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GROUP TEST

 

BLANK VIDEO TAPE

 

STANDFIRST

Last year in the UK we spent £160 million buying 60 million video cassettes. If you put them all end to end they would circle the Earth nearly nine times! Just two of the fascinating facts unearthed by Rick Maybury during his quest to find the best blanks

 

COPY

Video tape is amazing stuff, countless man-year of research and vast amounts of money have gone into its development. Blank tape has a direct and often quite noticeable effect on picture and sound quality, yet many VCR owners spend about as much time choosing blank tape, as they would devote to buying a box of matches.

 

Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. The blank tape industry devoted a great deal of time and effort during the 1980’s, persuading us that their standard grade formulations were so good, that it was unnecessary to pay more for higher grade products. It led to cut-throat pricing and exotic guarantees, that sidelined dearer, high-performance tapes. Improvements in VCR design have helped to mask the superior picture quality of some tapes -- especially on cheaper machines -- but there is a still good case for paying extra, for tapes used in home cinema VCRs.

 

However, it can be a confusing business. Unlike audio tape there is no clear-cut grading structure, manufacturers can and do invent all kinds of weird and wonderful designations, some of which are completely meaningless. Nevertheless, the general idea is that standard grade or SG tapes are the most durable and best for watch-and-wipe recording; high grade or HG has slightly better noise characteristics and help improve the look of LP recordings; Super High Grade and ‘Hi-Fi’ grade normally has finer and more efficient magnetic particles and extra coatings, making it suitable for stereo VCRs. Master or Pro grades have the highest performance formulations, and fewest imperfections, so they’re ideal for critical applications, like camcorder recording and editing.

 

To help you sort the wheat from the chaff we’ve collected together a small selection of standard and higher grade tapes, including some specifically designated for Hi-Fi, Home Cinema or NICAM applications.

 

THE TESTS

 

BASF EQ

BASF’s standard grade tape, designed to fill the gap left by Scotch who pulled out of the blank tape market earlier this year. Low noise and dropout, competent but unexciting performance.

Performance            ****

 

 

BBC HIGH QUALITY

A prestigious brand name, flagged as being ‘suitable for NICAM recording’,  though the tape itself appears to be a fairly ordinary standard grade formulation. Minimal dropout but average noise levels.  

Performance            ***

 

FUJI Super HG

Fuji’s famous double-layer formulations have moved up-market though this ‘hi-fi Super SHG tape is a more than capable home cinema performer. Noise is very low and dropout is negligible

Performance            ****

 

JVC EHG Hi-Fi

They invented VHS, so they’ve got no excuses. No that they need any, EHG produced an excellent set of results, with the joint lowest noise levels and near zero dropout on our sample. Recommended.

Performance            *****

 

MAXELL VX

A standard grade, watch-and-wipe tape that’s good enough for undemanding home cinema applications. Lower than average noise and dropout and generally quite reasonably priced.

 Performance            ***

 

MEMOREX SUPER HIGH QUALITY

The Memorex brand is now owned by BASF, who are pitching this tape at time-shifters and LP VCR owners. Only modest amounts of noise, some dropout but within acceptable limits   

Performance            ***

 

QV E-180

Brought from a local discount shop for the equivalent of £1.33 (3 for £3.99) the packaging make no special claims, which is just as well. Significant picture noise and there was some dropout. Avoid.

Performance            *

 

SONY V HI RESOLUTION

This is one of a family of Sony ‘V’ tapes, designated for NICAM and Hi-Fi VCR recordings. Excellent performance with very low noise levels and virtually zero dropout. Worth considering.

Performance            ****

 

 

TDK E-HG

Reliable and consistent, TDK E-HG has always turned in a good all-round performance. Very low noise levels -- on a par with JVC EHG -- and no noticeable dropout. Recommended.

Performance            *****

 

VIRGIN SUPER HIGH QUALITY

Personally endorsed by Mr Branson, it is nothing if not versatile. Frequent recording, NICAM, satellite, cable and home cinema are all listed. Average noise and low dropout. A good general purpose tape.

Performance            ***

 

BOX COPY 1

HOW THE TESTS WERE DONE

Blank video tape is manufactured in batches, so some slight variation in performance can be expected. Clearly this makes it rather difficult to judge consistency, though we do have test data from previous years, so we can spot any significant trends. Our tests are deliberately simple and designed to reflect real-world conditions. We make a series of recordings, using a number of VCRs from various manufacturers. The tests involve a mixture of electronically generated test patterns, that are designed to highlight the effects of noise and dropout. Noise has a big effect on picture clarity and colour purity, dropout -- imperfections in the tape magnetic coating -- show up as white dots or flashes in the picture.

 

BOX COPY 2

TOP TAPE BUYING TIPS

 

* It’s worth spending a little extra on high-grade formulations if you make a lot of LP recordings. Most twin-speed VCRs need all the help they can get at the slower recording speed, the lower noise levels on these tapes can make a significant difference to picture quality

 

* Shop around, and look out for special deals on multi-packs, especially at this time of year. Longer, four hour (E-240) tapes are normally the best value, with room for two full length feature films,  though the savings only work if you make use of the whole length

 

* Only buy well known names, avoid strange sounding or unfamiliar brands like the plague, even if they’ve got the VHS logo. Buy only from reputable stockists. Tapes sold on market stalls or car boot sales may have been improperly stored, subject to extremes of heat or humidity, which can have an adverse effect on performance

 

* It’s worth experimenting with as many different brands and grade of tape, especially if your video recorder has a tape tuning system. Some VCRs can show a marked preference for particular tapes and if you find one that suits your machine, stick with it

 

* Older stereo VCRs with less efficient auto-tracking systems often benefit from ‘hi-fi’ grade tape, which should have more accurately cut edges and improved magnetic characteristics. They’re worth trying in more up to date machines too, lower noise levels will yield a crisper picture, sharper colours and less background hiss on the stereo soundtrack.

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1997 2209

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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