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Pace Prima, £99 (ex BSKYB sub and installation) ***


Whyís it here? Following the initial flurry of interest last year -- mainly in the run-up to Christmas -- sales of £99 budget satellite systems have been slowing down. Whilst the low end of the market is still quite buoyant itís clear buyers of satellite systems are becoming more discriminating. Pace, the undisputed market leaders, are replacing their £99 Apollo system with the better-specified, and better looking Prima. Thereís a lot riding on the new model; itís role is to help maintain their market share, tempt new buyers, and help dealers persuade customers to trade-up to more expensive receivers.


Any unique features? Thereís nothing we havenít seen before but things like the Wegner Panda 1 noise reduction, categorised favourite channel memory, sleep timer, on-screen display with channel naming and volume control are very unusual on receivers at this end of the market. Sadly thereís only one SCART socket, so itís not going to be much use for serious home cinema applications, at least not if you want to record both terrestrial and satellite channels in stereo. The 125 channel tuner doesnít have much room to spare, and thereís only one dish input, so in spite of the extensive tuning facilities, itís really only suitable for basic Astra fixed dish operation.  


How does it perform? The tuner is adequately sensitive and weaker channels, like UK Gold, which can be quite noisy, donít look too bad. During poor signal conditions -- during a heavy downpour for example -- thereís a few sparklies but itís not serious. The picture is generally clean and colours are well defined but noise does show up on heavily saturated colours. Channel change is reasonably quick and the on-screen display is very informative, with a good assortment of tuning options, plus a very comprehensive set of audio and LNB adjustments, the latter covers specialist frequencies, including the C-Band.


Stereo sound is very crisp, the Panda noise reduction definitely earns its keep and background noise levels are well below average. Bass and mid-range are fairly flat, treble tails off a little early, though.  


Our Verdict. Prima is a real surprise, several features wouldnít look out of place on a mid-market multi-satellite receiver. AV performance is at least as good as some models costing twice as much but the single SCART and small tuner memory are limiting factors. By the way, donít forget the small print in the compulsory subscription deal, itís not quite as cheap as it looks...


Pace Prima, £99 (ex BSKYB sub and installation)

Features            125 channels, categorised favourite channel memory, 4-event/28-day timer, sleep timer, Wegner Panda 1 noise reduction, PIN activated parental lock, 13 audio modes, J17, 75uS & 50uS de-emphasis, frequency scan, memory download, low power setting, pre-set volume

Sockets            AV out (SCART), line audio out (phono) RF bypass (coax), LNB (F-connector)

Dimensions            360 x 225 x 68mm


Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****


Competitors (all ex. installation and conditional on BSKYB subscription)

Grundig Minerva            £99.99

Matsui RD600            £99.99 HE29   80%

Goodmans ST700 £99.99            HE27

Pace Electronics, telephone (01274) 532000


PANASONIC NV-HS900, £750 ***

Whyís it here? Super VHS has been a big disappointment; not that thereís anything wrong with the format -- far from it -- picture quality is excellent, but it failed to get any support from the software industry and VCRs were initially very expensive. Panasonic are one of the few companies still marketing S-VHS VCRs in the UK (the format has been quite successful elsewhere) and the NV-HS900 is their first new machine in a couple of years. Itís mainly aimed at video movie-makers, S-VHS has a number of important advantages when it comes to editing, and the lack of pre-recorded software is not a problem.


Any unique features? A socket on the front panel, marked Ďsync edití is actually a Control L/LANC interface, that can control transport functions on 8mm camcorders. An Ďedití socket on the back does the same sort of thing with Panasonic camcorders.  In both cases the HS900ís edit control facility makes copying single scenes -- from a camcorder to the VCR-- a whole lot easier. Other movie-making facilities include insert edit, audio-dub and a microphone input. Itís one of the very few hi-fi stereo VCRs on the market to have recording levels controls (one for each channel...), and it comes with a multi-brand TV remote handset.


How does it perform? The big problem with Super VHS -- apart from the lack of software -- is that recordings of off-air TV programmes donít look much better than normal VHS. That means S-VHS definition is only of academic interest, unless you have a high band (S-VHS-C or Hi8) camcorder; itís actually very good and our sample was able to resolve just under 400-lines, so second generation copies and edits will still look sharp. Normal VHS recordings were a little over 250-lines. Picture noise levels are very low. Colour accuracy and registration are both excellent, chrominance noise levels are below average too; pictures are crisp, with lots of fine detail.


The stereo hi-fi sound systems on Panasonic NICAM VCRs are usually very good, but this one is exceptionally smooth. The manual recording level control can make a real difference but itís the almost complete lack of background hiss, lively treble and gutsy bass response that sets this machine apart.


Our Verdict: If youíve got a high-band camcorder a suitable TV and a keen interest in video movie-making, you probably wonít need much persuading. Unfortunately itís harder to justify that £750 price tag just for off-air recording and home cinema, even though theyíre jobs the HS900 does very well indeed. 


Panasonic NV-HS900, £750

Features            S-VHS, NICAM, Video Plus+ with PDC, auto set-up, multi-speed replay, multi-brand TV remote, hi-fi recording level control, NTSC playback (with stereo hi-fi sound), advanced editing features (insert edit, audio dub, sound on sound, 5-pin and LANC compatible edit terminals)

Sockets            2 x SCART AV, S-Video out (mini DIN), composite video and line audio out (phono), edit control (5-pin), front AV terminal:  AV in (phono), S-Video in (mini DIN), microphone, headphone, syncro edit (minijack)

Dimensions            430 x 107 x 329 mm


Picture Quality            *****

Sound Quality            *****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ***



JVC HRS5900                    £800            HE13            70%

Mitsubishi HS-M1000            £700            HE13            80%

Panasonic NV-HS1000            £1000            HE13            60%


Panasonic UK, telephone (01344) 862444



PACE MSS 1008-1P, £450 ****

Whyís it here? The satellite system market has evolved into a number of quite well defined segments, with purpose-designed receivers and packages for both Astra and multi-satellite operation; there are receivers intended for home cinema and models with advanced audio systems, including a couple with built-in Dolby Pro-Logic surround-sound processors. The Pace MSS-1008-IP does all that, plus a whole lot more! The 1008-IP is a direct descendant of the MSS-1000, the first DPL satellite receiver, but it has a number of extra features, making it one of the most sophisticated analogue satellite receivers on the market.


Any unique features? Maybe not unique, but weíve never come across so many advanced facilities in such abundance, in one box before. The tuner memory is huge, with space for up to 500 channels. Itís one of only a small handful of receiver to have a built-in dish positioner, this is factory-programmed with location and channel information for more than 30 satellites, (though not all of them will be receivable from the UK). Thereís a built-in Dolby Pro-Logic processor, with a four-channel amplifier -- just add speakers for instant surround-sound. It also has a 6-mode audio processor, plus a Videocrypt decoder with twin smart-card slots.


How does it perform? Itís vastly over-qualified for single satellite reception, and it really needs to be used with a motorised dish, at least 1 metre across, but the DPL processor means it will probably spend a lot of its time pointing at the Astra satellites. The tuner has plenty of sensitivity in reserve and all of the Astra channels -- including the lower power ones -- were sparkly-free on a 60cm dish, even with an attenuated signal. Colours were clean and noise levels are well below average. The DPL processor suffers from the same basic problems as its predecessor, namely a lack of punch, particularly to the back channel, but resolution is good; it manages to localise fine detail, and cope with noisy set piece effects, without keeling over.  Multi-satellite operation is virtually seamless, with the dish automatically tracking to the correct location after the channel number has been punched in.


Our Verdict. The trouble with satellite TV is that most receivers are out of date, almost before theyíre out of the box. That shouldnít be a problem for the MSS-1008-IP, at least not until digital satellite broadcasting gets going. Until then this receiver is the one to go for, if youíre looking for a simple one-box solution, for getting the most out of the Astra channels, and for keeping tabs on all the other TV satellites 


PACE MSS 1008-1P, £450

Features            500 channel, categorised favourite channel memory, built-in antenna positioner, Wegner Panda 1 noise reduction, Dolby Pro-Logic, simulated surround sound, twin smart-card slots, sound shape processor, 8-event/31-day VCR timer, sleep timer, parental lock, variable contrast, 13 audio modes, 50uS, 75uS, J17 and Panda 1 de-emphasis, 22kHz LNB tone switching 

Sockets            4 x SCART AV, 2 x dish inputs (F-connectors), DPL audio line outputs (phono), speaker and dish positioner connections (spring terminals), RF bypass (coaxial) 

Dimensions            360 x 335 x 73mm


Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     *****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****



Amstrad SRD2000            £380            HE24            85%

Nokia Sat 1800    £300            HE30            85%


Pace Electronics, telephone (01274) 532000



SONY DPL-VE100, £380  ****


Whyís it here? Thereís a growing awareness amongst manufacturers that simple is sometimes best, and maybe a lot of consumers donít want fancy home cinema systems, dripping with features theyíre never going to use. Sony have gone right back to basics with the DPL-VE100 package, following the lead of Canon, Goodmans and JVC, with a competitively priced package containing an AV amplifier plus a full set of speakers. This is the most flexible sort of home cinema upgrade; thereís no need to change the TV or buy any new source components, and it frees up the hi-fi, so it can be used in another room.


Any unique features? Only one, and thatís a set of SCART AV input and output sockets, which simplifies hook-ups to a TV and VCR. It has three inputs in total, the other two can be used for a satellite receiver and laserdisc player, or a CD deck. The amplifier delivers 20 watts RMS into the front centre and stereo channels, and 109 watts into the rear speakers. The active sub-woofer has itís own built-in amplifier, this is rated at 23 watts RMS. All of the speakers, with the exception of the sub, are magnetically shielded and the outfit includes a complete set of speaker leads.  


How does it perform? The DPL decoder is reasonably accurate; back channel and front-centre channel resolution is very good and thereís very little bleed from the front to rear, even at higher volume settings. The sound from the front speakers is rather thin, though. Thereís plenty of treble, itís bright and detailed but thereís a gaping hole in the mid-range frequencies. The sub grumbles away at the bottom end, and the centre-front speaker produces a well rounded sound but they canít make up the loss. The net effect is a lack of presence, you can hear the system is working hard, but thereís something missing, that a more involving set of front stereo speakers would almost certainly put back. The sub-woofer is the saving grace;  it may not be very powerful but it adds a touch of drama to the proceedings, livening up an otherwise uninvolving sound.


Our Verdict. This is a decent enough starter package, for those who want a taste of home cinema, without going to the expense of a full-blown system. Surround sound performance is mediocre, itís not going to get the blood coursing through your veins, but then it wonít annoy the neighbours, or the bank manager...


SONY DPL-VE100, £380

Features            DPL AV amplifier package with 5-speakers and active sub-woofer, 3 x 20 watts RMS (right, left stereo and centre-front), 10 watts RMS (rear), 23 watts RMS (sub woofer), Dolby 3-channels and 2 simulated surround modes

Sockets            2 x SCART AV in/out, AV in/out, sub-woofer (phono), speakers and sub-woofer (spring terminals)

Dimensions            430 x 95 x 280mm (AV amp)


Sound Quality            ***

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****



Canon Movie Sound kit            £500,            HE36, 90%

JVC Big Box 2                      £350            HE36, 75%

Sherwood Gale Package            £550            HE36            85%


Sony UK, telephone            0181-784 1144


” R. Maybury 1996 0407



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