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PANASONIC NV-DX100, £2000

 

Whyís it here: The gap between home video movie making and professional, broadcast quality video recording has been narrowing with each passing year but the arrival of the DVC digital videocassette format has closed it altogether. Nevertheless, most of the DVC machines launched so far have been targeted at the top-end of the enthusiast market, until now. The Panasonic NV-DX100, a development of the excellent NV-DS5, crosses the divide. This is the first £2000 camcorder to have the kind of features and performance, previously only available on professional machines, costing up to ten times as much. In spite of that, it is no more difficult to use than budget-priced family machines, moreover it is small enough to slip into a coat pocket. The days of fuzzy home video movies are coming to an end, and hereís one way of filling all those hundreds of digital TV channels weíve been promised...

 

Any unique features: Behind that substantial-looking lens thereís not one, but three CCD image sensors, one for each primary colour. Triple CCD sensors are a standard feature on professional and studio video cameras, they improve colour accuracy and rendition no end, and have a big impact on noise levels. They also help low light performance and because of the way the pixels overlap, thereís also a small but worthwhile increase in resolution, compared with single-chip cameras. The DX100 has a full set of automatic and programmed exposure facilities -- even your old granny can use it -- but there are manual controls as well, so it can cope with just about any kind of lighting situation, and to help with the exposure thereís a facility called Ďzebra patterní. Itís a common feature on pro-cameras, that superimposes a cross-hatch pattern on over-exposed areas of the image, simplifying manual adjustment. On the top of the machine thereís a conventional colour viewfinder and on the side thereís a 2.5-inch fold-out colour LCD monitor screen, for on the spot playback, with sound. It will also face forward, for self recording (the image is automatically inverted).

 

Sound quality is broadcast quality too, it has a choice of two 12-bit PCM digital stereo soundtracks, one of which can be dubbed, or one 16-bit stereo soundtrack, that compares favourably with CD audio. Thereís a comprehensive set of editing facilities, and an industry-standard FireWire digital output, for no-loss transfer of digital video to PCs and digital editing equipment.

 

How does it perform: It hits you straight away. Whereas colours on a recording made using an ordinary camcorder -- even some other digital machines -- can appear flat and uniform, the DX100 manages to render the broad range of subtle shades that occur in nature. Colours have an added depth and vibrancy that you rarely see on a normal video recording. It is particularly noticeable on skin-tones, which are notoriously difficult to capture on video. Resolution is close to the 500-line benchmark for DVC equipment but it is the almost complete absence of noise that really makes the difference. It has the same crisp quality as a good live TV outside broadcast, with pin-sharp registration, cleanly defined edges and lack of smearing in areas of high contrast or saturation. Forward sensitivity is good on the front-mounted microphone, though the stereo image is quite shallow and disappears altogether a few metres from the microphone. This can be easily remedied using an external microphone though. The response is wide and flat but once again itís the lack of noise that distinguishes the DX100 soundtracks from that of lesser machines, and even the theoretically lower quality 12-bit soundtracks blow the socks off analogue camcorder sound recording systems.

 

Our Verdict: Panasonic lost out on the first wave of digital camcorders but its clear they were not wasting their time. The NV-DS5, their first compact, pocket size machine, launched a couple of years after JVC and Sony, drew on the best features of those first generation machines. It was hard to see how Panasonic could improve on it, but they have. This remarkable little machine brings professional, broadcast quality video recording within reach of the home movie maker for the first time. Itís small, easy to use, capable of quite outstanding results, and at just £2000, theyíre virtually giving it away!

 

PANASONIC NV-DX100

 

Features                     12x optical zoom, 24x/120x digital zoom, 3 x 0.25in CCD image sensors, 1-lux (gain up mode), SP/LP recording speed,  manual/auto focus, exposure & white balance, 3-mode program AE, audio dub, image stabiliser, time/date recording,  high-speed shutter (14-speed up to 1/8000th sec), record review, retake, tally lamp, photo shoot mode,  zebra pattern, audio level recording control, digital effects (wipe, mix, strobe, gain-up, B&W), AE lock, 0.6 in colour LCD, 2.5-inch LCD monitor, stereo digital sound (1 x 16-bit stereo/ 2 x 12 bit stereo), wind noise filter, time and data code recording

           

Sockets                       DV output jack (IEEE 1394 FireWire), microphone

(minijack) AV out/DC power in (proprietary multi-pin connector)

Dimensions                 80 x 105 x 192mm

 

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            5

Build Quality              5

Features                     5

Ease of use                 5

Overall value              5

 

Competitors

Sharp VL-DC1    £2000

Sony DCR-PC7     £2000

Sony DCR-TRV7  £2000

 

Panasonic UK, telephone (0990) 357357

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

Behind that big lens thereís a 3-CCD image sensor, for sharper, more detailed colours and improved definition

 

The small 2.5-inch LCD monitor screen on the side can be used for on-the-spot playback or self recording

 

Itís small enough to slip into a coat pocket and packs easily in weekend luggage

 

Thereís only a handful of controls to worry about, all of the secondary features -- and thereís plenty of then --are accessed from a menu-driven on-screen display

 

HEAD

BUSH PRO251 DOLBY PRO LOGIC UPGRADE KIT, £150

 

Whyís it here: Bush are following hard on the heels of Philips, who first came up with the idea of a low-cost Dolby Pro-Logic home cinema upgrade kit, earlier this year. Like the MX900, the DPL decoder and amplifiers are built into the centre-channel speaker enclosure. Everything is included so it is a quick and simple way of adding surround-sound to an existing TV and NICAM VCR set-up. However, what sets this system apart from all of its rivals is the extraordinarily low price. In fact it is cheaper than most budget home cinema speaker packages, let alone a complete system.

 

Any unique features: Unlike the Philips kit this one includes a pair of bookshelf-size  front stereo speakers, so there really is nothing more to buy. Bush also supply a rather elaborate twin SCART to double phono lead, to simplify installation on TVs and VCRs that do not have separate audio line output sockets. Only the centre channel speaker is magnetically shielded, so care needs to be taken with speaker placement, to avoid causing colour staining on the TV screen. All key functions can be controlled from the remote handset, though the paucity of front-panel indicators means itís not always obvious whatís going on.

 

How does it perform: With so few indicators it can be quite difficult to set up, indeed you have to listen quite hard to make sure that level control commands from the remote handset have been received. It is remarkably cheap, so itís unfair to expect too much, but the good news is that centre channel dialogue is very crisp, and the frontal soundstage is well defined. Rear channel localisation is a bit muddy though, and louder sounds that should only heard from the rear speakers bleed through to the front channels. The big problem though, is the front stereo speakers, which start to distort when the volume gets past the halfway point. With only modest power levels to play with, this means it never really manages to get going, and with no bass to speak of, the impact of loud dynamic effects are almost complete lost. 

 

Our Verdict: Itís not too bad in a small space -- a bedroom or bedsit, perhaps -- and itís a step-up from basic NICAM sound on a budget stereo TV. However, the price says it all. This is not serious home cinema, though substituting the stereo speakers for a something a bit more substantial might help.

 

BUSH PRO251

 

Features                     Dolby Pro Logic and Dolby 3 decoder, 2 x 15 watts RMS (right and left), 1 x 15 watts  (centre), 2 x 7.5 watts (rear), 3 selectable inputs, test tone, remote control and adaptor leads supplied

Sockets                       line audio in (phono), speaker outputs (spring terminals)

Dimensions                 345 x 65 x 85 mm (main unit)     

 

Sound Quality            3

Build Quality              3

Features                     3

Ease of use                 4

Overall value              4

 

Competitors

Celestion HTiB   £749            HE46

Philips MX900             £230            HEXX

Sony SA-VA15   £400            HE36

 

Bush, telephone (01923) 859777

 

CAPTIONS

A bank of six phono sockets on the left side are for the three switchable line audio inputs whilst speaker connections are handled by the spring terminals on the left

 

Controls and indicators are few and far between in fact thereís just one power on LED plus mode and input lights

 

HEAD

BUSH TRAVEL MATE 5, 5-INCH COLOUR TV, £180

 

Whyís it here: You might well ask, especially in a magazine stuffed to the rafters with large screen TVs.  But even home cinema enthusiasts have holidays, some of them spent in caravans, boats or tents. The Bush Travel Mate 5, 5-inch colour TV is just the job for whiling away those long lazy evenings, keeping up with your favourite TV programmes. It has a dual-band VHF/UHF tuner, to pull in local TV channels, should your travels happen to take you abroad. The set can be powered by a mains adaptor or 12 volt DC car power cord, both are included along with a ceiling mounting bracket.

 

Any unique features: Itís been a while since we last came across a TV with a manual tuner, but the large knob on the side is easy to use, and thereís a channel scale, of sorts on the front. The sets depends on the built-in telescopic antenna -- thereís no external aerial socket -- but it does have an earphone jack, and a set of audio and video inputs, so it can be connected up to a camcorder. Controls are limited to on/off volume, band select and tuning. Thereís a set of pesets for colour, contrast and brightness. A fold-out stand on the base tilts the screen for table-top viewing

 

How does it perform: Small screen displays almost always look bright and colourful, itís only when you get close you can spot the deficiencies. The picture is reasonably crisp, though the phosphor stripe pattern becomes quite noticeable at viewing distances of less than half a metre or so. The main problem with our sample was the brightness range, or rather the lack of it. In order to get a watchable picture it had to be left on maximum, leaving nothing in reserve for outdoor viewing, or in a brightly-lit room. We suspect this is down to factory misalignment. The tuner is amazingly sensitive, it gave the cleanest C5 picture weíve ever seen, and that was without having to waggle the aerial, so it should do well in out of the way places. Sound quality is pretty much what  you would expect from a two-inch speaker on the side of a thin plastic cabinet.

 

Our Verdict: Itís not as cute, or as portable as battery-powered pocket LCD TVs, though most of them have much smaller screens. Two people could just about watch this one. A handy little travelling companion that will work almost anywhere, and a good way of finding out whatís on Channel 5...

 

BUSH TRAVEL MATE 5

 

Features                     5-inch screen, VHF/UHF rotary tuner, built-in carry handle and tilt stand, telescopic aerial, car power cord supplied, TV/monitor operation

Sockets                       AV in (phono) earphone (mini jack), DC Power

Dimensions                 265 x 170 x 180mm

 

Picture Quality            4

Sound Quality            3

Build Quality              3

Features                     3

Ease of use                 4

Overall value              3

 

Competitors

Casio TV8700 4-in LCD                     £280

Thomson 10MG73 (10-inch CTV)             £230

 

Bush, telephone (01923) 859777

 

CAPTIONS

The tuning scale is just below the screen, a large rotary tuning knob is mounted on the side. A small fold-out stand on the base tilts the screen upwards, for table-top viewing

 

The two phono sockets handle video and audio inputs, from a camcorder or VCR, thereís an earphone jack for personal listening. The socket on the right side is for the external mains adaptor or car-power cord

 

HEAD

SHARP VC-MH69 NICAM VCR, £300

 

Whyís it here: As recently as a couple of couple of years ago the idea that major European and Japanese manufacturers would be selling NICAM VCRs for less than £300 would have seemed far-fetched. Admittedly only a handful of companies have machines that cheap at the moment -- most of the action is in the £350 to £400 price band -- but itís a measure of how fast and how far the market is moving, that Sharp have piled in with a budget machine, that would easily qualify as a well specified mid-market model, selling for another £100 or so.

 

Any unique features: The one that stands out is Post Code Security. Itís a clever idea, that should allow a few more stolen VCRs to be returned to their rightful owners. The new owner programs the machine with their post code. Every time it is  turned on it displays the code for 5 seconds; it can only be removed or changed using the ownerís personal PIN code. Satellite control linked to the Video Plus timer, a multi-brand TV remote control and front mounted AV sockets are not exactly unusual, itís just weíve never seen them all together before on a £300 VCR!

 

How does it perform: Installation and set-up are fully automatic, though the rather densely-written instruction book makes heavy weather of what should be a simple, unthreatening procedure. Normally an apparently over-generous feature list means corners have been cut somewhere. If so then theyíve been very well hidden on the MH69. Picture quality is exceptional for such a low-cost VCR; resolution was just under 250 lines and picture noise levels are well below average, resulting in a clean, detailed image, with well-defined, accurate colours. Still frame and slow-motion are both very steady. Noise levels on the stereo soundtracks are no worse than most other sub-£400 VCRs, otherwise the response is even with little or no colouration. The only small gripe concerns the front panel display, that for some reason has been deeply recessed. The digits and characters are not very large to begin with, this makes them even harder to see.

 

Our Verdict: Usually we expect to find something of consequence to grumble about on a suspiciously cheap VCR, but not this time. The MH69 is an excellent little machine, that meets all the basic requirements for home cinema operation, with one or two features to spare, and itís a bargain!

 

SHARP VC-MH69

 

Features                     NICAM stereo sound Video Plus+ timer with PDC satellite control, auto install with channel sort and clock set, NTSC replay, audio dub, child lock, multi-brand TV remote     

Sockets                       rear: 2 x SCART AV, line audio out, (phono); front:  AV input (phono)

Dimensions                 360 x 286 x 94mm

 

Picture Quality            4

Sound Quality            4

Build Quality              4

Features                     4

Ease of use                 4

Overall value              5

 

Competitors

Aiwa HV-FX3800            £300

Philips VR675            £300

Sanyo VHR-777      £300

 

Sharp UK Ltd., telephone 0161-205 2333

 

CAPTIONS

A businesslike front panel, the rotary shuttle speed control is a good idea, the deeply recessed display less so, itís small and very difficult to see

 

A more or less routine line up of AV socketry with twin SCART connectors and a pair of phono sockets for stereo line audio output

 

HEAD

PANASONIC NV-HD620, £380

 

Whyís it here: The NV-HD620 is the about as close as Panasonic will ever get to a budget NICAM video recorder. It is perhaps more appropriate to refer to it as entry-level machine. Theyíre a peculiar breed, they tend to be quite sparsely equipped models, that have been designed to help salespeople Ďsell-upí prospective customers to better equipped models in the range. Not that thereís been any compromise on picture and sound quality, or ease of operation in this instance. The HD620 shares the same deck mechanism and a number of key electronic components with several other models, higher up the range. 

 

Any unique features: Not one, not even NexTViewLink, though you may not have come across this one before. Itís part of an industry-wide strategy, to allow VCRs and TVs to communicate with one another, via the SCART cable link. Eventually it will be used for things like electronic programme guides (EPG) when multi-channel digital TV gets off the ground but at the moment itís used to download tuner data from the TV to the VCR -- for faster installation -- and ĎDirect TV Recí, where pressing one button on the remote automatically records whatever channel youíre watching on TV. This trick works with Sony SmartLink, Philips EasyLink and Grundig Megalogic TVs.

 

How does it perform: Auto installation is a little sluggish but it gets there in the end, sorting channels into the logical order and setting the time and date on the way. One clear indication of the machineís pedigree is the unusually agile deck mechanism. Switching from fast forward picture search to reverse picture search takes only a second or so, with negligible on-screen disturbance, and no grinding or clunking noises. Picture stability is outstanding and the resolution of just under 250-lines is close to the limits of the VHS formatís performance envelope. Picture noise levels are typically very low, colour fidelity and registration are very good, again in line with more expensive Panasonic VCRs. Still frame and slow-motion are both steady. Some background hiss is evident on the stereo soundtracks but itís not excessive and offset by the wide dynamic range, with a near flat response.

 

Our Verdict: Itís not what you would call a particularly exciting machine. Audio and video performance are both well up to the kind of standard weíve come to expect from Panasonic NICAM VCRs, but thatís about it. It has few, if any home cinema related convenience features, and the price is not particularly competitive.

 

PANASONIC NV-HD620

 

Features                     NICAM stereo sound Video Plus+ timer with PDC, auto installation, channel sort and clock set, NexTViewLink, TV remote functions (Panasonic VCRs only)

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

Dimensions                 430 x 100 x 319

 

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            4

Build Quality              4

Features                     3

Ease of use                 3

Overall value              4

 

Competitors

JVC HR-DD845            £400

Mitsubishi HS-761            £350

Philips VR668            £400

 

Panasonic UK Ltd., telephone (0990) 357357

 

CAPTIONS

Smooth, low-key styling and a large easy to read display makes the HD620 reasonably easy to live with

 

Twin SCART sockets and a pair of line audio output sockets, everything needed for a basic home cinema installation

 

---end---

” R. Maybury 1997, 2810

 

 

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