HomeSoftwareArchiveTop TipsGlossaryOther Stuff





Why’s it here: The HD-680 is Panasonic's latest top of the range NICAM VCR, and one step down from the company's Super VHS model range. Whilst this is clearly a well-appointed stereo hi-fi machine, ideal for home cinema applications, it has a number of hidden talents. They're mostly concerned with video movie making, and there are enough of them for it to qualify as a basic edit deck, but the overall emphasis is on performance and ease of use.


Any unique features: The feature lists doesn't contain any real surprises but it is quite long. At the top is the Tape Library system, which automatically catalogues recordings made on the machine, storing a tape number, programme title, time date and channel in an internal memory. This is one of only a handful of VCRs that can record teletext subtitles; text data is recorded separately from the sound and vision signals, so subtitles can be called up when needed, rather than being permanently burned into the picture. It has full auto install, satellite control, a multi-brand TV remote, NTSC replay and Panasonic's latest high-speed deck mechanism. The editing functions include a Control L/LANC plus 5-pin syncro edit terminals, audio dub, front AV inputs and a jog/shuttle dial. 


How does it perform: True to form, and one of the reasons Panasonic VCRs are so popular with camcorder enthusiasts, is the above average picture quality. Resolution was bang on 250-lines that's about as good as it gets with VHS. Picture noise levels are very low and colour registration is fine; there's some slight smearing on very highly saturated colours but it's only just about visible on static test patterns and unlikely to be a concern in normal use. NICAM sound is as sharp as ever, background noise levels on the hi-fi soundtracks are well suppressed and the response is very flat.


Our Verdict: Panasonic's tape library system is almost as good as the one developed by Hitachi. It’s an excellent way of keeping track of your tape collection; it's just a pity they didn't think of it a few years ago, as it cannot catalogue tapes retrospectively. The HD680 is a top-class home cinema component and handy to have if you do a spot of movie making on the side; recommended.


Panasonic UK, telephone (0990) 357357



Features            NICAM stereo hi-fi sound, Video Plus+ timer with PDC, Tape Library system, satellite control, multi-brand TV remote, Q-Link, subtitle recording, display dimmer, NTSC replay, syncro & insert editing, audio dub       

Sockets             rear: 2 x SCART AV, stereo line audio out (phono), sync edit (mini jack), 5/11 pin edit (mini DIN). Front: AV in (phono)            

Dimensions            430 x 87 x 304 mm  


Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****


Rival Buys

Hitachi VT-FX770 £340, JVC HR-S7500 £350, Sony SLV-E730



·        Very smooth styling and the jog/shuttle dial gives precise control over replay speed and direction


·         The two sockets next to the SCART connectors are for controlling the play/pause function on camcorders fitted with edit terminals


·        Control your TV as well; the handset will operate the main functions -- including fastext -- of a wide range of TVs


JVC HR-S9500, £500 ****


Why’s it here: The Super VHS format is currently enjoying a mini revival, thanks mainly to the super-cheap JVC HR-S7500 (see HE XX). There's more to come next year, with JVC Super-VHS machines that record on plain vanilla VHS tapes. The HR-S9500 should also help things along nicely; it's the step-up model from the 7500 and packed to the rafters with useful features. Like its stablemate it is remarkably cheap, and the feature list has been skewed to appeal to video movie makers, who were largely responsible for keeping the format alive during the dark years.


Any unique features: This is the first outing for JVC's Dynamic Drum system on a Super VHS VCR, and very welcome it is too. The Dynamic Drum eliminates noise bars during trick replay, moreover it is linked to an audio buffer (Time Scan), so you can listen to the mono soundtrack, in real time, at all replay speeds, including fast picture search, slomo and even still frame. Together that means you can watch a full-length movie in a few minutes, and still follow the plot. Edit features include audio dub, insert edit, a JLIP (joint level interface protocol) connection for camcorders. The handset is a multi-brand TV jobbie, with a jog/shuttle and there's a spatial sound mode. The silver livery looks smart and the mirrored front panel cover is a neat touch.  


How does it perform: Super VHS picture quality always impresses, the trouble it you only get to see it in its full glory on camcorder recordings and pre-recorded tapes (of which there aren't any, apart from a handful of demo and test tapes). Off-air recordings look good, but the inherent noise in the picture means it doesn't appear appreciably sharper than standard VHS. Nevertheless, the 9500 delivers a really cracking picture in S-VHS mode, it's packed with detail and crisp natural colour. Incidentally we tried it with JVC's latest S-VHS tape formulation (SV Master), due out anytime now. The results are impressive and at a fiver a throw for a 3-hour cassette, it's good value. S-VHS resolution was within spitting distance of 400-lines, standard VHS was exactly 250 lines, recordings looked very good. Stereo sound is sharp, uncoloured and well defined; we can't say we care much for the spatialiser option but it is there if you want it.


Our Verdict: The S9500 takes over from where the wallet-friendly S7500 left off, adding the excellent Dynamic Drum and a host of editing features to outstanding picture and sound quality. Definitely one for camcorder enthusiasts and a very capable home cinema machine.


JVC UK, telephone 0181-450 3282




Features                     S-VHS recording system, Dynamic Drum with Time-Scan audio, NICAM stereo hi-fi sound, Video Plus+ timer with PDC, timebase correction & noise reduction, insert edit, audio dub, spatial sound, multi-brand TV remote, JLIP interface

Sockets                       rear: 2 x SCART AV, S-Video out (mini DIN) stereo line audio out (phono), sync edit (mini jack). Front: AV in (phono), S-Video in (mini DIN)

Dimensions                 430 x 325 x 125mm


Picture Quality            *****

Sound Quality            *****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****


Rival Buys            JVC HR-S7500 £350, Panasonic NV-HS950 £800, Philips VR-969 £800



·        Shiny silver box and a mirrored front panel; classy or kitsch it's certainly eye-catching


·        A full compliment of AV connectors, plus a syncro edit control terminal that can be used with JVC camcorders


·        A cream coloured multi-brand remote, with Anglo-French labelling, now there's something you don't see every day… 



SAMSUNG DVD-907, £500, ****


Why’s it here: Actually it should have been here a lot sooner. Samsung was hoping to launch their first DVD player late last year, then it was put back until the Spring of this year; it finally turned up in the UK a few weeks ago. Samsung's presence in the DVD market is another clear sign that the format is moving quickly towards mass-market acceptance, though for once they haven't pitched in with a price-busting budget special. The DVD-907 is good value but it is also a restrained, not to say conservative design that's not going to frighten any one off buying into the new technology.


Any unique features: Not really, unless you count the display dimmer and remote handset which has multi-brand TV facilities and luminous control buttons. The deck is equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel decoder but there are no MPEG sound facilities. It does have digital outputs (optical and coaxial), so you could hook it up to an external decoder, should the urge take you (and you ever come across a DVD with MPEG-only sound…). Talking of rear panel connections, there's only one SCART connector but it does have two composite and one S-Video output, so connectivity shouldn't be a problem for most users. Samsung have opted for a simple menu-driven on-screen display system that's accessible when the deck is in stop mode. Discrete status displays appear in the top right hand corner of the screen when a disc is playing. The set-up is very straightforward; it covers all of the usual options, including language selection, screen aspect ratio, surround output and parental lock. The handset is easy to use, though it takes a while to get used to the fact that the group of buttons in the middle are for navigating disc and deck menus, and not a set of transport controls. 


How does it perform: We have one operational quibble and that's the subtitle facility which is set to on by default; that means having to cancel the subtitle display every time you load a disc. Using our standard selection of discs the good news is that the picture is sharp and detailed, colours are clean with plenty of depth, However, the image does have a very light background texture. It's somewhere between very low-level noise and faint grain and almost certainly something to do with the digital processing. It shows up most clearly on brightly-lit scenes with a lot of static background detail. It's quite subtle and quickly lost when there is any movement on the screen. It's not a concern but it's just that every so often it catches your eye. We have no problems with the sound; the mixed stereo output is pin-sharp, Dolby Surround soundtracks are rich and lovely with negligible background noise. The Dolby Digital decoder is squeaky clean too and again near zero noise.


Our Verdict: The on-board Dolby Digital decoder and £500 price tag puts the DVD-907 head to head with the Sharp DV-560. For our money the Sharp is a more attractive proposition, not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with the 907, it just lacks the extra sparkle, smaller footprint and slightly longer feature list of its rival. The 907 works well and in the scheme of things is good value but it's a fast moving market; the 907 would undoubtedly have warranted a best buy nomination if it had appeared as planned in the Spring, it's still worth thinking about, but do check out the opposition.


Samsung UK, telephone 0181-391 0168



Features            Built-in Dolby Digital (AC-3) decoder, display dimmer, multi-brand TV remote, parental lock 

Sockets             AC-3 audio, stereo line out, composite video out & coaxial digital out (phono), S- Video out (mini DIN), optical digital out (optical jack), 1 x SCART AV in/out


Dimensions            420 x 333 x 80 mm  


Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ***

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ****


Rival Buys Sharp DV-560 £500, Thomson DTH 2500 £600, Yamaha DVD-S700 £600



·        A few cosmetic fripperies help liven up what is otherwise a fairly sober-suited design


·        The socket layout is a little confusing and it's not immediately obvious which connectors carry the mixed stereo output. There's only one SCART socket but it does have a switchable RGB output plus there's two composite and one S-Video output


·        It glows in the dark and you can control your TV, though the list of brand codes is not very extensive


·        The large circular control on the front panel is for transport functions, confusingly the one on the handset is for the on-screen menus



Why’s it here: Until recently our general advice about buying fancy interconnect cables for AV systems would have been don't bother. Any potential performance gains from high grade leads are lost on the majority of mid-range and even some top end Dolby Pro Logic systems. Times change and the arrival of DVD, with super-smooth wideband Dolby Digital sound, puts an entirely different complexion on the matter.  Connections UK Ultra and Midas cables are slap bang in the middle of the home cinema ballpark, sensibly priced and with the kind of characteristics that should suit movie soundtrack dynamics.  


Any unique features: The Ultra leads are the cheaper of the two, though the only obvious difference is the design of the phono connectors. Both sets appear to use the same type of cable. It has a high-grade multi-strand copper central conductor; this is double screened and protected by a thick but very flexible outer sheath. Electrical connections are made using high silver content solder. The Ultra phono plugs are a compact size and gold plated throughout, they're non-directional a coloured band on each plug identifies each channel. The Midas plugs are a heavy-duty construction, about twice the length of the Ultra plugs, so bear that in mind if your components have restricted space behind the back panel. Channel identification is handled by a discrete transparent collar on the backs of one set of plugs. Once again the standard of manufacture is very high, they look and feel solidly built.


How does it perform: Both leads passed our stress and stretch tests without any problems. The integrity of contact appears to very good and the gold plating should ensure long-term reliability. Connections UK recommend the leads for audio applications but we couldn't resist trying them with video signals.  In both cases they proved to be completely transparent with no detectable change in high or low frequency responses. Using the cables for Dolby Digital front channels on a DVD and AV amp hook-up there is a sense of clarity with both cables. In a side by side comparison with a set of standard freebie leads we detected a small but worthwhile improvement in treble response. There were however no discernible differences between the Midas and Ultra leads; that's not to say there isn't any, they're just not apparent in this application, on mid-range components.


Our Verdict: Inevitably these leads are going to be more at home in a high-end hi-fi environment but we suspect they can also make small but worthwhile improvements to home cinema set-ups. You're unlikely to hear much of a difference on DPL equipment but it might be worth trying a set of the cheaper and physically more compact Ultra leads on a Dolby Digital or THX system.  


Connections UK, telephone (01487) 832424




Features                     double-screened multi-strand copper cable, gold-plated Teflon insulated phono connectors

Dimensions                 1 metre lengths, £7 & £8 per additional metre


Build Quality              *****

Performance               ****


Rival Buys            Ixos 104 £20, Sonic Link £35, Vivanco ProWire £25



·        The plugs on the Midas leads are quite long and could cause problems on systems with limited space around the back


·        Ultra plugs are compact and solidly built, using top quality materials


·        The flexible outer sheath encases a double screen and multi-strand copper conductor



Ó R. Maybury 1998, 2210



[Home][Software][Archive][Top Tips][Glossary][Other Stuff]

Copyright (c) 2005 Rick Maybury Ltd.