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PHILIPS VR-675, £300

Whyís it here: A NICAM video recorder selling for less than £300, from a major manufacturer like Philips, would have been unheard of more than a couple of years ago. Now weíre knee-deep in the things. Well, thereís half a dozen of them at least, but the point is this is a new and highly competitive segment of a fast-growing  market. Overall sales of NICAM machines are up over 50% on last year and Philips want to make sure they get their fair share. Philips have had some success with their budget mono VCRs, now theyíre hoping for a repeat performance with their latest entry-level NICAM machine.  

 

Any unique features: None to speak of, though the facility to switch off the display panel by pressing the standby button twice, is rather unusual. Itís also one of the few VCRs we can recall seeing lately, that doesnít, have power on and play, when you insert pre-recorded tape. The on-screen displays are a bit odd too, the main menu is called up using the auto-install button, which only works when the VCR is in standby mode. The front panel display is a good size but it is a single colour -- green -- the transport function graphics are difficult to make out; at the very least it needs a clear record-mode indicator somewhere on the front panel.

 

How does it perform: On the whole not too bad, hwoever, the tape slot on our sample was a tight, and a little fussy about the way cassettes are inserted. If theyíre perfectely straight they wedge, or make a grinding noise. If the machine isnít used for more than a few minutes it switches itself off. That can be quite annoying and some means of disabling the power off funtion would be welcome. Thankfully Philips have not  cut any corners in the video department, definition is on a par with most mid-market NICAM VCRs, our sample managed to resolve over 240 lines without any difficulty, colour fidelity and registration were both good and picture noise levels were below average. Still frame and slow-motion replay (forward only) were both very steady. NICAM sound and the hi-fi soundtracks were reasonably crisp and noise levels satisfactory, so it makes the grade as a home cinema machine.

 

Our Verdict: Itís all right, but thatís really the best we can say about the VR-675. The trouble is, it is up against several very refined and well appointed NICAM machines in the same price bracket, with similar video and audio capabilities, but extra convenience features and fewer rough edge. Philips have gone to a lot of trouble to improve the performance and the ease of use of their machines in the past few years, and generally speaking theyíve done a very good job, but some aspects of this machineís control and display systems are a bit strange, to say the least.

 

PHILIPS VR-675

Features                     NICAM stereo, hi-fi sound, Video Plus+ with PDC, auto installation, energy saving function/display off, auto power off

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

Dimensions                 380 x 90 x 260

 

Picture Quality            ***

Sound Quality            ***

Build Quality              ***

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 **

Overall value              ***

 

Competitors

Aiwa HV-FX2500            £300            HE39

Akai VC-G745SE            £300            HEXX (this one??)

Sharp VC-MH68 £280            HE48

 

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444

 

 

HEAD

Philips MX900 Dolby Pro Logic Upgrade Kit, £230

 

Whyís it here: No need to ask if youíve been put off the idea of home cinema by the prospect of extra black boxes and wires all over the place. Maybe youíre happy with your present TV and hi-fi system, and donít 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; itís 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, itís 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 systemís 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 canít 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 canít make a silk purse out of a sows ear, sonically speaking. Thereís 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

 

Competitors

Celestion HTiB, £750            HE36

Goodmans GCH-40            £300            HE36

Sony SA-VA15   £400            HE36

 

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444

 

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