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FIRST LOOK NOVEMBER

 

JVC COMPONENT SERIES HOME CINEMA SYSTEM, £1090

 

Whyís it here: The trend nowadays is towards pre-packaged and one-box home cinema systems, but there is still a significant minority, who prefer to pick and choose their own components and speakers. However, whilst this approach has the potential to deliver the best sound quality, there can also be problems of compatibility and control, that normally involves lots of remote control boxes all over the place. JVCís solution is the Component Series. It is a modest range of co-ordinated home cinema and hi-fi separates and speakers, that can be safely mixed and matched, and controlled from a single remote handset.

 

Any unique features: The core components are the RX-5TH AV amplifier, XL-F5TH 5-disc carousel CD player and TD-W5TH twin auto-reverse cassette deck. Our review system came with a pair of SX-F7TH floor-standing column speakers and SP-X5TH centre/surround speaker package. Various other speaker/processor configurations are possible but this is the one JVC recommend. The AV amp comes with Dolby Pro Logic, 3D Phonic, 4 DSP modes and 14 equaliser presets and an RDS tuner. It is rated at 50 watts RMS per channel in surround mode. The CD player has a 1-bit DAC with 5-times oversampling and the cassette deck has full auto-reverse with Dolby B and C noise reduction.

 

How does it perform: System integration is good, with JVCís Compu Link system taking care of control functions and switching. Itís a bit of a mess around the back, though, with each component having its own mains supply. Signal distribution is via a ratís nest of phono leads. The speakers are a bit of an eyeful but they deliver the goods with a meaty bass line and crisp mid-range. Treble tails off a tad early, which wouldnít normally be a problem but for the pre-set equalisation modes, which mostly seem to fiddle around with the lower frequencies. Forget 3D Phonic unless thereís absolutely no possibility of using rear speakers. The Dolby Pro Logic processor is a competent middle of the road performer, rear channel resolution is very good and the small speakers pack a fair punch when needed. The frontal soundfield is well defined and effects move smoothly from side to side and front to rear

             

Our Verdict: Performance is good and the beefy speakers certainly earn their keep. However, itís quite a pricey way to assemble a home cinema system but at least you know all the parts are designed to work with one another, and you donít need to keep track of a lot of remote control boxes.

 

JVC COMPONENT SERIES HOME CINEMA SYSTEM, £1090

Features                     RX-5TH -- 4 x 50 watts RMS, Dolby Pro Logic, 3D Phonic, DSP, pre-set equalisation RDS tuner; XL-F5TH -- 5-disc carousel, 1-bit DAC, 8-times oversampling filter; TD- W5TH -- twin auto reverse decks, Dolby B/C NR, music scan

Sockets                       AV in/out (phono) speakers (spring terminal), Compu Link (minijack)                   

           

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ***

 

Competitors

Aiwa Z-D9500,                                    £900 n/t

 

JVC UK Ltd, telephone 0181-450 3282

 

Captions

Yes, they really are separate boxes, and not a phoney one-box stack. The big floor-standing speakers produce a very healthy rumble

 

A veritable forest of sockets and a rats-nest of leads, but it means new components can be added with relative ease

 

HEAD

SONY DCR-SC100  DVC CAMCORDER, £1500        

 

Whyís it here: Pocket-sized Digital Video Cassette (DVC) camcorders have been quite a hit amongst the video moving-making cognoscenti and gadget fans, but the high price and apparent complexity has done little to endear them to the wider Ďfamilyí market. The DCR-SC100 is an attempt by Sony to broaden the formatís appeal. It is an unthreatening-looking  machine, that is easy to use, and affordably priced -- compared with other DVC machines. Itís a brave undertaking, that mustnít unduly compromise the formatís outstanding video and audio performance, or alienate more ambitious users, by stripping out too many facilities.

 

Any unique features: Apart from it being so small thereís nothing we havenít seen before. Itís a fairly typical LCD cam, quite similar in fact to their CCD-SC55 Hi8 machine. The rear mounted monitor screen pivots forward, so it can face the subject, for self-recording. It has fully automatic focus and exposure system, a set of six programmed auto-exposure modes, half a dozen digital effects and a built-in title generator. Thereís also a cordless IR link facility -- similar to one used on Hitachi camcorders a couple of years ago -- that beams pictures and sound to an optional module (costing an extra £100) connected to the AV inputs of a TV or VCR.

 

How does it perform: The lack of a manual focusing control is a pain, especially in poor light, when the AF system has a tendency to wander. However, in good natural light picture quality is not too bad at all. Resolution on the machine we tested was just over 430 lines, which is a whole lot better than Hi8 of Super VHS-C, though not as good as some other DVC camcorders weíve tried. The AE system can handle most situations, though like the autofocus, itís happiest outdoors, on a nice sunny day. Unfortunately thatís the worst conditions for seeing the LCD monitor screen. A clip-on shade that comes with the package helps but itís still quite hard to see whatís going on in bright sunlight. Audio quality is generally good,  though the stereo soundstage is quite narrow, and forward sensitivity falls off quite quickly, further than 5 metres of so in front of the machine.

 

Our Verdict: Sony have got the easy to operate family design bit about right, anyone can use this machine and make watchable recordings with a minimum of fuss. However, £1500 seems rather a lot to pay if, like a lot of family camcorders, itís going to spend much of its life gathering dust at the bottom of a wardrobe.

 

SONY DCR-SC100 £1500                 

 

Features            3-inch colour LCD viewing screen, 10X optical, 40X digital zoom, 2 lux, remote control, Control L edit terminal, auto focus & exposure, 6-mode program AE, fader, insert edit, audio dub, character generator, image stabiliser, time/date recording, tally lamp, digital effects (pastel, neg art, sepia, B&W, solarize, mosaic), 16:9 cinema (letterbox), IR link, time and data code recording, photo shot mode, cassette labelling,  built-in speaker, backlight compensation, 5-second record mode, anti-ground shooting, end search

Sockets                       AV out, microphone, Control L, headphones (minijack),

S-Video out (mini DIN), DV out (DV jack)

Dimensions                 130 x 95 x 79mm

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ***

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ***

 

Competitors

JVC GR-DVX,   £1600 n/t

Panasonic NV-DS1,             £1500 n/t

 

Sony UK Ltd., telephone 0181-784 1144

 

Captions

Small, cuddly and easy to use. The flip-up, fold-over screen makes self shooting a doddle

 

Very few controls, so itís incredibly easy to use, though the lack of manual focus options can be a disadvantage in difficult lighting situations

 

HEAD

AIWA HV-FX2800 NICAM VCR, £250

 

Whyís it here: Aiwa are fast becoming a major player in the UK VCR market, theyíre currently number five and have high-hopes of getting into the top three by the end of the year. They could do it too. Over the past three years theyíve made quite a name for themselves, with a run of well specified budget NICAM machines. The FX2800 is their current entry-level model, in the shops now for just under £250. The feature list is clearly aimed at the home cinema market, even though it costs no more than some other VCR manufacturers top-end mono machines.

 

Any unique features: The FX2800 goes into the auto-install routine as soon as it is plugged in for the first time. It takes around three minutes, after which all the stations have been tuned in, sorted into the correct order, and the time and date set. The One Touch Replay button on the remote handset is a quick and convenient way of watching timer recordings. It automatically rewinds the tape to the start of the recording and begins replay. NTSC replay, with hi-fi sound,  is still quite rare, even on mid-priced NICAM VCRs. Repeat Play is useful for in-store demonstrations and presentations, for those who need such things.

 

How does it perform: On previous Aiwa budget machines picture definition has on occasions been fairly unremarkable but the FX2800 is up there with the best of them, with a horizontal resolution of spot-on 240-lines. Picture noise levels are still fairly average though, and low frequency signal handling could be better. Some smearing and ringing is evident on sharply-defined vertical edges. The deck is unusually touchy and a light tap on the case results in some picture disturbance. Picture stability is very good however, moreover still frame is very steady and thereís comparatively little noise during fast picture search and slow-motion replay. Background hiss on the stereo soundtracks is well suppressed and the overall response appears reasonably flat and uncoloured. Operationally it is quite well behaved though the channel number disappears from the front panel display and it lacks a distinctive record-mode indicator.

 

Our Verdict: The HV-FX2800 continues a fine tradition of value for money NICAM VCRs. It looks smart and is easy to get to know, though the remote handset is a bit button-intensive. Performance is generally good, thereís one or two rough edges but not enough to rule it out for undemanding home cinema applications.

 

AIWA HV-FX2800

 

Features                     NICAM, Video Plus+ with PDC, auto set-up, NTSC replay with stereo hi-fi sound, audio dub, repeat play

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

Dimensions                 360 x 273 x 92mm

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ***

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

Akai VS-G745, £280                HE 48

LG PW904i,                £250                n/t

Samsung SV603,             £250                n/t

 

Aiwa UK Ltd. telephone 0181-897 7000

 

Captions

A very attractive looking machine. Silver trim can look a bit garish but Aiwa have used it to good effect

 

Two SCART AV sockets simplify hook-ups to other pieces of equipment. Itís unusual to have line audio input as well as output sockets, they could prove useful for audio-only recording

 

 

HEAD

SAMSUNG SV605 NICAM VCR, £279.99,

 

Whyís it here: Samsung are one of the small handful of companies that have been responsible for driving down NICAM VCR prices in the UK. Whilst they have a basic entry-level model at the recently established £250 price point, they would much prefer to sell slightly dearer Ďstep-upí models, like the SV605, weíre looking at here. This machine is based on its cheaper stablemate, but it comes with a few more added value convenience features. In general the extras actually cost the manufacturer very little to fit but they make it a much more attractive proposition, that dealers find easier to Ďsell-upí to, so everyone is happy.

 

Any unique features: This is the cheapest machine weíve seen, to have a multi-brand TV remote. It covers ten popular makes, however, there are some glaring omissions, like JVC, Mitsubishi and Sharp. The rest of the home cinema features are in good order though. It has NTSC replay -- with stereo hi-fi sound -- multi-speed replay and front-mounted AV sockets. The large four-way tape control button on the remote handset has been well thought out, but Samsung loose a couple of points for the pointless winking bar-graph audio level indicator in the main display panel.

 

How does it perform: The auto set-up routine takes care of tuner programming, time and date set, the process takes around four minutes. Despite the ĎJet Driveí label on the front, the deck is quite sluggish. For example, it takes almost ten seconds for a picture to appear, when switching from record, to stop to play. Resolution on our sample was just over 240 lines; unfortunately picture noise levels were a gnatís above average and the picture ends up looking just a little harsh. It tends to show up most clearly on and around highly saturated colours, and sharply defined edges. The picture softener control helps a little, but this is at the expense of fine detail. Otherwise still and slow-motion replay are very stable. Noise levels on the stereo soundtrack are low enough not to be intrusive and the response is reasonably clean though the mono soundtrack is rather hissy.

 

Our Verdict: Weíre still not sure about the styling,  youíre going to have to make your own minds up about those sweeping curves and odd-shaped buttons. The list of features is impressive though, especially on a machine costing less than £280 but it is let down by uneven picture performance.

 

SAMSUNG SV605

 

Features                     NICAM, Video Plus+ with PDC, auto set-up, NTSC replay with stereo hi-fi sound, multi-brand TV remote, multi-speed replay, audio dub, child lock

Sockets                       2 x SCART AV, front AV input and line audio

Dimensions                 380 x 90 x 310mm

 

Picture Quality            ***

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ***

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

Akai VS-G745, £280                HE 48

Goodmans VN7000            £280                n/t

Sharp VC-MH68 £280                n/t

 

Samsung Electronics, telephone 0181-391 0168

 

CAPTIONS

 

The front panel design and styling are a bit unconventional, you will either love it or hate it

 

Thereís full set of AV sockets on the back panel, so no problems with connectivity to other devices, like a satellite tuner or laserdisc player

 

HEAD

PHILIPS VR-675 NICAM VCR, £300

 

Whyís it here: The 675 is the cheapest NICAM video recorder in the Philips 97/98 model range, and collectors of VCR trivia might like to know itís built in Poland, a country rarely associated with advanced consumer electronics manufacturing. It has home cinema aspirations, though the feature list is quite sparse and it doesnít get much beyond the basics. Nevertheless, Philips appear to start out with a top-end machine, and progressively strip-out facilities as they move down-range, rather than the other way around. That means many of the core components inside the 675 are the same as VCRs costing quite a lot more.

 

Any unique features: You mean apart from being made in Poland? No, not really but we are very pleased to see that NTSC replay is accompanied by stereo hi-fi sound. The on-screen display system is a bit strange. Normally thereís a menu or OSD key on the remote handset, but not on this time. You have to press the auto-install button on the front of the machine to get to it, then make selections from the handset. Itís a truly daft idea! Weíre not very impressed by the lack of auto power on and play either, itís is a near-universal feature these days. 

 

How does it perform: The auto installation system is rather relaxed, thereís time to go and make a cuppa while it sorts its self out. Routine operations are reasonably  straightforward, the only minor niggle is the record mode indicator, or rather the lack of one. A small clump of green dots, in a green display panel, is not that easy to spot across a normal living room. Picture quality is good though, very good in fact with resolution hovering just under 250-lines. However, itís the very low levels of picture noise that really count. Thereís plenty of detail in the picture, colours are clean and they look reasonably lifelike. It seems likely the important bits in the stereo hi-fi recording system are the same as those used in dearer machines. Thereís very little background noise, or indeed anything else to complain about and it easily qualifies a home cinema component

 

Our Verdict: Philips VCRs have been a bit variable lately. Thereís nothing wrong with the performance, in fact the above average picture and sound quality on the 675 rescue what would otherwise be a fairly uninspiring little machine. Basic operation is fine too, but the record indicator in the display panel, weird on-screen menu system and slightly idiosyncratic habits are a disappointment.

 

PHILIPS VR-675

 

Features                     NICAM, Video Plus+ with PDC, auto install, Follow TV channel allocation, NTSC replay with stereo hi-fi sound

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

Dimensions                 380 x 94 x 280mm

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

Aiwa HV-FX3800            £300            n/t

Sanyo VHR776            £300            HE37

Sharp VC-MH69 £300            n/t

 

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444

 

Captions

A neat, unfussy design, with a good sized display panel though the lack of an obvious record mode indicator is a drawback

 

No surprises in the socket department, thereís two SCART sockets and a pair of line audio inputs

 

HEAD

THOMSON 21DS73H 21-inch NICAM TV, £380

 

Whyís it here: The colour television and indeed the video recorder markets would be a much duller place without Thomson. Since they hired French minimalist Philippe Starck back in the late 80s, to style their boxes and cabinets, other manufacturers have been inspired to put a bit more effort into their designs. Thomson are still streets ahead though. The 21DS73H 21-inch NICAM TV and its 25 and 28-inch cousins have Starck written all over them. Well, not quite all over, but there is a little logo on the side, and the signature of one C. Poressam (we think)  who claims responsibility for art direction. Pretentious, yes but hey, theyíre French, they can get away with it. Nevertheless, it is still an imposing sight, and one that will pull most people up as they travel down a line of 21-inch lookalikes in a TV dealers showrooms. It grabs your attention, so from that perspective Starck has already earned his wages. 

 

Any unique features: Whilst the outsides of Thomson products can look spectacular, the innards are sometimes boringly conventional. The 21DS73H is lies somewhere in between. Itís a  fairly routine 21-inch NICAM TV, with a few extra bells and whistles. The best one is the on-screen display. From the look of it, it was designed by the same person or persons who dreamt up the elegant  Ďrolling-ballí graphics featured on several Thomson VCRs. Menus rise smoothly from the bottom half of the screen. Coloured bar-graphs show relative settings for the picture and sound adjustments. The actual value is depicted by a small moving triangle above a line,  factory defaults are represented by a notch in the line, which the triangular pointer gently dips into. Well, itís different, and for once, easy to use. Other handy extras include auto tuning,  fastext, 3-mode brightness and contrast setting, to suit room lighting conditions, sleep timer and alarm, child lock and a lockable volume limiter. The layout of the controls and sockets owes more to cosmetics than ergonomics. On the front there are just three unlabelled buttons, for on/off standby, channel change and volume. The one in the middle glows red or green, or blinks, if the alarm has been set. What would have been a set of front AV sockets have been tucked away around the side. Itís not a problem if the set is on its stand (supplied), but access will be restricted if itís mounted in a close-fitting shelf unit. 

 

How does it perform: The initial set-up is fairly painless, the auto tuning system is quite basic though, and it is necessary to manually sort stations into the required order, and assign them names; this takes around ten minutes. The factory defaults on our test sample produced a dull, over-saturated picture but itís simple enough to put right. Global picture and sound settings can be stored using the preference memory. With colour contrast and brightness back in balance the picture is very crisp indeed, definition is good with lots of fine detail, right up to the corners of the screen and thereís plenty of depth to the image. It has a broad contrast range with a very solid black, colour fidelity is good too, and thereís negligible bleeding in areas of high saturation.

 

The speakers set either side of the screen generate a rather shallow stereo soundstage, the stereo wide or Ďsuperí mode helps spread it out a little, though this reduces the treble, which has to be reset. Thereís not much in the way of a bass output, the treble and mid-range are well articulated and thereís sufficient volume to fill an average sized living room, without it sounding stressed.

 

Our Verdict: You would think that having paid for the good name and services of someone of the stature of Philippe Starck, Thomson could have come up with something a little more catchy than 21DS73H... Fortunately itís not necessary to remember the model number, you can spot it mile off! That perhaps is its biggest asset. Not only are you getting a competent 21-inch NICAM TV, with enough useful features to keep it ahead of the game for some years to come, youíre getting a bold design statement as well, for the same price as a regular standard-issue 21-inch TV.

 

THOMSON 21DS73H

 

Features                     21-inch FST, NICAM stereo sound, fastext, multi-lingual on-screen display with channel naming,  auto tuning, manual room light adjustment, sleep timer, alarm, child lock, volume limiter, NTSC input (composite only), AV preference memory, auto switch off, 16:9 display, stereo wide

Sockets                       (rear) 2 x SCART AV, (side) composite video and line-audio in (phono), S-Video in (mini DIN) headphones (jack)

Dimensions                 600 x 475 x 420mm

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ***

 

Competitors

HITACHI C2156TN                    £329.99          n/t

JVC AV-21TS2EK                    £399.99          n/t

JVC AV-21TS2EK                    £399.99          n/t

 

Thomson Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-344 4444

 

CAPTIONS

 

Minimalist styling at its, well, most minimalist. The front panel controls blend in subtly with the trim

 

The front AV sockets are actually on the left side of the cabinet, tucked away in a dark cubby-hole

 

Even the backside has had the designer treatment. There only disruption to the sharp flowing lines are a pair of SCART AV connectors and the aerial socket

 

A surprisingly conventional looking remote control, though at least it is easy to use with those ginormous volume buttons

 

---end---

” R. Maybury 1997, 1410

 

 

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