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Why’s it here: The LBT-XB8AV appears to have been designed to appeal to vinyl record fans, with a good collection of CDs, that are also interested in home cinema, and enjoy the occasional sing-song... It’s a bizarre-looking product to say the least -- a kitchen sink is about the only thing it hasn’t got -- but it is eye-catching and possessing one definitely says something about the owner... We’re not exactly sure what that is, but Sony know their customers well and judging by the reaction of a lot of people who have see it, it’s going to sell like hot cakes. 


Any unique features: The CD section has a set of features called DJ Mix which ‘loops’ and ‘flashes’ during replay, and the colourful display can be made to wink in tune to the music in a variety of ways. Five Sony badges seem a bit over the top! The main unit has been designed to look like a stack of separate components but only the turntable on the top is a stand-alone device. However, it’s the main speakers which really grab your attention. It’s difficult to say what they look like; styling cues appear to have been borrowed from Wurlitzer jukeboxes, old refrigerators and manhole covers.  


How does it perform: It’s not clear how much of a contribution the shape of the speakers play in the final sound, but it’s big and beefy, with plenty of low-down rumble on tap. The Dolby Pro Logic operation seems to have a relatively minor role to play, it occupies just half of one page in the 52 page instruction booklet. Frontal resolution is fine, effects are crisp and well defined; loud, dynamic sounds are very well presented. Dialogue is sharply focused and sounds move smoothly across the soundfield, the rear channel struggles a bit though and sometimes has difficulty keeping up. Karaoke and the 5-CD autochanger are great for parties, though simply playing a few tracks on a single disc can be a lot of bother. CD sound is fine, well disposed to heavy rock, subtle pieces fare less well, with treble frequencies sounding a little muddy at times. The tuner, tape player and turntable all turned in respectable, middle of the road performances.


Our Verdict: It’s very loud, in all senses of the word. You’re either going to love or hate the way it looks. The sound is less contentious, it stacks up reasonably well against most other mid-market midi hi-fi systems. The source components all do a fairly good job, though the industrial-strength sound coming from those cavernous speakers is more at home with movie soundtracks, rock and pop. In the end it all depends on your priorities, if uncomplicated and uncompromising hi-fi performance is top of the list forget it; on the other hand, if you’re after a system that can turn its hand to almost any home entertainment job, including being a conversation piece, you’re looking at it!




Features                     midi hi-fi system with Dolby Pro Logic processor, DSP, karaoke facility, 5-CD autochanger, twin auto-reverse cassette decks, AM/FM tuner with RDS , turntable, clock, alarm, sleep timer, CD replay effects (‘flash’, ‘loop’ ‘wave’), super woofer, high-speed dubbing, 2 x 120 watts RMS (right & left stereo), 42 watts (centre), 2 x 21 watts (rear)

Sockets                       line-audio and phono input (phono), speakers & AM loop aerial (spring terminals), FM aerial (coaxial)

Dimensions                 355 x 425 x 435 mm, including turntable


Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ***                 

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ****



Aiwa Z-VR950            £600            n/t


Sony UK, telephone 0181-784 1144



THOMSON VPH-6790, £500


Why’s it here: VCR manufacturers have been falling over themselves lately to trim prices and cram in more features on their budget NICAM model ranges. That has resulted in a comparative scarcity of new top-end machines, with designers finding it harder to come up with new features, to justify top-end price tags. At just under £500 the Thomson VPH-6790 has a certain novelty value, though it is an interesting machine in its own right. Previous Thomson VCRs have tended to be noticed more for their looks than anything else,  with the Philipe Starck designed cabinets overshadowing sometimes lacklustre innards. Starck’s hand is still clearly evident but this time style takes a back seat to substance.


Any unique features: This is the first VCR we’ve seen for a while to have an NTSC recording facility, though it cannot transcode, the input signal needs to be NTSC as well. We’re not exactly sure what it’s good for -- copying NTSC Laserdiscs to tape springs to mind -- however, copyright issues aside, the audio track is mono, so it won’t be of much interest to home cinema fans. The nifty control ball remote and the rolling-ball on-screen graphics are a lot of fun and easy to use , though be warned the display depends on a SCART-to-SCART connection to the TV, which must have RGB input facilities


How does it perform: The 6790 comes with a fully-wired Type-U SCART lead and since it doesn’t have an RF output, the mandatory AV/RGB connection ensures a clean picture and exceptionally crisp graphics. The auto install system is very efficient and quite entertaining -- thanks again to the ball graphics --  it also sets the time and date, and is ready to go in just a couple of minutes. Resolution is nudging 250-lines, chroma and luminance noise levels are a little below average and picture stability -- in all replay modes - is very steady. The editing facility works well -- it can be programmed to replay up to five designated scenes, whilst controlling the record-pause mode on a second compatible VCR, though surprisingly the two thick manuals go into very little detail.  The stereo soundtracks have a wide uncoloured response and only moderate background hiss; auto-tracking is fast and accurate with no switching noise evident during our tests.


Our Verdict: The 6790 is clearly aimed at the international market, though the versatile multi-band tuner and multi-standard record and replay facilities will probably only appeal to a relatively small number of users. That kind of flexibility normally attracts a hefty premium, however, the 6790 is only slightly dearer than similarly-equipped  single-standard VCRs. It’s a competent enough home cinema machine -- satellite control and multi-brand TV remotes are always welcome. There’s a few useful movie-making facilities too, and the Starck name has an undoubted cachet, so if you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary it’s worth investigating.  



Features                     auto installation and clock set, NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, multi-system operation including NTSC record and play, SECAM, multi-band tuner, Video Plus+ with PDC, satellite control, multi-brand TV remote, audio dub, insert edit, sequence edit (5 scene program play), child lock,

Sockets                       2 x SCART AV in/out, front AV in, line audio in/out (phono), microphone & headphone (jack)

Dimensions                 440 x 99 x 321mm


Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ****



Akai VS-G815   £480            HE35

JVC HR935                £500            HE42

Toshiba V857             £450            HE48


Thomson Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-344 4444



MTS-100 Multimedia Home Theatre System, £200


Why’s it here: It wasn’t so long ago that the only sound most PCs could make was a feeble bleep, and then only when something went wrong. These days they come equipped with stereo audio systems as standard, bringing them into line with the high quality stereo sound available from most dedicated games consoles.  Most PC and console games and multimedia CD ROMs have stereo sound, but a growing number now have Dolby Surround encoded effects as well. Until fairly recently the only way to get at those effects was to hook-up the PC or games console to a home cinema system.


Any unique features: Fitting a Dolby Pro Logic decoder and multi channel amplifier inside a sub-woofer isn’t exactly a new idea, integrated home cinema systems have been around for a while, but designing a surround sound system specifically for PCs and games consoles is a fairly new idea. It’s mostly to do with the packaging and cosmetics though -- cream coloured boxes instead of black -- and pre-terminated cables, which simplify installation. There’s no remote control either, though the main unit will be close to the user in most cases. The speaker layout for multimedia surround is slightly different, using a phantom centre channel, and front stereo and effects speakers grouped together.


How does it perform: Compared with most home cinema DPL systems, this one looks pretty weedy on paper. There’s only 6 watts RMS going to each of the front channels, 2 x 4 watts to the effects channel and 15 watts to the sub. However, you’re likely to be sitting no more than a foot or two from the speakers, so it’s plenty loud. The speakers stop some way short of hi-fi quality, but in comparison with the dreadful little squeak boxes supplied with most multimedia PCs, they’re a revelation. The sub-woofer is a fairly lightweight affair, but again, any bass has to be better than nothing, (which is what you get from most bog-standard PC sound systems).  The outfit is supplied comes with two CD ROMs with Dolby Surround soundtracks; the results are impressive, with plenty of movement and localisation of effects; just about every other program we tried it with also sounded more interesting.


Our Verdict: If you play a lot of shoot-em-up games with Dolby Surround sound effects then the MTS-100 or one of the rival 3D sound systems is probably already on your shopping list. Sound is an increasingly important component in gameplay and Dolby Surround stands the best chance of becoming the de-facto standard. Unlike most PC peripherals, it’s also very easy to install. Worth considering, though if you mainly use your PC for boring stuff like word processing, company accounts and applications with little or no audio content then there’s nothing to be gained.


MTS-100 Multimedia Home Theatre System

Features                     Dolby Pro Logic processor and amplifier sub-woofer, 5-magnetically-shielded  speakers, supplied with pre-wired cables

Sockets                       speaker and line in (minijack), DC power in

Dimensions                 200 x 330 x 260 (main unit)


Sound Quality            4

Build Quality              4

Features                     3

Ease of use                 4

Overall value              3



Multimedia Labs TC1680 ‘3D’ sound system            £190

Philips MX900 DPL upgrade kit                             £230

GB Consultancy, telephone (01869) 233200



Mitsubishi HS-750, £330


Why’s it here: In VCR marketing-speak the HS-750 is an entry-level NICAM machine. This is the one salespeople will try to talk you out of buying, in favour of a dearer ‘step-up’ model. Don’t let that put you off. Cheap doesn’t necessarily mean basic, at least not as far as Mitsubishi VCRs are concerned, nor do they compromise on picture quality. In fact the only things missing are a few added-value features, like satellite control, front AV sockets and a multi-brand remote control, all of which can be found on its stablemate, the HS-761.   


Any unique features: The only unusual things about the HS-750 are the price and specification. Few VCRs in this segment  have tape optimisation, NTSC replay in stereo, or multi-speed replay. However, it’s the other little extras that make it special. Rental mode adjusts sharpness and colour saturation according to the type of material (animation, movies or sport). The remote handset is rather nifty; colour-coded buttons are tied in with the on-screen display: green for menu settings, blue for VideoPlus+  and Magenta for one-key timer programming. Rental playback automatically rewinds the tape to the start, then fast winds to the start of the soundtrack, and starts playback. At the end it rewinds and ejects the tape.


How does it perform: The auto set-up routine is fairly relaxed, it took several minutes to sort out all the locally available stations, set the time and date. It had no difficulty with Channel 5 and despite a slightly weaker signal, it looked as good as the BBC and ITV channels. Picture resolution was bang-on 250-lines with the sharpness control mid-way; the picture looks clean, with plenty of fine detail. Colours fidelity is good, though there was some very slight bleeding on highly saturated reds. Noise levels are about average, though once again bright reds were a tad busy. The tape optimiser does help, though. There’s a noticeable reduction in noise and colour bleed virtually disappears on high-grade tapes. Multi-speed replay is very steady and it is possible to get noiseless still frame and slomo. Stereo sound is crisp, background hiss is no worse than usual, it is there but it’s not intrusive at normal listening levels.


Our Verdict: Picture and sound performance are well up to the standard required for a home cinema source component. Features like NTSC replay with hi-fi stereo sound and the tape-optimiser are the not sort of thing you expect to find on a NICAM VCR costing less than £350. Okay, maybe it didn’t spend very long in the styling department but it’s still a great little machine. Don’t go letting smart-talking salespeople talk you into spending any more. If all you want is a good quality, no-frills NICAM VCR at a very sensible price, this one should be on your short-list.


Mitsubishi HS-750

Features                     4-head NICAM, VideoPlus+ with PDC, auto set-up, tape optimiser, variable-speed playback, NTSC playback (with hi-fi sound), parental lock, rental playback, repeat playback

Sockets                       2 x SCART AV, line audio output (phono),

Dimensions                 380 x 92 x 305 mm  


Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            4

Build Quality              4

Features                     5

Ease of use                 4

Overall value              5



Akai VS-G875   £350            n/t

Hitachi VT-F660    £380            HE 48

JVC HR-D645   £350            HE 48


Mitsubishi Electric UK, telephone (01707) 276100





Citizen VCD2000, £750 (including car fitting kit)


Why’s it here: Video CD, remember them? Despite the imminent arrival of DVD the first digital video disc format still has a few loyal fans. Citizen are clearly hoping that anyone with a collection of discs loves them so much, they will want to watch them in their car. That’s one possibility. A less charitable view might be that they’ve got a few personal Video CD players kicking around, and some LCD monitor screens, left over from the days when they weren’t a standard fitment on camcorders. Add a car fixing kit with power adaptor and hey-presto, one mobile Video CD system.


Any unique features: The CBM-888V player looks pretty much like any other personal CD deck, indeed it will also play audio CDs. It sits on top of an anti-vibration mount, kept in place with a couple of Velcro stickers. The mounting platform is attached to a flexible goose-neck. The monitor screen obviously had a former life as a camcorder accessory, it even comes with a heavy-duty folding sun-shield. It lives on top of a second shorter goose-neck, that is also included in the car-fixing kit. A connecting cable carries DC power and the video signal to the monitor. Audio output is piped into the car stereo using an adaptor cassette.


How does it perform: Our sample was not a happy bunny; at first the display was rather noisy but a light tap on the case cured that. It also refused to have anything to do with at least one of our test discs. On those it would play the picture on the LCD screen was quite coarse, with a narrow vertical viewing angle -- probably a hangover from it’s earlier life as a camcorder monitor screen. Colours are quite harsh but they’re reasonably bright and well defined. The screen doesn’t take too kindly to movement, it leaves a quite pronounced after image. Because the screen is so small, with limited resolution, with its own vision artefacts, any generated by the player are barely noticeable.  Stereo audio coming off the disc is clean, background noise levels are low, however, in the end audio quality will depend on the car stereo, or headphones it is used with. The anti vibration mount does its best, but even the slightest movement makes the picture freeze.


Our Verdict: Doubtless someone somewhere has been looking for a way to play their Video CDs in a car, but they had better make sure it’s parked up when they use it as the deck is so unstable to be almost unusable in a moving vehicle. This kind of semi-permanent installation can also cause security problems; removing the screen and deck every time you leave the car is a chore. Picture quality is poor and the viewing angles are quite restrictive, making it difficult for more than one person at a time to see the screen. Laptop Video CD players like the Goldstar/Philips models are a far more satisfactory solution.


Citizen VCD2000

Features                     portable CD Video player and earphones, plus 3.5-inch LCD monitor screen and car fixing kit

Sockets                       AV in/out (minijacks), DC power, car cigar lighter plug    

Dimensions                 170 x 135 x 45 mm


Picture Quality            3

Sound Quality            3

Build Quality              3

Features                     3

Ease of use                 4

Overall value              3



Playing ‘eye-spy’     free

Counting cones   free

Goldstar GPI-1200    £1300            HE36


Citizen UK, telephone (01869) 233200




Philips MX900 Dolby Pro Logic Upgrade Kit, £230


Why’s it here: No need to ask if you’ve been put off the idea of home cinema by the prospect of extra black boxes and wires all over the place. Maybe you’re happy with your present TV and hi-fi system, and don’t fancy buying a load more expensive kit. It could be that your living-room is fairly compact, and even if you had the space, a high-powered audio system would be inappropriate. There is obviously a market for a simple upgrade, that can be used with AV existing components; it’s not a new idea, but Philips can take credit for producing the cheapest package to date.


Any unique features: Putting the amplifier and DPL processor into the centre-speaker is a first, it’s small enough to fit on top of the TV, or a shelf underneath. An adjustable foot on the back tips it up or down, top deflect the sound. There are 3 switchable inputs and all of the main functions can be controlled from the remote handset. Cables are pre-wired to the two rear channel speakers, which simplifies installation, and they also have adjustable stands/fixings. Connections to the source components are easy enough, but the right and left channel outputs may pose problems, you will need a NICAM TV with line-audio input, or a hi-fi system, with speakers that can be placed either side of the TV.  


How does it perform: Philips have sensibly refrained from making too many performance claims. The right and left stereo channels are effectively out of the system’s hands; external components can have an equal, if not greater impact on sound quality. This also makes it difficult to talk about system balance and the shape of the soundstage, suffice it to say it should be at its best with stereo TVs or amps with a power rating similar to the MX900. We came to the MX900 with no great expectations, but the results were quite encouraging. Dolby Pro-Logic resolution is pretty good; centre-channel dialogue is sharp and detailed, and rear-channel effects are well defined, though the smallish speakers have to be driven quite hard. The centre and rear effects channels have limited bass duties, so we can’t really comment on that, once again shifting the onus to other components in the system.


Our Verdict: The MX900 has the potential to turn a NICAM TV and VCR into a quite reasonable-sounding Dolby Pro Logic system, but it can’t make a silk purse out of a sows ear, sonically speaking. There’s little or no point trying to use it with a small, underpowered NICAM TV or a thin-sounding audio system; equally, more powerful hi-fis, and, to some extent, a few of the beefier large-screen TVs,  could leave it gasping for breath. Philips have got it about right, and it should fit in easily with a lot of mid-market products, providing a quick, simple and affordably priced upgrade path. 


Philips MX900 Pro Logic Upgrade Kit

Features                     integrated Dolby Pro Logic processor, 2 x 25 watt RMS  amplifier and centre-channel speaker, (rear channel speakers and cables supplied),  input channel switching, remote control

Sockets                       line audio in/out (phono), external speakers (spring terminals)

Dimensions                 160 x 420 x 225mm


Sound Quality            3

Build Quality              3

Features                     4

Ease of use                 4

Overall value              3



Celestion HTiB, £750            HE36

Goodmans GCH-40            £300            HE36

Sony SA-VA15   £400            HE36


Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444




Ó R. Maybury 1997, 0107


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