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JVC HR-S9600, Super VHS NICAM VCR, £550

VERDICT *****

 

Why’s it here: JVC almost single-handedly brought Super-VHS back from the brink last year when it launched the HR-S7500 for just £350. S-VHS is making a remarkable comeback, according to industry figures only 1000 machines were sold in 1997, last year it had risen to more than 17,000. Now JVC is hoping to revive interest in the format amongst high-end users and camcorder owners with the newly arrived HR-S9600. First and foremost it is a sophisticated edit deck, but in amongst all of the camcorder goodies there's a wealth of features that can't fail to interest home cinema enthusiasts.

 

Any unique features: All of the S9600's headline features we've seen before but rarely in such abundance. Heading the list is Dynamic Drum with TimeScan, the unique JVC tilting drum system that gives near-perfect multi-speed picture search, in both directions, with real-time sound. On the edit front there's timebase correction (for stabilising replay on noisy or wonky recordings), insert edit, audio dub and it has a built-in 8-scene edit controller that operates replay functions on JVC camcorders and other models that use the LANC/Control L edit control protocol.    

 

How does it perform: The trouble with S-VHS is that off-air recordings do not look significantly better than regular VHS, but there are improvements to be found, if you look closely, especially in the lower noise levels and cleaner colours. Resolution is well up on standard VHS at around 380-lines on our machine, though you'll probably only see the increased sharpness on S-VHS-C camcorder recordings. Dynamic Drum and TimeScan are great for whizzing through boring movies and programs, the sound (lo-fi mono) means you won't loose the thread. The stereo soundtracks are crisp with a flat response, background hiss is a little lower than average.

 

Our Verdict:

If you own an S-VHS-C camcorder and still haven't decided what ask Santa for Christmas, you're looking at it. The S9600 is a superb machine for movie-makers; there's everything you'll need, from easy to use editing facilities to the timebase corrector, for reviving old tapes. It's a top-notch home cinema performer too, but Super VHS is a hard format to justify in this context since it offers few visible benefits. Dynamic Drum and TimeScan are available lower down the JVC range, for a good deal less than £550, but in spite of all that it's still a peach of a machine and if you are not fazed by the price, definitely worth considering!

 

JVC, 0181-450 3282

 

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Features                     S-VHS recording system, NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, auto install, Video Plus+, Dynamic Drum with TimeScan, multi-brand TV/satellite remote, NTSC replay, RA edit, audio dub, timebase correction, insert edit

 

Sockets             rear: AV in/out (2 x SCART), S-Video out (mini DIN), line audio out (phono), JLIP & LANC edit control (minijack), front: AV in (phono), S-Video in (mini DIN)

                       

Dimensions                 430 x 330 x 115mm

 

Picture Quality            *****

Sound Quality            *****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     *****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Rival Buys

Panasonic £350, Philips VR-969 £800

 

 

KENWOOD DVF-5010 DVD Player, £399

VERDICT ****

 

Why’s it here: Kenwood's first foray into DVD was a truly memorable experience.  The DVF-9010 was, and still is, one of the most outrageous players on the market with its motorised front panel and scary £1000 price tag. The DVF-5010 is an altogether more restrained affair, conventional even. In stark contrast to its glitzy stablemate the cosmetics are textbook 'black box' and at just under £400 the price is smack dab in the middle of the highly competitive mid-market sector.

 

Any unique features: The main highlights are on-board AC-3 and MPEG audio decoders, there's a full set of line-level outputs on the back, or should you feel inclined it can be connected to an external decoder using the coaxial or optical digital outputs. There are a few extras, like a 2-mode 'virtual surround' option and a five-scene memory; otherwise the specification is fairly modest. The deck mechanism and main processor board are old friends (sourced we suspect from Matsushita) and the on-screen displays that appear along the top of the display also have a familiar ring to them.   

 

It's also worth mentioning a few bits and pieces that seem to be missing. There's no mention of DTS compatibility, which may be an issue if you opt for a 'chipped' version of this machine and have access to DTS discs. Of more immediate concern is the absence of any SCART AV sockets on the rear panel. It's not a big deal, AV outputs are handled by phono and S-Video connectors but it does means having to buy a new lead if the rest of your system uses SCART connectors. The other curious omission is an on/off or standby button on the remote handset. You actually have to get up out of your chair to turn it off, but you were probably heading in that direction anyway, to remove the disc… More worryingly the front panel display can blank out completely when the disc tray is empty, so it is possible to inadvertently leave it switched on, possibly for days or weeks on end, without realising it.

 

How does it perform: The initial set-up menus are clear and easy to follow, all of the usual settings are covered, including TV aspect ratio, language and speaker settings. The main on-screen display isn't so hot though and it takes a while to figure out what all the little icons mean at the top of the screen.  The deck mechanism seems even more agile than usual and it has a very good selection of replay functions, with real-time sound at the lower search speeds. Layer change is fast, less than a second, but our sample occasionally made a mistake, Godzilla repeatedly skipped two chapters at the changeover point. This turned out to be due to a smear on the disc, not a problem, but this particular player was unusually sensitive to grubby discs. Even light contamination would often result in serious 'blocking' or other picture artefacts and the occasional hop skip and jump to another part of the disc. Otherwise picture quality is very good, fine detail is cleanly resolved and it has a good dynamic range, revealing detail that other players would almost certainly loose in shadows and murky backgrounds, The image is rock solid at all replay speeds, slow motion is very smooth. The AC3 channels have a wide open response with no noise to speak of. Dolby Surround soundtracks are also lively and with very low levels of hiss.

 

Our Verdict:

After the 9010 this player does seem a tad predictable, dull almost, but there's nothing wrong with that if the on-screen performance is up to scratch, which it is in this case. The only point to make about this player's rather bland personality is that it's up against some stiff competition, there's some cracking machines at and around the £400 price mark these days, not to mention several other players with very similar specifications. The 5010 lacks any 'killer' features, something to make it stand out from the crowd.

 

Kenwood, (01923) 816444

 

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Features             Region 2, built-in Dolby Digital & MPEG decoders, virtual surround, NTSC playback, scene memory

                       

Sockets             AV out (phono), S-Video out (mini DIN), digital out (phono & TOSlink optical)

 

Dimensions            440 x 93 x 390mm   

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Rival Buys

Panasonic DVD-A160, £380, Philips DVD-710 £350, Pioneer DV-515 £400

 

 

PHILIPS FW-890P DPL mini hi-fi system, £400

VERDICT****

 

Why’s it here:             AV mini systems are still one of the simplest and most cost effective routes into home cinema and the Philips FW-890 is a classic example of the genre. Everything needed to turn a TV and NICAM VCR into a fully-fledged home entertainment system is conveniently packaged in one box, and that includes the speakers and cables. Philips has clearly targeted this system at a younger male audience, the styling is dramatic, to say the least, but more significantly the Dolby Pro facilities take a bit of a back seat to the dazzling array of digitally contrived audio effects.

 

Any unique features: It has been designed to be noticed, forget the combined 240 + 240 watts rms amplification, the speaker and system box cosmetics are plenty loud on their own, and that's before you switch it on… Pride of place has been given to the digital sound effects which include Virtual Environment Control for mimicing all sorts of musical venues (hall, disco, club, arcade, concert etc.) and the Interactive Sound Studio that allows the user to add their own personal touch to the music. Sitting atop the one-box stack is 3-CD autochanger and at the bottom is a twin logic-controlled cassette deck, with high-speed dubbing and auto-reverse on deck B. The central display panel is a real eye-full and quite diverting where there's nothing to watch on TV.   

 

How does it perform: Behind the shiny silver plastic and OTT front panel there lurks a half-decent home cinema system. Much of the credit for the lively sound goes to the dreadful-looking 'G-Sound' speakers, which deliver a punchy bass and well-focused mid-range. The rear channel speakers could have done with a bit more power since front-rear transitions dip slightly in the middle. The DPL decoder is very effective, loud effects are cleanly rendered and dialogue is firmly anchored to the centre channel. Audio-only performance is a bit variable, the dynamics are well suited to rock and pop but quieter or more detailed pieces have a tendency to sound slurred and heavy-handed.  

 

Our Verdict: Let's not beat about the bush, it's frightful looking, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that and what really counts is how it sounds. In that respect it's not half bad. We can take or leave all the audio jiggery-pokery but there's no denying it's fun to play with, for a while. DPL performance is basically quite good, an active sub woofer would round things off nicely but it's not essential.

 

Philips 0181-689 2166

 

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Features                     2 x 80 + 2 x 40 watts RMS, Dolby Pro Logic, 3-CD autochanger, AM/FM with RDS, multi-mode digital sound control with VEC & IS (virtual environmental control & interactive Studio), twin cassette decks (one auto-reverse) with high-speed dubbing, bass boost, clock & sleep timer, G-Sound speakers, Dolby B NR

 

Sockets                       Line audio in/out, sub-woofer & surround out, digital audio out (phono), speakers (spring terminals), headphones & microphone (minijack)

Dimensions                 300 x 260 x 340mm

 

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ****

 

Rival Buys                  Aiwa NSX-AV75 £400, Sony MHC-RX110 £500, JVC Adagio D851 £500

 

 

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ã R. Maybury 1999 2806

 

 

HEAD

VERDICT

 

Why’s it here:

 

Any unique features:

 

How does it perform:

 

Our Verdict:

 

 

XX, telephone 01

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features                    

Sockets                      

Dimensions                

 

Picture Quality           

Sound Quality

Build Quality             

Features                    

Ease of use                

Overall value             

 

Rival Buys

 

HEAD

VERDICT

 

Why’s it here:

 

Any unique features:

 

How does it perform:

 

Our Verdict:

 

 

XX, telephone 01

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features                    

Sockets                      

Dimensions                

 

Picture Quality           

Sound Quality

Build Quality             

Features                    

Ease of use                

Overall value             

 

Rival Buys

 

HEAD

VERDICT

 

Why’s it here:

 

Any unique features:

 

How does it perform:

 

Our Verdict:

 

 

XX, telephone 01

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features                    

Sockets                      

Dimensions                

 

Picture Quality           

Sound Quality

Build Quality             

Features                    

Ease of use                

Overall value             

 

Rival Buys

 

 

 

 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1999, XXXX

 

 

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