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PLAY SNAPPY, £200

 

Why’s it here: Big differences in the video standard and display formats used on personal computers and video equipment have always made it difficult to import photographic images into PCs. It’s getting easier though, with devices like Snappy, that convert video into digital data. Unlike other methods, such as a scanner, video has an immediacy, images can be imported ‘live’ using a camera, or captured on a camcorder or still video camera. Demand for cheap and simple to use frame grabbers is growing all the time. The internet has created an enormous appetite for mixing text with images, then there’s illustrated newsletters, estate agent flyers,  photo identity cards, DIY birthday, Christmas cards and Tee-shirts, the list gets longer every day.

 

Any unique features: Virtually all frame grabbers are plug-in cards, that have to be fitted inside the computer and usually entail mucking around with things like port addresses and interrupts. That can be a big turn-off for anyone unfamiliar with the innards and workings of their machine. Snappy, on the other hand is a simple external module, that plugs into the parallel port of any recent (486 or higher) Windows PC. The only other connections are a pair of phono sockets, for the video input, and video bypass, for connection to a TV or monitor. All of the operating software is contained on a CD ROM (3.5-inch diskettes available as an option), and configuration is fully automatic.

 

How does it perform: Image capture quality is unusually good. Normally video images -- especially from low-band sources like VHS-C and 8mm -- tend to look a bit whiskery, but Snappy uses a combination of digital re-processing and software time base correction to produce a stable, clean image, up to a maximum screen resolution of 1500 x 1125 pixels in 16.8 million colours. However, the results still look very good on standard 640 x 480 displays, with plenty of detail and reasonably lifelike colours. The bundled software is very good value, PhotoDeluxe is an extremely powerful image manipulation tool and Morph, which smoothly transforms one image to another, is great fun.

 

Our Verdict: Video frame grabbing on a PC used to be something of a black art, that only well-heeled anoraks could master. Snappy removes all the mystique; there’s no complicated set-up routines, almost nothing can go wrong, and the well designed user interface bring this useful facility within reach of almost every PC owner.

 

PLAY SNAPPY, £200

 

Features                     Video image capture module and manipulation software, including Adobe PhotoDeluxe, Kai Power Goo and Gryphon Morph (CD or 3.5-inch floppy);

Sockets                       25 pin D-sub (PC parallel port), composite video in/out (phono)

Dimensions                 130 x 25 x 70mm

 

Picture Quality            ****

Build Quality              *****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ***

 

Competitors

Snap Magic, £149

Miro Media TV, £93

 

Logitech, telephone  (01306) 734300, (US Web site) http://www.play.com

 

HEAD

PHILIPS VR-668 NICAM VCR, £399

 

Why’s it here: We used to get good mileage out of Philips VCRs, berating them for their idiosyncratic control systems, impenetrable instructions and occasionally flaky AV performance, but no longer, it seems. Philips have really managed to get their act together in the past year or so and the VR-668 is one of a range of seriously well-equipped, competitively-priced machines. It is aimed squarely at the NICAM and home cinema markets. This is now the main VCR battleground, characterised by falling prices and higher specifications; the 668 is pitched between the middle and top end of this sector, appealing to a slightly more demanding buyer, willing to pay a little extra for improved flexibility and extra convenience features.  

 

Any unique features: Philips are one of only two companies making VCRs that can record teletext subtitles (the other is Akai); worth knowing you have hearing difficulties. The 668 is also one of the few machines with a teletext programmable timer; apparently there are still a few who cannot get to grips with Video Plus+ (it has that too, with PDC); text pages can be displayed, albeit with some difficulty. Camcorder owners will appreciate the movie-making facilities, that includes front-mounted AV terminal, video and audio insert, audio dub and syncro edit. The remote handset can control five other brands of TV (Grundig, Sony, Panasonic, Radiola and Schneider). The RF modulator switch eliminates C5 tuning problems; it comes with a SCART to SCART lead, to encourage owners to use a direct AV connection with their TV.  

 

How does it perform: Once you’ve figured out that the machine plays dead, until the auto-installation system has been allowed to do its stuff, it’s mostly plain sailing. Resolution is up to home cinema standard; our sample turned in a respectable 240-plus horizontal lines. Colour fidelity is fine, picture noise levels are average for a mid-price NICAM VCR. Trick play stability is quite good, though we couldn’t completely eliminate still frame jitter on our sample, the operating software stubbornly refused access to this function, and the manual tape head cleaning facility.  The stereo hi-fi tracks have a broad, flat response, with commendably low levels of background hiss.

 

Our Verdict: Philips have produced some quite reasonable home cinema machines in the past, but it has been patchy. The 668, and several of the VCRs we’ve seen for the coming season, mark a major turning point, that should put them firmly back in contention on a much more regular basis. Recommended.

 

PHILIPS VR-668

 

Features            NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video Plus+ with PDC, text timer programming, teletext subtitle recording, multi-speed replay, low-power standby mode, auto installation, Easy Link, auto/manual head cleaning, index search, intro scan, audio dub, audio and video insert, syncro edit, multi-brand TV remote, NTSC & quasi-SVHS replay             

Sockets                       2 x SCART AV, line audio in/out and front AV in (phono), syncro edit (minijack)

Dimensions                 380 x 280 x 94mm

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

Akai VS-G375               £380            HE37

Hitachi VT-F550                £400            HE39

Panasonic NV-HD610            £430            HE39

 

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1997, 1703

 

 

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