It had to happen, sooner or later, but itís something of a surprise
to see Ferguson going down the designer-label route. Theyíve let Philippe Starck
loose on their latest top-end NICAM VCR the FV88, (TVs, audio and other video products
to follow) which is reaching the shops
about now costing just under £500. In fact the guilty party is someone called G.
Vergneau, heís credited with the actual design, Starck is the Art Director, according
to a little signed label on the side of the machine. Pretentious, not a bit of
The design is text-book minimalist, itís a plain rectangular
grey box, the only overt concessions to functionality are a row in tiny
illuminated buttons spaced out across the hinged front cover, and a full-width black
panel covering the fluorescent display. Drop the flap and the grey theme
continues, in fact you have to look quite hard to find the tape hatch. Behind
the grey panels Ferguson have packed in a fair amount of technology. It
virtually sets it self up with an auto installation system, it even checks the
clock against the teletext time signal at 7am each morning. In addition to
hi-fi stereo sound and NICAM it has a satellite-compatible Video Plus+ timer
that beams out infra-red commands, to turn on a nearby STV receiver, select the
right channel, and make a timed recording.
Thereís plenty more besides, including a most helpful
on-screen display system, front-mounted AV terminal, multi-speed replay, NTSC
replay, auto repeat play and record, child lock and electronic identity tagging
system that will help identify the machine, if itís stolen and later recovered.
The remote control handset has also received the Starck treatment. Itís awful!
The strip of identically-shaped buttons are incredibly difficult to use, and if
you put it down it rolls away. Just as well really...
Fortunately it appears Ferguson have only allowed Mr Starck
play around with the cosmetics, operationally the VCR has a much more familiar
feel to it. Resolution on our early production sample was good, a little over
240-lines, noise levels are below average, colours look sharp and well-defined.
It has a very good range of trick-play options and the picture remains stable
at all speeds, from still frame through to fast play. The F88ís audio system sports
a manual recording level control, and neat-looking level Ďmetersí set into the
main display panel. The NICAM decoder and the stereo hi-fi tracks sound very
clean, just a hint of background noise, certainly no more than most other machines
in this price bracket.
Under the skin the FV88 is basically a sound VCR, but the
value of the Starck contribution is open to debate. Form appears to have taken
precedence over function and the front-panel controls are unnecessarily
difficult to use. That wouldnít be so bad but for the remote handset, which is
a real mess; Ferguson would do well to offer a conventional remote as an option
on this machine, to make it useable; design-conscious owners could always hide
it when visitors call...
Even without the designer element this is a very
well-specified machine. Itís exceptionally easy to set up with its auto-install
system, and versatile too. The satellite compatible Video Plus+ timer makes
time shifting STV channels as simple as BBC or ITV programmes. AV performance
is good, and the audio facilities in particular have been well thought out.
Has design got in the way of good sense? The front-panel
controls are difficult to use; theyíre all the same size, itís hard to tell
what they all do, and theyíre badly labelled. The pointy-stick remote probably
looked great on the drawing board, but has anyone tried using it?
Features stereo hi-fi sound, NICAM, satellite
compatible Video Plus+ timer, Programme delivery control, auto-install, NTSC
playback, multi-speed replay, interactive on-screen display, child-lock, electronic
PIN identity tag, auto repeat play & record
2 x SCART AV, line-audio in/out phonos, aerial. Front: AV in phonos, syncro
x 316 x 97mm
Picture quality 4
Sound quality 4
Build quality 4
Ease of use 3
Value for money 85%
BOX -- THE OPPOSITION
The newly-launched JVC HR-715 is now the machine to beat at
the £500 price point, it has outstanding AV performance and itís a boon for
movie-makers with VHS-C camcorders. The Hitachi VT-F360 is definitely worth
thinking about if satellite time-shifting is a priority, and it only costs £450.
The Akai VS-G815 is worth short-listing too, especially if LP picture quality
and movie-making facilities are important, itís also £20 cheaper than the F88.
FERGUSON LTD, Crown Road, Enfield, Middlesex EN1 1DZ
Telephone: 081-344 4444