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The first of the 95/96 season VCRs have arrived, Rick Maybury has been casting a critical ear, and eye, to five of the very latest NICAM machines


AKAI VS-G75 £380

Not so long ago Akai were at the cutting edge of home cinema technology with a range of highly-specified VCRs, a couple of them equipped with Dolby Surround decoders, but theyíve been a little quiet lately. This year theyíve introduced just one new stereo model, the VS-G75, a low cost NICAM deck. It maintains Akaiís reputation for packing in more features per pound than most other manufacturers, but it lacks the old sparkle, and some of the latest added-value features, including auto installation. Itís not difficult to set up though, and the menu-driven on-screen display is easy to follow. It has a Video Plus+ timer and PDC, though unlike most other machines it relies on an LCD display on the remote handset for data entry and verification. This is actually quite a good idea, it means the timer can be set, without having to turn on the VCR and TV. The single SCART socket on the back panel, is a bad idea, though, and it limits its role as a home cinema machine.


It has a useful set of playback functions, including multi-speed replay, blank skip, and index search/intro scan, then thereís the famous Super I-HQ system, which optimises replay according to the characteristics of the tape. After pressing the record and Super I-HQ button the machine makes a short test recording, that works out the optimum settings for the playback circuitry. It works well, and makes a noticeable difference to noise levels on LP recordings made on higher grade tapes. Resolution, on SP recordings, made using the Super I-HQ system, was a little over 240-lines, which is above average, noise levels are low, resulting in clean-looking picture. Colours are well defined with very little noise. The hi-fi tracks are a tad hissy though frequency coverage is good and treble response is lively. Not one of Akaiís most exciting products, and the single SCART counts against it, but the price seems fair.


Value for money 80%

AKAI UK, 12 Silver Jubilee Way, Haslemere Heathrow Estate, Hounslow, Middx  TW4 6NF. Telephone 0181-897 6388



Ferguson seem determined to get their moneyís worth out of Philippe Starcke, the FV97 is clearly inspired by his eye-catching design for the FV88 NICAM VCR, which appeared last year. The new machine has the same minimalist styling, that matches their current range of Dolby Pro-Logic TVs, though unlike the FV88, (and its replacement, the FV98), it has an exposed tape hatch and simple front panel display. It comes with a conventional remote control handset, that can also control the basic functions of almost 30 different brands of TV.


The main features are similar to the FV88/98, with auto-installation, multi-speed replay, continuous play/record, NTSC replay and satellite control heading the list. The latter is used in conjunction with the VCRís Video Plus+/PDC  timer, and once programmed, it sends out infra-red commands (check yours is compatible..), that switches the satellite receiver on, selects the appropriate channel and makes a timed recording. Other useful facilities include index search/intro scan, a child lock, that disables the front-panel controls, and a personal electronic identity Ďtagí, that is stored in the machineís memory. This can be used to identify the machine, if itís stolen and later recovered.


Ferguson have taken a bold step to encourage users to make full use of the VCRs stereo sound system. Although the aerial lead is routed through the machine it doesnít produce an RF output. That means youíre forced to use the supplied SCART AV lead to connect it to the TV. Owners of older TVs, without AV sockets, who use their hi-fi system for stereo sound, may find this a problem.


Our sample was an early pre-production model, Ferguson warned us that it may not be up to spec, nevertheless it performed well, resolving  240-lines. Picture noise levels were very low, still-frame and slomo stability were both good. The stereo sound system worked well too, thereís only a small amount of hiss on the hi-fi soundtracks, NICAM sound is very clean and as a bonus it has a manual recording level control. The tiny, badly labelled front panel controls are a pain but the sensible remote makes up for that; a generally capable machine, dedicated satellite TV time-shifters will appreciate the versatile timer.


Value for money 85%

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

Telephone: 0181-344 4444



HITACHI VT-F450 £400

Hitachi have been churning out good quality, middle-of-the-road VCRs for as long as we can remember. Theyíre not what you would call exciting, but they have a well earned reputation for value for money and reliability. Maybe the F450 will help raise their profile? Itís a purposeful looking little machine, 380mm wide, so it stacks comfortably with midi-sized hi-fi components. It doesnít have an auto installation system, and the tuning procedure is a bit long-winded, but it does have several other up-to-the-minute features, including satellite control.


It has a Video Plus+ timer, but not PDC, even though the letters pop up on the remote handsetís LCD panel. The handset incorporates a couple of other key features; it can be programmed to operate channel-change, volume and on/standby functions on a dozen or so brands of TV, and it has a shuttle dial, for controlling the machineís multi-speed replay. Other items of interest include front mounted AV and syncro-start sockets for the benefit of camcorder owners, goto tape access, index search/intro-scan, rental play (tapes are automatically rewound before replay) and endless play. The satellite control function works in conjunction with the Video Plus+ timer, using IR commands beamed from the window on top of the machine to switch on a nearby satellite receiver, to make timed recordings. It works with most popular brands of satellite equipment, but there are gaps, so check before buying.


Picture quality is very good, resolution on our sample was in the order of 250-lines. Noise levels are lower than normal, and thereís minimal instability during trick play. In contrast the sound is fairly average, itís the old background hiss again; itís not excessive, but youíre aware of it during quiet passages. Nevertheless, the F450 is a most agreeable machine, and the one to put on top of your shortlist if you do a lot of satellite timeshifting.


Value for money 90%

HITACHI SALES (UK) LTD, Hitachi House, Station Road, Middlesex UB3 4DR. Telephone 0181-849 2000



SANYO VHR-795 £429

The VHR-795 is the replacement for the VHR-874, one of last yearís top-rated machines, and the first video recorder to feature a Digital View Scan.  DVS is an ingenious facility that allows snatches of the mono soundtrack to be heard, at normal speed, during fast forward and reverse picture search. Itís great for skimming through movies or sports events, without loosing the thread, or for quickly finding a particular point in a recording. DVS has clearly lost its luxury status, the 795 sells for just £430, thatís £70 less than the 874. In fact the 795 has a number of extra features, not found on its predecessor. They include PDC and auto-installation; just plug it in, tune in the TV and click the OK button. The VCRs electronic minions do the rest. Like most other machines with auto-installation systems the clock is regularly checked against teletext time, though only once a week in this case, but it happens at 3am on Sunday mornings, so that takes care of Summer/Winter time changes.


Itís a compact design, the control layout is functional but thereís a couple of minor niggles; the single-colour front-panel display isnít very informative, and thereís no pause button on the front panel, fortunately thereís one on the remote. It has the usual assortment of multi-speed replay options, plus x2 fast play, accessed from a shuttle dial on the remote handset. Itís one a handful of machines at this end of the market to have audio dub.


Picture performance is good, our sample managed to resolve 240-lines, noise levels are commendably low and trick play is very steady. Background noise on the hi-fi soundtracks is about average, the NICAM decoder is very clean. The overall response is flat and uncoloured. The 795 is a competent, middle of the road NICAM machine, DVS makes it special and a godsend for hardened zappers and the terminally impatient.


Value for money 90%%

Telephone SANYO UK LTD (01923) 246363



SHARP VC-M60 £400

The Sharp M60 is a neat-looking midi-sized machine with a fairly routine specification. Styling is uncontroversial, though the front-panel transport control cluster is an unusual design.  Auto installation kicks in as soon as the machine is connected up; press the set button and away it goes. A couple of minutes later the tuner has been programmed and the time and date have been set.


The M60 relies heavily on its on-screen display, and that includes setting the Video Plus+ timer, which is a little inconvenient as it involves a few extra button pushes, to get it in the right mode.  The remote handset is a bit of an odd-bod; plus points are the multi-brand TV remote facilities and large, easy to find transport keys, points are deducted for the cluttered layout and scattering of minor transport functions. The front panel display could be better designed too, transport functions are identified by small, missable symbols.


The M60 has couple of unusual features, thereís instant replay, which puts the machine into reverse picture search for 20, 40, 60 or 80- seconds, before going into replay mode; it has x2 fast play, and something called Ďclean pictureí.  This is supposed to be a picture enhancer facility, it certainly does something to the picture, though on our sample it seemed to affect colour saturation more than anything else.


The M60  makes up for some lost ground with better than average picture quality, resolution was just below 250-lines on our sample and that, coupled with respectably low noise levels, results in a detailed, crisp-looking picture. The trick play functions are very steady, and the variable slomo is very good, though it only works in forward play. Off air audio from the NICAM decoder is squeaky clean, hardly any noise at all, thereís very little background hiss on the hi-fi soundtracks either, though treble response is a little stilted. Itís a useful all-rounder, no special features but sound quality is better than average so keep it in mind.


Value for money 85%

SHARP UK LTD., Thorp Road, Newton Heath, Manchester M10 9BE.

Telephone 0161-205 2333



Picture Quality                        Hitachi VT-F450

Sound Quality             Sharp VC-M60

Cuteness Factor             Sanyo VHR-450

Best Features                         Ferguson FV97

Build Quality                          Ferguson FV97

Overall Value for Money            Hitachi VT-450           




” R. Maybury 1995 1007





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Copyright (c) 2005 Rick Maybury Ltd.