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JVC HR-S7000, £700

 

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Eight years ago I was among a small group of journalists on a visit to a VCR factory in Japan, where we were shown a prototype Super VHS video recorder. The picture was so good we gave the VCR a spontaneous round of applause. Weird, but I think we all felt it was and important development, and the beginning of a new era...

 

Super VHS will be remembered as a interesting but ultimately unsuccessful byway in domestic video recording. The format now accounts for less than half of one percent of VCR sales in the UK, despite being capable of near broadcast-quality performance, rivalling laser disc, and not far short of the sort of results weíre expecting from the new digital disc and tape formats.

 

So what went wrong? It was a vicious circle; S-VHS VCRs were expensive resulting in poor sales. The format never achieved the critical mass needed by the software companies to release the movies, that would have boosted sales and brought the price down through the economies of scale.

 

It might have been a very different story if machines like the JVC HR-S7000 had been around a few years ago. It costs just £700, which is only marginally more than some top-end VHS video recorders. Itís a handsome looking machine, with a centrally mounted tape hatch, large, easy to read front-panel display and well-ordered transport controls, that includes a jog/shuttle dial, for rapid selection of tape replay speed and direction. S-VHS video recorders have tended to lag behind their mass-market cousins when it comes to the latest convenience features but JVC havenít stinted on this, it has an auto-install system which programmes the tuner and sets the clock, and checks it daily.

 

Oddly enough it doesnít have an on-screen display, JVC are one of the few remaining manufacturers not to use, but they make up for it with a LCD panel on the remote handset. Theyíve also fitted a pair of dual-colour LED indicators either side of the tape slot, that show when commands have been received. The remote handset can also be programmed to control the main functions on eight different brands of TV.

 

Its credentials as a home cinema component are impeccable. Picture quality, benefits from extensive digital processing circuitry, thereís a three position sharpness control, plus dynamic contrast presets, for improving the look of widescreen recordings shown on a 16:9 TV. It has twin SCART AV connectors on the back panel, along with S-Video and line-audio input and output sockets. On the debit side it doesnít have a manual recording level control, or a headphone socket, and it cannot replay NTSC recordings, but these are the only significant omissions in an otherwise well-rounded specification.

 

Itís no mean time-shifter either, and in addition to Video Plus+, with PDC to correct for late programme changes, it has JVCís Ďreviewí feature. When a timer recording has finished an indicator button on the front panel lights up. One press turns the machine on, rewinds the tape to the start of the recording and it begins replay.

 

Super VHS has survived largely thanks to the formatís popularity with video movie-makers, confirmed by the number of editing facilities on the S7000. Thereís a set of AV input sockets on the front panel -- behind a drop-down flap -- it has audio dub, insert edit and JVCís random assemble (RA) editing system. This replays up to 8 designated scenes in a recording, in any chosen order, at the same time it controls the record-pause function on a second VCR. As it stands it can only work with other compatible JVC decks, though an optional multi-brand VCR controller module (RM-V704U) is available for an extra £60.

 

However, the real justification for S-VHS is picture quality. It looks stunning with a full 400-line resolution, very little noise and pin-sharp colours. Standard VHS recordings benefit from the reduced noise levels, but the biggest surprise is the improvement in the sharpness of off-air recordings. Normally thereís not a lot of difference between S-VHS and VHS decks but the picture on this VCR is noticeably crisper, it shows up particularly well on live outside broadcasts. Still and slomo are both very steady and the deck is unusually nimble, able to change direction in a fraction of the time taken by most other machines. The stereo soundtracks are very clean and despite the absence of a manual recording level control thereís only a small increase in background hiss when the AGC winds up, during quiet passages.

 

VERDICT JVC HR-S7000, £700

A very persuasive argument for Super VHS, unfortunately itís five years too late

 

Features          multi-speed replay, insert edit, Video Plus+ with PDC, auto tuning and clock set, index search, repeat play, audio dub, multi-brand remote control, 8-scene random assemble (RA) edit system, child lock, 16:9 switching,

 

Sockets            2 x SCART AV, S-Video in/out (mini DIN),  line audio in/out (phono), RA edit/remote pause (minijack), RF bypass (coaxial). Front: composite video and line audio in (phono)                       

Dimensions            426 x 94 x 341mm

JVC UK Ltd, telephone 0181-450 3282

 

COMPETITORS

JVC HR-S5900              £800, 70% HE13

Mitsubishi HS-1000                      £800, 80% HE13

Panasonic NV-FS800            £800, not tested

 

HC RATINGS

Picture quality            *****
Sound quality            ****

Ease of use                 ****

Build quality               ****

Value for money 90%

 

 

SAMSUNG TVP 5070 ĎCOMBI VISIONí,  £500

Itís probably just a coincidence, but within the past few months Korean consumer electronics manufacturers Goldstar and Samsung have both launched 20-inch televideos in the UK. Until now most TV/VCRs combos have had 14-inch screens, which has largely consigned them to bedrooms and bedsits, or as in-store AV presenters, but the move to bigger screen puts them into the mainstream TV market. Could this be a new trend, that the major Japanese and European manufacturers have missed?

 

The sound quality and facilities on Goldstarís Viewmax (HE 31) were a bit of a dissapointment, so how does the similarly priced ĎCombi Visioní fare? Itís not a pretty sight, the top-mounted VCR deck and rounded cabinet give it a bloated look, and weíre not fooled for a minute by the dummy stereo speakers either side of the screen; both the TV and VCR are mono. However, the feature list is still quite enticing, with twin tuners (so you can watch and record different channels at the same time), multi-system capability (PAL and  SECAM reception, plus PAL, SECAM and NTSC display and tape playback), fastext, auto-tuning, side-mounted AV sockets and menu-controlled on-screen displays.  

 

Auto-tuning quickly sorts out the local TV channels, though itís not very selective, and itís actually faster to program the tuner manually. The control system is logical moreover it is exceptionally easy to use: inserting a tape switches on both the TV and VCR, and starts replay in the case of pre-recorded cassettes; the TV tuner operates independently of the VCR, and it has auto system selection, so thereís no messing around with switches or menu selections. The instuction manual misleadingly suggests it has Showview -- an alternative name for Video Plus+ -- when in fact it has a bog-standard manual VCR timer.

 

The only operational niggle with this type of all-in-one setup is the lack of information and feedback, that you normally get with a separate TV and VCR. The on-screen displays are too large and intrusive to be left on all the time, so itís not always clear what channel youíre watching, or recording, what the VCR is up to, how much tape is left, or even the correct time.

 

The tuner is quite sensitive, even in an average reception area the set-top telescopic aerials pull in a clean picture, with uncorrupted teletext. Colours are clear and accurately defined with very little noise. The VCR is a bit ordinary though, resolution is around 240 lines, which isnít too bad, but the picture is a little noisy and on our sample there was a slight hum on the soundtrack of off-air recordings.

 

VERDICT -- SAMSUNG TVP 5370, £500

We still prefer the flexibility of a separate TV and VCR -- with stereo sound -- but this package is quite good value. The TV works well, but the VCR is a bit whiskery.

 

Features          20-inch screen, twin tuners, fastext, 4-event/31-day timer, auto tuning, menu-driven on-screen displays, on/sleep timer, multi-system tuner & tape replay, index search/scan, instant timer, auto repeat, auto power on and play, recessed carry handles

 

Sockets            1 x SCART AV, side mounted AV input (phono), aerial in (coax)         

Dimensions            540 x 470 x 521 mm

Samsung UK, telephone 0181-391 0168

 

COMPETITORS (only one other 20-inch televideo)

Goldstar KI-20V30 £500             65%             HE XX

 

Other 14-inch televideos include

Aiwa VT- 1420S  £400

Aiwa VT-1420S  £400

Philips TVCR240            £400

Sharp VT 3705    £450

 

HC RATINGS

Picture quality            ****
Sound quality            **

Ease of use                 ****

Build quality               ***

Value for money 75%

 

 

LENSON HEATH COMPACT DISH, typically £30 (approx £60 with LNB)

Parabolic dish satellite antennas are not a pretty sight. The trouble is the less intrusive alternatives are nowhere near as efficient, or cheap. However, improvements in LNB (low noise block-converter) technology  -- thatís the gizmo stuck out in front of the dish -- now mean dish sizes can be reduced by around 20%, from the current minimum of 60cm to under 50cm, in the case of dishes used in the southern half of the country.

 

BSkyB are backing an initiative for smaller dishes, and Lenson Heath are one of the first to market one, suitable for general use with Astra receivers. Their 48cm Compact Dish measure 48cm across, itís made from a black aluminium mesh, treated to protect it against corrosion for at least 10 years. Thereís nothing radically new about the design, basically itís a scaled-down version of a larger dish. A tubular LNB support arm bolts to a steel mounting-plate riveted to the back of the dish. The package includes a universal LNB clamp, fixing tube and simple wall-fixing bracket, plus all the necessary nuts and bolts. 

 

The key component, however, is not the dish but the LNB. This will vary according to the supplier but our review sample came supplied with a Grundig model that has a typical gain figure of just 0.8dB. (The average gain figure of LNBs used with most current 60cm dishes is between 1.2 to 1.5dB).

 

We installed the dish at our usual South London test site, and tried it with a range of current Astra receivers, including ones from BT, Grundig and Pace, in a side-by side comparison with a standard 60cm steel dish, fitted with a 1.0dB Marconi LNB.  It works well; overall picture quality and noise levels were almost indistinguishable from the 60cm design. Tests, involving simulated reductions in signal strength suggested it may not cope so well in a heavy downpour though, with increased sparklies, but such conditions tend to last only for a short time. It has been suggested that it will work satisfactorily as far North as Hull, weíd err on the side of caution and recommended you try before you buy, if youíre much higher up than Derby, say.

 

VERDICT LENSON HEATH 48cm dish £

It certainly has less visual impact than a 60cm dish, though when it comes down to it, 12 cm is not lot, but itís a step in the right direction. A worthwhile alternative for house proud southerners

 

Features          offset parabolic black mesh dish with wall mounting kit, 10-year corrosion protection, universal LNB fixing bracket included

Dimensions    48cm diameter        

Lenson Heath, telephone (01628) 890820

 

COMPETITORS

Arcon Sweety, £120, HE27 80%

Technicsat, £75, HE17, 80%

Typical 60cm dish with LNB £55

 

HC RATINGS

Picture quality                                                ****
Cuteness                                ****

Installation                             ****

Build quality                           *****

Value for money                        90%

 

 

GRUNDIG GV-540 £400

Grundigís VCR range is small and itís updated fairly infrequently, which is why we havenít seen one of their machines in HE for quite a while. The GV-540 is their latest entry-level NICAM machine, it replaces the ageing GV-450 which first saw the light of day back in 1993. The new machine has many of the most recent convenience features, including a Video Plus+ timer with PDC, and auto-tuning, though surprisingly it doesnít have automatic time and date setting, which is normally part and parcel of a PDC-based timer system.

 

Grundig assume -- probably quite rightly  -- a higher than usual degree of brand loyalty. This machine makes good use of it with a facility called Megalogic, that integrates a number of the VCRís set-up and control functions with Grundig TVs and satellite receivers. When itís used with other makes of TV the initial set-up routine is a mite more complicated, and the instructions are rather long-winded, turning normally straightforward jobs like re-arranging channel locations, into a minor nightmare.

 

In amongst a fairly routine set of record and replay functions thereís a few unusual extras. Some are welcome, like manual recording level control and the excellent Quasi S-VHS  replay, others weíre not so sure about, like the three Ďinsertí options.  Theyíre used to replace just the video part of a recording, or the picture and the soundtrack together. It has got audio dub as well, though the instructions are difficult to follow and itís not made any easier by designating the front AV inputs ĎCVí and the ones on the rear panel ĎHIí, work that one out...

 

The remote handset looks very busy but at least ten buttons have no function at all. The on-screen display isnít very friendly either, and is reliant on obscure symbols and abbreviations, which take time to decipher. The Video Plus+ programming button on the remote handset, that most manufacturers try to make easy to find, is barely visible and ambigiously labelled SV/V+. Some control functions are slow, the record button has to be pressed for a good two or three seconds, before anything happens.  

 

Itís a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to AV performance, resolution is good, a healthy 250-lines on VHS recordings, and around 320-lines on S-VHS material, but noise levels are a tad high, giving the picture a slightly grainy appearance. Trick replay is steady, still and slomo are almost jitter-free, though when it comes to changing from forward to reverse play, using the jog dial on the remote, the picture breaks up badly and dissapears for a moment or two. The stereo soundtracks are very clean though, moreover the response is wide and flat, with little or no colouration.

 

VERDICT £400

Average performance, some useful features -- especially for owners of Grundig TVs -- but the instructions and controls take some getting used to

 

Features          auto tuning, Video Plus+ timer with PDC, stereo hi-fi sound, NICAM, S-VHS and NTSC replay, jog/shuttle control of multi-speed/direction replay, index search, insert edit, video dub, parental lock, continuous replay, Megalogic (auto functions with suitable Grundig TVs)

 

Sockets                        2 x SCART AV, line audio in/oput (phono), remote satellite control (minijack), front AV (phono), headphone (minijack), RF bypass (coax)

Dimensions                        380 x 90 x 345mm

Grundig International, telephone (01788) 577155

 

COMPETITORS

Aiwa HV-FX1500, £350 90% HE26

Hitachi VT-F450, £400 85% HE27

Samsung SV-140i, £359 75% HE29

 

HC RATINGS

Picture quality                                                ***
Sound quality                         ****

Ease of use                             ***

Build quality                           ****

Value for money                        80%

 

---end---

” R. Maybury 1996 0501

 

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