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Twenty years ago, on September 9th 1976 to be precise, JVC unveiled the HR3300, the very first VHS video recorder. VHS is still going strong, and despite rumours of its imminent demise, itís still the only show in town...



Yes, DVD is coming, and maybe one day, when recordable discs and decks become available it might just replace VHS as the dominant home recording format, but when will that be? The HE crystal ball is still a little cloudy on that matter, but one thing is for sure, VHS isnít going to disappear overnight. Itís going to take a while -- a very long while -- before DVD machines are as cheap and well-featured as VHS video recorders are today.


The point is, you can buy a good NICAM VCR for less than £350; thereís tens of  thousands of pre-recorded titles available right now, with dozens more released every week. The question of picture quality isnít really an issue for most users; okay, VHS recordings can sometimes look a bit whiskery, compared with other media, but how many people notice the difference? Very few it seems, otherwise rival systems, with superior performance, would have had a much bigger impact.


The VHS format has got at least another ten years life in it. We estimate it will be five years before DVD makes any sort of impact on the home video market. That means you can buy a VHS VCR now with complete confidence, and be reasonably sure it will see you through to the millennium, and beyond.


At the risk of repeating ourselves, thereís never been a better time to buy a new VCR. Prices are still coming down, though in some sectors at least, they probably havenít much further to fall. The latest NICAM machines are a case in point, the new benchmark price of £300 for entry-level models looks like sticking for the major Japanese and European manufacturers. The effects of this intense competition are already being felt in other parts of the market. Three-head mono VCRs are history, and four-head machines, some of which cost more than budget NICAM VCRs, could easily go the same way. Manufacturers are having to work hard to sustain sales of NICAM machines selling for between £350 and £500 and thereís been big increase in the number of added-value features, to tempt us into spending a little bit more.


Our guess is, that in a couple of years the market will level out with only a handful of basic sub £200 mono machines. The bulk of new VCRs will be well-equipped NICAM stereo decks, costing between £300 and £450, and there will be another equally small assortment of top end or enthusiasts machines. This could be the last time we see such a diversity of features and prices,  make the most of it!




1. Auto Installation

Plug-and-play VCRs, that tune themselves in, set the date, check the clock every day and adjust for summer/winter time changes, almost make those impenetrable instruction books redundant.


2. Satellite Control

Time-shifting programmes and movies from the satellite channels need be no more complicated than recording terrestrial TV. VCRs with Video Plus+ satellite control are getting cheaper all the time. 


3. PDC (Programme Delivery Control)

Now that the BBC are transmitting PDC codes thereís no longer any need to miss the beginning or end of a time-shifted recording, due to a late schedule change, or programme overrun.


4. NTSC Stereo Replay

If youíre going on holiday to the US, or youíve got relatives in North America you may be able to get hold of the latest movies -- months ahead of their UK release date -- and hear them in glorious stereo hi-fi sound.


5. Tape Tuning and Digital Noise Reduction

Thereís not a lot left to be squeezed out of the VHS format, but the latest picture enhancements can be quite effective, especially on older tapes, or if you do a lot of LP recordings.




Thereís really no excuse for buying a mono VCR these days, unless youíre on an extremely tight budget, you have absolutely no intention of buying a stereo TV, or using your hi-fi system in an AV set-up, or you want a second machine, for the bedroom perhaps. The good news is thereís plenty of very cheap VCRs around at the moment, though watch out for some of the less well-known brands, some of them have an indifferent performance record. Thereís no need to compromise on picture quality, or convenience facilities, with so many top-name manufacturers pitching in with well-specified VCRs in the £200 to £250 price bracket.


AKAI VS-G245, £200

Amazing value! It has just about every convenience feature you can think of, several of which have never been seen on a budget VCR before. The bread and butter stuff includes Video Plus+ with PDC and LP replay, but get this. It has NTSC replay, auto set-up with twice-daily clock check, I-HQ tape optimisation system and an LCD remote control. Picture quality is good; itís a 2-head machine, so trick play functions are in black and white on LP recordings, but slomo, reverse play x3, x5 and x7 forward and reverse picture search, are more than you get on most 4-head and some NICAM VCRs.

Akai UK., telephone 0181-897 6388


PHILIPS VR-165, £200

Philips were one of the first big-name brands to market a sub £200 VCR last year; their first model was rather basic, but this latest one, the VR-165, has an impressive line up of features that includes Video Plus+ with PDC, auto installation, multi-lingual on-screen displays, quick-start deck mechanism, still and reverse play, index search, digital noise reduction and alphanumeric front-panel display. The deck and much of the video processing circuitry is the same as their more up-market models. On-screen performance stacks up well against VCRs costing £50 or so more, itís easy to use, and it looks the part.

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444


SHARP VC-M24HM, £209

Sharp have three budget VCRs costing between £200 and £220. The M24 is the middle one, selling for £210. The main difference between this and the £200 model (VC-M23) is a Video Plus+ timer. (The dearer M25 additionally has PDC). The key feature on the M24 is Super Picture detail enhancement circuitry which improves sharpness and detail, and filters out excessive picture noise. A 3-way shuttle dial on the front panel controls forward and reverse picture search,  2x fast play and still picture. It also has a full set of menu-driven on-screen displays, fast mid-drive deck mechanism, child lock, index search and LP recording speed.

Sharp UK Ltd., telephone (0161) 205 2333



Average prices for entry-level NICAM video recorders have plummeted in the past two years, from  £450 in 1994, to around £350 this year. The really significant development though, was the breaching of the strategically important £300 price point by several top brands. The others were forced to reduce prices and improve the specification of their machines, to remain competitive.  Whilst prices have come down it hasnít been at the expense of performance or facilities. Far from it; several NICAM VCRs now selling for less than £350 have better picture and sound quality, and more convenience features than many of last yearís mid-range NICAM machines.


Akai VS-G745, £300

Akai are making a determined effort to capture the budget end of the NICAM market, and with a machine like the G745, they can hardly fail. It has everything you would expect on a mid-market stereo VCR, including Video Plus+ with PDC, auto set-up, twin SCARTs and front-mounted AV sockets, but thatís just the beginning. Thereís a full set of  multi speed replay modes (still, reverse play, 1/10th, x2, x3, x5 and x7 picture search). Super I-HQ tape tuning, on-screen display, edit and index search, but the really unique feature -- on a VCR costing less than £300 -- is stereo sound on NTSC replay. Recommended!

Akai UK., telephone 0181-897 6388


Aiwa HV-FX2500, £300

We can thank Aiwa for starting off the current round of price cutting. It began last year with the FX1500, which sold for £350. Thereís a lot of similarities between it and their latest budget machine, the FX2500, which costs just £300. Thereís been some cosmetic changes, the front-panel controls are a lot less cluttered and the FX2500 doesnít have any front AV sockets but under the skin theyíre almost identical. They both have Video Plus+ with PDC, on-screen displays and auto set-up. Performance too is unchanged, picture and sound quality are both good enough for undemanding  home cinema applications.

Aiwa UK, telephone 0181-897 7000


Aiwa HV-FX3500

If you can find another £50, the FX3500 is worth the extra. In addition to all of the features of the FX2500 it has a useful jog/shuttle control on the remote handset, and something called ĎFunction Guideí on the two-tone front panel. This is an illuminated ring around the transport controls, that winks and changes colour, according to the tape speed and direction. It also has two audio modes, called Ďdynamicí and Ďmidnightí, which boost or reduce bass levels; thereís also a set of AV input sockets on the front panel, for temporary camcorder hook-ups, though like the FX2500 it cannot replay NTSC tapes. 

Aiwa UK, telephone 0181-897 7000



For most people the main reason for buying a VCR is the facility to tape TV programmes. Almost since day one VCR timers have had a reputation for being difficult to use; thatís changing thanks to Video Plus+ and PDC, which has made time-shifting almost idiot-proof. Thereís still room for improvement, but weíre pleased to see a growing number of mid-market VCRs now have satellite control functions, that greatly simplifies making timer recordings of satellite programmes. These machines may cost a little more, but the extra performance, convenience and flexibility are usually well worth having.


Hitachi VT-F550, £400

Hitachi were one of the pioneers of VCR satellite control, and theyíve been steadily refining the concept, making it easier to use, and broadening the range of STV receivers it can be used with. However, top billing on the VT-F550 goes to Dynamic Picture Equalisation, itís a combination of picture enhancement features that reduces jitter and chroma delay, thereís also an automatic tape tuning  system and it has the same high-performance ferrite heads, used on their S-VHS decks. Extra goodies include a multi-brand TV remote, NTSC replay with stereo sound and multi-speed replay. Solid picture and sound, plus a sensible price.

Hitachi Home Electronics, telephone 0181-849 2000


Mitsubishi HS-651, £380

This is a real bumper-bundle of a VCR with almost every feature you can think of, and one or two more besides. From the top, thereís a Video Plus+ and PDC controlled satellite timer,  auto installation with daily clock set, multi-speed replay, NTSC replay in stereo, a  multi-brand TV remote, parental lock, tape optimiser and rental tape playback to name just a few. Surprisingly it doesnít have front-mounted AV sockets, but  thatís literally the only omission on what has to be one of the most comprehensively equipped NICAM VCRs on the market. Picture quality is impressive too, and at just under £380, itís a very good deal.

Mitsubishi UK Ltd., telephone (01707) 276100


Toshiba V865, £500

Toshiba have made a deliberate decision not to get involved in the rough and tumble at the budget end of the market. Instead theyíre concentrating on well specified NICAM machines, aimed at discerning home cinema enthusiasts, who donít object to paying a little extra for performance and a more sharply focused specification. The V865 has the usual assortment of timer facilities, with the added benefit of a Video Plus+ linked satellite control system. Picture noise levels are kept in check with a new digital NR circuitry and thereís NTSC replay with stereo sound. Itís a little pricey but it looks, feels and functions like a quality product.

Toshiba UK, telephone (01276) 62222



The main criteria for a home cinema VCR has to be AV performance; most gadgets and widgets are largely irrelevant, as are features concerned with video movie making or editing, unless you happen to own a camcorder as well. NTSC replay is another must, and if itís accompanied by stereo hi-fi sound, so much the better. Sockets, and plenty of them used to be a consideration, though few if any NICAM VCRs these days have only one SCART AV connector, but check, just in case, and while youíre at it, look out for other useful extras, like a manual recording level control and a headphone socket.


Akai VS-G2400, £10000

There may not be a lot of point telling your about this machine as they might already have sold out -- only 200 are destined for the UK -- but if you can get hold of one, youíre in for a treat. It has a built-in Dolby Pro Logic processor, and comes with a set of IR speakers, for the rear-effects channel. Itís loaded with video enhancement facilities, that give it one of the cleanest, sharpest pictures, this side of S-VHS. Surround sound performance is good too, and itís one of the few VCRs to have a Startext-based PDC systems, which means if can record teletext subtitles. Pricey but itís already a sought-after classic.

Akai UK., telephone 0181-897 6388


Panasonic NV-HD610 £430

Panasonic NICAM VCRs have always been a pretty safe bet for home cinema applications, but the HD610 is their most accomplished mid-range performer to date. Itís very well appointed too, with a Video Plus+ satellite control system, multi-brand TV remote, NTSC replay with stereo sound and Crystal View Control picture enhancements. Unusually for Panasonic it has on-screen displays, and auto set-up as well, making it very easy to get along with. Picture quality is excellent with above average resolution, and very low picture noise levels. The stereo soundtracks are very clean, with minimal background hiss. At just under £430 itís an affordable luxury.

Panasonic UK, telephone (01344) 862444


Philips VR-6557, £370

If proof were needed that you donít have to spend a small fortune on a NICAM VCR for home cinema use, then take a look at the VR-6557. The stereo soundtracks are unusually crisp, with remarkably little background noise. The picture is very clean too, with sharp, detailed pictures. Itís not without its faults though, and the remote control is a real horror. moreover it has no on-screen displays. It has all the basic necessities of home cinema life though, including auto install, twin SCARTs, NTSC replay, Video Plus+ and PDC, and refreshingly few  gadgets; with a selling price of just £370 whoís arguing!

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444



Picture and sound quality become even more important when using a VCR to make video movies. Copying or editing footage shot on a camcorder, onto VHS, necessarily involves a significant increase in noise, a reduction in colour stability and some loss of detail, so itís vitally important that the recording VCR degrades the picture as little as possible. Super VHS VCRs are worth considering if you have a Hi8 or S-VHS-C camcorder, though the final production will probably still need to be on VHS. Editing facilities, like audio dub, insert edit and editing terminals can come in handy, but theyíre not an overriding consideration.


JVC HR-J825, £530

Shortlist this machine if you have a VHS-C camcorder. It scores on two levels, recording quality is pin-sharp, and it has a few, mostly useful editing facilities. They include a flying erase head, for clean insert edits, audio dub, front AV inputs, and ĎEasy Edití, which can replay up to 8 selected segments, for recording on a second VCR. Itís a brute of a machine, lacking some of the most recent refinements -- like on-screen displays -- and NTSC playback is in mono, but the precision mechanics and highly effective audio and video processing circuitry more than make up for any rough edges.

JVC UK Ltd., 0181-450 3282


Panasonic NV-HS900, £750

Super VHS was a tremendous missed opportunity, it lives on with machines like the HS900, but sadly the crystal sharp picture and bright, vibrant colours, will only ever be put to good use by those owning Hi8 or S-VHS-C high-band camcorders. The HS900 has a good assortment of movie-making facilities, including a set of editing terminals that will allow it to work with a range of camcorders. It has audio dub, insert edit and sound on sound as well. Picture performance is outstanding, a full 400-lines on suitably equipped TVs, and the hi-fi soundtracks are almost completely devoid of background hiss.  If youíre into video movie-making itís great value.

Panasonic UK, telephone (01344) 862444


Sony DHR-1000, £3300

No, we havenít accidentally added a zero to the price, this little beauty sells for £3300; you might as well know that 3-hour blank tapes cost fifty quid each, and thereís no pre-recorded software either... None of that will worry anyone seriously interested in the latest generation of DVC (digital video cassette) camcorders, which function at or very close to broadcast quality levels. The DHR-1000 is the first and so far the only DVC editing VCR, with incredible picture quality and four digital soundtracks. Sony have tried to domesticate it, itís got a NICAM decoder and yes, even a Video Plus+ timer, so you can use it to tape Eastenders, but that would be a sad waste for what has to be the ultimate VCR!

Sony UK, telephone 0181-784 1144



1. Panasonic NV-HD610 -- accomplished all-rounder

2. Akai VS-610 -- the bargain of the year

3. Mitsubishi HS-651 -- value for money, well featured


” R. Maybury 1996 0710


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