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GROUP TEST

 

HIGH END VCRS

 

INTRO/COPY

Remember when video recorders were a luxury? You need a pretty good memory because prices have been falling steadily these past twenty years. The very first machines cost £700, thatís more than £1000 at todayís prices; right now you can pick up a mono machine -- vastly better equipped than those early clunkers -- for well under two hundred quid!

 

As the price of budget video recorders has fallen through the floor, so there has been a knock-on effect on more up-market machinery. Ten years ago there was a score or more stereo hi-fi VCRs -- pre-NICAM models -- selling for £600 plus; today, a top of the line home cinema VCR, with more bells and whistles that you can shake a stick at, will set you back less than £400, in fact these days you are hard pressed to spend more than £500 or so on a video recorder.

 

Nevertheless, thereís still a few high-end machines about, weíve managed to track down eight of them, costing upwards of £700. But whatís the point in spending that much? Itís all down to performance and versatility. Most of the VCRs weíre about to look at are Super VHS models, the others have specialised features or abilities, that you simply wonít find on cheaper models.

 

For a while, soon after the first Super VHS machines were launched -- back in late 1988 -- the format actually looked as though it might fulfil its destiny and take over from standard VHS. That didnít last. High prices, a lack of support from the software industry and only a marginal improvements on off-air recordings stifled sales. It still has a useful role to play though, particularly in video movie-making where S-VHS video recorders are sought after as editing machines. On a good day, Super VHS picture performance is approaching that of LaserDisc, unfortunately there are no pre-recorded movies. Off-air recordings of TV programmes are a little sharper and less noisy but this can be worth paying extra for, especially when played back on a large screen TV, that can take advantage of the cleaner S-Video signal.

 

VCRs may have become everyday household appliances but itís comforting to know thereís still a few machines left, that are a bit special... 

 

HOW WE DO IT

The basic techniques for VCR testing are quite straightforward and involve nothing more complicated than feeding a machine with calibrated test signals and tapes. The idea is to measure how much -- or how little -- comes back out, on the screen, and through the speakers.

 

Resolution and noise are the key parameters, that determine picture quality. To most people the numbers are not important, but the effects of noise and bandwidth are clearly visible on the screen, and represent the difference between a mushy, fuzzy picture and sound, and one that is clean, sharp and full of detail.

 

We donít just stare at test signals though, weíre not that sad. We also check though a selection of movie sequences, that contain a lot of rapid changes in brightness, colour and dynamic sound, that really put a VCRís video and audio processing circuitry though its paces.

 

We look at how easy, or difficult, a VCR is to set-up and use. Auto-installation and Video Plus+ timer programming have made life a lot easier, but there are exceptions...  Lastly we tally up the convenience features, widgets and toys. Weíre interested in what they do, how they do it, and most importantly, how useful they actually are. 

 

THE TESTS

 

JVC HR-S7000, £700

Super VHS video recorders tend to linger longer than plain vanilla VHS models, and the HR-S7000 has been around longer than most, since early 1996 in fact.  JVC say they no immediate plans to replace it, so itís either still doing well, or theyíve got a few left... It was a bit of a milestone in its day, being the first Super VHS video recorder to sell for under £700. Back then it was very good value and at the time we hoped it might revive interest in S-VHS; sadly it was not to be.

 

Unlike most other S-VHS video recorders the S7000 isnít so heavily biased towards movie-making. It has one or two editing facilities, including a built-in 8-scene edit controller, audio dub and front-mounted AV sockets, but just about everything else is geared towards off-air taping and playback. It has a multi-brand TV remote advanced noise reduction and contrast control systems, repeat play, full auto installation and thereís even a child lock.

 

Two rather important features are missing though. It doesnít have NTSC replay and there are no on-screen displays. This was one of the last JVC machines not to have an OSD, itís not a huge problem, the front panel display is a reasonable size, and timer data is shown on a small LCD screen, on the remote handset. Thereís also extra winky lights on the machine, to let you know what itís up to, but it still seems a bit strange. Auto installation takes just a few minutes, the clock is checked against PDC signals once an hour, so it should be pretty accurate.

 

Whilst JVC have trimmed the feature list they havenít made any compromises in AV performance. Our sample managed a textbook 400-lines of resolution on S-VHS recordings, and just under 250-lines in standard VHS mode. The S7000 was one of the first outings for JVCís advanced digital video processing circuitry. It still looks good two years down the line, with minimal noise and rich, vibrant colours. Some background hiss is evident on the hi-fi stereo soundtracks, but itís not excessive, treble tails off fairly rapidly but it still manages to sound lively and detailed.

 

The S7000 is just starting to show its age, there caní t be many VCRs left -- in any price bracket -- that do not have on-screen displays, and NTSC has become a near standard feature these days. On the plus side AV performance is very good and the price remains quite competitive.

 

JVC UK Ltd., telephone 0181-450 3282

 

UP CLOSE

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            4

Features                     3

Ease of use                 4

Build Quality              5

Value for Money            4

 

Features            S-VHS, NICAM, hi-fi stereo, VideoPlus+ with PDC, auto installation and clock set, multi-brand TV remote, multi-speed replay, 8-scene random-assemble edit, audio dub, child lock

Sockets          rear: 2 x SCART AV, S-Video in/out (mini DIN),  line audio in/out (phono), RA edit/remote pause (minijack), RF bypass (coaxial). front: composite video and line audio in (phono)     

Dimensions    426 x 94 x 341mm    

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

* A plain, uncluttered front panel, and the jog/shuttle dial is a handy extra for table-top editors

 

* The LCD panel on the remote handset confirms timer data, before it is sent back to the machine

 

* No surprises around the back, the only unusual feature is the edit/remote socket, which connects to other JVC VCRs, or an optional multi-brand IR remote controller

 

 

JVC HR-S9400, £800

So what if the side panels are made of mockwood, the HR-S9400 still looks like one very classy video recorder. Top features, shared with its VHS stablemate (HR-J935), include Dynamic Drum and Time Scan, that between them give noiseless replay and real-time sound at all tape speeds, in either direction.

 

Tuning and clock-set are both automatic, itís quite slow though, taking around five minutes to sort itself out. Buttons on the remote handset light up according to selected functions; it can also control the main functions on a range of TVs and satellite receivers. The on-screen displays are a bit limited, thereís no menu as such, and some timer and secondary functions are not very accessible, though overall it is reasonably easy to use.

 

Most of the headline features are aimed at video movie-makers, particularly those with S-VHS-C camcorders. A built-in edit controller can replay up to 8 scenes, in any designated order; the S9400 controls the record-pause function on a second VCR by wire, or an optional IR remote control. It has a flying erase head, for seamless insert edits, and a JLIP (joint level interface protocol) connection, enabling a PC to control the VCRís main transport functions.

 

It has plenty of useful audio facilities too, with manual recording level control and audio dub heading the list. Thereís also a Ďspatalizerí effect, that spreads the stereo image, and a headphone socket, with its own independent volume control. A jog/shuttle dial on the front panel controls tape speed and direction. The remote handset has a four-way Ďjogí button, thatís devilishly hard to use. Thereís only one serious omissions and thatís NTSC replay.

 

Picture performance is outstanding, in both VHS and S-VHS modes. Resolutions were a little over 250 and 400 lines respectively, which is as good as it gets. Noise levels were very low, resulting in a crisp, pin-sharp picture. However, the most impressive feature has to be Dynamic Drum; fast replay is so clean it is possible to watch a movie at up to nine times normal speed, with real-time snatches of the mono soundtrack keeping you up to date with the plot. The hi-fi recording system has a flat, even response, background noise levels are well below average.

 

S-VHS-C camcorder owners need look no further, Time Scan is a boon for whizzing through boring home videos and movies in double quick time. Looks, features, performance and a fair price, itís got the lot!

 

JVC UK Ltd., telephone 0181-450 3282

 

UP CLOSE

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            5

Features                     5

Ease of use                 4

Build Quality              5

Value for Money            4

 

Features            and clock set, Dynamic Drum with Time Scan, multi-brand TV/satellite remote control handset, 8-scene edit controller, insert edit, audio-dub, JLIP PC interface, multi-speed replay, spatial sound effect, repeat play,

Sockets            rear: AV in/out (2 x SCART), S-Video in/out (mini DIN), stereo line audio in/out (phono), aerial in/out (coaxial), pause/RA Edit (minijack). front: AV in (phono), headphone & JLIP (minijack)

Dimensions            465 x 105 x 353mm

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

* Forget the tacky-placky side panels, head-on it looks the business and the jog/shuttle dial is a useful editing aid. The controls are well laid out and thereís a set of AV input sockets behind a hinged panel, on the left side

 

* Itís not often we see separate line-audio inputs on a VCR back panel, theyíre accompanied by a pair of SCART AV sockets, the usual aerial connectors and a minijack, for editing functions

 

* A wacky looking handset -- you should see it in the dark. It can be programmed to control the on/off, channel select and volume functions on a wide range of TVs and satellite receivers from other manufacturers

 

PANASONIC NV-HS900, £750   

The HS900 is another survivor, it has been around since the middle of 1996 and has become a firm favourite with video movie makers. Apart from excellent copy quality, one of the other reasons it has proved so popular is its Control L/LANC editing terminal, which allows it to control certain transport functions on 8mm and Hi8 camcorders. It also has a Panasonic 5-pin editing terminal, enabling it to be used with an edit control unit. And thatís not all. thereís a flying-erase head,  for clean inserting new sequences into existing recordings (aka insert edit), it has  audio dub and manual recording level controls, a set of AV inputs on the front panel, plus some useful extras, like microphone and headphone jacks, that together add up to a very well-equipped editing deck.

 

Itís not an especially pretty-looking machine, the front panel controls are a bit cluttered though the jog/shuttle dial is a plus point. The remote handset could do with one as well, the Super Drive deck mechanism is a real delight to use, able to change direction and speed quickly, itís just not the same with buttons. The handset does have one extra feature though, and thatís multi-brand TV control, covering some 34 different makes.

 

Panasonic are relatively recent converts to auto installation and on-screen displays but theyíve caught up fast and the HS900 is an easy machine to set-up and use. Tuning and clock set takes just a few minutes, channels are sorted into the usual order (BBC 1, BBC 2 etc.), but itís easy enough to rearrange them, if required.

 

The test of any editing machine is the how much noise it adds to second-generation recordings, made from camcorder footage. The HS900 does a brilliant job, picture noise levels are well below average, resolution is outstanding, our sample was able to just beat the 400-line benchmark for S-VHS recordings, with a solid 250-lines in the standard VHS operating mode. Picture stability was impressive too, with minimal jitter in play or still frame. It sounds good too, with a punchy bass and crisp treble, and one of the lowest levels of background hiss on any analogue VCR.

 

The HS900 is a classic Super VHS editing machine, designed with owners of high-band camcorders firmly in mind. The extra attention paid to picture and sound quality benefits home cinema users too, though those with an interest in video movie making as well, stand to get the most out of it.

                       

Panasonic UK Ltd., telephone (0990) 357357

 

UP CLOSE

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            5

Features                     4

Ease of use                 4

Build Quality              5

Value for Money            4

 

Features            S-VHS, NICAM, hi-fi stereo, VideoPlus+ with PDC, auto installation and clock set, multi-speed replay, audio dub, insert edit, syncro edit, NTSC replay, multi-brand TV remote

Sockets            rear: AV in/out (2 x SCART), S-Video in/out (mini DIN), stereo line audio in/out (phono), aerial in/out (coaxial), edit control (mini DIN), satellite control (minijack). front: AV in (phono), S-Video in (mini DIN), headphone, microphone and 8mm sync/LANC (minijack)       

 

Dimensions            430 x 107 x 330 mm

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

* The shiny silvery feet and the small transport buttons on the front panel look a bit dated but the larger display panel makes it easy to see what the machine is up to

 

* Without a jog/shuttle control on the remote handset the HS900ís outstanding multi-speed replay facilities are less accessible than they might be

 

* Connectivity to the outside world is good with a full set of AV inputs on the front panel, plus twin SCARTs and phono line inputs on the back panel

 

PANASONIC NV-HS950, £800

This rather serious-looking, sober-suited Super VHS VCR, is aimed squarely at video movie makers. Just take a look at all that front-panel socketry, and thereís more on the back, for linking the machine to an edit controller and other items of post-production equipment. The key editing features are a timebase corrector -- used to stabilise replay of noisy, old or wonky recordings -- it has both 5-pin RMC and Control L/LANC editing terminals, the latter enabling it to control basic functions on suitably-equipped 8mm camcorders, thereís audio-dub, individual recording level controls and it has an extra flying erase head, for seamlessly inserting new sequences into existing recordings.  

 

When itís not being used for editing itís equally proficient in home cinema applications with features like satellite control, a multi-brand TV remote, advanced digital noise reduction and NexTViewLink. Thatís a new industry-standard control protocol (via pin 10 on SCART) that allows TVs and VCRs to communicate with each other. The HS950 uses it for a feature called Direct TV Rec, for one-button recording of whatever channel is being shown on the TV.

 

The HS950 has multi-speed replay, with jog/shuttle dials on the front panel and remote handset; the Super Drive deck mechanism is very agile, able to change speed and direction in a fraction of a second, with minimal on-screen disturbance.

 

Installation and clock setting are carried out automatically, it takes around three minutes, a little longer if it is hooked up to a satellite receiver. The remote handset and front panel look a bit fearsome; the controls are reasonably well laid out, though some buttons are on the small side and a pain to find in low room lighting. Manual timer control is very easy, with the settings shown on a LCD panel on the handset.

 

On-screen performances in both VHS and S-VHS recording modes were both excellent. It managed to just top 250-lines on high-grade VHS tape, with a gnats under 400-lines on S-VHS recordings. Picture noise levels were exceptionally low -- the best yet on S-VHS -- colour fidelity and registration were both beyond reproach. Noise levels on the hi-fi soundtracks were a little below average, the response is even and uncoloured.

 

The HS950 is sophisticated editing machine, designed principally to meet the needs of camcorder owners, but the top-notch AV performance and flexibility sits equally well with home cinema applications, a potent multi-role machine.

 

Panasonic UK Ltd., telephone (0990) 357357

 

UP CLOSE

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            5

Features                     5

Ease of use                 4

Build Quality              5

Value for Money            4

 

Features            S-VHS, NICAM, hi-fi stereo, VideoPlus+ with PDC, auto installation and clock set, multi-speed replay, audio dub, insert edit, syncro edit, NTSC replay, multi-brand TV remote, satellite control, NexTViewLink,

Dimensions            430 x 107 x 356 mm

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

* A solid-looking design, with few cosmetic frills. It looks quite tame from the outside but lower the drawbridge to reveal the secondary controls, AV input and edit control sockets

 

* The remote handset looks a bit daunting -- thereís 63 buttons, count Ďem --  though the jog/shuttle is a welcome extra for sports fans and movie-makers

 

* Itís well connected, with a full set of audio inputs and outputs, back and front. The small DIN socket on the rear panel is for an edit controller; satellite control is via an IR wand, which plugs into the minijack  below the edit socket

 

PHILIPS VR-969, £800

We first saw the VR-969 Super VHS VCR almost two years ago. Back then Philips assured us it would be in the shops by mid 1996. The first samples actually went on sale just before Christmas 1997. Philips cite a number of reasons for itís late appearance, the most recent being problems with the operating software. The questions now are, was it worth the wait, and is it two years too late?

 

Despite the delay there is still nothing quite like the VR-969 on the market. Two features stand out. The first one is pretty obvious, itís the smart-looking  analogue clock set into the front panel. The other is on the back panel, itís an RS-232 serial PC interface, that allows some of the machineís functions to be controlled by computer. The PC connection is a good clue to the character of the 969, itís an edit deck first and foremost, with a line-up of features that will have camcorder owners and movie-makers drooling. It has a flying erase head for clean insert editing, syncro-edit capability with camcorders fitted with Control L/LANC and Panasonic edit terminals, it can read timecodes, the mono audio soundtrack can be dubbed, there are jog/shuttle dials on the front panel and handset, and it is fitted with manual audio level controls.

 

Home cinema related features include EasyLink communications with suitable TVs, NTSC playback, advanced video processing circuitry, auto install, and teletext. Yes teletext, itís a comparatively rare sight on VCRs, but Philips have put it to good use. The S-VHS recording system has sufficient bandwidth to record the teletext data stream, so you can tape your favourite pages... Itís also used for timer programming, and thatís in addition to manual programming and Video Plus+

 

Super VHS and standard VHS resolutions are both very good at a whisker under 400 lines, and bang on 250-lines respectively. Noise levels are low in S-VHS mode, and about average for top-end VHS. Colour accuracy and registration are fine, picture stability is excellent at all playback speeds. The hi-fi stereo soundtracks has only moderate amounts of background hiss, the frequency response is very flat with no noticeable colouration.

 

In spite of all the movie-making widgets the 969 is a very capable home cinema machine. Picture and sound performance have been given top-priority and the cosmetics will fit in well with any AV system, but the price reflects the range of editing facilities, so itís more likely to appeal to camcorder owners .

 

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444

 

UP CLOSE

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            4

Features                     5

Ease of use                 4

Build Quality              5

Value for Money            4

 

Features                     Super VHS recording system, NICAM, Video Plus+ with PDC, teletext programming and recording, auto installation, NTSC playback, EasyLink , flying erase head, Syncro Edit with LANC, Panasonic 5-pin and RS-232 interface, manual audio level control

Sockets                       2 x SCART AV in/out, S-Video in/out (mini DIN) edit terminals (minijack and mini DIN), composite video and audio in/out (phono)

Dimensions                 435 x 110 x 318mm

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

* The white faced analogue clock dominates the front panel. Itís a radio controlled type, so it should be fairly accurate

 

* Most of the controls are located on the big drop-down front panel, thereís also a set of AV inputs, for camcorder and editing hook-ups

 

* The remote control handset is well laid out and Philips get extra brownie points for the jog/shuttle dial

 

SAMSUNG SV-300W, £1000

The Samsung SV-300W is the odd man out in this round-up for several reasons. Firstly, itís been around the longest, since mid 1995. Second, it doesnít have a NICAM decoder, no tuner, and consequently no Video Plus+ or PDC. Third, it is the most expensive VCR weíve looked at, but at £1000 it might actually be a bit of a bargain!

 

So what makes a VCR that canít be used for off-air taping or time-shifting so special?  Well, the SV-300W is one of only two VCRs ever to have a built-in digital standards converter. The other one was the much missed Panasonic NV-W1; it was seen off by the SV-300, which costs around half as much. Digital standards conversion is a most particular talent, involving such techniques as line Ďcullingí and Ďinterpolationí converting a PAL 625-line/50Hz tapes and signals into a 525-line/60Hz NTSC format signal, and vice versa.

 

In other words, you pop in an NTSC tape, and a PAL video signal comes out the other end, which can be recorded on a second VCR. It works the other way around, so you can send a copy of your holiday movies to friends and relatives in the US, at least, thatís the idea. It would be an infringement of copyright to convert pre-recorded movies, so consider yourselves warned...  By the way, it can also handle PAL/NTSC to SECAM as well, though thatís a bit more complicated.  

 

You may have spotted the S-Video socket on the front panel, itís not a Super VHS machine, though it does have quasi S-VHS replay facilities and is configured for S-Video inputs and outputs. The upshot is that it will replay/convert S-VHS recordings, but not at the full resolution. Audio facilities include the standard mono linear soundtrack, which can be dubbed, and stereo hi-fi sound.

 

Normal PAL to PAL replay is fine, you can expect a touch over 240-lines, but the real test is see what happens to an NTSC tape. There is a drop in resolution, to a shade under 230-lines at the PAL end, and there are some digital artefacts -- most noticeable in movement -- but the image is crisp, with little noise. Noise on the hi-fi soundtracks is no better than average but the response is wide and clean. A rather special machine and for those who need the facility, itís in a class of its own.

 

Samsung UK Ltd., telephone 0181-391 0168

 

UP CLOSE

Picture Quality            4

Sound Quality            4

Features                     5

Ease of use                 4

Build Quality              4

Value for Money            3

 

Features            Multi-system digital standards conversion (replay and record), stereo hi-fi sound, strobe replay, audio dub

Sockets            rear: AV in/out (phono), S-Video out (mini DIN); front: AV in (phono), S-Video in (mini DIN)

Dimensions            453 x 88 x 332mm

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

 

* The distinctive livery means itís unlikely to be mistaken for an ordinary VCR, which is just as well as it canít timeshift

 

* The input and output socketry have been kept simple and to the point, not a SCART in sight...

 

* The control layout is very simple, as befits a machine with fewer than normal home-recording functions

 

SONY SLV-AV100, £750 (£900 with optional speaker and sub-woofer package)

Video recorders have been integrated with all sorts of devices, including small screen colour televisions, satellite receivers, even Dolby Pro Logic processors, but the SLV-AV100 is a first. Itís an AV amplifier with a built-in VCR. No, thatís not the wrong way around, the amplifier is the dominant component. Itís quite unlike the various DPL video recorders weíve seen, where the amplifiers are tacked on to the VCR. The AV100 is a powerful AV amplifier, with inputs for four other hi-fi sources, so it can be used as the central component in a complete home entertainment system. 

 

The first things that strike you about the AV100 are its size and weight. It tips the scales at 13kg, so check to make sure youíve got the space, and strong enough shelves, before buying one of these monsters. The VCR section is based on one of Sonyís top NICAM machines, with a competent, if unexciting range of facilities. The headliners are auto installation, NTSC replay, tape tuning, front AV inputs and multi-speed replay. The amplifier section is also familiar ground, with 50 watts RMS going to the front channels, (right, left and centre) and 25 watts to each of the two rear channel speakers. In addition to Dolby Pro Logic it has a selection of DSP modes (theatre, hall and stadium effects), plus pre-set equalisation settings, including one for video games. Techno trivia fans might like to note that the speed of the internal cooling fan varies with the volume setting.

 

Sony have done a very good job of uniting two quite disparate technologies. The VCR and amplifier are brought together by the remote control and on-screen displays, and thereís extra functionality for owners of Sony TVs. The extra cables, for the speakers, makes installation a little more complicated than usual, though itís a good deal easier to put together, than a AV system say, made up of separate components.

 

Sony VHS VCRs are generally very well put together and this one is no exception, with a respectable 250-line resolution, clean colours, stable still frame and trick replay, all with lower than average amounts of picture noise. The stereo soundtracks are straight down the middle too, with a flat wide response and only modest  amounts of background hiss.

 

Itís a unique combination, that we suspect has a fairly small market, but for those looking for a well specified VCR and Dolby Pro Logic amplifier at the same time, it is a very worthwhile proposition.

 

Sony UK Ltd., telephone 0181-784 1144

 

UP CLOSE

Picture Quality            4

Sound Quality            5

Features                     5

Ease of use                 4

Build Quality              5

Value for Money            3

 

Features            VCR: VHS, NICAM, VideoPlus+ with PDC, auto set-up and clock check, NTSC playback, multi-brand remote plus functions for other Sony products. AV Amp: Dolby Pro Logic, 7-mode DSP, 3 x 40 watts RMS (front), 2 x 20 watts RMS (rear)

Sockets            4 x AV inputs (phono), speakers (spring terminal), aerial bypass (coaxial)

Dimensions            157 x 430 x 412 mm

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

 

* It is big and heavy, though it doesnít take up as much space as a separate VCR and DPL amp. Plenty of knobs and buttons to play with, just donít loose the instruction book...

 

* Lots of plugs and sockets but itís no worse than most AV amplifiers; thereís fewer cables to deal with as the amp and VCR are already hooked up

 

* A very busy remote, in addition to all of the VCR, AV amp and processor functions it can also control most recent Sony TVs

 

 

SONY SLV-E1000, £700

It sounds a lot, seven hundred quid for a VHS video recorder, even if it has got NICAM and a Sony badge on the front, but the SLV-E1000 is a bit different. It is a thoroughbred editing machine, as far as weíre aware the only VCR on the market to have a configurable Ďmaster/slaveí Control L/LANC editing terminal and RC timecode reader and built-in edit controller.

 

If youíre deeply unmoved by that news, you probably havenít got a Hi8 camcorder, and you almost certainly have no interest in editing. For those in the know it means this machine is a virtually self-contained video editing suite. Just hook it up to a suitable Sony camcorder, tell it what scenes to copy, and it will quietly turn raw camcorder footage into a finished production. Control L/LANC is the means by which the VCR communicates with and controls the camcorder; RC-timecodes, written on to the tape by the camcorder, ensure frame-accurate cuts. The built-in edit controller automatically replays up to 10 designated scenes on the camcorder, at the same time operating the VCRs record-pause function.

 

But what else can it do? Still with video movie-making, thereís video insert, audio dub, manual recording level control, audio balance, front-mounted AV sockets and a microphone input. Home cinema features, whilst not as numerous, are no less useful. They include tape tuning, a multi-brand TV remote, NTSC replay and not forgetting NICAM and Video Plus+.  The initial set-up is only semi-automatic, you have to dab a few buttons; Sony clearly believe potential buyers of this machine are intelligent enough to both read and understand their instruction books...

 

Since the primary role of the SLV-E1000 is to copy camcorder recordings it would very surprising indeed if the picture quality wasnít up to scratch It is, samples weíve tried gave a full 250-lines of resolution and minimal amounts of picture noise. Colours are crisp and natural-looking and the picture is remarkably stable. Audio noise levels are also very low, the response is even with sharper than average treble.

 

The £700 price tag would look a bit out of place on an ordinary VHS video recorder but the SLV-E1000 is far from ordinary. Nevertheless, itís not the sort of machine you would buy solely for home cinema use. To get the most out of it you really need a camcorder, preferably a Hi8 model, with timecode facilities, and it helps to be interested in movie-making. 

 

Sony UK Ltd., telephone 0181-784 1144

 

UP CLOSE

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            5

Features                     4

Ease of use                 4

Build Quality              5

Value for Money            3

 

Features            VHS, NICAM, Video Plus+ with PDC, auto installation, NTSC playback, multi-brand TV remote, RCTC recognition, 10-scene edit controller

Sockets            2 x SCART AV inputs, line audio in (phono),  front  AV inputs (phono),  headphone, microphone, Control L (minijack)

Dimensions            430 x 103 x 323mm 

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

 

* It looks quite tame from the front but lower the drawbridge and youíre confronted with a whole heap of knobs, buttons and switches

 

* The usual mixture of back panel SCART and phono sockets provide a fairly standard set of AV connections

 

* The jog/shuttle dial on the handset will be a welcome bonus for both home cinema fans, and movie makers. Itís a multi-brand design, that controls the main functions on a wide range of TVs

 

CONCLUSION

There can be no winners or losers in this group test. The only things these eight VCRs have in common are the fact that they all cost £700 or more, they can replay VHS tapes, and they all come with a fitted mains plug... With such little basis for direct comparison itís only fair that we consider each machine on its own merits. The Samsung SV-300 is the most specialist model in this group. Its only home cinema qualification is the fact that it can digitally convert NTSC recordings to proper PAL, which is a notch up on the partial conversion process, used on other VCRs with NTSC replay facilities. Probably not a machine that will end up in many living rooms, but you could make a few bob on the side, transcoding home video movies. 

 

The Sony SLV-AV100 is another niche machine, though this time it is firmly in within the home cinema arena. Itís a brilliant piece of engineering but we wonder how many people there are out there, in the market for a VCR and AV processor amplifier at the same time? For those that are, itís a treat. The JVC HR-S7000 has a broader role within home cinema, though the Super VHS recording system is seriously hampered by the complete lack of pre-recorded software. Super VHS machines are well suited to editing and movie-making, but unfortunately S7000 has relatively few camcorder-friendly features.

 

The four other Super VHS machines are more clearly defined and better equipped for a dual role, as editing decks and home cinema VCRs. The Panasonic NV-HS900 and NV-HS950 are the most well rounded, though the JVC HR-S9400, with its Digital Drum replay system and eye-catching cosmetics would get our vote, if editing was the secondary consideration. If you put editing and style first then the Philips VR-969 has the most to offer, especially for enthusiasts and those looking for something a little different. It is one of the most unusual VCRs weíve seen in quite a while, full of character and, dare we say, charm, proving that Philips havenít lost their touch. Our only regret is that we had to wait so long to see it.

 

That just leaves the Sony SLV-E1000, which is another specialist editing deck. It looks a tad pricey, particularly as it is a standard VHS machine, but performance and edit facilities are both unmatched. For those with the right equipment, that can make good use of its special talents, then it is definitely worth considering.

 

THE BEST OF THE (CHEAPER) REST

 

AKAI VS-G2DPL £500 HE48

Mark II version of the Akai VS-G2400; the very first VHS video recorder, with a built-in Dolby Pro Logic processor. A very well specified machine, with built-in amplification and some useful home cinema features. Performance is good too, and the price is very fair

 

Sony SLV-E920, £500, HE51

A solid, dependable VCR with good AV performance and a thoroughly sensible set of features. Itís not a machine to get excited about, and the price is on the high side, but itís well equipped for movie-making, itís quick and easy to set up and it has SmartLink, for controlling Sony TVs and other compatible models from Panasonic, Philips and Grundig

 

Thomson VPH-6790, £500, HE51

Classy-looking designer VCR, styled by Philippe Starck. Itís a multi-standard machine, capable of working almost anywhere in Europe. There are some very neat touches -- the on-screen display graphics are excellent -- it has good all-round  AV performance and thereís some useful editing features

 

Toshiba VR-857B, £460, HE48

The 857B is basically a revamp of last yearís model, some features have been tweaked but the biggest change is the price, down from £500, but with no significant change to the feature list. A formidable home cinema machine, with all the bells and whistles youíd expect from Tosh

 

WHAT THE MANUFACTURERS SAY...

*

*
*
*

SAMSUNG

ĎReceived a film from overseas but it wonít play on your VCR? Well Samsung have the answer. The SV-300W is the worldís only VCR that can play back tapes from just about anywhere in the world, on your TV. Hook it up to another VCR and it will make a copy, from one format to anotherí.

 

SONY
ĎThe SLV-E10000 is one of Sonyís premiere VCRs. It offers optimal record and play capabilities along with excellent editing facilities, such as Program Assemble Edit, Trilogic, RCTC recognition, LANC remote, NTSC playback, front AV inputs and two SCART connectors. The SLV-E1000 will take care of all your edit, record and playback needsí.

 

ĎThe SLV-AV100 is everything you could need from a Home Video Centre -- a highly specified VCR with built-in Dolby Pro Logic amplifier. The VCR side features NICAM, LP recording, Video Plus+, easy set-up, NTSC playback and Super Trilogic picture control, plus all the features you need to make the most of your available softwareí

INSTANT EXPERT

 

AUDIO DUB -- facility to replace or over-record the standard mono linear sound track on a VHS recording

 

CONTROL L/LANC -- serial communications protocol used on camcorders and some VCRs, for data and tape transport control

 

DSP -- digital signal processing, spatial effects recreating the acoustic effects of a large space

 

FLYING ERASE HEAD -- extra head on the spinning tape head drum, to precisely erase a single video track, so that new sequences can be seamlessly inserted into existing recordings

 

JOG/SHUTTLE -- rotary transport control; the outer shuttle ring gives coarse speed and direction control, the inner jog dial steps the recording backwards and forwards, a frame at a time

 

INSERT EDIT -- facility to insert a new sequence into the middle of an existing recording, see also flying erase head

 

NICAM -- near instantaneously companded audio multiplexing, high quality digital stereo TV sound system used by terrestrial broadcasters

 

PDC -- program delivery control -- automatic timer correction system, using teletext type signals, sent by broadcasters, to change VCR timer settings to compensate for late schedule changes and overruns

 

RCTC -- rewritable consumer time code, see ĎTimecodeí

 

TIMECODE -- data recorded by some camcorders, that assigns a unique numerical code to each frame of a recording, for editing purposes

 

COMPARISON TABLE

 

MAKE/MODEL                   ££s            Form            Aud            AD            FAV            Sat            NTSC     

 

JVC HR-S7000              700            S-VHS  N/S      *            *         

JVC HR-S9400              800            S-VHS N/S      *            *

Panasonic NV-HS900            750            S-VHS N/S      *            *                      *         

Panasonic NV-HS950           800      S-VHS N/S      *            *            *            *         

Philips VR-969                  800            S-VHS N/S      *            *                      *

Samsung SV-300W            1000    Q-VHS   S            *            *                      *

Sony SLV-AV100             750            VHS    N/S                  *                      *

Sony SLV-E1000              700            VHS     N/S      *            *                      *

 

key: audio S= stereo, N = NICAM, AD = audio dub, FAV = front mounted AV connections, SAT = satellite control, Q-VHS = quasi S-VHS replay

 

---end---

” R. Maybury 1997 2212

 

 

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