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REVIEW

 

TELEVIDEOS

 

TV/VCR combos, or televideos as theyíre affectionately known, could be the solution to a lot of family squabbles. Rick Maybury checks out five of the finest fourteen-inchers

 

AIWA VX-S140

On paper this should be the star of the show. Itís the only one of the five televideos weíve been looking at to have stereo hi-fi sound, and a Trinitron picture tube (Aiwa are part-owned by Sony), but there is a rather large fly in the ointment. The most obvious omission is NICAM. The S140 has clearly been designed for a world market but little or no effort has been made to tailor specific versions for Europe, or more particularly the UK, (it doesnít even have a SCART AV socket...). Without a NICAM decoder it cannot record stereo TV programmes, which rather takes the shine off the stereo hi-fi recording system.

 

Some aspects of the S140 are strangely old-fashioned. Aiwa canít seem to make their mind up whether it should look like a fully integrated unit, or a TV stuck on top of a small video recorder; thatís precisely how it appears with the large front-panel flap in the open position. Thereís a couple of other anomalies. The set has an on-screen display but itís very basic by current standards showing only channel info and deck status. Picture adjustments (brightness, colour etc.) are handled by a set of analogue controls in a recess in the side of the cabinet, most TVs these days have push-button picture controls, apart from being more efficient it means they can be adjusted by remote control. The flat Trinitron tube looks bang up to date though, and the square cornered screen contrasts pleasingly with the rounded cabinet.

 

The picture is pin-sharp, colours are clean and in a good signal area thereís very little noise. The VCR section works well too, resolution (around 240-lines) is comparable with mid-market VCRs, with better than average (for a televideo) trick-frame stability; and NTSC replay is unusually crisp. The on-board speakers do their best with off-tape stereo but itís a struggle and they lack any real depth; the image, such as it is, is not very well defined.

 

The only other drawback, apart from the lack of NICAM, is the price; at just under £600 the S140 strays dangerously far from the economy-minded second TV/VCR market, into the home entertainment mainstream, where you can buy a proper stereo VCR and small stereo TV, both with NICAM,  for not a lot more.

 

Value 80%

Aiwa telephone 081-897 7000

 

GOLDSTAR KIV-14V20

Just keep telling yourself beauty is only skin-deep. The 14V20 looks a bit ungainly  -- faint echoes of fifties 405-line sets perhaps --  but inside the unusually tall cabinet lurks a surprisingly competent televideo. The general specification is unexciting; the video deck is a single-speed design, with mono sound. It has a functional on-screen display system, 40-channel TV tuner, and timers to switch it on in the morning, off at night, or make unattended recordings when youíre out. Apart from that thereís little in the way of gadgetry, unless you count index search, the NTSC replay facility or continuous play mode. Incidentally, that last feature is common to all televideos as theyíre widely used as AV presenters in stores or at exhibitions.

 

Itís fairly easy to set up and use, though the remote control has more than its fair share of buttons, and pre-setting the tuner and timer can be a chore, until you get the hang of it. However, the 14V20ís main selling point is picture quality. The TV section works very well, the tuner is sensitive enough to work with a set-top antenna in good signal areas, colours look bright and vibrant; even the sound is crisp for a small TV. The VCR is also a cut above the rest, picture noise levels are low, and resolution at just over 240-lines is as good as most sub £400 VCRs. Still frame and picture search are stable with fewer than normal noise bars.

 

Goldstar have struck a sensible balance between performance and price; off-air and off-tape picture quality are both consistent with mid-range TVs and VCRs that together would cost quite a bit more than the £400 theyíre asking for the 14V20. That has to be a good deal if youíre looking for a second-string TV and VCR for the bedroom or kids room.

 

Value 90%

Goldstar telephone (0753) 691888

 

ORION COMBI 1494

The Orion name may not be immediately familiar but youíve almost certainly come across their TVs, VCRs and televideos before as theyíre big in the badge-engineering business. The Combi 1494 is one of the first outings for the brand in the UK, but itís competing directly with the better-established names, so theyíve got a job on their hands. On the plus side itís reasonably good-looking; it has a fairly restrained front panel with not too many controls on show, though the button-infested remote handset might be a bit daunting. The features list is short and to the point; it includes a twin-speed deck, simple on-screen display, index search plus wake-up and sleep timers. Theyíre in addition to the 7-event/31-day timer which is programmed using the on-screen display. Around the back it has a single SCART AV socket, and thereís a headphone jack on the side. The TV tuner set-up is a little sluggish but otherwise itís all fairly easy to live with.

 

The downside is AV performance, which is distinctly lacklustre. Off-air pictures are quite noisy, even with good signal strength; set-top aerial should only be used within line of sight of the transmitter. Recording TV programmes on the VCR only adds to the noise problem, and the LP facility is for emergencies only; SP recordings on our sample struggled to resolve 230-lines. Trick-play is poor, with noise making picture search and still frame almost unwatchable. The audio isnít too bad though, at least itís about as good as mono TV sound gets on a 14-inch portable.

 

Orionís problem is not so much that the 1494 is an under-achiever -- a year or so ago this kind of AV performance was acceptable on budget-priced equipment -- but for the same money you can buy a televideo with better picture and sound, from a company youíve heard of.

 

Value 75%

Orion telephone (0923) 223135

 

 

PHILIPS TVC-240

Philips clearly see a growth in demand for televideos, theyíve taken the sensible view that this is a highly price-conscious market and put functionality before features. They havenít skimped on the cosmetics, though, and the  R240ís smooth, uncluttered lines look equally at home in the living room or the bedroom. Itís moderately well-equipped with an advanced multi-lingual, menu-driven on-screen display, single-speed deck with index search, NTSC replay and a sleep timer. The sound system is mono and it has a single SCART AV socket on the back. The 6-event/one-month timer is exceptionally easy to program, Philips have adopted a similar method to the one used on Sony machines, with separate buttons for setting date, time and channel. Set-up is also very straightforward, with a fully automatic tuning routine that searches out and stores all locally available TV stations.

 

The VCR works well enough but Philips have stripped the secondary functions to the bone; still frame and picture search are both in black and white and large noise bars break up the picture. The TV works well enough, though, and the picture looks very clean, though itís difficult to make too many critical judgements as our sample was a pre-production model. The tuner appears to be adequately sensitive and works well  with only a set top aerial. The audio is a bit hissy and it lacks any kind of bass presence but itís what you would expect from a small-screen TV.

 

Assuming the production models work as well as our sample the 240 should be a success. Philips have obviously put quite a lot of thought into this product, and resisted the temptation to price themselves out of the market with too many frills and gadgets. Itís basic, but it works reasonably well and it looks good.

 

Value 85%

Philips 081-689 4444

 

 

SHARP VT-3700

The most noticeable thing about the Sharp VT-3700 is that it doesnít look like a televideo, in fact itís no larger and only a little heavier than many 14-inch portables. The tape hatch is very discreet, and thereís just five exposed buttons so it appears quite unthreatening. Behind a small hinged flap below the tape slot thereís a few more buttons,  plus a very useful front AV terminal. This is largely for the convenience of camcorder owners, to quickly hook up machines for viewing, making copies or editing recordings. The single-speed deck has index tape search, and like several other machines in this round-up, automatic head cleaning. Other features include a simple child-lock, which freezes the controls, wake-up and sleep timers and index search. The menu-driven on-screen display system covers initial set-up, with automatic tuning, timer programming as well as routine operations; generally speaking itís very easy to use.

 

Off-air picture performance looks good, thereís very little noise, colours are crisp and lifelike. VCR picture quality is above average too; resolution on our sample was just below 240-lines and low noise levels means recordings appear unusually clean. This is the only televideo to have slow-motion replay, and although itís not quite as steady or noise-free as a similarly-equipped mid-range VCR, itís still pretty good. Sound from the single side-mounted speaker (the grille on the right side is a dummy -- perhaps thereís a stereo model in the pipeline...) is a shade bassy but still better than most of the others.

 

The extra £50, over and above the three budget televideos weíve looked at, is well spent. The 3700 has to be one of the best-looking machines on the market, and features like the front-mounted AV terminal should appeal to budding video movie-makers. Well worth considering.

 

Value 85%

Sharp telephone 061-205 4255

 

 

CONCLUSION -- TELEVIDEO SPECS AT A GLANCE

 

Make/model                           Price                Timer              Weight            Rating

                                                (££s)          (events/days)        (kg)

AIWA VX-S140                     £599.99           8/365               16.4                 85%

GOLDSTAR KIV-14V20      £399.99           8/365               14.2                 90%

ORION COMBI 114945       £399.99           7/31                 13.6                 75%

PHILIPS TVC-240                 £399.99           6/31                 10.1                 85%

SHARP VT-3700                   £449.99           5/31                 12.1                 85%

 

WHOíS BETTER, WHOíS BEST

Best picture quality                Aiwa

Best sound quality                 Aiwa

Best features/facilities           Goldstar

Easiest to use                         Philips

Value for money                     Goldstar

 

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1994 1108

 

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