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SONY GV-D900 DV WALKMAN, £1300, ****

 

Why’s it here: EU import regulations classify any camcorder that can record an external video signal as a VCR and therefore subject to higher import tariffs and quota restrictions. This makes life very difficult for home movie-makers, especially those with digital camcorders as they have no way of copying or editing their footage, without a big drop in picture quality, or shelling out several grand on a DV video recorder or fancy PC. The GV-D900 solves a lot of movie-making problems and it's also an interesting AV component in its own right, with near broadcast-quality recording quality in a box only a little bigger than a personal stereo. 

 

Any unique features: The D900 is one of two Sony DV video Walkmen, the other one -- GV-D900 -- doesn't have a screen, and is some £400 cheaper. In addition to the screen the D900 has its own built-in speaker, and there's an optional TV tuner (£140), so it could come in quite useful on camping or caravanning holidays (mini

DV cassettes last for up to 90 minutes, just long enough for a movie). It has a video input socket, so it could be connected to an old analogue camcorder -- used as a camera -- to make digital quality recordings. The D900 records sound on one 16-bit or two 12-bit high performance stereo soundtracks. One of the 12-bit tracks can be dubbed, for adding music or commentary to recordings. A built-in 20-scene editor can be used to chop out the duff bits in home videos.

 

How does it perform: The picture on the 5.5-inch LCD screen is very good indeed, though it's a bit too small for communal viewing and it can get a bit tiring after a while. Plug it into a TV and it works just like a regular VCR.  Picture and sound quality are excellent, comparable with off-air broadcasts and DVD in terms of resolution, colour fidelity and freedom from noise. The 12 and 16-bit soundtrack are close to mid-range CD with a clean flat response. 

 

Our Verdict: It is first and foremost an editing tool for owners of digital camcorders but with the optional tuner think of it as a very high quality VCR/TV combi, albeit a rather expensive one, but how many VCRs can you name that run off batteries and fit into a coat pocket? 

 

Sony UK, telephone (0990) 111999

 

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FEATURES                DV record playback, still & slomo replay, 2 x 12-bit  & 1 x 16-bit stereo soundtracks, audio dub (12-bit soundtrack only), 20-scene edit controller, built in speaker, title generator, Laser Link AV connection

 

Sockets                       S-Video in/out (mini DIN), Composite video and stereo audio

in/out (phono), DV/FireWire in/out (DV jack), headphones & Control L (mini Jack),

peripheral interface (TV tuner etc, proprietary multi pin slide connector)

Dimensions                 148 x 62 x 135mm

           

Picture Quality            *****

Sound Quality            *****

Build Quality              *****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              *****

 

Rival Buys

Sony GV-D300 800

 

Captions

The clamshell case opens to reveal a 5.5 inch colour LCD screen, just about large enough for two people to watch

 

The deck has a built-in speaker, it's only an inch or so across, so don't expect too much

 

All the inputs and outputs you're likely to need, including the industry standard FireWire digital interface

 

HEAD

FERGUSON FV 305 NICAM VCR, £200, ***

Why’s it here: The Ferguson brand is now used almost exclusively for parent company Thomson's budget AV products. The FV-305 sells for around £200, making it one of the cheapest NICAM VCRs on the market. Nevertheless, the Ferguson brand still commands a lot of respect; back in the 70s and 80s when it was an independent manufacturer it was one of the pioneers of the VHS format and it still has a well-earned reputation for performance and value for money. However, the obvious question is what has been sacrificed in order to get the price down so low?

 

Any unique features: Yes, but its not good news. This is the only VHS video recorder we can recall, and certainly the only NICAM machine we've ever reviewed not to have a full front panel display. Instead of the usual digital readout there are just half a dozen sorry-looking illuminated legends, like 'on'. 'standby' and 'play'. No tape counter or channel number, not even a clock display; if you want to know what the machine is up to -- and you haven't got a pair of binoculars -- there's a fairly comprehensive on-screen display, but it's all a bit disconcerting. Otherwise it has all of the home cinema basics, including a Video Plus+ timer with PDC, full auto-install, NTSC replay and twin SCART sockets.

 

How does it perform: Not too bad at all, resolution was a fairly average 240-lines, the picture is clean, colours are solid but there is some bleeding in areas of high saturation. Image stability is good though vertical lines can look a bit ragged. Still frame is good too, though that's the only trick-play facility over and above basic two-speed picture search. Background hiss on the stereo soundtracks is not too bad, certainly no worse than most other budget hi-fi machines and it shouldn't disgrace itself as a basic AV source component.

 

Our Verdict: The lack of a proper front panel display is rather disturbing, apart from making it harder to use, it is surprising how much you come to rely on the VCR clock -- it's usually the only one you can trust to tell the right time. This is penny-pinching taken to extremes, spoiling what could have been a quite likeable machine.

 

Ferguson, telephone 0181-344 4444

 

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Features            NICAM hi-fi sound, Video Plus+ with PDC, auto installation, NTSC playback

Sockets             2 x SCART AV, stereo line audio out (phono), RF in/out (coax)               

Dimensions            394 x 90 x 308mm   

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ***

Build Quality              ***

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ****

 

Rival Buys

Aiwa FX550 £230, Akai VS-G706 £200, Sharp VC-MH711£230

 

CAPTIONS

 

Something missing? That's right, no front panel displays, apart from some titchy LED indicators that you need a magnifying glass to see

 

Only the bare AV essentials, two SCARTs and a pair of phono sockets on the back panel, and nothing on the front

 

Not bad, as remotes go, but the on-screen display functions are a bit strange

 

 

WALLACE UNIVERSAL REMOTES, CM 100 & 200 £15 & £20, *****

Why are they here: You won't need reminding that remote control handsets have two nasty little habits: they breed and they get lost. In the case of the latter there's another unpleasant surprise in store, it's not unknown for manufacturers to charge between £50 and £100 for replacement remote controls. Multi-function handsets have been around for a long time but button boxes that pack in the functions of more than two or three devices can be a nightmare to use. We need to get back to basics, which is what the Wallace CM100 and 200 aim to provide.

 

Any unique features: The CM100 is an uncomplicated TV controller, for models with a basic teletext decoder. The CM200 is a dual-function TV-VCR remote with a much wide range of functions. Both are very easy to set up, using what Wallace describe as 'Point and Go' technology. Essentially that means entering a 2-digit manufacturers code, and if that doesn't work, keep pressing the buttons until it does. VCR code programming is even easier on the CM200, just hold down two buttons until the VCR goes into play mode. The big difference with the CM200, and most other 2-function universal handset is the number of secondary functions covered, which include full Fastext control, menu-driven on-screen displays, zoom and installation. Despite the large number of buttons frequently used functions are easy to find and clearly labelled. Power is supplied by a pair of AAA cells and there's a 2-minute back-up, to protect the setting during battery change.

 

How do they perform: The list of brands isn't as long or comprehensive as some rival handsets, most of the majors makes are included but there are some notable omissions, like Aiwa, Akai, Ferguson and LG. It's possible that their codes are included but check first. The CM200 had no difficulty whatsoever with Sony and JVC video recorder plus Mitsubishi and Panasonic TVs, though it couldn't switch the VCRs on or off, nor were there any timer programming facilities. TV operation was much more successful, on some models providing more or less complete control over all functions.

 

Our Verdict: Both models score well as replacement TV handsets, they are easy to set up and use. VCR functions on the CM200 are quite limited but they're enough to get you by for day to day use.

 

Wallace Universal, telephone 0181-870 3388

 

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Features            CM100 -- basic TV and text functions. CM200 -- TV and VCR control. Both models: over 30 brand codes, 2-minute memory backup           

Dimensions            CM100: 55 x 150 x 20 mm. CM200:            55 x 190 x 20 mm

 

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****               

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              *****

 

Rival Buys

One For All Little Easy £16, Philips 2-in-1£19

 

CAPTIONS

The CM100 is ca compact shape, it has big, clearly labelled buttons and it's easy to set up

 

The CM200 is neatly presented and it covers a lot of ground, includes some quite obscure TV functions

 

Both handsets are powered by a pair of AAA cells, the memory backup lasts two minutes, long enough to change the batteries

 

HEAD

SONY DDV220 PC DVD, £250, ****

Why’s it here: It's all part of this convergence business. Digital technology is pulling previously diverse technologies together, in this case enabling PC users to watch movies on their monitor screens and home cinema fans to connect PCs to their TVs.  DVD-ROM drives are now almost standard on new multimedia PCs; their main purpose is to read data discs however, a growing number of drives, including this one from Sony, are bundled with MPEG 2 digital video decoder boards, that can read DVD Video discs as well.

 

Any unique features: How about multi-region playback on a TV? Thought that would get your attention. The Sigma Design RealMagic+ MPEG card has a full set of video (composite & S-Video) and analogue and digital outputs so it can be connected to a TV and audio system. The region code setting can be changed five times -- in case you relocate to another region  -- but it can be reset, in the case of serial émigrés… The outfit includes a copy of Jumanji, a data disc (Collins Cobuild Student Language Dictionary) and a Star Trek screensaver. Be warned you need a reasonably fast Pentium PC (133MHz or faster), with at least 32Mb RAM and Windows 95 or 98. 

 

How does it perform: Installation is relatively painless, though it pays to know your way around your PC as it involves quite a bit of tinkering around inside. If everything goes smoothly it can be up and running inside half an hour. The on-screen display -- called DVD Station -- tries hard to look like the front panel of a living room DVD player, with virtual buttons that you click with the mouse. All of the usual DVD features are accessible, including the on-disc menu and any interactive facilities. Picture quality on a PC monitor is impressive; playback is clean and artefact-free even on a relatively sluggish 133MHz Pentium testbed PC. Occasionally it stumbled, as the PC processor decided to get on with some housekeeping task, but this only lasted a moment and playback resumes quickly. On a TV it looks even better, though the 'stutters' can be annoying. Audio is as clean as a whistle, comparable with most living room DVD players.  

 

Our Verdict: You would have to be fairly sad to want to watch a DVD movie on a 15-inch PC monitor. However, if you've got a suitable computer this is a cheap and reasonably effective way to get into multi-region DVD Video, providing you don't mind a computer sitting next to the TV, and no remote control…

 

Sony UK, telephone (0990) 111999

 

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Features                     DVD-ROM (24X CD, 5X DVD), PCI MPEG2 playback card, all DVD Video functions supported

Sockets                        VGA out (15-pin D-SUB), VGA in (mini DIN) composite & S-Video out (mini DIN), mixed stereo out (minijack), digital audio out (phono)    

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     *****

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ****

 

Rival Buys

Philips DRD5200 £200,

 

CAPTIONS

The kit includes the DVD-ROM drive, MPEG card, all cables and connectors, driver discs and a selection of data and video DVDs

 

The MPEG card plugs into a spare PCI slot on the PC motherboard, all input and output connections are on the board's backpane

 

The DVD-ROM drive can also read CD-ROM and CD audio discs

 

HEAD

VIVANCO FMH 8180 WIRELESS HEADPHONES, £100

Why’s it here: Vivanco was first to launch FM wireless headphones at the beginning of last year, using the (then) newly authorised 863-864 MHz frequency on the UHF band. Unlike infra-red cordless headphones, (and earlier VHF FM headphones), the high operating frequency means audio quality is potentially much better than previous IR and FM technologies, and the signal is better at penetrating walls, giving a range of up to 100 metres. The original FMH 6800 headphones were a big improvement on what had gone before but we identified one or two flaws, Vivanco has been back to the drawing board and the result is the FMH 8180, a smarter and altogether slicker-looking proposition. 

 

Any unique features: The biggest change has been to the tuning system. An auto-seek tuner has replaced the crude manually switched 3-channel arrangement on the 6800 and there's an added bonus, which we'll come to in a moment. The headphone design is much less fussy and easier to adjust; the ear cups are larger too. The transmitter module looks a lot better though Vivanco have missed a trick by not providing it with a stand or clip, to hold the headphones when they're not being used, or charging the batteries. Talking of which, the headphones are now powered by a pair of longer lasting nickel metal-hydride cells, though you need to be quite patient as the first charge is supposed to take 20 hours (subsequent charges last 12 hours). A full charge gives around 24-hours continuous use, at normal volume levels. The quoted range of 100 metres was a bit optimistic, after 50 metres or so noise levels increase significantly.  

 

How does it perform: The two most noticeable differences between the 8180 and the previous headphones is the big improvement in tuner selectivity and comfort. The 6800 suffered quite badly from interference from nearby TV transmitters, all channels on the new headphones were completely clear, and it wasn't anything like as badly affected by hum and line whistle from nearby TVs and computer screens. Sound quality remains almost unchanged, the response is flat and wide but a noticeable background hiss is always there. It doesn't matter too much with lively rock, pop and even movie soundtracks, but it can become quite intrusive on quieter and subtler pieces. 

 

Our Verdict: Wireless FM technology continues to head in the right direction. Hiss remains a nuisance but it's outweighed by the undoubted convenience and sense of freedom. The gap between cordless and wired headphones has narrowed once again.

 

Vivanco UK, telephone (01442) 403020,

 

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Features            auto-tuning, auto power off, NiMh rechargeable batteries, connecting cables and adaptors supplied         

Sockets             stereo audio in (phono) DC power/charger (DC sockets) 

 

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****               

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ***

 

Rival Buys

Philips SBC-HC610 £100

 

CAPTIONS

The large padded ear cups are quite comfy, even for prolonged periods

 

The volume and on/off switch are on the right 'phone, the batteries -- one per side -- are behind the ear cups

 

 The transmitter could have made a useful stand for the headphones, as it is they fall off..

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1998, 2511

 

 

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