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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 it....


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?



Make/Model              Ferguson FV88H

Price                            £499.99

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

Sockets                       rear: 2 x SCART AV, line-audio in/out phonos, aerial. Front: AV in phonos, syncro edit

Dimensions                 441 x 316 x 97mm



Picture quality            4

Sound quality  4

Build quality               4

Features                     4

Ease of use                 3                     

Value for money         85%



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


1994 0812


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