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HITACHI MP-EG1A, £1800

 

Whyís it here: Hitachi have been doing a bit of crystal ball gazing and rightly concluded there is a growing need for simpler ways of getting still and moving pictures, and sound into computers. Once there they can be used to illustrate presentations, training packages internet World Wide Web pages, documents, the list just keeps on growing. The camera uses MPEG (moving pictures experts group) digital compression to side-step the need for scanners, costly analogue to digital conversion hardware and the jumble of software used by current methods. Itís an intriguing glimpse of the digital future, right now aimed at PC teccies. One day weíll all have one, or something very much like it!

 

Any unique features: The whole concept is unique. Still and moving video is recorded on a tiny 260 megabyte hard disc drive. This can store up to 20 minutes of moving video or 3,000 stills; alternatively stills can be stored on standard PCMCIA memory cards. It can be used like an ordinary camcorder, though picture quality isnít so hot on a normal TV (models with NTSC input only). The image is shown on a 1.8-inch LCD screen on the back of the unit; the top-mounted camera module swivels through 180 degrees, so you can record yourself, handy for taking video memos. The lithium ion battery last for around half an hour.

 

How does it perform: Itís reasonably compact and handles quite well, though the some of the controls can be a bit fiddly and the record button isnít very clearly marked. In order to download data the PC has to be fitted with an adaptor card, and loading the software might be quite tricky for those who donít know their way around a PC.  Still pictures are processed using JPEG compression and they look quite good on the computer screen, though the camera has a fully automatic exposure system, and no flash, so it can get fazed by strong backlights, or difficult lighting conditions. The quality of MPEG compressed moving video depends to some extent on the PC. Action can be a little jerky, and some pixellation is visible, especially when thereís a lot of movement, even on fast Pentium machines. Nevertheless, theyíre good enough for video inserts in web pages and PC based productions. The supplied software is fairly easy to use, the suite includes image archiving, manipulation and video editing applications, in fact everything needed to create some really eye-catching visuals.

 

Our Verdict: No-one is claiming this is a replacement for conventional analogue and digital camcorders, the MPEG-1 compression system simply canít deliver the quality. Hitachi are already working on an MPEG-2 camera, capable of near-broadcast picture performance, so it may be worth waiting a year or two if thatís your main concern. However, if youíre looking for a fast and effective way to get video into computer generated documents or internet pages, and want to be at cutting edge of PC video itís well worth a look. 

 

HITACHI MPEG CAMERA

Features                     still and moving video with sound, up to 3000 still images on HD card supplied, PC connectivity, 3 x optical zoom, 6x digital zoom, 1.8-inch colour LCD screen, ISA adaptor card and editing/image manipulation software supplied

Sockets                       AV & PC out (minijack) DC power

Dimensions                 144 x 84 x 55mm

 

Picture Quality            ***

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ***

 

Competitors

Itís unique!

 

Hitachi Home Electronics,   telephone 0181-849 2000

AKAI VS-G745SE, £300

 

Whyís it here:

This time last year we were raving about the Akai VS-G745. It was one of the first sub £300 NICAM VCRs, though it looked and performed like a machine costing considerably more. In the normal course of events Akai would have replaced the 745 with a new and even better specified machine, which is more or less what theyíve done, but rather than do give it a new model number, theyíve gone and called it the VS-G745SE  or ĎSpecial Editioní. Just to confuse matters the 745SE is available in all-black livery, for the same price, though itís called the VS-G770.

 

Any unique features: The key changes on the G745SE are the dark silver case and front panel, re-designed control layout, the  addition of Ďtheatre-soundí spatial effect and a 16:9 recording mode. All of the features that made the G745 MK 1 such a good deal remain, they include NTSC replay with stereo hi-fi sound, multi-speed replay, a set of front AV input sockets, auto installation with daily clock check (at 17.30, in case you wondered). Unusually for a budget VCR it has a tape-tuning system. Akaiís Super I-HQ system optimises recording and playback according to the grade and quality of the tape being used.

 

How does it perform: Resolution is up, from just under 240-lines on the 745EK, to spot on 250-lines, and there appears to be a small reduction in picture noise levels. These small but worthwhile changes may just be down to batch differences. Even so, they add to what was already an impressive set of results, especially when the price is taken into account. Picture stability is good too, and that extends to the trick-play facilities, which have little or no noise at any of the replay speeds. Super I-HQ tape tuning does make a small but worthwhile difference to picture noise levels, though itís really only noticeable on LP recordings made on good quality tape, which are almost as good as SP recordings on some other budget NICAM VCRs. We had to strain to hear any difference with Theatre Sound switched on, normal NICAM/hi-fi sound has a clean, largely flat response with below average background hiss.

 

Our Verdict:  Giving a VCR a lick of sliver paint, adding a couple of extra minor features and calling it a Special Edition doesnít exactly set the pulse racing. The G745 was then, and remains a good budget home cinema machine. The official line is that Akai want to build on the success and familiarity of the G745. Maybe so, but it means that for the first time in several years Akai have denied us the annual spectacle of watching other major VCR manufacturers trying to keep up, as they force the pace with prices and features.

 

AKAI VS-G745, £300

Features            NICAM stereo, hi-fi sound, Video Plus+ with PDC, I-HQ tape tuning, multi-speed replay, auto-tuning and clock set, theatre sound, 16:9 record/playback, CM Skip, NTSC playback with hi-fi sound, display dimmer, edit search,           

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

Dimensions            380 x 93 298 mm     

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              *****

 

Competitors

Aiwa HV-FX2500            £300            HE39

Philips VR-675      £300            HEXX (this one??)

Sharp VC-MH68 £280            HE48

 

Akai UK, telephone 0181-897 6388

 

 

HEAD

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

 

 

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” R. Maybury 1997, 0108

 

 

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