BUDGET NICAM VCRS
The first impression of the
Goldstar R-C705i is that itís a well specified stereo VCR and from the outside
at least, could almost pass for a Japanese or European mid-range product.
However, drop the front panel flap and itís obvious Goldstar are not above some
fairly mild cosmetic deception, for although this looks like a trendy mid-mount
machine the design and layout are both quite conventional.
Camcorder owners will find the
feature list interesting reading; in addition to a front AV terminal it has
audio dubbing, syncro start, and a most unusual title generator, that allows
the user to add simple titles to home video movies, as theyíre being edited or
copied from a camcorder. Itís also one of the few budget hi-fi machines to have
manual recording level controls, whatís more thereís one for each channel,
which is unheard of in this price bracket. It looses points by only having one
SCART AV socket though, which puts it at a disadvantage in some AV set-ups.
However, the real disappointment
is picture quality. Samples weíve seen only manage around 230-lines of
resolution, which is some way below the current norm of between 240 to
250-lines. Picture and colour noise levels are satisfactory but the image
definitely looks a bit soft, and the wonky still frame mode is anything but....
That kind of performance is just about acceptable for watching movies and
recording TV programmes on smaller TVs but the deficiencies quickly become obvious
on larger screens, and itís borderline for re-recording home video-movies.
Audio performance is fine, noise levels on the NICAM and hi-fi tracks are about
GOLDSTAR Telephone (0753) 691888
PHILIPS VR-6547 £400
Philips VCRs have improved
immeasurably over the past year or so, to the point where you might almost
mistake them for Japanese products... The 6547 is their latest budget NICAM
model, selling for a gnatís under £400. Itís a compact size, measuring only
360mm wide, so it wouldnít look out of place stacked on or alongside a mini
hi-fi system. Front-panel styling is plain and simple, with big buttons either
side of the tape hatch for on/standby and stop/eject. Watch out for the remote
handset, itís a real granny-scarer with almost 60 tiny buttons and a squitty
little LCD panel for entering timer data. The machine behaves quite normally --
which is rather unusual for a Philips VCR -- they all have funny little ways, but not this one, maybe it has
something to do with the fact that itís built in Malaysia?
It has a fairly standard
assortment of features, including a Video Plus+ timer, Ďrentalí play, front-mounted
AV terminal (for the convenience of camcorder owners), twin SCART AV connectors
and stereo audio line output phonos on the back, plus a good set of trick-play
functions. In addition to fast picture search and still frame it has fast play
(X2 normal speed) and variable-speed slow-motion.
Resolution is very acceptable
at just under 250-lines, noise levels are fairly ordinary though, but it
responds well to higher grade tapes. Colours are accurate, still and slomo
replay are both very steady. Pressing the play button for longer than 2-seconds
puts the machine into rental play mode, which softens the picture noticeably,
supposedly to make worn or noisy rental tapes look better, it doesnít... The
stereo hi-fi channels have commendably low levels of background noise, and a
flat, even response. And congratulations to Philips for not fitting a winking
bargraph level display, it doesnít have a manual recording level control, not
that it desperately needs one, the ALC works surprisingly well.
PHILIPS CONSUMER ELECTRONICS Telephone 081-689 4444
SAMSUNG VI-375 £380
The VI-395 is a Video Plus+
upgrade of the popular 375 VCR, which first appeared towards the end of 1993,
so the design is starting to look a little dated by current standards.
Nevertheless it is quite well appointed, on balance most of the headline
features are biased towards camcorder owners but thereís still enough keep AV
enthusiasts interested. They include a front-mounted AV terminal, shuttle dial,
audio dub, index search and intro scan and a good assortment of trick-play
facilities. Brownie points are deducted for having a single SCART socket,
though it does have separate stereo line inputs and outputs, and the bulky
remote handset isnít going to win any friends.
Generally speaking the deck
is easy to set up and use, and it works well, though the shuttle dial takes
some getting used to. It doesnít have a centre click-stop position, so if itís
fast-winding you have to press the stop button to halt the tape, which rather
defeats the object of having the shuttle dial in the first place. Itís not a
big deal, most users will be content to drive the machine from the remote
handset but it can be irritating when using the shuttle to search for a
particular scene, or when editing home video movies.
Picture quality is not an
issue on this machine, resolution is just below 250-lines, and thatís good for
any VCR, let alone one as cheap as this. Picture noise levels are fairly average
but colour fidelity is good and the various trick-play modes work well, with only
slight instability on still frame. Audio performance is better than you might
have expected on a budget machine too, thereís hardly any noise on the NICAM
channels, and the stereo hi-fi tracks sound very clean.
SAMSUNG UK LTD Telephone 081-391 016
SHARP VC-H92 £400
The H92 is the newly-arrived
replacement for the VC-H88, and itís better in almost every respect. The
feature list certainly looks impressive, and it includes some quite useful
items, like a multi-brand remote control, front-mounted AV socket and a combined
transport control. The styling is an improvement on the H88, though the
transport control cluster and rounded bottom panel look fussy. Sharp have
tidied up the control arrangements, this time thereís no hidden panels or
flaps, at least not on the actual VCR. Theyíve moved all of the secondary functions
over to the remote handset, a sliding cover opens to reveal a couple of dozen
little buttons, used to enter timer data and control the selections from the
menu-driven on-screen display.
In addition to basic
facilities, such as Video Plus+ and index search the H92 has a child-lock, auto
repeat play, a good steady still frame, variable-speed slomo and fast replay; unlike
its predecessor it has an LP recording mode as well. Initial set-up could be
easier, the tuner is a mite convoluted; itís a slightly retrograde step in view
of the growing number of VCRs with auto-installation systems. One other
irritant is the solitary SCART AV connector, it does have a set of stereo line-audio
output sockets but the lack of a second SCART limits the options if the machine
is to be used in an AV system.
On-screen the H92 doesnít
disgrace itself, picture resolution is a little over 240 lines, not exactly
earth-shattering but lower than average noise levels and clean colours help to keep
the picture looking crisp. Like most other NICAM VCRs in this price bracket it
doesnít have any manual audio controls but the auto level control on this
machine copes reasonably well. Background hiss on the stereo hi-fi tracks is
not intrusive, the NICAM channels are clean and uncoloured.
SHARP UK LTD Telephone 061-205 4255
THORN VR-204 £350
make it, Thorn badge it, and Rumbelows sell it, but donít let that worry you.
The VR-204 first appeared just over a year ago and immediately gained a
reputation as a value for money performer. The VR-204NVA is a fairly modest
upgrade, the main difference being an auto-installation system that simplifies
the initial set-up routine, not that the original one was particularly arduous
-- more about that in a moment.
yet another compact mid-mount machine, it has few front-panel controls and looks
reasonably user-friendly; the remote control is fairly approachable too, with small
but fairly well-spaced buttons. For the price itís extremely well-equipped,
with an on-screen display, index search and intro scan, blank search, repeat
play, Video Plus+ timer, auto head cleaner, twin SCARTs and line-audio input
and output sockets on the back.
auto install system fires up as soon as the machine is switched on, the user is
instructed to respond to on-screen prompts; thereís a choice between manual and
automatic set-up; auto is easier, the machine tunes in all the locally
available stations and sets the clock, the whole business only takes a couple
of minutes. The clock is automatically checked once a day against teletext
time, which means it also corrects itself to Winter and Summer time.
Taking into account the remarkably
low price, performance is outstanding. Resolution on our sample was well over
240-lines in SP mode, though like the 204 before it LP picture quality is nothing
to write home about. Noise levels on SP recordings are below average and colour
fidelity is good. The stereo hi-fi audio and NICAM channels sound fine, some
background hiss is evident, but itís not excessive. The automatic recording
level control is quite lively but it only really makes its prescience felt on
busy musical recordings.
THORN RUMBELOWS Telephone (0734) 304000
GOLDSTAR RC705i 350 80%
PHILIPS VR-6547 400 89%
SAMSUNG VI-375 380 89%
SHARP VC-H92 400 85%
THORN VR-204NVA 350 95%
WHOíS BETTER, WHOíS BEST?
Picture quality Philips
Sound quality Philips
Features and facilities Thorn
Ease of use Thorn
Cuteness factor Philips
Overall value for money Thorn
R. Maybury 1995 0601