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FIRST LOOK OCTOBER

 

Hitachi VT-F645, NICAM VCR, £330

 

Whyís it here:

Most VCR manufacturers contrive to have two budget machines in their NICAM range, the so-called entry-level and step-up models. The former often being a loss-leader, is there to help dealers Ďsell-upí to the dearer machine, with a slightly higher specification. Hitachi are going straight for the jugular with the F645, itís a well-featured home cinema VCR, selling now for just £330. The original list price was actually £350, but they sliced off twenty quid for an Autumn promotion. If past experience is anything to go by weíre fairly sure the price will stick, at least until Christmas, and probably beyond.

 

Any unique features: Hitachi were one of the pioneers of satellite control, so itís not surprising that the F645 has it. The Video Plus+ timer is linked to a built-in infra-red remote controller, that will operate a dozen or so of the most popular brands of satellite receiver. Hitachi have worked hard to improve the picture quality on their machines in the past couple of years and the F645 has the latest version of their Dynamic Picture Equaliser system. Thereís a set of front-mounted AV sockets, easy to follow on-screen display, full auto installation and an unusual backlit LCD front panel display. The only things missing from an otherwise most impressive set of features are NTSC replay, and a multi-brand TV remote.

 

How does it perform: Auto installation is quite sedate, taking around three and a half minutes to tune in and  set the clock, and thatís not counting satellite set-up and channel re-ordering, which takes another couple of minutes. The only operational niggle concerns the LCD front panel display. Itís not too bad when the machine is switched on but the backlight goes off when its in the standby mode, making it difficult to see. Thatís quite annoying if, like a lot of peopel, you rely on the VCR for your main living-room clock. The other problem concerns the record indicator legend on the display, which can be hard to spot from more than a few feet away, a separate LED indicator is needed.

 

Video performance on Hitachi VCRs has always been pretty good but the F645 gives one of their best pictures yet. Resolution is a notch up on previous models at just under 250 lines, thereís also been a noticeable reduction in noise levels, so it looks very clean. Colours are crisp and natural-looking tough thereís some very slight smearing on heavily saturated reds. Still and slomo stability are both very good.

 

Background hiss on the stereo hi-fi soundtrack is no worse than average, itís there, but not intrusive. Tonal balance is even, high and low frequencies tail off smoothly, the mid-range is as flat as a pancake.

 

Our Verdict: Satellite control is a definite plus-point on a sub £350 machine, itís a shame about the lack of  NTSC replay, though. But for that, the VT-F645 would have had a near-perfect specification. Nevertheless, picture and sound performance are both very good indeed and it easily makes the grade as a home cinema VCR.

 

Hitachi VT-F645,  £330

 

Features                     NICAM, Video Plus+ with PDC, satellite control, index search, slomo, Dynamic Picture Equaliser

Sockets                       2 x SCART AV, stereo line out and front AV in (phono)

Dimensions                 380 x 93 x 271mm

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

Aiwa HV-FX2500,             £330,             HE39

JVC HR-D645   £350,             HE48

Mitsubishi HS-761            £350            HE46

 

Hitachi Home Electronics, telephone 0181-849 2000

 

 

HEAD

Philips VR969 S-VHS VCR, £800 (probably...)

 

Whyís it here: To be honest it isnít yet, at least not at the time of writing. Our review sample -- possibly the only one in captivity -- was hastily withdrawn after just a few days with us. Philips say the delay has been caused by a software glitch in one of the control systems. Hopefully it will have been sorted by the time you read this. This long-awaited flagship Super VHS machine was first seen in pre-production form over 18 months ago, it was supposed to have arrived last year but unexpectedly dropped off the schedules. Sadly the Super VHS format hasnít done very well, most machines are brought by video movie-makers -- they make great edit decks -- something the VR969 is superbly well equipped to do.  

 

Any unique features: You must be kidding! When was the last time you saw a VCR with a large white analogue clock set into the front panel? Itís accurate too, controlled by radio time signals from a central atomic clock.  The RS-232 interface is a bit unusual as well, in fact this is the first domestic machine to have one. Itís used to control the machine from a PC, for highly accurate editing. Edit features abound, they include flying erase heads, for seamless joins, and edit control systems compatible with camcorders made by Canon, Sony and Panasonic. Studio Picture Control and Tracking systems ensure optimum picture quality on all tape types, grades and condition.

 

How does it perform: Bearing in mind that our sample was an early production model, with software problems, it did very well indeed. Super VHS on full song is an impressive sight, resolution is approaching 400 lines, with crisp, well defined colours. It is in the same ballpark as laserdisc and broadcast TV. Unfortunately, there are no pre-recorded movies on S-VHS, and off-air recordings donít look significantly better than top-end standard VHS, so unless you have a high-band (S-VHS-C, Hi8 or DVC) camcorder itís talents can be difficult to fully appreciate. Incidentally, the wide band recording system is also capable of capturing teletext data, (pages and subtitles) so you can catch up with yesterdays news and weather.  

 

The machine has a full set of trick play modes, theyíre all very steady. The deck moves quickly between playback modes, so itís great for reviewing action sequences.  

 

Stereo hi-fi sound is up to home cinema standard, thereís a trace of background hiss, but nothing serious. The manual level control is useful if you want to use the machine for recording audio.

 

Our Verdict: Weíve been waiting so long for the VR969 that itís eventual arrival is bound to be a bit of an anti-climax. Nevertheless, it is still an important machine, particularly for video movie-makers. It should help keep the S-VHS format afloat for a while longer, and neat design touches, like that clock, show that VCRs donít always have to be boring black boxes.  

 

Philips VR969 £800

 

Features                     Super VHS recording system, NICAM, Video Plus+ with PDC, teletext programming and recording, auto installation, NTSC playback, EasyLink , flying erase head, Syncro Edit with LANC, Panasonic 5-pin and RS-232 interface, manual audio level control

Sockets                       2 x SCART AV in/out, S-Video in/out (mini DIN) edit terminals (minijack and mini DIN), composite video and audio in/out (phono)

Dimensions                 435 x 110 x 318mm

 

Picture Quality            *****

Sound Quality            *****

Build Quality              *****

Features                     *****

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

JVC HR-S7000, £700, n/t

Mitsubishi HS-M1000, £700 HE13

Panasonic  NV-HS900, £750, n/t

 

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444

 

 

SVC 1000 CCTV SYSTEM,  from £385 (control unit & camera)****

 

Whyís it here: Thereís a lot of villains about, thatís why! You have a one in five chance of being burgled at some time in your life; you can improve those odds considerably by taking a few security precautions. Strong locks and an intruder alarm are good place to start, but if you want to go one step further, CCTV is a proven deterrent and a good source of evidence. However, cameras and security video recorders, that record continuously for several weeks are prohibitively expensive. Homeguard turns any VCR into a surveillance machine, a 3-hour VHS tape can last months, keeping watch on your home while youíre away.

 

Any unique features: The whole thing is unique. Homeguard is a British invention, and itís designed to work with any VCR that has infra-red remote control. The SVC 1000 control box connects to the VCR and TV by SCART leads. Thereís connections for up to four cameras. Two types are available, based around miniature Ďboardí cameras, fitted inside a door-bell casing, or a security floodlight, with a movement sensor. When the sensor is triggered (or the door-bell pressed), the control unit sends out a stream of infra-red commands, to set the VCR recording the image from the relevant camera, with a superimposed time and date stamp. A few seconds after the Ďeventí is over, it switches the VCR back to stop mode. In monitor mode the system can be set to sequence through the connected cameras.

 

How does it perform: Programming the SVC 1000 takes a few minutes, it needs to learn IR commands from the VCRs remote handset. The on-screen display system is a bit crude, but persevere and you get there in the end. Cameras are pre-wired with 25 metres of cable, terminated with DIN plugs (remember them...), and thereís a trigger connection for a external house alarm. The system can be used with a range of black and white or colour cameras, the monochrome models work well in poor light and resolution is very good, approaching 350 lines. Colour cameras are fitted with a microphone, so the VCR records sound, as well as pictures. The doorbell camera has IR illuminators, so it can Ďseeí a callers face at night. Camera switching is a bit jumpy, but thatís to be expected on a non-genlocked system.  

 

Our Verdict: Ingenious! Home CCTV systems have been proving very successful but without some means of recording images, theyíre of limited use, if youíre not there to monitor the picture. Homeguard solves that problem and turns almost any domestic VCR into a sophisticated multi-camera surveillance system.

 

Homeguard CCTV System

 

Features                     SVC 1000 4-camera control unit and sequencer with alarm interface and learning VCR remote control (£235), black and white outdoor cameras with motion sensor (£150), colour outdoor cameras with motion sensor and microphone (£380), door-bell cameras (£130)

Sockets                       2 x SCART AV, fully wired loop-through, cameras and alarm interface (5 x DIN), IR wand (minijack)

Dimensions                 300 x 65 x 240 (SVC 1000)

 

Picture Quality            ****

Build Quality              ***

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

A big dog                    £300 plus £20 a week for food

Security patrol  £100 a day

Nosy neighbours             free...

 

European Electronic Controls, telephone (01708) 670988

 

HEAD

NOKIA SAT 800 S IRD, £180 (£220 with 60cm dish) ****

 

Whyís it here: The SAT 800 receiver has been around for quite a while, since mid 1984 in fact. Nokia have clearly decided itís in need of an upgrade, though from the outside at least not a lot has changed. As far as we can see the only difference is some new labelling on the front and rear panels. Internally there have been some improvements, mostly to the operating software. The price has also been revised, itís down from £250 to £220, with a 60cm dish, or on its own for £180.

 

Any unique features: The sharply styled front panel is still very eye-catching; the smart-card slot is cleverly hidden in the fasciaís shut-line, though it becomes fairly obvious when a card is inserted. Unlike models with covered flaps, cards can be vulnerable, especially with kids around. The tuner has a 320 channel memory, with 18 favourite channel selections, thatís enough to cope with present and future analogue broadcasts. The receiver is factory programmed with 199 TV channels, and 121 radio stations. One new feature is DiSEqC, which allows the receiver to control up to four LNBs, using an optional external switching module.  Thereís been a few other changes, the timer now operates over 4-weeks (the original SAT 800 had a 14 day capacity) and the picture brightness adjustment seems to have disappeared.

 

How does it perform: On screen performance is little changed from its predecessor. Colours are clean and well defined, noise levels are very low, possibly a little lower than before; suffice it to say, with a strong signal picture quality is about as good as youíll get on a mid-range receiver, and it stays looking good longer, when conditions deteriorate. Panda noise reduction is effective, background hiss levels are well below average; the response is very clean and Dolby soundtracks come through the system clean and intact.

 

Our Verdict: Hand on heart we couldnít see much difference between this receiver and the one it is replacing. Itís a shame really, Nokia could have been just a little bolder, even revamping the cosmetics would have made it a bit more interesting. The handful of extra facilities add little to what was already a very competent, well-specified product. Whatever. Itís cheaper now, performance is at least as good as before and thereís a couple of extra bells and whistles. You canít argue with that!   

 

NOKIA SAT 800 S IRD

 

Features                     320 channel memory, 18 favourite programmes, 32 audio modes, Wegner Panda 1 noise reduction, parental lock, 4-event/31-day timer, on-screen displays

Sockets                       3 x SCART AV, line audio out (phono), dish input (F-Connector), RF bypass (coax)

Dimensions                 380 x 240 x 62mm

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

Grundig GRD 300      £220

Pace MSS 290      £230

 

Nokia Consumer Electronics, telephone (01793) 644223

 

HEAD

MITSUBISHI HS-761 NICAM VCR, £TBA (definitely less than £400...)

 

Whyís it here: Stand still in the VCR  business for more than five minutes, and youíre dead! Mitsubishi know that better than most, following a rather lean patch a few years ago. Lately theyíve had some really hot machines, at very competitive prices. The 761 is their latest NICAM mid-ranger, but the price is likely to be closer to a lot of other manufacturers entry-level stereo VCRs. Itís not just another re-vamp or upgrade, thereís several new features, and a completely re-designed remote handset.

 

Any unique features: Not so much unique, but ĎExcellent Pictureí is a new slant on some old favourites. Itís four picture improvement systems rolled into one, bringing together on the menu display, tape optimisation, rental playback, manual picture controls for adjusting sharpness, noise reduction and detail enhancement, plus improved copying facilities. However, the 761 is more likely to sell on its generous range of convenience features, which includes satellite control, a multi-brand TV remote, NTSC replay, audio dub, front mounted AV sockets plus a full set of trick play functions. The tape optimiser is rather unusual, instead of simply adjusting its replay and recording circuitry to suit the grade of tape, it gives a visual assessment of the tape, using a bar-graph, graduated from low, to high; this takes around 4 seconds to appear. Rental mode has three settings, with colour, sharpness and noise reduction pre-set for movies, animation or sports material.

 

How does it perform: Definitely one of Mitsubishiís best efforts to date. If the picture quality on our early production sample is anything to go by then this machine will easily qualify as a home cinema component. Resolution is almost spot on 250 lines, and thatís good for a VCR in this price bracket, however, itís the very low levels of  noise that give the picture an extra sparkle, especially on live, off-air recordings, which look very clean indeed. The picture controls are well worth having, though itís rarely necessary to move them from their default settings. The tape optimiser is surprisingly astute and was able to correctly discriminate between a selection of new and used tapes, getting the grading right about 90% of the time.  The hi-fi soundtracks and NICAM are fine, noise levels are about average, the response is flat and largely uncoloured.

 

Our Verdict: Once again Mitsubishi are setting the pace in mid-range VCRs, the others are going to have a tough time keeping up with this one. In addition to being a good all-round performer, the list of extras is almost unheard of on a sub £400 VCR.

 

MITSUBISHI HS-761

 

Features                     NICAM, stereo hi-fi, Video Plus+ timer with PDC, satellite control, NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, multi-brand remote, Ďexcellentí picture tape optimisation, repeat play, index search, rental mode, parental lock, audio dub

Sockets                       2 x SCART AV, front AV in (phono), line audio out (phono), satellite control (minijack)

Dimensions                 380 x 92 x 311mm

 

Picture Quality            *****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     *****

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

Akai VS-G735   £380

Philips VR6557            £370

Sharp VC-M60    £360

 

Mitsubishi Electric, telephone (01707) 276100

 

 

---end---

” R. Maybury 1997, 3101

 

 

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