly designed to appeal to camcorder owners as well as AV enthusiasts. Thereís a good selection of trick-play options, plus index search and intro scan tape navigation facilities.  

 

Apart from not having a mid-mount deck, styling is pretty well up to date and Samsung are to be congratulated for ditching the unnecessary winking bar-graph audio level display. This machine -- like most other budget stereo VCRs -- doesnít have a manual level control. One not so welcome omission is a headphone socket, a second SCART connector would have been useful too, though it does have a set of phono AV output sockets on the back panel. No problems with the controls or operating system but the shuttle dial needs a centre-stop position, and the remote handset is a bit of a lump.

 

On screen performance is very good, our sample turned in a respectable resolution figure of just under 250 lines. Noise levels are low and colour fidelity average to good. Trick play stability is good too, and itís possible to almost entirely eliminate jitter in slomo and still frame modes. The hi-fi soundtracks are reasonably clean, though treble response tails off a little earlier than normal. NICAM sound is crisp with background noise levels just a tad higher than average, otherwise, though, a competent, well-specified  all-rounder.

 

Value ****

Telephone 081-391 0168

 

 

SHARP VC-H90HM £500

Three and a half years ago Sharp hit the headlines when they became the first VCR manufacturer to market a NICAM video recorder for less than £400. Since then theyíve churned out a succession of worthy but somewhat dull machines. At £500 the H90 marks a break with tradition. Itís a reasonably good looking mid-mount design with a front-mounted AV terminal, variable-speed slomo replay,  twin SCARTs, Video Plus+, programme delivery control (PDC),  NTSC replay and audio dub. Thereís a couple of unusual features too, such as repeat play, where a designated sequence can be endlessly replayed, and AI (artificial intelligence) picture control, which is supposed to suppress picture noise.

 

The front panel is a bit of a mish-mash, the H90ís designers canít seem to make their minds up whether it should look simple and unthreatening, by hiding the bulk of the controls behind a drop-down cover, or appealing to teccies, with exposed front AV sockets and an over elaborate display panel. Weíre not impressed by the pointless bargraph level display, (thereís no manual recording level control), or the lack of a headphone socket, and the initial set-up routines are rather long winded. The remote handset isnít too bad, though, and infrequently used secondary controls are tucked away out of sight, under a hinged flap.

 

AV performance is another mixed bag. Horizontal resolution on our sample came in at just under 250-lines, which is good, but the picture is quite noisy, and in the end that had a far more noticeable effect on picture quality. Thatís in spite of the AI picture control which does visibly sharpen the picture, but actually has less influence than the picture Ďtoneí control. In contrast the hi-fi soundtracks and NICAM decoder work very well indeed. Background noise levels are below average and thereís little or no coloration on playback. An agreeable machine, picture performance is just about okay, the only major quibble, though, is the price, which is on the high side, especially for Sharp.

 

Value ***

Telephone 061-205 4255

 

 

THORN VR-204 £330

The Thorn brand has been off the shelves for some years, now itís re-emerged on a Nokia built NICAM VCR, sold exclusively by Rumbelows. The VR-204 is a compact mid-mount design with comparatively few frills, which goes some way towards explaining the remarkably uncluttered front panel; no flaps, doors or cubby holes, just ten clearly labelled buttons for tape transport and channel change. Convenience features are there, if you need them, and they include jitter-free still and slomo, index search and intro scan, plus a simple to use on-screen display which covers the initial set-up and tuning as well as Video Plus+ and manual timer programming.

 

Input and output socketry is strictly functional just a pair of SCARTs and stereo line-audio sockets on the back panel; a headphone socket and front AV terminal would have earned it a few extra Brownie points but at only £330 whoís complaining? Styling is plain and unexciting, a theme that continues through to the remote handset, but thatís no bad thing, even your old granny could use this one...

 

Thorn, sorry, Nokia havenít made any significant compromises where it really matters, with picture and sound quality. The rather crude LP recording mode is of questionable value but SP recordings look fine; horizontal resolution on our sample was just over 240-lines, good for a VCR costing less than £350. Colours were bright and natural-looking with just a hint of noise. The stereo hi-fi system has an automatic recording level control, which operates satisfactorily and will only irritate hi-fi purists. The soundtracks have an average amount of background noise, and frequency response is generally flat. Itís not going to win any beauty contests, and gadget freaks will find it frugal fare, but if all youíre looking for is a halfway decent stereo machine, thatís cheap and easy to use, then you could do a lot worse than start here.

Value ****

Telephone  (0734) 304000

 

 

CONCLUSIONS..

One clear winner -- the Hitachi F350 emerges as the best all-rounder with excellent picture and sound quality, plus a lot of very useful features. The Samsung 395 comes a very creditable second, followed by the Thorn 204 which looks like a very good deal indeed, particularly for anyone interested in keeping things simple. Goldstarís 705 is let down by poor, or should that be non-existent trick frame facilities, the Sharp H90 looses out on price, otherwise itís quite a respectable machine.

 

MAKE/MODEL                    ££s      PIC      SND    F&F    EOU    VFM

 

GOLDSTAR R-C7051        350      **        ****    ****    ****    ***

HITACHI VT-F350              430      *****  ****    *****  ****    ****

SAMSUNG VI-395             380      ****    ***      ****    ****    ****

SHARP VC-H90                500      ***      ****    ****    ***      ***

THORN VR-204                 330      ***      ***      ***      ****    ****

 

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1994 0707

 

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