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Sharp 25-inch Dolby Pro Logic TV, £700

 

Whyís it here: Sharp are fairly recent members of the Dolby Pro Logic TV club, but theyíve hit the ground running with this smart-looking 25-inch model, priced at £700. (There are also two other models in the range, with 21 and 28-inch screens). Their timing is impeccable, the market for surround-sound TVs is really starting to take off, particularly in the UK, and screen sizes of 25 to 28 inches are proving to be the most popular. Theyíve done their homework too, as far as facilities and styling are concerned, moreover the keen pricing puts them ahead of the pack.

 

Any unique features: The 59-CSD8H is the first DPL set weíve seen to come with itís own external sub-woofer, and itís unusual in having separate front channel speakers as well; all three slot neatly into the supplied stand console. On-screen graphics are very eye-catching, menus slide smoothly from the bottom and sides of the screen, Ďhelpí messages and connection diagrams appear during the initial set-up and picture or sound adjustments. The fastext decoder has an ingenious programme guide facility, that shows whatís currently on channels 1 to 4, and thereís a double text page mode, with two compressed pages appearing on the screen at the same time. DPL surround sound is augmented by a range of digitally-processed surround modes, for non Dolby material.

 

How does it perform: The initial set-up is fast and efficient, placing all locally available channels in the logical order. Tuner sensitivity is good, it even managed to pull in a halfway decent signal on Channel 5, which is noticeably weaker than the other four in the South London area. The picture control menu has a number of advanced options, including noise reduction, sharpness, tint and black stretch, though with the exception of the last one, the picture looked a lot better with them all switched off. An automatic picture control system adjusts brightness and contrast, according to ambient lighting conditions; itís a bit hit and miss, in the end it was easier to leave it on manual.

 

The picture is clean and well-defined with very little noise; after a bit of fiddling around with the controls, colours were bright and natural-looking. In spite of the fairly modest amplifier output it will fill an average-sized living room without too much trouble. Surprisingly the sub-woofer is quite effective, providing a satisfying background rumble. Overall sound quality is very good, especially with the front satellite speakers placed a foot or two either side of the screen. Dolby Pro Logic operation is fine on pre-recorded tapes and good off-air broadcasts, though if thereís any kind of glitch in the source material, rather than default to stereo, it presses on regardless, with odd noises coming from the speakers. The four-channel text programme guide is an excellent idea, weíre really surprised Sharp donít make more of it.  

 

Our Verdict: Normally we expect to find one or two rough edges to grumble about but itís hard to find fault with this TV, without getting really picky about things like the colour and position of the buttons on the remote handset.  Picture quality is good but what really stands out is the detailed, well-rounded sound, with extra bass impact provided by the sub-woofer. It really does makes a difference. Add to that some genuinely useful text facilities and the nifty on-screen display, and youíve got what could turn out to be one of, if not the best 25-inch DPL TVs of 1997!

 

Sharp 59CS-D8H

Features                     58cm black matrix FST, Dolby Pro Logic, club, live, church, hall, stadium  & theatre DPS modes, fastext with double page display, front AV terminal, cabinet with sub-woofer supplied, auto installation with on-line , on/off timer, child lock, automatic picture control, interactive help, 16:9 display

 

Sockets             rear: 2 x SCART AV, front, centre and rear speakers (2-pin DINs), aerial in (coaxial). Front: composite video and stereo line audio in (phono), S-Video in (mini DIN), headphone (minijack)       

Dimensions            695 x 537 x 431mm 

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            *****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     *****

Overall value              *****

 

Competitors               

JVC AV25SX1EK             £700             HE37

Sony KV-25FU2 £800            HE39

Toshiba 2557DB            £750            n/t       

 

Sharp Electronics UK telephone 0161-205 2333

 

 

HEAD

JVC GV-PT2 Video Printer, £500

 

Whyís it here: You probably think you need a video printer like you need a hole in the head but you might just change your mind after seeing this one in action. Itís designed to partner JVCís new GR-DVM1 digital camcorder, but it will work with any PAL video source, including regular camcorders, and those digital still cameras that are popping up all over the place. Video snaps currently work out at just under £1 each, but if you need to get a near-photographic quality image on paper fast, this is the way to do it.

 

Any unique features: As video printers go this one is fairly basic, but itís also incredibly compact, the footprint is actually smaller than a sheet of A4 paper. Thereís a parallel port on the back, for connection to a PC, control software is included with the DVM1 camcorder. The dye sublimation printing system is theoretically capable of reproducing the full compliment of 16.7 million colours, graphics and titles can be superimposed on the prints and thereís a variety of layout options, including ones for business cards, calendars and video cassette labels. The paper cartridge holds up to 25 sheets and each postcard-sized (110 x 85mm) image takes around 90 seconds to print.

 

How does it perform: The incoming image is displayed on a TV or monitor screen (or PC, with the appropriate software and connections), it can be frozen at any time by pressing the memory button. Thereís a choice of single or multiple frames (1, 4 or 16), with the same image, of they can be strobed from moving video or captured sequentially; layout can be landscape or portrait. When youíre satisfied with the picture, punch the print button and the print mechanism whirrs into life. The print paper makes three passes beneath a thermal printing head, transferring heat-sensitive inks from a thin plastic film, to the print paper. 

 

Video printing systems like this one are still noticeably inferior to conventional silver halide chemical photography, even when compared with cheap single-use cameras. The fine detail simply isnít there. A video image contains a fraction of the information that is captured on photographic film. Nevertheless, prints look quite good at a distance, thereís no evidence of any line-structure, but colours tend to appear rather flat, and the closer you get the Ďsofterí  it starts to look. The comparatively narrow range of contrast in video printing means scenes and subjects need to be very well lit, even when the image is taken using a high-performance digital camera or camcorder. However, with care the results can be quite acceptable and although Ďinstantí picture systems like Polaroid produce immeasurably sharper pictures, they cannot compete with the recording, archiving and image manipulation possibilities of video.

 

Our Verdict: It would be a mistake to portray this is an alternative to a film camera system. Itís not, by any stretch of the imagination. This is a whole new field of image processing, where relatively low quality is not a drawback, and the speed and flexibility of video image capture is an advantage. Itís a fairly specialist device, obvious uses like producing photo identity badges, advertising flyers and personelle records spring to mind, but the lowish price puts it with reach of enthusiasts and digital dabblers, who are sure to find a whole range of new and interesting applications.

 

JVC GV-PT2

 

Features                     PC interface, parallel port, graphic and title superimposition, single and multiple print facility, automatic sheet feeding (25 print capacity), print speed 90 seconds per copy

Sockets                       video in (phono & S-Video) video out (phono), remote pause & JLIP  (minijack), parallel port (25-pin D-sub)

Dimensions                 215 x 215 x 90 (excluding detachable paper tray)

 

Image Quality            ***     

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

Casio QG-100            £220            n/t

Sony CVP-M1      £900            n/t

 

JVC UK Ltd., telephone 0181-450 3282

 

 

HEAD

AKAI VS-G2DPL, Dolby Pro Logic VCR, £500

 

Whyís it here: One-box Dolby Pro Logic solutions have enjoyed mixed success over the past five years. DPL TVs are currently selling well, surround-sound VCRs and satellite receivers less so, though Akai might be about to change all that with the VS-G2DPL. Akai pioneered the concept of surround-sound VCRs way back in 1991, but with hindsight itís fairly obvious they were five years too early. Last year they tested the water again, with the brilliant VS-G2400, though at £1000 it was out of most people reach.  The VS-G2DPL is half the cost; itís not as glitzy as its predecessor but itís more flexible and more appropriately specified.

 

Any unique features: The DPL decoder isnít quite unique just very rare. This is only the third machine to have one, after Akaiís own G2400 and the Sony SLV-A100 and like the Sony model it has full on-board amplification, just add speakers! CM Skip is a novelty. CM stands for Ďcommercialí and the idea is that you can whizz through the ads by pressing the FF/CM button, when replaying a time-shift recording. Itís basically a picture search lock, with 30, 60 or 150 second delay; simple but clever. You donít see Ďloudnessí controls on VCRs very often either, in fact thatís probably a first too. The rest of the features weíve seen before, though rarely, if ever, so many of them all together in one place...

 

How does it perform: Auto installation is fast; channels are sorted into the correct order and the clock is set, using teletext time signals. The remote handset is a bit of a lump and buttons for secondary functions, hidden under a hinged flap, are very small and close together. Inevitably the DPL decoder and audio system takes centre-stage, so weíll begin with that. Akai are not making any great claims for the audio section; VCRs are probably not the best place for amplifiers, sitting alongside all those motors and high frequency signals, but in this application it doesnít matter. The power outputs are not especially high, but it should be enough for most home users. In any case, it has a full set of line-level surround channel outputs, that can be connected to external amplifiers.  The decoder is reasonably agile, it handles subtle and quite sounds well, though the centre dialogue isnít especially well focused and thereís  some bleed over from the right and left channels.  

 

The Super I-HQ tape tuning system is most effective on LP speed recordings, which look almost as good as material recorded in the SP mode. Our sample managed to resolve a full 250 lines, with slightly below average amounts of picture noise. Colour fidelity and registration are both good, though it tends to favour higher grade tapes. Surprisingly the multi-speed replay modes are a touch jittery, itís not serious but weíve become used to rock-solid still frame and slomo on mid-range and top-end VCRs.  

 

Our Verdict: We were very impressed by the GS2400, so itís hardly surprising that weíve been bowled over by the VS-G2DPL. It works on all levels: Itís a proficient top-end NICAM VCR and time-shifter; itís a competent Ďone-boxí home cinema system, and itís a high-performance, and flexible Dolby Pro Logic source component. Akai have judged the specification and range of features very well indeed, and the price is spot-on. Thereís plenty of fine £500 VCRs on the market, but none of them are as versatile, or capable of solving so many problems as this one!

 

Akai VS-G2DPL

Features                     Built-in Dolby Pro Logic decoder and 4-channel amplifier, NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video Plus+ with PDC, auto installation and clock set, multi-speed replay, S-IHQ tape tuning, NTSC replay with stereo hi-fi sound,  CM skip, blank search, loudness control

Sockets                       2 x SCART AV, DPL and stereo line audio out (phono), front, centre and rear speakers (spring terminals), front: AV in (phono)

Dimensions                 380 x 330 x 95mm

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            *****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     *****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              *****

 

Competitors

Akai VS-G2400 £1000            HE37

Sony SLV-AV100,             £750            HE42

 

Akai UK, telephone 0181-897 6388

 

 

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” R. Maybury 1997, 0305

 

 

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