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NOKIA VCR-3784                 


SANYO VHR-874E                



After a good sized TV the next most important component in a home cinema system is a stereo VCR, but with over fifty models to choose from, where do you start? The video recorder is normally the most hard-working and heavily-used component, and it determines to a large extent how well the rest of the system hangs together. Get the VCR right and everything else usually clicks into place.


Apart from stereo sound and NICAM what else should you be looking for in a VCR? Video and audio performance are obviously important, and there are differences, though theyíre not as marked as, say, between mono machines at the budget end of the market, and donít expect VCR picture and sound quality to be as good as laserdisc or off-air TV. The VHS format is at or near itís theoretical limits and improvements are becoming increasingly difficult to spot. Super VHS isnít much help either, thereís no pre-recorded software and TV recordings donít look much better than bog-standard VHS.


On a practical level a cinema VCR needs at least two AV outputs, (usually though not compulsorily in the form of SCART connectors), otherwise youíre going to have to compromise on picture and/or sound quality somewhere down the line. Trick play features can be useful, and still and slomo replay stability are a good measure of how well the machine has been put together. If youíre one of the 75% of video recorder users that surveys suggest cannot program a VCR  timer then get a machine with Videoplus+, though youíd be hard pressed to find one that doesnít have it these days. If you also own a camcorder, features such as an AV terminal on the front panel, audio dub and editing facilities might come in handy.


After that weíre into gadget territoty; many are fun to play with but the gimmicky ones tend to fall into disuse quite quickly, once the novelty has worn off. To help you through the stereo VCR jungle weíve been looking at six machines that represent a good cross-section of whatís available in the most popular (and populous) price bracket, between £400 and £500.



Ferguson have been in the VCR business a very long time, almost since day one, and it shows. The FV77 is a mid-mount design from their parent company Thomsonís joint venture factory in Singapore; itís quite good looking, though the stylised phoney feet are a bit tacky. Thereís only four buttons on show, the rest are hidden behind a narrow flap that runs the width of the machine; it feels rather flimsy, the sort of thing youngsters will enjoy pulling off... Behind the flap thereís ten more buttons, all small and awkward to get at so our advice is to take very good care of the remote control handset. Thatís doubly important because you canít set the machine up or access many of its secondary features without it.


Most of the FV77ís higher functions are controlled from a menu-driven on-screen display, itís one of the best weíve seen with clear, simple instructions, accompanied by pertinent help messages. You could almost use this machine without the instruction book; almost, but not quite. Some functions are not labelled or immediately obvious, like the fact that slomo direction and speed is controlled by the fast-wind buttons, or that the machine has variable picture search speeds.


One of the reasons Ferguson have been in the business so long is that their VCRs are reliable and tend to work quite well. The FV77 is no exception, the picture looks sharp and detailed, and thatís borne out by the resolution figure which on our sample was exactly 250-lines. Picture noise, which has a far more deleterious effect on perceived image quality is very low on this machine. Trick play performance is also very good, stable and jitter free at all replay speeds. The stereo Hi-Fi tracks and NICAM decoder have a flat, even response with below average background hiss. This is one of the few machines with manual, as well as automatic, recording level controls, though unusually itís controlled from the on-screen display, which also generates a pair of bargraph indicators, shoudl you feel the need.



The FV77 is a refined, easy to use machine, and like the Ferguson name instils a good deal of confidence.


Picture quality            ****

Sound quality  ****

Build quality               ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Value for money         95%



Features: variable slomo,  repeat play, index search, intro scan, parental lock, TV on timer, 16:9 switching,  

Sockets: 2 x SCART AV, line audio in/out (phono)

Dimensions: 321 x 85 x 398


FERGUSON LTD, Crown Road, Enfield, Middlesex EN1 1DZ

Telephone: 081-344 4444



GRUNDIG GV-450 £460

Stereotypically teutonic the GC-450 is a stern-looking lump of a VCR, even the instructions read as if theyíve been written with a German accent, Ď..zis chapter vill tell you how to program ze timer.... Ď. Nevertheless, it is well featured for the price with NTSC and Quasi-S-VHS replay, PIN activated parental lock, audio dub, insert edit, front AV terminal and jog/shuttle controlled trick play. Those last four should interest camcorder-owing video movie-makers.


The initial set-up is rather protracted and you have to follow orders, or else. The controls, both on the front panel (hidden behind a hinged flap) and those on the remote handset are not especially easy to use, even after youíve waded through the 66 page instruction manual... Switch it on and it the front panel comes alive with novel curved bar-graph level displays, recording level can be set manually though itís not very easy, and annoyingly defaults back to automatic every time the machine is switch on. The jog/shuttle control takes some getting used to, it also controls fast forward and rewind but rather than making navigation easier, finding a place on a tape is actually quite tricky.


Resolution on our sample was just under 250 lines, nothing wrong with that; colours appear bright and well defined but noise levels are a little above average, so overall the picture looks fairly ordinary. Trick play stability is good and itís usually possible to eliminate jitter more or less completely. NTSC replay is possible on a normal PAL TV but it will be in black and white, you need a proper multi-standard TV to get colour as well. Quasi-S-VHS is far more successful, though it has limited home cinema applications as there are no movies on S-VHS.


The 450ís sound system did well, background hiss was subdued, and the broad dynamic range came across as crisp and largely uncoloured, a little trebly perhaps but nothing to worry about. The NICAM decoder worked well too, still sounding clean even with reduced signal strength.



You get a lot of VCR for your money and thereís plenty to interest home video movie-makers, but itís a tough machine to get to know and in the end AV performance rates as only average.


Picture quality            ***

Sound quality  ****

Build quality               ***

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ***

Value for money         88%



Features: Quasi S-VHS replay, NTSC replay (mono), jog/shuttle dial, parental lock, auto tuning, insert edit, audio dub, continuous play/record, reverse play

Sockets: 2 x SCART AV, line audio in/out (phono), front AV (phono)

Dimensions: 365 x 110 x 435mm


GRUNDIG INTERNATIONAL Mill Road, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV21 1PR.

Telephone (0788) 577155





The M50 continues a fine old Mitsubishi tradition of more features per pound than almost any other make. Itís loaded, and one of two gizmos are actually quite useful, like the nifty rental playback feature which rewinds a tape as soon as its loaded (in case the last renter forgot), fast forwards to the start of the soundtrack and begins playback. When the movie has  finished it automatically rewinds and ejects the tape. Itís also got something called CM edit, thatís code for Ďcommercialí edit, a facility that enables picture search during record pause mode, presumably so you can line the tape up to cut out commercials, during the break. Visually itís fairly bland, Mitsubishi have tried quite hard to cheer it up, but thereís only so much you can do with a mid mount deck, display panel and four chunky buttons. Full marks for the auto set-up system though, it tunes in all available channels, identifies them and sets the clock. It also checks the time against the teletext signal on channel 1 every morning at 8 oíclock. Timer programming is very easy too, with Videoplus+ and Mitsubishiís own idiot-proof system. 


The M50 has a tape optimisation circuit, which automatically checks the grade of a tape once it has been loaded, this takes just a couple of seconds. In the end, though, resolution was only average for VCRs in this price bracket at just under 250 lines; noise levels were okay and colours were reasonably sharp, overall general picture was quite satisfactory. The M50 has an extensive range of trick play options and these were all stable, rock-solid in the case of still frame.


Audio performance was fine, average amounts of background hiss on the stereo channels, both on off-tape replay and direct NICAM outputs.  The lack of a manual recording level is not a problem on most types of material, though why Mitsubishi felt the urge to put a  pair of flashing bar-graphs on the display panel, is a mystery.



A useful middle-ranking machine, fairly average in the picture and sound departments but plenty of gadgets and convenience features to play with, and a very reasonable price.


Picture quality            ***

Sound quality  ***

Build quality               ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Value for money 93%



Features: CM edit (record search), , child lock, , encore (replays last 5 seconds), auto tuning and clock set, auto head cleaner, index search, blank search, tape optimiser, rental tape playback

Sockets: 2 x SCART AV. stereo line out (phono)

Dimensions: 380 x 92 x 326 mm


MITSUBISHI ELECTRIC UK LTD., Travellers Lane, Hatfield, Herts, AL10 8XB.

Telephone (07072) 76100




NOKIA VCR-3784 £450

If the Nokia VCR-3784 looks a little familiar thatís not surprising because it is built by Sanyo who also make similar-looking machines for several other companies, as well as themselves. However, internally there are some quite significant differences between these machines, including, in this case Nokiaís ASO Plus picture sharpening/noise reduction circuitry. Itís an unusually compact mid-mount machine, measuring just 360mm wide. The styling and cosmetics are uncomplicated and the front-panel unthreatening with just ten adequately labelled buttons on show, no secret switch-infested hidey-holes here.


Convenience features are a little thin on the ground, it has all the basics though; the only items that could be counted as mildly exotic are audio dub, which seems somewhat out of place on a machine otherwise devoid of movie-making facilities, and 16:9 playback, only useful if youíve got access to a specialised D2 MAC satellite receiver. The initial set-up routines are reasonably easy to follow, which is just as well as the on-screen display is not to be argued with, it wonít even let you use the machine until the clock and tuner have been set.


ASO Plus (active sideband optimum, in case you were wondering), definitely has an effect, but its debatable whether it needs an on/off switch, in the off position the picture looks soft; presumably itís for the benefit of dealers, to demonstrate the feature. With ASO Plus engaged resolution on our sample was spot on 250-lines. Noise levels are about average, though highly saturated colours can look quite busy. Still and slomo replay is very steady, noise and jitter can sometimes be difficult to eliminate on recordings made on other machines.


Audio performance is unexceptional, NICAM sound is up to the mark and the Hi-Fi stereo soundtracks are clean; treble response seems to tail off a little early, otherwise it sounds fine.



A neat little machine that works reasonably well. The specification is fairly basic, dull even, but if all youíre looking for is a competent and simple to use stereo NICAM VCR this is worth considering.


Picture quality            ****

Sound quality  ***

Build quality               ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Value for money         90%



Features: index search, intro scan, audio dub, 16:9 widescreen switching, auto head cleaning

Sockets: 2 x SCART AV, line-audio in/out (phono)

Dimensions: 360 x 89 x 293 mm


NOKIA CONSUMER ELECTRONICS, Bridgemead Close, Westmead,

Swindon SN5 7YG

Telephone (0793) 644223




This is Panasonicís cheapest entry-level NICAM VCR but it shares numerous critical components, including the high-performance deck mechanism and a good deal of the electronics, with one of its upmarket stablemates, the HD100, which costs another £100. Itís a machine of contrasts, Panasonic have given the HD90 advanced microprocessor-controlled picture processing circuitry, yet the layout, with the deck on the left side makes them one of the few companies to have resisted the siren call to go mid-mount. It has a Videoplus+ timer, and one of the simplest manual timers weíve seen for a while, yet it has no on-screen display system, relying instead on a fluorescent display panel with extra tall characters.


The Superdrive deck mechanism is fast and silent, no irritating clonks when it changes speed or direction, and it comes with a multi-brand remote handset that can control the vital functions (on/standby, volume and channel change) of a number of TVs made by Philips, Sony and Grundig, as well as their own. Whilst we prefer our stereo VCRs to have two SCART AV sockets the HD90 has a separate set AV output phonos on the back panel, which is as good, if not better.


On-screen performance is pure Panasonic, the picture is clean and sharp with resolution hovering around the 250-line mark at SP speeds, this falls to just under 230 lines in the LP recording mode. Noise levels are low and colours look natural and well defined. Although it has only a limited trick-play repertoire (picture search, still and slomo), picture stability is excellent, slow-motion in particular is very smooth, and itís possible to cancel jitter altogether using the vertical lock control on the handset.


The stereo Hi-Fi soundtracks and NICAM decoder are well matched, background noise levels are well below average in both cases, the response is flat and evenly balanced. Recording level is controlled automatically and it works well, most of the time, though it can be a tad choppy at times, responding a little too quickly to sudden changes in volume.



Words like worthy and capable spring to mind. Itís a machine you can trust but exciting itís not. A good all-rounder, sensible price and features, though it would have benefited from an on-screen display.


Picture quality            ****   

Sound quality  ****

Build quality               ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Value for money         93%



Features: multi-brand remote, auto head cleaning, quick view, NTSC replay (mono), index search, sleep timer

Sockets: 1 x SCART AV, video and line audio out (phono)

Dimensions: 430 x 96 x 349mm


PANASONIC UK LTD., Panasonic House, Willoughby Road, Bracknell,

Berkshire RG12 4PF.

Telephone (0344) 862444     



SANYO VHR-874E £500

The newest and arguably the most unusual VCR in this roundup. The key feature is DVS or Digital View Scan, which allows the soundtrack to be heard, even when the machine is in fast picture search mode. DVS uses a microchip memory Ďbufferí to store audio signals as theyíre read from the tapeís linear edge track. As a matter of interest itís a development of electronic anti-shake systems used on personal cassette and Mini Disc players. Once stored in the buffer the audio is read out again, in real time, irrespective of tape speed or direction. Timing discrepancies are corrected by reading the sound out in short snatches, three to six seconds long. DVS sounds like a bit of a gimmick but it works surprisingly well and comes in handy when skimming through sports programmes, or locating specific parts of a movie or TV programme.


The rest of the 874ís feature list is fairly routine, though it has a couple of camcorder-oriented facilities, including a front AV terminal and audio dub. Itís also quite small, and very easy to use, with the same no-nonsense on-screen display system as the Nokia 3784.


Picture quality is quite respectable, noise levels were very low and resolution was a shade below 250 lines. Colours are bright, natural-looking, and clearly defined. Trick play is very solid, at all replay speeds.  Normal Hi-Fi sound is fine with just a trace of hiss in the background. We can live without the winking bargraph display on the front panel, it doesnít have a manual recording level control, so itís completely pointless. DVS sound is derived from the mono soundtrack, which isnít brilliant at the best of times, so by the time itís been through the digital mill it comes out sounding a bit rough. Nevertheless, speech is perfectly intelligible, and after all thatís what itís designed for.



Digital View Scan could have been just another gimmick but for once it earns its keep on this otherwise very agreeable little machine. In any case, you can always switch it off.


Picture quality            ****

Sound quality  ****

Build quality               ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Value for money         93%



Features: Digital View Scan,  shuttle control, audio dub/mix, endless play, index and blank search, Summertime adjust, NTSC playback

Sockets: 2 x SCART AV, front AV terminal (phono)

Dimensions: 420 x 99 x 340 mm


SANYO UK LTD., Sanyo House, Otterspool Way,  Watford, Herts WD2 8JX.

Telephone (0923) 246363




Grundig VCRs have got a lot better in the past couple of years but if the GV-450 is anything to go by they still have a way to go to match the slick refinement of Far-Eastern designs. The 450 works well enough but it is on the large side, and  not especially easy to use;  the feature list should be of particular interest to camcorder-owners with home-cinema leanings.  Nokiaís VR 3784 comes across as a very likeable machine, and it performs well, unfortunately the price counts against it, when compared with slightly cheaper and marginally better specified machines with similar AV capabilities. The Mitsubishi HS-M50 is a case in point, picture and sound quality are average to good but the features list just keeps on going... Itís almost impossible to choose between the Ferguson FV77 and Panasonic NV-HD90,  they also cost about the same, but in the end the FV77ís comprehensive on-screen display scores a couple of extra points, making it just a little easier to use. The overall winner, by a very narrow margin, is the Sanyo VHR-874, which also happens to be the most expensive. The extra cost is entirely due to Digital View Scan, though even without it the 874 would still be a capable and well-specified middle-market VCR. DVS has all the hallmarks of a frivolous gadget but itís one you quickly grow to appreciate -- especially if youíre a sports fan -- and soon miss on other machines.



MAKE/MODEL                     ££s       Timer     NTSC         Sockets    VFM    Score       

FERGUSON FV77                  430        8/31          no             2S,L           93%    19

GRUNDIG GV-450                460        8/31          mono        2S,L,F        88%    17            

MITSUBISHI HS-M50          430        8/31          mono        2S,L           93%    18

NOKIA VCR-3784                  450        6/365        no             2S,L           92%    18

PANASONIC NV-HD90        430        8/31          mono        1S,L           93%    19

SANYO VHR-874E                 500        6/365        yes           2S, F           90%    20


Key - Timer = events/days; NTSC == replay into normal PAL TV;  Sockets: S= SCART, L = line audio, F = front-mounted AV terminal;






Facility to replace the mono soundtrack, recorded along the edge of the tape, without diusturbing the picture signal. The Hi-Fi stereo soundtrack is also unaffected as this is recorded along with the vision signal by an extra pair of heads mounted on the rotating head drum




Audio and video sockets mounted on the front panel of a VCR, mainly for the benefit of camcorder owners, to simplify connections for copying and editing video movies



Widescreen transmission format based on the MAC (multiplexed analogue component) broadcasting system. Developed originally as a route into high-definition TV it is now only used on a handful of European satellite TV channels.



Rotary control, usually consisting of an inner Ďjogí dial and outer Ďshuttleí ring that controls tape speed and direction. The  jog dial steps the recording backwards or forwards one frame at a time



Near-instantaneously companded audio multiplexing; high quality digital stereo sound broadcasting system used by the BBC and ITV companies



National Television Standards Committee; 525-line/60Hz colour TV standard used in North America and Japan. Several VCRs now have a facility to replay NTSC recordings on recently-made PAL TVs.



Phase Alternate Line; 625-line/50Hz colour TV standard used in the UK and throughout much of Europe, with the exception of France and the former Soviet bloc.



Programme delivery control; system used to automatically correct VCR timer errors caused by late programme changes or overruns, currently used by Channel 4 and a couple of ITV companies.



A measure of the amount of fine detail in a video recording. Resolution is measured in Ďhorizontalí lines, not to be confused with the 625 scanning lines that are used to create a TV picture



21-pin connector system, used to interconnect AV equipment (TVs, VCRs satellite receiver etc.) together. Cable carries two-way stereo audio and video, as well as control and data signals.



Slow, fast or still-frame replay speeds



The simplest VCR timer programming system yet. All the user has to do is enter a string of numbers (2 to 8 digits long), into the VCRs remote handset. The numbers or ĎPluscodesí relate to specific TV programmes and are printed alongside schedule information published in newspapers and listings magazine.



16:9 refers to the aspect ratio or shape of a widescreen TV, which is 16 units wide, by 9 units deep. A normal TV screen has an aspect ratio of 4:3. The 16:9 shape is very close to the widescreen format used on most movies made for theatrical release.




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