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JVC HR-S9500 S-VHS VCR, £500 ****

 

Why’s it here: Following an initial flurry of interest when it was launched ten years ago, the Super VHS system has been on the slide ever since. It's been kept afloat by video movie-makers, but for everyday use, and without any pre-recorded software, it has little to offer over and above standard VHS. Now, however it's making a bit of a comeback, JVC have slashed the prices of their latest S-VHS video recorders. The HR-S9500 goes on sale shortly for just under £500 -- not much more than some top-end VHS VCRs -- at that price the format has to be worth another look!  

 

Any unique features: There's nothing about the S9500 we haven't seen before, except of course the price. However, innovative features like the Dynamic Drum still

command attention. The spinning head drum wobbles ever so slightly, so that it can accurately follow the magnetic tracks on the tape more accurately. The result is clean noise-free replay, at all speeds, in both directions. As an added bonus there's Timescan, where the mono soundtrack is downloaded into a digital memory and replayed in real-time, the right way around, even in reverse picture search! On top of that there's normal multi-speed replay, using a jog/shuttle dial on the remote for accurate direction and speed control. By the way, the remote handset has multi-brand TV control facilities. Rec Link is a new feature on JVC VCRs this year, it simplifies satellite time shifting and switchable spatial sound effect creates a wide soundfield. Timebase correction and noise reduction circuitry ensure a clean stable image, and the front-mounted AV input sockets and JLIP (joint level interface protocol) PC connection is good news for ambitious camcorder owners who want to do a spot of editing. The brushed ally front panel is suitably trendy, though we'd forgotten how quickly shiny finishes attract grubby finger marks…

 

How does it perform: To get the full benefit from Super-VHS the S9500 has to be connected to the TV by an S-Video lead. This doesn’t have any direct impact on resolution but it does make a very obvious difference to colour purity. In particular cross-colour errors -- patterning in areas of fine detail -- disappear completely. Our early sample managed to get within a whisker of 400-lines, which has become something of a benchmark for the format. Under ideal conditions the picture is noticeably more detailed than standard VHS but it is the lack of noise that really stands out. Unfortunately the key improvements are not that obvious on normal off-air recordings -- the picture looks a bit crisper, but not enough to get excited about -- however, on footage shot on a high-band (S-VHS-C) camcorder the increase sharpness is clear to see. Dynamic Drum replay and Timescan sound is up to the usual very high standard and we still get a kick out of watching (and following) a full length movie, in just 15 minutes. The hi-fi stereo soundtracks are clean with excellent treble coverage; background hiss is there, but it's no more than a whisper.

 

Our Verdict: The main stumbling block for S-VHS is the lack of any pre-recorded software in the UK. That's a pity because it can look and sound almost as good as Laserdisc. The S9500 has come too late to change the format's fortunes, it should do well amongst camcorder owners and it might stimulate a mini-revival for those wanting to squeeze the last ounce of performance out of analogue recording technology. If editing isn't a priority the HR-7500 at £350 is an even better deal.

 

 

JVC UK LTD, telephone 0181-450 3282

 

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Features                     S-VHS recording system, Dynamic Drum and Timescan, NICAM, Video Plus+ with PDC timer, auto installation, on-screen displays, spatial sound, 3R noise reduction and timebase correction, BEST tape tuning, REC-Link satellite control

 

Sockets                       Rear: 2 x SCART AV, S-Video in (mini DIN), line audio out (phono), JLIP & edit control (minijack), RF bypass (coax). Front: AV in (phono) S-Video in (mini DIN)  

Dimensions                 430 x 320 x 100mm

 

Picture Quality            *****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     *****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              *****

 

Rival Buys                 

Philips VR-969, £800

Panasonic NV-HS900, £750

 

CAPTIONS

Smooth silvery finish but watch out for those greasy finger marks…

 

Yes, it does have front-mounted AV sockets, they're behind a removable flap just below the on/standby button; it's doomed to get lost

 

All the usual suspects, twin SCARTs, line audio out, S-Video out and aerial connectors. The two extra jacks are for camcorder syncro edit and PC control

 

The remote handset is quite a size but it can control the main functions of a wide range of TVs as well

 

 

 

HEAD

 

HITACHI VT-FX770, NICAM VCR, £380, ****

 

Why’s it here: Hitachi has always produced solid, respectable, middle of the road NICAM VCRs but in a market saturated with cheap, well-specified machines their products, whilst always highly rated, rarely stand out from the crowd. That shouldn't be a problem with the VT-FX770. Hitachi is determined to get it noticed! They have really gone to town on this one, giving it an impressive range of performance enhancements, eye-catching cosmetics plus a host of features, primarily aimed at making it easier to use, especially when it comes to users finding their way around large tape collections.

 

Any unique features: There are two, Tape Navigation and Movietext.

The first is one that we saw previewed four years ago (the patent was filed in May 1994) but has only just made it on to PAL spec VCRs, following a huge success in Japan. Details of up to 200 time-shifted recordings are automatically logged by the VCR and recorded on the tape. When displayed on the screen it shows programme category, whether or not the recording has been viewed and how much blank tape remains. To watch a program simply highlight the entry with a moving cursor and press the play button. Movietext is a spin-off from tape navigation, which records data signals in an unused portion of the video signal. The same type of signal is used on a growing number of pre-recorded movies for sub-titles, for the hard of hearing. They're called Closed Captions and this is the first VCR in the UK with the facility to show them, until now it has required a separate decoder. In addition it has satellite control, picture noise reduction, NTSC replay and full auto install. Just for good measure there's super fast rewind, multi-speed replay, front AV sockets and a multi-brand TV remote control.

 

How does it perform: Auto installation is satisfactory and takes just under four minutes to complete. Our sample needed two attempts to tune in Channel 4 but it got there in the end, in any event manual tuning is fairly straightforward, in case of weak signals or fringe reception. Time and date adjustment is automatic and the machine checks the clock once a day using PDC time signals. By coincidence two other VCR manufacturers (Sony and Panasonic) have introduced tape archiving systems but this one is the easiest to use, and the most versatile, with the additional benefit of Movietext. On screen performance is very good indeed, the dynamic picture equaliser systems is improving all the time and noise levels on this machine are well below average. Resolution is just under 250 lines, replay stability is excellent and there's only slight jitter during still frame and slomo. Colour accuracy is good and skin tones are natural looking. In the audio department the stereo hi-fi soundtracks have quite modest amounts of background hiss, the response is generally flat and uncoloured.

 

Our Verdict: It's a winner! Tape Navigation is the ideal feature for those with large tape collections and can never remember what recorded on them. It's just a shame that it cannot log tapes retrospectively, (but then neither can the rival systems). Movie text also deserves a round of applause and this machine should prove very popular with those who have impaired hearing. It would be more useful on a mono machine; do deaf people really need stereo sound? At a time when most other manufacturers seem to be concentrating on cutting prices Hitachi proved that it is worth spending a little extra on performance and genuinely useful facilities.

 

Hitachi Home Electronics, telephone 0181-849 2027

 

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Features                     NICAM stereo, Video Plus+ & PDC, auto install, Tape Navigation, Movietext (Closed Caption reader), satellite control, NTSC playback, high-speed rewind, multi-speed replay, multi-brand TV remote

Sockets                       rear: 2 x SCART AV, line audio out (phono), RF bypass (coax) front: AV in (phono)

Dimensions                 435 x 99 x 272mm

 

Picture Quality            ****                                                                     

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     *****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Rival Buys

JVC HR-D645, £350

Panasonic NV-HD620, £380

Philips VR-676, £380

 

Captions

A new look for Hitachi, smooth styling and a metal finish fascia, very smart

 

The LCD front panel display looks okay when it's lit up but it's not much use as a living room clock when it's in the standby mode, and the record indicator is hard to see

 

There's not much to get excited about around the back, just two SCART AV sockets, line audio outputs and the aerial connectors

 

The remote handset can be programmed to control the main functions on more than a dozen other brands of TV

 

 

HEAD

 

PANASONIC NV-HD630 NICAM VCR, £330, ****

 

Why’s it here: It's that time of year, Panasonic is rolling out their new season hardware, and judging by the price and specification, they're clearly mindful of what their rivals are up to. The HD630 is about as close as Panasonic get to producing a budget VCR, at any rate it's the cheapest NICAM machine in their range. However, unlike most other manufacturer's entry-level video recorders, this one is has a genuinely useful set of features, and from the looks of it, there's been no compromises on build quality or performance.

 

Any unique features: Q-Link is new on this year's VCRs. It's actually a new name for NexTViewLink, a sort of common control protocol that will allow VCRs from one company to communicate and control TVs from another maker. It could be big one day, but for the moment the more mundane features are what make this machine stand out. The deck mechanism is incredibly smooth, it hardly makes a noise and it's fast too, winding an E180 from end to end in just over a minute. Shame about the multi-brand remote handset, it's been made back to front with the buttons in all the wrong places…

 

How does it perform: We had high expectations form this machine -- even on its budget machines Panasonic resist the temptation to cut corners -- and we were not disappointed. Auto installation is reasonably painless; the new-look on-screen display is very smart, as it the adjustable RF output, from the remote, which comes in handy for tuning the video channel on the TV. The picture is one of the sharpest we've seen on a VCR -- any VHS VCR -- so far this year, resolution was a crisp 250 lines, and that's very rare on an entry-level model. Colours are very clean indeed and picture stability is excellent, the Super Drive deck is unusually agile, changes in speed and direction are fast, almost silent and almost glitch-free. Noise levels on the hi-fi soundtracks are lower than average, the response is admirably flat with better than usual treble coverage

 

Our Verdict: There's a tendency for manufacturers to jazz up their cheapie machines with lots of winky lights and fancy sounding features but not Panasonic. What you see is what you get, a plain, simple NICAM VCR, with the kind of on-screen performance we've come to expect. Definitely worth considering.

  

Panasonic UK Ltd., telephone (0990) 357357

 

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Features                     NICAM stereo, Video Plus+ & PDC, auto install, NTSC playback, multi-speed replay, multi-brand TV remote, Q-Link, high-speed rewind, child lock

Sockets                       2 x SCART AV, line audio out (phono), RF bypass (coaxial)

Dimensions                 430 x 87 x 297mm

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              *****

 

Rival Buys

Akai VS-G745, £300

Philips VR675, £300

Sharp VC-MH69, £300

 

CAPTIONS

 

Panasonic win no prizes for styling but it's a function design with the main transport controls clustered together on the right side of the fascia

 

The display is a good size, and easy to read across the living room

 

A standard line-up of sockets with twin SCARTs, a pair of phonos for line audio out at the usual aerial sockets

 

Someone please tell Panasonic their remote controls are back to front, you just can't help picking it up the wrong way…

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1998, 3006

 

 

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