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HITACHI DV-P2E DVD PLAYER, £450 ****

 

Why’s it here: We would have been a bit worried if Hitachi didn't bring out a DVD player in the UK this year, in fact we first saw the DV-P2 in prototype form way back in April 1997. Clearly Hitachi has taken a fairly relaxed attitude to the new market, waiting for the dust to settle before launching out their first deck. It was a wise decision and has meant that there should be no compatibility problems, and any wrinkles will have been ironed out following its much earlier launch in the US and Japan.

 

Any unique features: It's off to a good start with a street price of less than £450, making it one of the cheapest DVD players on the market. The DV-P2 has two rather unusual features, accessed from buttons on the remote handset: Last Memory Play allows you to return to a movie, at the place where you left off; and Condition Memory stores the aspect ratio, replay mode and language settings of up to 30 discs. Unfortunately they're all lost in the event of a power cut, or the power is switched off at the plug. Parental lock is quite rare; there are 8 levels of protection, though this facility only works on discs that support the feature. Connectivity is reasonably good; it has optical and coaxial digital outputs for AC-3 and MPEG AV amps or decoders. There's composite and S-Video outputs plus twin analogue stereo audio outputs, the extra one probably has some purpose, though for the moment we're not exactly sure what that might be…  

 

How does it perform: Although the DV-P2 is supposedly Video CD compatible it was a bit variable, refusing point blank to play Four Weddings, but happy with Mr Bean, read into that what you will... There were no problems with our collection of test DVDs. Some very slight digital artefacts were visible in areas of high colour saturation and movement -- heavily coloured titles and flying logos are the worst offenders for this type of aberration -- but on normal moving video that is not going to be a problem. The picture looked reasonably clean, the dynamic range is average to good and there is plenty of fine detail. Colours are crisp with only very slight and occasional smearing in highly saturated areas containing rapid movement. Again you would have to look quite hard to spot it and in practice it's not going to bother most people, intent on watching a movie. Although the DV-P2 doesn't have any on-board AC-3 or MPEG audio decoding it does have the necessary digital outputs and there's a 'virtual' Dolby mode, which puffs up the analogue stereo, giving an interesting spatial effect. Overall sound quality is fine, maybe not in the CD hi-fi first division but it's not going to disappoint DVD movie fans, even those with hunky amps, AC-3 and half-decent speakers.

 

Our Verdict: The DV-P2 is what Hitachi do best, it's a well-built middle of the road product at a sensible price. It has a few minor flaws -- the remote control plastered with tiny, badly labelled buttons is a nightmare -- and the internally generated on-screen displays are a tad crude, but there's very little to complain about when it comes picture and sound performance or the convenience features. Worth considering.

 

Hitachi Home Electronics, telephone 0181-849 2027

 

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Features                     Last memory replay, condition memory, virtual Dolby Surround (SRS), parental control, S-Video output, GUI (graphical user interface)

Sockets                       1 x SCART AV, stereo audio out, composite video out, coaxial digital audio out (phono), S-Video out (mini DIN), digital audio out (optical jack)

Dimensions                 420 x 284 x 104 mm

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ***

 

Rival Buys

Pioneer DVL-505 £450, Sharp DV-560H £500, Thomson DTH2000, £500

 

CAPTIONS

Back to the future with 80s retro styled slivery cosmetics. A clean-looking front panel, but controls are few and far between, so don't loose the remote

 

The remote control from hell! All those titchy buttons, and near invisible labelling make it a swine to use in subdued light

 

No surprises on the back panel, though the twin analogue, stereo line audio outputs are a bit unusual. The unmarked socket in the middle is for a future integrated system remote control connection

 

The alphanumeric display is a fair size and legible across a living room, it can be switched off if you find it distracting

 

 

HEAD

JVC HR-S7500 SUPER VHS VCR, £350 *****

 

Why’s it here: The question should be, why wasn't it here ten years ago? Super VHS is the best video format we never had, but a combination of high hardware and blank tape prices plus a complete absence of pre-recorded software consigned it to the sidelines, that and the fact that off-air recordings don't look significantly better than ordinary VHS. JVC's belated attempt to revive the format's fortunes with this very attractively-priced machine will get a further boost with the launch of S-VHS-ET (VCRs able to record S-VHS signals on standard VHS tape), next year. All we need now are some S-VHS movies; they can look almost as good as laserdisc…

 

Any unique features: The HR-S7500 is based on one of JVC's top NICAM VHS machines and as such doesn't have anything we haven't seen before, though the champagne-gold finish is a bit unusual. In addition to NICAM stereo, Video Plus+ with PDC, auto set-up and LP operation there's a set of front-mounted AV inputs and a jog/shuttle dial on the front panel controls multi-speed replay. It can replay NTSC recordings and there's a switchable 'Spatalizer' effect that spreads out the stereo sound. It comes with a multi-brand TV remote that can control non-JVC TVs and satellite receivers and it has a tape optimiser, to make the most of high-grade tapes. Rec-Link is an interesting alternative to satellite control. It relies on the satellite receiver's built-in timer. As soon as it switches on, the VCR -- connected to the receiver by SCART cable -- automatically makes a recording for the duration of the programme. 

 

How does it perform: The S-VHS format has many virtues, unfortunately making off-air recordings of TV programmes isn't one of them. Apart from a small reduction in picture noise and slightly crisper-looking colours, you're not going to see a lot of difference. The full glory of S-VHS is only evident on commercially-made recordings --at least it would if there were any… -- and home-made video movies, recorded on high-band (S-VHS-C, Hi 8) and digital camcorders, where the higher resolution and improved colour fidelity are immediately obvious on second generation copies. Our sample resolved just over 380-lines, which means a noticeably sharper, more detailed picture with clean accurate colours. Trick play is better too, with hardly any noise bars in picture search, still frame or slomo modes and the deck mechanism is really agile. It can change direction and speed quickly with virtually no disturbance. As an added bonus it also has a fair crack at recording teletext data, useful for taping subtitles. In standard VHS mode resolution was just under 250-lines, putting it on a par with most other mid to top-end VHS NICAM machines.

 

The stereo soundtracks had slightly lower than normal levels of background hiss, more so on S-VHS recordings, due to the improved noise characteristics of S-VHS tape. The audio response is very flat and free of colouration and it gives a very good account of itself with Dolby Surround soundtracks. The spatializer effect helps widen the stereo soundstage but it's a bit hit and miss and depends on the material. 

 

Our Verdict: A Super VHS video recorder for the price of a good mid-range VHS NICAM video recorder and almost half the cost of it's nearest rival; we have to say buy it! You'll need no further bidding if you're into video movie making; it makes an excellent edit/copy deck. Don't expect miracles though, the improvements, compared with normal VHS operation are fairly modest, but undeniably worthwhile. Highly recommended.

JVC UK, telephone 0181-450 3282

 

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Features                     Super VHS/VHS SP/LP, NICAM, Video Plus+ with PDC, auto installation, B.E.S.T tape tuning, Rec-Link, NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, multi-brand TV & satellite remote control

Sockets             2 x SCART AV, S-Video out (mini DIN), stereo line audio out

(phono), rec pause (minijack); front -- AV in (phono), S-Video in (mini DIN) Dimensions: 480 x 86 x 350mm

           

Picture Quality            *****

Sound Quality            ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

 

Rival Buys            JVC HR-S7000 £700, Panasonic NV-HS950 £620, Philips VR-969 £640

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

·        The champagne-gold finish is rather fetching , it looks like a serious piece of kit

·        Trick replay is excellent and the jog/shuttle makes it easy to move around a recording, at any speed

·        The unusually versatile remote handset can also control the main functions on a wide range of  non-JVC TVs and satellite receivers

·        A good assortment of AV input and output sockets, there's also a remote-pause connection for accurate editing and front mounted AV sockets for camcorder and video game hook-ups

 

 

TOSHIBA V-858B NICAM VCR, £400 ***

Why’s it here: Toshiba favours the evolutionary approach when it comes to VCR design and the V-858 builds on the success of its predecessor, the V-857. Price-wise the company prefer to maintain a discrete distance from the cut-throat strategies of their rivals, this machine is firmly pitched at their loyal following of home cinema enthusiasts, with more than just a passing nod towards video movie-makers.

 

Any unique features: Toshiba's highly effective dynamic noise reduction system continues to improve and makes another welcome appearance on the V-858. In common with its other 98/99 season models, the 858 has a power saving 'eco' mode that reduces standby consumption to 3 watts. The Video Plus+ timer has been upgraded, to simplify satellite recording, in fact Toshiba put a lot of emphasis on ease of installation and use. Auto set-up has a self-diagnostic facility, which identifies common problems -- like an iffy aerial connection -- and suggests a solution. The 858 also has a handy convenience feature called All-In-One which assigns a set of frequently used commands like TV and VCR power on and off, to a single button on the remote handset.

 

How does it perform: Lower than average picture noise levels and a horizontal resolution of 250-lines marks this VCR out as being an ideal partner for larger screen TVs and displays. Colours look natural and there's very little smear, even in saturated areas of the picture. Picture stability is very good, still frames judder a bit but the deck is fast and responsive.  Noise on the stereo soundtracks is well suppressed, the response is even-handed and it copes well with fast moving surround sound effects.

 

Our Verdict: Putting the price aside for a moment the 858 stacks up very well indeed as a top-end home cinema VCR, with movie-making leanings. It's hard to fault when it comes to set up or ease of use, and the feature list is spot on for its intended market. Bring the price back into the equation and it looses some of its gloss; it would be unfair to say it's not worth £400, but look around -- and you won't have to look very far -- to see what else you can get for that sort of money nowadays.

 

Toshiba UK Ltd., telephone (01276) 62222

 

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Features            NICAM, Video Plus+ with PDC, satellite control, auto set-up, 'Eco' standby mode, audio dub, NexTView Link, multi-speed replay, NTSC replay (stereo), DNR picture noise reduction, insert edit, audio dub, 'All-in-One' controls, multi-brand remote           

Sockets             rear: 2 x SCART AV, line audio out (phono), RF bypass (coaxial), front: AV input (phono), microphone (minijack)       

Dimensions     430 x 92 x 315mm           

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

 

Rival Buys, Hitachi VT-FX770, £380, JVC HR-S7500 £350, Panasonic NV-HD630 £330

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

·        Functional, understated cosmetics, a jog/shuttle dial and a large easy to read display

·         Twin SCART AV sockets on the back and a set of AV sockets on the front, something for everyone here

·        The large remote has a number of interesting features, including multi-brand TV control and those All-in-One buttons

 

 

AKAI VS-G796, NICAM VCR, £200 ****

Why’s it here: Because Akai have made it their business to force the pace at the budget end of the NICAM VCR market. The G796 is not just another revamp of an earlier model; it's based on a completely new chassis design, the first for several years. There's no shortage of cheap and cheerful NICAM VCRs at the moment but you can take it as read they're mostly fairly basic; you can be equally certain that's something Akai VCRs will never be accused of…

 

Any unique features: Yes, and you're going to love this one. You know what it's like when you loose a TV or remote handset, well that shouldn't happen with the G796, thanks to the Remote Finder facility. Press a button on the front of the VCR and the TV emits a high-pitched trilling sound that the remote handset responds to by beeping. The TV volume has to up quite high but it also works if you whistle loudly. For good measure the main tape transport buttons on the handset glow in the dark, so there's no excuse for loosing it.  If that's not enough to whet your appetite then it also has Akai's I-HQ tape tuning system, NTSC replay, auto installation and intelligent LP, which makes sure there's enough room on a tape for a time-shift recording by switching to LP mode.

 

How does it perform: I-HQ was one of the first and is still one of the most effective tape tuning systems though it works best making LP recordings on high-grade tape; picture noise levels on SP recordings were fairly average on our sample. Resolution was nothing special either; a little over 230-lines was the best we got on SP and HG tapes. Colour accuracy is good and smearing isn't a problem but some noise is evident in highly saturated areas of the picture. NICAM sound and the stereo hi-fi tracks sound good with no more than average amounts of background hiss.

 

Our Verdict: It's almost worth £200 for the whistling remote... But seriously, this is a useful little machine, bursting with features and character, at a price you can't argue with. AV performance is nothing special but it's in the home cinema ballpark and LP recording quality is very impressive. Worth thinking about.

 

Akai UK, telephone 0181-261 6388

 

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Features                     NICAM stereo, Video Plus+ with PDC, NTSC replay, auto installation, parental lock, intelligent LP, remote finder (see text), display dimmer, intelligent LP

Sockets                       rear: 2 x SCAR AV, stereo line-level out (phono), front: AV in (phono)

Dimensions                 380 x 93 x 298                     

 

Picture Quality            ***

Sound Quality            ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ***

 

Rival Buys, Aiwa FX5500 £230, Bush VCR-860 £170, Sharp VC-MH711 £230

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

·        Small and perfectly formed, well it doesn't look too bad and those front AV sockets are an unusual sight on a £200 VCR

·        If you loose it, just whistle -- the first remote handset to tell you where it's hiding, it glows in the dark too

·        A fairly routine set of sockets, a pair of SCARTs for the TV and satellite box plus stereo audio out, for an AV system or DPL decoder

 

 

ECOSSE REFERENCE AV CABLES (MD2, MV2, MA2), £71.50 & £155 ***

Why’s it here: So far home cinema enthusiasts have proved reluctant to follow their hi-fi counterparts down the quality cable route but maybe not for much longer. Ecosse Maf clearly believe the time is right to introduce home cinema fans to the delights of monocrystal copper, vesicatory polypropylene and megabuck price tags. We are talking serious money here, over seventy quid for a one-metre long phono to phono lead!

 

Any unique features: There's a lot more to audio and video leads that you might think. The strands of super-pure copper filaments in these Ecosse MD2, MV2 and MA2 audio and video cables are bundled together in what's known as Rope Lay formation. Apparently it gives the conductor a wider cross-section, resulting in low DC resistance, which helps with the transmission of low-frequency bass signals. Foamed low-density polypropylene is used as the dielectric and the cables are sheathed in a soft, pliable PVC jacket. These are industrial-strength leads with the kind of plugs you rarely see outside of electricity sub-stations, they're made of solid gold and chrome plated brass.

 

How does it perform: The problem with high-performance leads in the home cinema context is that improvements can be quite difficult to spot. There are two reasons for that. Firstly the source material -- predominantly movie soundtracks -- have a totally different set of dynamics to pre-recorded music, masking the often subtle changes leads can make to a system. Secondly, source equipment and to some extent home cinema amplifiers and speakers spend most of their time working well within the audio spectrum, where lead performance is rarely put to the test. We have to say that that despite much ear straining and side by side comparisons, on a number of different set-ups, such differences as there were too fleeting to be of significance. Changing from movie soundtracks to a CD source did make a difference with small increases in treble detail and a cleaner, less boomy bass.  There was no detectable change in video signals, compared with a standard video lead.

 

Our Verdict: What we can say about the Ecosse cables is that they are superbly well made and completely transparent to anything likely to come out of the vast majority of AV systems. The situation is slightly different on top-end set-ups, and in particular systems that fulfil a dual role in hi-fi and home cinema, in which case the Ecosse cables deserve serious consideration.

 

Ecosse Maf, telephone (01563) 524320

 

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Features                     non-directional, pure monocrystal copper conductors

Foamed polypropylene dielectric, PVC outer sheath

 

Picture Quality (MV2)                         ***** 

Sound Quality (MA2 & MD2)  ***** 

Build Quality                                      *****

 

Rival Buys

Cable Talk Studio £65, Kimber PBJ £68, Sonic Link Lilac £65

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

·        Built like a brick outhouse, the connectors are not going to let you down

·        Non-directionality is spin-off from the grain-free monocrystal copper filament structure

·        The PVC outer sheath absorbs mechanical and electromechanically induced vibration

 

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1998, 1009

 

 

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