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REVIEW

 

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JVC HR-J935, £499, ****

 

Why’s it here? VHS is a mature technology, close to the limits of its performance envelope, and in the twilight of its years, manufacturers are fast running out of ways to keep their VCRs looking fresh. It has fallen to JVC, the inventors of the format, to come up with the goods. The HR-J935 is without doubt the most interesting and unusual VHS VCR we’ve seen for a very long time, and the really good news is that it’s not some incredibly expensive flagship machine. At just under £500 it’s at the top end of the NICAM VCR scale, but when you take into account the new features, it has to be a bargain!

 

Any unique features? Only one, and that’s the Dynamic Drum. During fast picture search the upper cylinder on the head drum assembly is automatically tilted by a fraction of a degree. That means the heads track the tape more accurately and the result is a noiseless picture at X2, X3, X5, X7 and X9 search speeds, in both directions.

 

That on its own is impressive, but JVC have gone one step further with a digital audio buffer  -- virtually identical to Sanyo’s Digital View Scan -- that lets you hear snatches of the soundtrack, in real time, at whatever speed the tape is running. It processes the sound from the mono linear audio track. This is read continuously into a digital memory, and replayed back in ‘chunks’ that broadly correspond with what’s happening on the screen. When the tape is moving in reverse the data is simply read out of the buffer backwards, so that it appears to be the correct way around.

 

JVC call noiseless replay with sound TimeScan, It’s ideal for watching sports and movies, without loosing track of the plot. It’s possible to skim through a movie in around half an hour, it’s has to be a godsend for film reviewers. Add to that NICAM, NTSC replay, picture enhancement and tape optimisation, auto set-up, jog/shuttle dials on front panel and handset and more editing features than you can shake a camcorder at and you’ve got one helluva machine!

 

This is the first official outing for the Dynamic Drum, and there’s talk of it turning up on a couple of new machines, next year. JVC will be keeping it to themselves for a while, but we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it appearing on other makes of VCR in the not too distant future. Panasonic must be in line for it, seeing as they’re in the family, so to speak. In theory the technology could be adapted for use in camcorders, though JVC tell us they have no plans for that at the moment. A far more likely application, outside domestic video recording, will be on surveillance and time-lapse VCRs, where the Dynamic Drum has two significant advantages: the improved tracking accuracy will allow more information to be packed on to the tape, and it makes possible reverse or endless recording. Instead of the tape rewinding, when it comes to the end, the deck simply goes into reverse, and continues recording.

 

Incidentally, JVC have let slip that they’ve got an even more impressive picture enhancement for VHS, that’s due to appear next year. Details are very sketchy, but an engineer has suggested that the improvements -- which will be compatible with existing VHS VCRs  -- will make VHS picture quality comparable with Super VHS. More details when we have it.

 

How does it perform? Brilliantly, though we have to say we’ve only tried a very early production sample, serial number 00000011 to be exact. However, if the rest are anything like this one JVC have got a winner on their hands. Resolution was a shade over 250-lines, picture noise levels are very low, and trick-play stability is simply amazing, not a trace of line break-up anywhere in the picture, at any replay speed. TimeScan sound is a bit rough, but speech is intelligible. Normal stereo hi-fi and NICAM sound is good, noise levels are a little below average and the response is reasonably flat.

 

The editing features work well, and although the Dynamic Drum probably isn’t directly involved, insert edits are seamless, with no detectable break-up at the edit points. Although JVC are not officially billing the 935 as an edit deck, that’s a job it does with ease. The only small disappointment is the fact that the noiseless replay is not recordable on another VCR, as it would be a useful trick effect in video movie-making. The problem concerns the increased number of picture lines during fast play, which most VCRs cannot handle, without causing picture instability.

 

Our Verdict. Go get it! For the price of a top-end NICAM VCR you can get something really special. TimeScan has to be the best new VCR feature since Video Plus+, but even without it the J935 would still be a fine machine, with a great line up of features and excellent AV performance, at a realistic price.

 

JVC HR-J935, £499

Features            TimeScan, NICAM, VideoPlus+ with PDC, auto set-up and clock check, insert editing with flying erase head, sound shuttle, audio dub, manual audio recording level control, ‘Easy Edit’ assemble edit control, BEST tape tuning, illuminated multi-brand remote control, NTSC replay, child lock

Sockets            2 x SCART AV, stereo line audio out and front AV inputs (phono), RF bypass (coaxial)

Dimensions            435 x 105 x 353mm

 

Picture Quality            *****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     *****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

Mitsubishi HS-561            £480            HE35

Sanyo VHR795            £430            HE35

Toshiba V856             £500            HE39

JVC UK Ltd., telephone 0181-450 3282

 

Critical Captions

A clean, uncluttered front panel, with a useful jog/shuttle dial for controlling tape speed and direction; it’s a pity there not one on the remote handset as well

 

The handset is an unusual shape, and some of the buttons are illuminated, which is supposed to make it easier to use, though in practice the replay speed control is rather cumbersome

 

Around the back there’s twin SCART AV sockets, and a set of stereo line audio outputs, on a pair of phono sockets

 

 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1996 1110

 

 

 

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