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GROUP TEST

 

TOP END NICAM VCRs

 

INTRO

Competition at the top-end of the NICAM VCR market is hotting up, Rick Maybury checks out five new machines costing between £430 and £530

 

COPY

 

Ferguson FV98, £500

The FV98 has got balls! Theyíre everywhere, thereís even a great big one right in the middle of the remote control handset. This has to be Fergusonís strangest VCR yet. Itís another of their Philips Starcke inspired designs, a plain grey, near featureless slab. Even with the front panel flap lowered thereís not a lot to see, though it does have a pair of cute-looking curved level Ďmetersí on the main display panel, plus front AV input, camcorder pause control and two standard jack sockets for headphones and a microphone.

 

The balls are a feature of the on-screen display, they roll along a menu bar, directed by the ball in the remote handset. When a ball reaches the selected item press the big ball on the remote and the little ball on the screen drops down a tube in the menu bar (with a convincing bounce) revealing further menu selections. Weird! The handset ball also controls channel change and frame step (in the pause mode).

 

This is all very clever, and it looks pretty, the trouble is the display only works on TVs with RGB configured SCART sockets. Our test TV was rigged up with a C-type SCART lead, which doesnít have RGB connections, so no display. Ferguson supply a lead with the machine but check your TV is suitable. The FV98 doesnít have an RF output either, so beware if youíre thinking of using it with an older TV, it may not work!

 

It is actually very well featured. In addition to Video Plus+ with PDC and NICAM it has semi-automatic tuning and clock setting, satellite control, NTSC replay, a multi-brand TV remote, insert edit, audio dub and, wonder of wonders, manual recording level control (even though it is hidden away on the instant timer menu...). Audio quality was excellent, clean, with hardly any background hiss. We canít say too much about picture quality at this stage, our test machine worked well, resolving almost 250 lines but it was an early evaluation sample and Ferguson tell us it will be even better on the production machines. Quirky but full of character, and some useful features.

Value for money             88%

Ferguson Ltd., telephone 0181-344 4444

 

Hitachi VT-F460 £430

The key feature on the midi-sized VT-F460 is Title Index, it hinges on the premise that a lot of people who amass large collections of tapes canít remember what theyíve recorded on them. Title Index automatically memorises the time, date and channel number of every recording made on the machine. It requires a little effort on the part of the user though, who has to number their tapes and ideally, take the trouble to enter the title of each recorded programme into the machineís memory. About the same amount of effort needed to write out a tape label in fact...

 

Credit where itís due however, Title Index is a clever idea, and assuming it has been fully programmed, it can identify and locate programmes with a simple key letter search -- just enter ĎCí for Cracker, for example --  the title list will then show all programmes beginning with that letter and indicate which tapes theyíre  recorded on. Simply load the right tape, highlight the selection and the VCR winds to the start of the recording and begins replay. Apart from Title Index the rest of the features are similar to itís stablemate the F450. They include NICAM, a Video Plus+ timer, with PDC and a satellite control function; the remote control will operate fifteen or so different brands of TV. The machine can be set to endless play or auto program play, this replays a time-shifted recording as soon as the machine is switched on. It also has a number of facilities that might interest camcorder owners, such as the front-mounted AV sockets, syncro-edit plus video and audio dubbing.

 

On screen performance is little changed from the 450, resolution is around the 250-line mark; thereís very little picture noise and trick-play stability is reasonably steady. The jog/shuttle dial on the handset is excellent for quickly searching through a recording, or analysing a scene, frame by frame if necessary. Audio quality is much the same too, a wide, flat response but noise levels are fairly average. An interesting mix of facilities, one for forgetful satellite TV fans with camcorders perhaps?

 

Value for money 93%

Hitachi Home Electronics Ltd., telephone 0181-849 2000

 

JVC HR-J825 £530

Not quite in the classic mould but the new JVC HR-J825 is a slick, well presented VCR, the sort they used to make before a lapse in to mediocrity a couple of years ago. It looks like a top-end VCR, very smooth, though weíre not so sure about the fake wood side-panels. It has a good selection of top-end features, however, a good proportion of them are aimed at budding video movie-makers, ideally those with VHS-C equipment.

 

In addition to NICAM, Video Plus+ (with PDC), it has auto-tune that identifies and sorts the stations, hourly auto clock-set, multi-speed replay, NTSC replay, repeat play, hyper bass and a TV remote covering the 8 most popular brands. The edit facilities include staples like audio dub and insert editing, and it has a built-in edit controller, that can be programmed to replay up to 8 designated scenes. At the same time it will operate the record-pause mode on a second VCR, using an edit cable (on other JVC machines), or via an optional IR remote controller for other makes. Whilst in the edit mode audio from the mono soundtrack can be heard during trick play.

 

So far so good, but a couple of things are missing: they are manual recording level control and an on-screen display. The auto level control is adequate and it just about manages to get by with an informative front-panel display, and an LCD on the remote handset, but theyíre definitely second best on a such a sophisticated machine.

 

However, we can excuse JVC almost anything when they come up with VCRs that perform as well as this one. Picture quality is outstanding, resolution on our sample topped 250-lines, with negligible picture noise and sharp, lifelike colours. Still and slomo are very steady and the deck is remarkably agile, changing from forward to reverse play in a fraction of a second, without any of the usual clunking and grinding. It sounds good too, a clean uncoloured response, thereís some background hiss but itís by no means intrusive. Pricey, but it looks and feels like money well spent, especially for those who can make use of the editing facilities.

 

Value for money  85%

JVC UK Ltd., telephone 0181-450 3282

 

Mitsubishi HS-561 £480

Mitsubishi VCRs have always had a well-earned reputation for innovation and value for money but for the past year or two theyíve churned out a succession of relatively dull machines. Their latest NICAM top-ender, the HS-561, has a good range of features and the price stacks up quite well against the competition, but it still lacks the old sparkle. Itís a neat midi-sized machine with a jog/shuttle dial on the front panel, AV terminal behind a hinged flap and teardrop-shape remote with colour-coded buttons.

 

Most of the convenience features are carried over from previous Mitsi VCRs, like the Video Plus+ timer with PDC, auto set-up, one-key timer programming, rental tape playback, swift servo deck (still one of the fastest in the business) and tape optimiser. Thereís also a parental lock, audio dub, insert edit, and NTSC replay.  There are a couple of new features though, they are satellite control and a multi-brand remote control that covers 20 different makes of TV.  

 

The 561 has a newly designed on-screen display system and the auto-set up is unusually intuitive and very simple to use, moreover it keeps the user fully informed about whatís going on. One very useful feature is automatic satellite set-up, with the VCR checking the connection and prompting the user to select the correct control code, it then tests the control system is working. The colour-coded buttons on the remote control are a very good idea, linking together keys that have a common function, like menu or timer operations. The disappearance of the jog/shuttle dial from the handset -- always a feature of their top-end VCRs -- is a retrograde step, though. Tape speed and direction is handled a set of tiny buttons, in the middle of a lot of other buttons. Resolution on our sample was spot on 250-lines, noise levels were average to good, colours are crisp and well-defined. Thereís no manual recording level control, though the auto system works reasonably well, the hi-fi tracks are clean with average amounts of background hiss. A fine all-rounder, fair price, useful features, good AV performance.

Value for money 90%

Mitsubishi Electric UK Ltd., telephone (017072) 76100

 

Toshiba V-825 £450

The V-825, is Toshibaís current mid-market machine. Itís fairly bland-looking, full-size deck with little to distinguish it from previous V3 series machines. The feature list contains no surprises either, thereís the usual assortment of basics, including NICAM, Video Plus+, PDC, auto-set-up and clock check plus a very straightforward on-screen display. Additionally it has satellite control, audio dub, multi-brand remote, front-mounted AV sockets, NTSC replay. Thatís about it, Toshiba have never gone in for lots of gadgets and toys.

 

The auto set-up system engages as soon as the machine is plugged in for the first time. It tunes in all locally available stations and set the clock in a couple of minutes, then sorts the stations into a logical order i.e. BBC1 BBC2, ITV and C4 on channels 1, 2, 3 and 4. All that remains is to enter the manufacturers codes for the satellite control and TV remote control functions and itís ready to go. The remote handset is rather crowded though the most frequently used keys are quite well defined. The front panel display is large and easy to read, itís just a shame theyíve see fit to garnish it with a set of winking bar-graph level displays. Thatís made all the more irritating by the fact that this machine doesnít have a manual recording level control.

 

Picture performance is satisfactory, resolution is a whisker short of 250-lines and noise levels are only average but colour accuracy is very good. Still frame and slomo are very steady, though not all of the trick-play modes are available from the remote handset, which is a nuisance for arm-chair referees. The hi-fi stereo soundtracks have a neutral, evenly balanced sound, background noise levels are fairly low. Itís not what you would call an particularly exciting or interesting machine,  but thereís nothing wrong with that, it does the job itís designed to do, and generally speaking it does it quite well, and at a price that difficult to argue with.

Value for money 88%

Toshiba UK Ltd., telephone (01276) 62222

 

CONCLUSION

Picture quality                        JVC HR-J825

Sound quality              Ferguson FV98

Cuteness                                 Hitachi VT-F460

Best features                          Ferguson FV98

Build quality                           JVC HR-J825

Overall value for money            Hitachi VT-F460

 

---end---

” R. Maybury 1995 0611

 

 

 

 

 

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