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BUDGET NICAM VCRS

 

GOLDSTAR R-C705i  £350

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 average.

 

80% Value

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.

 

88% Value

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.

 

88% Value

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.

 

85% Value

SHARP UK LTD Telephone 061-205 4255

 

THORN VR-204 £350

Sanyo 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.

 

Itís 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.

 

The 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.

 

95% Value

THORN RUMBELOWS Telephone (0734) 304000

 

CONCLUSION

 

Make/model                           Price                Rating

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

 

---end---

” R. Maybury 1995 0601

 

 

 

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