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FEATURE

 

WHY BUY SUPER-VHS?

 

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It all began on Thursday the 12th of May 1988, that was the fateful day JVC launched the Super VHS system in Europe to an enthusiastic and largely optimistic consumer electronics press; it's been downhill ever since. In the UK sales of Super VHS video recorders have never risen much above 1% of total, and currently they're hovering around 0.8%. Two years ago there were over twenty Super VHS VCRs on the market, this year there's just six; a cynic might say there's a trend emerging...

 

So what has gone wrong? It wasn't necessarily the fault of the technology, you only have to compare the picture quality of recordings replayed on a Super VHS VCR and standard VHS video recorder to see the difference. The S-VHS image is clearer and sharper with substantially more detail; colours are brighter with more graduations of shade and hue, and overall there's less noise in the picture. Nevertheless the odds were stacked against the system, from the beginning. The relatively high price of hardware put an immediate dampener on sales. Super VHS VCRs have always cost between two and three times as much as normal VHS video recorders, though the price has been slowly drifting downwards they will always cost more to produce, and today the cheapest model still sells for just under 800. In addition to extra processing circuitry, controls and connectors, S-VHS decks depend on precision deck mechanisms and finer recording heads, moreover, they are produced in relatively small numbers so there's limited benefits from the economies of scale that normally occur with mass-market products.

 

The other cost-related problem, in the early days at least, was that to get the full benefit from an S-VHS machine you needed a TV fitted with a S-Video input facility, which, for most people would mean buying a new TV. It's become less of a hurdle as older TVs are replaced, and many new sets now have them, though manufacturers are still reluctant to fit them on their cheaper model ranges.

 

Secondly there's been a complete lack of pre-recorded software since day-one, barring a handful of promotional titles. Video is and always has been a software-led medium, so if there's not enough popular movies, widely and cheaply available from the start, a new video format can never achieve the all-important hardware critical mass needed to ensure its success. Thirdly there's the somewhat hazy concept of quality, at least as far as the British public are concerned, who have demonstrated time and time again a stubborn unwillingness to pay a premium for performance. The long list of format failures -- in all areas of consumer electronics  -- bears witness to that.

 

Super VHS has another more fundamental problem, though. Recordings of off-air TV programmes made on S-VHS decks do not look significantly better than those made on ordinary VHS VCRs, which already record and reproduce most of the information contained within the TV signal. S-VHS machines can manage a little more detail, and slightly less noise in the picture, but the eye tends not to notice these relatively small improvements.

 

With so much going against it, it's a wonder the system even managed one percent market penetration. Nevertheless, Super-VHS has made quite a few friends in the past six years. It's also worth pointing out that all S-VHS VCRs and camcorders are backwards compatible, and can record and replay standard VHS material, moreover they all make competent home cinema components, as stereo hi-fi sound and NICAM are standard features. One area where improved picture quality has made a difference is home video movie-making. S-VHS camcorders are capable of impressive on-screen results, indeed they're used in a wide range of semi-professional and even broadcast applications. There's an excellent case for S-VHS-C camcorder owners having a Super VHS VCR as well. The quality losses that occur when camcorder recordings are copied or edited, from one tape to another, can be minimised using an S-VHS deck, and successive third-generation copies, to standard VHS will still look as good, if not better than first-generation VHS originals.

 

What of the future? The decline in the number of S-VHS VCRs over the past few years represents a reduction in badge-engineered clones, rather than actual manufacturers, but the lack of choice can only depress sales still further. The long-term prospects for the S-VHS and S-VHS-C camcorder market look a little more cheerful, though the VHS family share of the market continues to take a battering from the rival 8mm format. However, it seems highly unlikely that Super VHS will actually disappear in the medium to long term, it is being sustained by  video movie makers and it has been moderately successful in other, less price-conscious markets. Ultimately the Super VHS system's fate is tied in with standard VHS and the other analogue video recording formats. The future of video recording is digital, it has already been mapped out, by the end of the decade the Super VHS format will probably be remembered as the best video recording system we never had...

 

TECHNO GHETTO

Super VHS is technically a sub-format of VHS, rather than an entirely new recording system and there are relatively few differences between S-VHS and standard VHS hardware. Part of the JVC specification insists that all S-VHS equipment is backwards compatible and can record and replay in the standard VHS mode. The principle difference is the way in which the video signal is processed. It depends on the use of a higher frequency FM sub-carrier for the vision signal, which allows more picture information to be recorded on the tape, by recording heads with extra-small gaps. Normal VHS tape cannot handle the extra signal capacity, so higher-performance tape with finer magnetic particles has to be used. S-VHS and S-VHS-C cassettes have special 'ident' holes, to enable machines to recognise which type of tape is being used, and adjust their recording and replay circuits accordingly. Lastly, the colour (chrominance) and brightness (luminance) components in the video signal are kept separate throughout the recording and replay process. This prevents them interacting with each other, avoiding cross-colour and patterning effects that are inherent on standard VHS recordings. Special 'S-Video' connecting leads have to be used, to link VCRs and camcorders to TVs or monitors, to ensure optimum picture quality

 

 

JVC HR-S5900

One of only two new Super VHS VCRs to be launched so far this year, it's a fairly conservative design, by current standards, though it doesn't miss out on any of the most up to date features. They include a fast centre-mounted deck mechanism,  Video Plus+ and program delivery control (PDC) which self-corrects timer programming errors caused by overruns or late schedule changes. (Only possible on C4 programmes at the moment, the BBC and other ITV channels have yet to adopt the system). JVC have skimped a little on the convenience features though; for example, there's no manual recording level control, no jog/shuttle control on the remote handset, no headphone socket and no on-screen display (OSD), which would have helped made timer programming a little easier. It has a reasonably good selection of editing features, though it could do with a proper editing socket, as opposed to the syncro-start facility which only works properly with JVC camcorders. Styling is clean and uncluttered and it's very easy machine to use, in spite of  not having an OSD. The multi-brand remote control is a bonus as it will operate a wide range of TVs from other manufacturers.

 

On-screen performance is excellent, a full 400-lines resolution and very little noise. Trick-play facilities are particularly good with virtually no jitter between still, slomo and fast play, making it a useful machine for analysing detail or movement, one for sports fans perhaps? The audio system is very clean too, and it's transparent to Dolby Surround information which comes through unscathed.

 

VERDICT

Better suited to home cinema applications but owners of suitable JVC camcorders should still keep it on their list.

 

Picture quality            ****

Sound quality  ****

Feature/facility           ***

Ease of use                 ***

Value for money         ***

 

SPECS BOX  JVC HR-S5900 900

Features: jog/shuttle, multi-speed replay, Video Plus+, PDC, auto head cleaner, multi-brand remote, insert edit, audio dub,

Sockets: front AV terminal, edit terminal, microphone, twin SCART, syncro edit, S-Video input and output

Dimensions (mm): 459 x 109 x 387

 

JVC UK LTD, JVC House, 6-8 Priestley Way, Eldonwall Trading Estate,

Staples Corner, London NW2 7AS.  Telephone 081-450 3282

 

 

JVC HR-S6800

The S6800 has got something to interest almost everyone. The headline feature, though, is random assemble edit or RAE, a facility that should appeal to well-equipped video movie-makers. Basically it means the S6800 can be programmed to replay up to eight designated sequences, in any order, and at the same time it controls the record/pause function of a second VCR, so you can cut out all the crappy bits from your original recordings. The only problem is you need that second VCR, as well as the camcorder, to shoot the movie in the first place, so you've got to be pretty serious, not to say quite well off to make full use of it. The S6800 has plenty of other tricks up it's sleeves, though, including an audio processor. It's not in the same league as Dolby Surround or Pro Logic but it certainly gives dull mono and stereo soundtracks an added punch. Uncontroversial styling, and unthreatening appearance, until you lower the front-panel drawbridge, or open the flap on the handset, button freaks heaven...

 

Picture quality is approaching the limits of the system with over 400-lines resolution and pin-sharp colour accuracy. Very stable still and slomo, and having a jog/shuttle on the remote makes it a whole lot easier for armchair referees to do their own action replays.  Stereo hi-fi sound and NICAM are both clean and the processor provides some added interest, but it's no substitute for a pukka Dolby decoder.

 

VERDICT

Another home-cinema oriented machine, this time with a few more movie-making facilities than its stablemate, but at a price, and it is beginning to look just a little long in the tooth as it dates back to a time before Video Plus+ and PDC.

 

Picture quality            ****

Sound quality  *****

Feature/facility           ***

Ease of use                 ****

Value for money         **

 

SPECS BOX  JVC HR-S6800  1000

Features: jog/shuttle,  multi-speed replay, on-screen display, auto head cleaner, random assemble editing system, audio processor, manual recording level control, insert edit, audio dub,

 

Sockets: front AV terminal, edit terminal, microphone, headphones, twin SCART, syncro edit, S-Video input and output

Dimensions (mm)            435 x 108 x 390

 

JVC UK LTD, JVC House, 6-8 Priestley Way, Eldonwall Trading Estate,

Staples Corner, London NW2 7AS. Telephone 081-450 3282

 

MITSUBISHI HS-M1000

The M1000 has an interesting history, it's actually an uprated version of one of their top-end stereo VHS machines, the HS-59. Any time now it will become the very first Super VHS video recorder to be manufactured in the UK, as Mitsubishi transfer production from Japan to their Scottish plant. The silver livery is another unusual feature, at the very least it makes it stand out on the shelves of anonymous-looking black boxes. It's a solid design, straightforward cosmetics and control layout  and Mitsubishi have endowed it with a fair selection of convenience features, though it's showing its age just a little by missing out on Video Plus+ and PDC. It's exceptionally easy to use with a helpful on-screen display system but surprisingly the timer is a bit of an awkward customer and it's a good idea to keep the instruction book handy. There's a fairly average assortment of editing facilities, unless you happen to have a second Mitsubishi VCR, in which case you can make use of the edit terminal which links the control functions of the two machines and enables fast and accurate single-scene edits.

 

Resolution tips the scales at just over 400-lines, another fine on-screen performer with very low levels of picture noise and natural-looking colours. Trick-play stability is good, and the handset jog/shuttle gives precise control over replay speed and direction. The NICAM and stereo sound systems have a broad dynamic range, little or no coloration and below average levels of background hiss.

 

VERDICT

Equally viable as a home cinema component or edit deck but it's the price and colour that set's this one apart from the crowd.

 

Picture quality            ****

Sound quality  ****

Feature/facility           ***

Ease of use                 ****

Value for money         ****

 

SPECS BOX  Mitsubishi HS-M1000,  800

Features: jog/shuttle, multi-speed replay, on-screen display, NTSC replay, auto head cleaner, manual recording  level control, insert edit, audio dub, blank search

Sockets: front AV terminal, edit terminal, (see text), microphone, headphones, twin SCART, syncro edit, S-Video input and output

Dimensions (mm)     425 x 100 x 354

 

MITSUBISHI ELECTRIC UK LTD., Travellers Lane, Hatfield, Herts, AL10 8XB. Telephone (07072) 76100

 

PANASONIC NV-FS88

The FS88 is rapidly becoming an antique as it approaches its second birthday, and the word is that it's due to be replaced later this year, so look out for special deals; you never know, you might even find one selling for it's original 1992 price of 700! It really shows its age when it comes to timer programming, though, as it uses the now obsolete barcode system, ignored for years by the rest of the industry and finally abandoned by  Panasonic in favour of Video Plus+. Panasonic have been one of the leading lights in video editing but again the FS88 is behind the times, and it looses a few more brownie points by not having  front-mounted AV sockets, or even a composite video socket on the back, and there's no jog/shuttle control on the remote handset, so overall it's not a lot of fun to play with, especially if you've got a camcorder. However, it's not found wanting as a home cinema machine and the unusually effective noise filters give it one of the cleanest pictures in the business, moreover, the 5-pin edit terminal allows it to interface directly with a wide range of advanced edit controllers.

 

Horizontal resolution on samples we've tested have consistently been on or around the 400-line mark, which has become something of a benchmark for S-VHS equipment, but the lower than average noise levels really makes the picture stand out. Colours too are bright and vibrant, even on standard VHS recordings. The audio system is no slouch either and it's well suited to life as a home cinema component.

 

VERDICT

Once a real contender though now sadly the price, and its advancing years count very heavily against it.

 

Picture quality            ****

Sound quality  ****

Feature/facility           **

Ease of use                 ****

Value for money         ***

 

SPECS BOX  Panasonic NV-FS88, 900

Features: jog/shuttle, insert edit, audio dub, sound on search, multi-speed replay, NTSC replay, auto head cleaner, manual level control

Sockets: edit terminal, microphone, headphone, twin SCART, S-Video input and output

Dimensions (mm)     430 x 109 x 403

 

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

Berkshire RG12 4PF. Telephone (0344) 862444

 

PANASONIC NV-FS200

In spite of its age -- it's over two years old now -- and the price, the FS200 just keeps on going, even though in VCR terms it's well past its sell-by date. That's because it's one of, if not the best Super VHS edit decks and it continues to be very popular with video movie makers, enthusiasts and semi-pro users alike. The key feature is a timebase corrector,  this ensures absolute stability on copies, made from this machine, even if the source material is a bit ragged around the edges. It works by regenerating the synchronisation pulses on the original recording, even if they're weak or corrupted through repeated copying or editing. Other features valued by movie-makers include an editing terminal, to link this machine with an edit controller; an unusually agile transport system and better than average AV performance. It's lagging behind on the more up to date convenience features though, and the old barcode timer programming system, lack of on-screen displays and somewhat brutal styling are reminders of a bygone era.

 

It can still show the latest models a clean pair of heels, though, especially when it comes to picture performance. Resolution figures of over 400-lines are not uncommon on these machines, and the highly efficient noise filters produce an unusually clean-looking picture. Still and slomo picture stability are both very good --  important for accurate editing --  and colour accuracy is amongst the best you'll see, on any VCR. The stereo sound system comes out well too, it has a flat, even response with negligible noise levels.

 

VERDICT

Rather too expensive for home cinema users, but for serious video movie-makers it's a price worth paying,  just for those high-end editing features and AV performance.

 

Picture quality            *****

Sound quality  ****

Feature/facility           ****

Ease of use                 ***

Value for money         **

 

SPECS BOX  Panasonic NV-FS200,  1100

Features: jog/shuttle, sound on search, timebase corrector, multi-speed replay, NTSC replay, insert edit, audio dub, auto head cleaner, manual level control      

Sockets: front AV terminal, edit terminal, microphone, headphone, twin SCART, syncro edit, S-Video input and output

Dimensions (mm)     460 x 109 x 403

 

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

Berkshire RG12 4PF. Telephone (0344) 862444

 

PHILIPS VR-948

The latest and one of the most unusual S-VHS VCRs to date. This is the first machine to have two editing terminals, using the Control L and Panasonic 5-pin RMC protocols. This makes it a uniquely versatile editing deck, capable of working with pretty well every edit controller on the market, including those specifically designed to work with Sony equipment. That's an important plus point because Sony do not produce a domestic S-VHS video recorder, nor are they ever likely to do so. This has left them with a serious gap in their VCR range for a edit deck to work with their Hi8 camcorders and controllers. The design and layout are unusual too, the comprehensive LCD display panel and glass front are both firsts on a domestic VCR; the quirky control logic can take some getting used to after living with highly predictable Japanese machines. One rather strange omission is an RF output, which forces the owner to use dedicated AV interconnections between the VCR and TV, ensuring the best possible picture quality.

 

Picture performance is good, our sample managed to resolve 400-lines without any difficulty. Picture noise is only average but colours are clean and lifelike. Trick-play stability is fine at most forward speeds but a touch wobbly in reverse. A very promising newcomer and a much-needed tonic for the format. A good price and it should be of particular interest to S-VHS-C and Hi8 camcorder users, Sony owners especially, but it's equally capable of holding its own in home cinema set-ups.

 

VERDICT

A brilliant newcomer and versatile all-rounder. Good price, fine AV performance and some unique features that will appeal to advanced video movie-makers

 

Picture quality            ****   

Sound quality  ****   

Feature/facility           ****

Ease of use                 ****

Value for money         ****

 

SPECS BOX  Philips VR-948,  800

Features: jog/shuttle, insert edit, audio dub, Video Plus+, PDC, text programming, subtitle recording,  multi-speed replay, auto head cleaner, manual level control, NTSC replay                                     

Sockets: front AV terminal, 2 x edit terminal (see text), microphone, headphone, twin SCART, syncro edit, S-Video input and output

Dimensions (mm):    435 x 386 x 107

 

PHILIPS CONSUMER ELECTRONICS, City House, 420-430 London Road,

Croydon CR9 3QR.   Telephone 081-689 4444

 

CONCLUSION

In the past couple of years it has become increasingly difficult to justify the extra expense of a Super VHS VCR unless you've also got a S-VHS-C or Hi 8 camcorder. There's little or nothing to be gained using these machines solely as home cinema components, there's plenty of good stereo VHS VCRs on the market that can do the job just as well, and cost significantly less.

 

The least appealing machine in this selection is the Panasonic FS88, it's too expensive, and its days are clearly numbered. The HR-S5900 fares only slightly better, it is bang up to date, and it works well, but editing functions are limited, and the 900 price tag is unremarkable. The JVC HR-S6800 might appeal to movie-makers who want a simple VCR to VCR editing system, but there are cheaper and simpler ways, otherwise it's expensive and dated. Mitsubishi's H1000 has about the same editing potential as the 5900, but it's 100 cheaper and slightly easier to use; it's no spring chicken though, and the silver cosmetics may not be to everyone's taste. The Panasonic FS200 is the one to go for if you're a serious or semi-pro video movie-maker with editing and AV performance high on your list of priorities; the timebase corrector is a vitally important feature and top-end users will happily pay for it. However, the overall winner is the Philips 948, for combining bold styling with advanced features, twin edit terminals, a sensible price and good all-round performance.

 

AT A GLANCE

Make/Model                           s           Score     Timer              Dimensions (mm)                               

PANASONIC NV-FS200        1100       18          B/Code           460 x 109 x 403

JVC HR-S6800                        1000       18          LCD                435 x 108 x 390

JVC HR-S5900                        900         17          VP/PDC          459 x 109 x 387

PANASONIC NV-FS88          900         17          B/Code           430 x 109 x 403

MITSUBISHI  HS-M1000     800         19          OSD                425 x 100 x 354

PHILIPS VR-948                    800         20          VP/OSD          435 x 386 x 107

 

 

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1994 1205

 

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