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BUYING A VCR

 

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If your current VCR is the same one that you taped Gazza grizzling, in the 1990 World Cup, and you still havenít figured out how to use the timer, then it might be about time to get a new one. Itís a very good time to buy, VCRs are now almost foolproof, picture and sound quality has improved and theyíre even cheaper now than they were six years ago. Thereís also more of them around, with more gadgets and gizmos than you can shake a stick at, so it pays to know your PDCs from your OSDs.

 

Time-shifting those inconveniently scheduled late-night sports events couldnít be easier nowadays, thanks to VCRs with Video Plus+. You may have seen ĎPluscodesí printed next to TV schedules in newspapers and listings mags, just tap in the numbers on the remote handset and the VCR does the rest. Most recent machines also have PDC (programme delivery control) automatic timer correction systems;  it makes sure you wonít miss a moment, even if thereís a late kick-off. On some models you can even get away with not reading the instruction book, a lot of VCRs now have auto-install, that adjusts the tuner and sets the time and date, as soon as itís plugged in.

 

NICAM VCRS -- THREE OF THE BEST

 

Aiwa  HV-FX1500, £350

This outstanding midi-sized budget NICAM VCR has been a consistent favourite, and itís not difficult to see why. Not only does it have many of the features found on much dearer machines -- plus a few more besides -- it works really well too. Recordings look crisp, colours are sharp, thereís negligible picture noise and the stereo sound system is very smooth. Feature highlights include an auto set-up system for effortless installation, Video Plus+ timer with PDC safety-net and Ďone-touchí replay system. There are AV inputs on the front, plus twin SCART sockets on the back; it has audio-dub plus a multi-lingual on-screen display system, that never leaves you in any doubt about what the machine is up to.  Itís compact, easy to use and very well behaved. 

Value for money 95%

Aiwa UK Ltd, telephone 0181-897 7000

 

Hitachi VTF460 £450

The F460 could be the answer to a lot of hardened tape-collectorís prayers. The key feature is Title Index, a clever gizmo that automatically labels and stores details of every recording made on the machine; all the user has to do is number their tapes. Title Index instantly recalls programme information, searching its memory using key-letters in the title, the time or date of a recording. It has a Video Plus+ and PDC timer, that simplifies satellite time-shifting; a built-in infra-red command system controls a dozen or more different brands of STV receiver. For good measure it has multi-speed replay via jog-shuttle dial; there are AV sockets on the front panel, syncro-start editing, auto program-play and a multi-brand remote, that controls the main functions on a wide range of TVs. Picture and sound quality are better than average and itís not going to break the bank.

Value for money 85%

Hitachi Home Electronics, telephone 0181-849 2000

 

Mitsubishi HS-561 £480

Another of Mitsubishiís finest. The HS-561 is sensibly priced, well-engineered and kitted out with the kind of features that cover the broad span of VCR usage, from time-shifting to home cinema and video movie-making. At the top of the list is a satellite control system, thatís linked into the machineís Video Plus+ timer. It has a full auto-install, tape-tuning, insert-edit, audio-dub, multi-brand TV remote, a parental lock, colour co-ordinated control functions, NTSC replay and one of the fastest deck mechanisms in the business.  On-screen performance is excellent, resolution is close to the limits of the VHS system, colours are natural-looking and thereís minimal noise. It sounds as good as it looks. Stereo audio is clean with a flat response and only trace levels of background hiss. Definitely worth considering.  

Value for money 88%

Mitsubishi Electric UK Ltd., telephone (01707) 276100

 

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TOP-TIPS

 

* Even if youíve already got a stereo TV itís still worth buying a NICAM VCR otherwise you wonít be able to record or playback programmes and tapes in stereo

 

* You might not own a camcorder now, but who knows? Itís worth getting a machine with a few movie-making facilities, at the very least choose one with front AV terminals, to simplify editing and copying video movies

 

* Stick with the better-known European and Japanese brands and you canít go far wrong

 

* Long play performance is getting better all the time; VCRs with tape-tuning facilities tend to work best, particularly when theyíre used with high grade tapes

 

* You can get away with only one SCART AV socket on the back panel but itís safest to have two, so you can connect it up to other items of AV equipment, if and when you decide to upgrade your system

 

 

BUYING A SATELLITE SYSTEM

 

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The rapid growth in the number of satellite television and radio channels now being beamed at the UK shows no sign of slowing down. If your present system is more than three or four years old itís almost certainly showing its age. It may be tempting to wait for the next generation of equipment, or round of price-cuts, but the truth is,  the technology is moving at such a fast pace that itís virtually impossible to keep up. Fortunately the price of satellite systems and receivers continues to fall, whilst performance and facilities get better all the time.

 

The most striking difference between todayís receivers, and popular models from just a couple years ago, is increased channel capacity. Now only a handful of old or discontinued satellite boxes have fewer than 300 channels, moreover any receiver sold today must have extended frequency coverage and be able to operate with multi-band LNBs. Almost all receivers now have stereo audio systems, and the quality is getting better, with clearer, less noisy sound. Sensitivity is improving too, which means smaller dishes and clearer reception in bad weather. On-screen displays, that simplify set-up and operation are still not quite universal, but itís mostly older or bargain-basement receivers that lack this vital facility.

 

Consider the options carefully.  It might be better to spend a little more on some luxury features -- Dolby Pro Logic or a Video Plus+ timer for example -- and postpone the inevitable, rather than commit yourself to an even earlier upgrade by settling on an inappropriate cheapie system or Ďgive-awayí deal, that may contain hidden extras.

 

THREE OF THE BEST -- SATELLITE SYSTEMS

Pace Apollo, £99 (60cm dish) excluding compulsory BSKYB subscription and installation fee

 

Most of the receivers featured in the current spate of Ď£99í deals are either past pensionable age, or poorly equipped. The Pace Apollo is one of the few honourable exceptions, though its 120-channel tuner could be a limitation for anyone hoping to channel-hop beyond what BSKYB has on offer. Otherwise it is quite well specified, with a 4-event VCR timer, passable on-screen display, three SCART sockets and wonder of wonders, Wegner Panda noise reduction. Thatís almost unheard of on receivers costing less than £150, and it bumps this model up to entry-level home-cinema status. However, it has to be said that the hidden costs involved in these kinds of deals quickly add-up and you could find yourself paying out more than £400 in the first year, for the dubious privilege of appearing to save a few pounds.

Pace Micro Technology, telephone (01274) 532000

Value for money 85%

 

Nokia SAT 1800 IRD £300 (60cm dish)

The difficulty of time-shifting satellite TV programmes has spawned some interesting solutions; most receivers now have their own built-in VCR timers and a few video recorders have satellite control, but Nokia have approached the problem from the opposite direction. The SAT 1800 is equipped with a Video Plus+ timer, (with PDC backup) that controls a VCR using itís own on-board multi-brand infra-red command system. In theory taping a satellite channel is no more difficult than recording BBC 1 or ITV, say. The 500-channel tuner has a number of other advanced features, including categorised (sport, movies and news) favourite-channel memories, a comprehensive on-screen display system, plenty of AV sockets plus a range of multi-satellite facilities. Sound quality is excellent, courtesy Wegner Panda 1 noise reduction, and better than average sensitivity means it has one of the cleanest pictures around. Highly commended.

Nokia, telephone (01793) 644223

Value for money 95%

 

Pace MSS 290, £230 (60cm dish)

Pace have already cornered the market in satellite receivers with built-in Dolby Pro-Logic surround sound decoders but now theyíre spreading their net even wider, with this mid-price receiver, that has a proprietary 3D sound system. The matrix decoder works like older Dolby 3-channel processors, extracting rear channel information from movies and TV programmes with Dolby Surround soundtracks. 

It doesnít have any built-in amplification, so it needs to be hooked up to a hi-fi or a pair of active speakers. The actual performance is a little variable, and it works better with some material than others. Itís an interesting starting point for newcomers to home cinema, though it has to be said itís not an alternative to full-blown Pro-Logic. The receiver is well-equipped, with a 250-channel tuner that has eight categorised channel memories, an 8-event/28-day VCR timer, 4-mode tone control, parental lock, advanced on-screen display and Wegner Panda 1 noise reduction. On-screen performance is fine, colours are clean and thereís minimal background hiss on the sound channels.

Pace Micro Technology, telephone (01274) 532000

Value for money 90%

 

 

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TOP TIPS

 

* Donít even think about buying a satellite receiver with fewer than two SCART AV sockets, that is unless you have no intention of taping satellite TV programmes, or are willing to compromise on picture and sound quality

 

* Put dealers on the spot and ask them how easy it is for their shiny new dishes and receivers to pick up broadcasts from other European satellites, like Hot Bird?

 

* Facilities, like huge channel memories, dish positioner interfaces and twin LNB inputs might come in useful if you decide to upgrade to a motorised dish one day

 

* One smart-card slot is all you need if youíre only interested in the BSKYB Multichannels but with so many new channels starting up one might not be enough in a year or twoís time

 

* Satellite stereo can be quite hissy; in general receivers with Wegner Panda 1 noise reduction systems have the cleanest sound

 

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” R. Maybury 1996, 1204

 

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