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ROSS RWS851Wireless speaker  £99.99  (£149.99 pair) VERDICT ****

 

Why’s it here: Last September the law in the UK was altered to allow the use of a narrow band of frequencies (863-864MHz) for low-power, high quality audio applications. Now we're seeing a trickle of cordless headphones and speakers filtering through, like this wireless speaker system from Ross. It promises an end to the scourge of the surround-sound speaker cable forever and with a claimed range of 100 metres, you can listen to your hi-fi anywhere in the house or garden. It could be the perfect accompaniment for a backyard barbie.

 

Any unique features: Power for the speaker comes from a chunky sealed lead acid battery that lives inside the box. It lasts for an impressive ten to twelve hours at highish volume settings, a full recharge takes 14 to 16 hours. The speakers are sold singly, or in pairs, each one has a stereo channel switch, or it can be set to mono. Tuning is continuous, giving the best chance of avoiding interference. The transmitter module comes with a full set of connecting leads.

 

How does it perform: On a good day, in the open, with the wind in the right direction it may well be possible to achieve a range of 100 metres. In the real world, where the signal has to struggle through walls, 50 metres is a bit more like it. At the limits of the range the signal becomes quite hissy on mono, and it gets even worse on a single stereo channel. With a bit of fiddling around, finding the best position and orientation, background noise can be kept well below annoyance level. Given the right conditions the speakers can deliver a surprisingly full-bodied sound, with a healthy bass response. The only real problem is that they're not very loud. Even with the transmitter level and receiver volume at maximum it's not going to annoy the neighbours, and you can forget outdoor parties, unless everyone promises to be quiet…

 

Our Verdict: The useable range is likely to be considerably less than the 100 metres they're claiming on the box. The quality is there but the lack of power is a limitation; it's just about adequate for surround sound on a modest home cinema system in a small space, personal listening in the garden or another room.

 

Ross Electronics, telephone (01204) 70013 www.rossco.com

 

Competitors

Vivanco Cyberwave Speakers, £130

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features            re-chargeable battery, right/left mono switching                    

Sockets             stereo in (minijack), DC power in  

           

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

The two-way speakers are a convenient bookshelf size but watch the weight, inside there's the equivalent of a small car battery

 

The controls are all on the back, they include a tuner and indicator LED, volume, bass and channel switching

 

The discrete transmitter module comes with a set of connecting leads. There's no aerial and it can be tucked away, out of sight,

 

 

HEAD

CANON XL1, digital camcorder, £3500

VERDICT *****

 

Why’s it here: The XL1 is not the sort of camcorder you would want to take on holiday, it's a bit too bulky for that, but if you're at all serious about performance, an enthusiast, involved in professional or broadcast video, then this is the machine you've been waiting for. But forget all that for a moment, just look at it. The styling is audacious. Who else but Canon could have dreamt up such a thing, and got away with it? Traditionally serious camcorders have been black boxes with a tape in one end and a lens sticking out the other, Canon have just re-written the rulebook.

 

Any unique features: How much time have you got? The most obvious one is the interchangeable lens system, Canon is bringing out a range of dedicated lenses for the XL1, plus there's an adaptor module, which enables it to use their EF range of SLR camera lenses. The supplied 16x zoom lens has a built in optical image stabiliser, that eliminates camera shake, but without any loss of quality. Behind that there's a triple CCD image sensor -- one for each primary colour -- for increased colour accuracy, reduced noise and an all round better picture. The mini DVC deck wipes the floor with other camcorder formats and it records two stereo soundtracks, both comparable with CD. It's the first digital camcorder sold in the UK to have a FireWire input, which means it can record as well as playback digital data from a PC or pro editing equipment and the magnesium alloy chassis makes it one of the lightest and toughest machines on the market. Just for good measure it has a full range of automatic and manual exposure controls, pro features like Zebra pattern (areas of over exposure are highlighted with a crosshatch pattern), and a big, bright LCD colour viewfinder.

 

How does it perform: The XL1 is capable of resolving 500 lines, which is as near as dammit broadcast quality. In fact on most TVs the only way to distinguish between material recorded on the XL1 and an off-air broadcast, is to see if there's anyone you know on the screen, or wait for the end credits... Images are pin-sharp with virtually no noise, even on bright or heavily saturated colours. It's quite unlike Hi8 or S-VHS-C recordings, which can contain a lot of detail, but the picture can looks harsh or ragged. The mini DV format has a much wider dynamic range. That means colours look more delicate, there are more subtle shades, and this shows up especially well on skin tones, which look really natural. It sounds as good as it looks too. The big microphone produces a broad stereo image, without compromising forward sensitivity. The only small disappointment is a lack of any audio dubbing or insert edit facilities. The machine looks unwieldy and unbalanced but it's not; the shoulder rest could have done with being a bit longer but it's surprisingly light and exceptionally easy to use, with all of the controls falling readily to hand.

 

Our Verdict: Canon has produced some real crackers in the past, but this time they have excelled themselves. The XL1 is quite simply the best digital camcorder to date.  We'll go further, it's the best camcorder to date, full stop! The XL1 embodies a unique blend of performance, style and flexibility; the Sony rival doesn't even get a look in. The DVC format got off to a good start with cutesy pocket cams from JVC and Sony, now Canon have now shown grown-up camcorders don't have to be boring.

 

Canon UK, telephone 0181-773 6000

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features                     DVC recording system, 3CCD image sensor, interchangeable 16x zoom lens with optical image stabiliser, manual and automatic exposure systems, colour LCD viewfinder, 4-channel digital audio recording system, manual audio level controls and level meters, zebra pattern generator, RC time code recording, FireWire in/out

 

Sockets                       S-Video out (mini DIN), AV out (phono), DV in/out (DV

jack), headphones, microphone (minijack), flash adaptor (prop 6-pin)

 

Picture Quality            *****

Sound Quality            *****

Build Quality              *****

Features                     *****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Rival Buys

Sony DCR-VX1000, £3600

Sony DCRVX9000, £4000

 

Critical captions

The shape is quite outrageous but it works. All of the controls are exactly where you expect to find them and apart from the slightly awkward fold-out shoulder brace, it is very comfortable to use

 

The big lens is detachable, other video lenses are becoming available or it can be used with any of Canon's EF SLR camera lenses

 

Most functions can be controlled from the large circular dial on the side of the machine and the surrounding buttons

 

HEAD

SAMSUNG SV-4000  WORLD-WIDE VCR, £1000

VERDICT ****

 

Why’s it here: For political and technical reasons that we haven't got time to go into right now, there are three different analogue colour television systems in use throughout the world. To make things even more difficult there are a further half a dozen 'sub-systems' or incompatible variants, all of which makes life rather complicated if you regularly handle video tapes from countries outside Europe. The SV-4000 is an attempt to make sense of it all, a universal VHS video recorder that can record, playback and convert to or from any one of those systems.

 

Any unique features: Since Panasonic pulled out of the 'World' VCR market Samsung have this small but significant market all to themselves. The SV-4000 is based on an earlier machine, the SV-300W, but that was rather basic, at least as far as home taping features were concerned. The SV-4000 adds a few civilising touches, like a tuner, so it can be used to make off-air recordings. It also has a timer though it's manually programmable -- no Video Plus+ here -- and there's no way of recording NICAM stereo soundtracks. A 'Noctilucent Remocon' is not something you come across every day, until you realise that's Samsungspeak for luminous buttons on the remote control… Operation is dead simple, just pop in a tape, any VHS tape, from anywhere in the world, and select how you want it to be played back. That includes Super VHS recordings, though it's only 'quasi S-VHS' replay, which means the quality is bog-standard VHS. It will also convert input signals, and bypass the tape altogether, outputting the signal in any selected standard.

The SV-400 also has 'strobe' and 'art', picture effects, don't ask us why, maybe they had a couple of spare buttons on the Remocon…

 

How does it perform: Despite all the buttons it's an easy machine to live with and certainly no more difficult to use than a regular VCR. However, with so many possible permutations is a bit of a swine to review so we'll try and keep things as simple as possible? Standard VHS replay of tapes and recordings of test signals yielded a horizontal resolution figure of just under 250 lines, which is quite a respectable result. Picture noise is quite well suppressed, there is some but it's not enough to be concerned about. NTSC to PAL conversion looks very clean, colours, especially on flesh tones, are more stable than NTSC replay on a PAL VCR and TV, and the picture looks a wee bit crisper. Going the other way -- converting a PAL tape to give an NTSC output -- resulted in a small drop in resolution but again colour fidelity was good and there was no increase in picture noise. Trick play on PAL material was as stable as most recent single standard machines NTSC still frame looked a bit wobbly. The stereo soundtracks were quiet flat and neutral sounding on all systems with little or no variation in background noise levels. 

 

Our Verdict: It's not the sort of VCR you would buy to watch movies or timeshift TV programmes, not that it can't do the job, it can, but there's plenty of cheaper homebase machines around, that will do it just as well, if not better. The SV-4000 has one very specific use, and that's standards conversion, and that's something it's very good at as well and with Panasonic out of the picture, there's nothing else on the market to touch it.

 

Samsung UK Ltd., telephone 0181-391 0168

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features                     multi-standard replay and conversion, stereo hi-fi sound, multi-speed replay, picture effects (strobe & art)

Sockets                       1 x SCART (AV in/out), AV in/out (phono), Front: AV in (phono)

           

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ***

 

Rival Buys

Panasonic NV-W1 (discontinued)

 

Critical captions

It's quite a size, a full 465 mm wide, and we'll leave you to make up your own mind about the mockwood trim, but there's no way it's going to be mistaken for an ordinary VCR

 

The SCART socket is a concession to the European market, two would have been even more useful, but it does have a set of front AV inputs

 

The big silvery remote is home to those noctilucent buttons; there's also a handy jog/shuttle dial, for multi-speed replay

 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1998, 1805

 

 

EISA SUGGESTIONS/THOUGHTS

 

Samsung SV-4000 -- specialist VCR, not home cinema material, expensive, average performance

 

Philips Plasma TV -- great looking, aspirational, but not ready yet! Brightness on current samples is very poor -- this is an eight-grand TV… 

 

Philips Felini -- like it a lot, works well too, but nothing special in the scheme of things

 

MY SUGGESTIONS:

 

NICAM/STEREO VCR

Hitachi VT-FX770, the tape archiving feature is the best of the current bunch, and it reads Closed Captions, works well, good value at £380

 

TOP-END CAMCORDER

Canon XL1, simply brilliant!

 

MID-RANGE CAM

Sony TRV35 or any model fitted with NightShot -- new facility for recording black cats in coal holes

 

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