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GROUP TEST

 

BUDGET NICAM VCRS

 

HEAD

BATTLE OF THE BUDGETS

 

STANDFIRST

In the past we have argued that budget NICAM VCRs are not really suitable for serious home cinema applications but is that still the case? Rick Maybury has been looking at six budget machines costing between £200 and £290  

 

INTRO/COPY

If you've brought a VCR recently, or are about to do so, you are in very good company. Around 50 million VHS machines were sold around the world last year, 3 million of them in the UK. VCR sales have been steady for some time and manufacturers forecasts indicate that it will stay that way until at least 2001, by which time alternatives, like recordable DVD and D-VHS should start to have an impact. Even so, behind the scenes the market is in a state of flux and some big changes are on the horizon, indeed, some have already begun. Industry pundits are expecting there to be a significant reduction in the number of companies building VHS video recorders. There are around eighteen volume manufacturers at the moment, but within the past few weeks Mitsubishi has announced it's stopping production at its Scottish VCR plant, and the word on the street is that others may follow.

 

That's not meant to sound gloomy, it's simply a reflection of the fact that an extraordinarily successful technology is approaching the end of its life cycle. However, don't be fooled by all those fancy digital boxes of tricks and shiny discs, good old VHS is going to be with us for a while yet. The simple fact is if you want to record or timeshift TV programmes, there's no alternative this side of a thousand quid, moreover most new movies still debut on tape, for a while at least. Analogue VCRs are cheap and convenient and whilst VHS picture quality is now starting to look a touch hairy – compared with DVD – the format has served us well for over a quarter of a century, and we suspect it'll continue to do so for a few years more.

 

At the risk of repeating ourselves there's never been a better time to buy a NICAM VCR; today's video recorders are incredibly good value. Ten years ago a run of the mill stereo machine would have set you back at least £400, that's getting on for £600 at today's prices. These days you can pick up a NICAM machine, with bucket-loads of convenience features, for a good deal less than £200. Whilst prices show some signs of levelling off after some dramatic falls during the mid to late nineties, further reductions in the cost of NICAM machines are inevitable as mono models gradually disappear from manufacturer's ranges.

 

The only thing that hasn't changed very much lately is audio and video quality. Top-end models reached the outer edges of the VHS performance envelope a few years ago and by now most of the tweaks have filtered down through to cheaper models. Much the same applies to the convenience features and things like satellite control, multi-brand remote controls, automatic set-up and of course Video Plus, which all started out as high-end luxuries but have since worked their way down through manufacturers model ranges.

 

Even attempts to introduce glitzy added-value, non-performance related features have slowed, which isn't necessarily a bad thing since over the years we've have seen some crazy things tacked on to video recorders. Who can forget the LCD screen on one Philips model, and they were also responsible for the legendary voice-activated remote control that couldn't understand a Scots or Welsh accent... Digital effects came and went, as did a variety of loony timer systems (remember barcodes) and control systems so fiendishly complicated only rocket scientists and 10-year olds could understand them. The occasional quite useful widgety idea still pops us. Tape library and archiving is a recent example, it's a key feature on one machine in this particular roundup and we suspect by this time next year it will have gone the same way as other luxury features.

 

The six machines we've assembled for this group test are all technically in the budget or 'entry-level' category. That basically means they're amongst the cheapest NICAM models in a manufacturer's range but it's becoming increasingly difficult to pigeon hole VCRs in this way since by no stretch of the imagination could any of them be termed basic. The question we've set out to answer is, are budget VCRs suitable for home cinema duties? We know from experience that not all NICAM VCRs are created equal. There are seveal ultra cheap machines around that we would advise steering well clear of, due to inferior picture quality and in some cases a poor track record for reliability. The simple rule of thumb when buying a VCR is to stick to the well known 'A' and 'B' brands, essentially the familiar and established household names that have been around a good long time, and who have got the hang of making VCRs by now.

 

Before we get to the tests here are a few more handy tips for buying a home cinema VCR, especially if you are on a tight budget. Don't skimp on the sockets, the more the merrier, back and front. Brand loyalty can be a good thing, we have often found that TVs and VCRs from the same manufacturer work better together, and there's usually the added bonus of integrated remote controls. Finally, don't just take our word for it, do some homework of your own, use your own eyes and ears. Try to see as many VCRs as you can in your price range, and if you really want to do the job properly, take a favourite tape along with you.

 

BOX COPY 1

HOW THE TESTS WERE DONE

VCR performance can be boiled down to a set of numbers but past experience has shown that machines which look good on paper can sometimes deliver less than impressive results on screen or even when used with some models or brands of TV. Nevertheless, the numbers are important because they give us benchmark, so we begin with straightforward resolution and noise tests. They tell us the difference between what goes in, and on to the tape, and what comes out. In other words how much, (or how little) the VCR mangles the picture and sound. We check colour fidelity, the dynamic range of the image and the stability of the picture with a mixture of electronically generated signals and test recordings. All important and worthy stuff but in the end our final judgements rest on viewing (and listening) tests using a carefully selected sequence of movie clips. Our repertoire leans heavily towards action blockbusters as they contain lots of extremes that stretch a VCR to its limits, besides, we enjoy watching them… For the record our current selection includes the noisy and flashy bits from movies such as Batman, Robocop Armageddon and Independence Day.

 

THE TESTS

 

HITACHI VT-FX750,  £290

VERDICT ***

The FX750 is here because it is the cheapest NICAM VCR in the Hitachi range, but at £290 it is a bit dearer than most of the other budget machines we've been looking at. To be honest we were expecting something a bit more interesting. Hitachi has produce some fine VCRs in the past couple of years, its current top-ender -- FX880 -- is stuffed full of useful toys, like tape library and commercial skip. The only feature that could be even vaguely described as out of the ordinary on he FX750 is Tape Finder. In fact this is just a fancy Index Search system, that can also locate the beginning of a blank section of tape.

 

Although it has basic home cinema facilities we're disappointed by the lack of an NTSC replay  – it's virtually standard these days. The LCD front panel display is going to annoy some users, especially those who rely on their VCR's clock. The display is backlit when the machine in standby but the lack of contrast makes it difficult to read, especially in a brightly-lit room. There's no separate record mode indicator either, so you have to look quite hard to see what the machine is up to. The remote handset can control basic functions on some Hitachi VCRs and there's a slomo replay mode, but that's as exciting as it gets.  

 

Set-up is painless. Auto installation is easy to use, it takes around two minutes to tune in the five terrestrial channels, set the clock and date, after which it displays a test signal, to tune in the TVs video channel. Channels were stored in the right order and named. Manual tuning and channel reassignment is reasonably straightforward. Routine operations are simple too; the OSD is dull but informative, which is just as well given the legibility of the front panel display.

 

Resolution is a gnats above 240 lines, colours look okay but noise levels are nothing special. It is just about possible to get a stable still frame on recordings made on the FX750 but for some reason tapes made on other machines showed a lot of noise disturbance. The stereo soundtracks managed to regain some lost ground though, background hiss is at a very low level and it has a smooth, flat response that gives full reign to action movie soundtracks.

 

Hitachi telephone 0181-849 2000

 

UP CLOSE

Features             NICAM, hi-fi stereo sound, Video Plus+ timer with PDC, auto installation, Tape Finder programme archiving system,

 

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

 

Picture             ***

Sound              ***

Features            ***

Ease of use            ****

 

Captions

·        If you want to know the time don't ask a Hitachi FX750… The LCD panel is not very bright

 

·        Two SCARTs two phonos, all present and correct

 

·        Not the best remote we've seen, where's the damn record button?

 

JVC HR-J665EK,  £230

VERDICT *****

This year JVC is offering a choice of finishes on its budget NICAM range, the silvery J665's stablemate (HR-J660) has an identical spec and price but with all black livery. Considering the price and its position as an entry-level machine the feature list is unusually generous. There's all of the usual torturously-named JVC picture enhancements, like B.E.S.T picture control and tape tuning and ProDigi noise reduction, plus a set of front AV inputs. It has REC-Link satellite recording (the satellite receiver's timer switches on the VCR, via a SCART connection) and there's quasi S-VHS replay. Incidentally, the latter didn't appear to be mentioned in the instructions.

 

There are several handy extras as well, like an on-screen tape position indicator, power-off display dimmer, repeat playback (50 times) and a review function, that rewinds and replays the last 30 seconds. Although not strictly a consumer feature, tape tangles (heaven forbid they should ever happen on a JVC VCR...) should be easier to resolve as inside the machine there are printed instructions about how to release the loading mechanism.

 

With a good strong signal auto installation takes around three minutes from start to finish. First time around our sample missed Channel 5 when fed with a weaker signal but manual tuning is easy and it only takes a couple of minutes to reign in wayward channels. In addition to Video Plus + timer programming the J665 has one of the best manual timers we've seen on a budget machine in a while. The remote handset is well proportioned with frequently used buttons clearly labelled and easy to find.  

 

Resolution is close to the limits of VHS. We managed to get just under 250-lines on our sample using higher-grade tapes. The advanced picture processing systems all earn their keep and picture noise levels on the J665 are amongst the lowest in its class; colour reproduction is accurate and it handles subtle flesh tones without any problems. Trick replay is satisfactory, still frame can be a mite wobbly on some recordings but overall picture stability is very good. Noise levels on the stereo soundtracks are low and the response is flat, with good bass coverage.

 

JVC  telephone 0181-450 3282

 

UP CLOSE

Features             NICAM stereo, hi-fi sound, Video Plus+ with PDC, auto install, NTSC replay (with hi-fi sound), Quasi S-VHS replay, Rec Link satellite control, multi-speed replay, Instant Review, repeat playback (50 times), picture control (edit, soft, sharp & normal) BEST picture control, display dimmer, TV control functions (JVC models only)

 

Sockets            AV in/out (2 x SCART), stereo line audio out (phono), RF bypass (coaxial). Front: AV inputs (phono)

 

Picture             *****

Sound              ****

Features            ****

Ease of use            ****

 

Captions

·        A touch flashy, and we're not sure about the shiny feet and blanked off buttons but if you want something a bit more restrained there's always the J660

 

·        A full set of AV interconnects, front and rear, good news for home cinema users and camcorder owners 

 

·        Something to get hold of, the remote is chunky and easy to use

 

PANASONIC NV-HD640, £230

VERDICT ****

Panasonic is not a brand normally associated with rough and tumble pricing but it has dived right in with a remarkably cheap (for them…) NICAM machine called the NV-HD640. It looks like you get a lot of bangs for your bucks but it's important to remember that Panasonic are masters of the art of composing TLAs (three letter acronyms), for features that are either standard on other manufacturer's machines, or practically meaningless to the average user. In the latter category there's CAC (chrominance aperture control), SCF (switched capacitor comb-filter) and CVC Plus (crystal view control), all of which are to do with making a better picture. There's also Q-Link, which is son of NexTViewLink, the multi-brand AV Link control system Owner-ID, for storing the owner's postcode or secret identity number.    

 

New on this year's NICAM VCRs is a redesigned remote control handset, and about time too we say, the last one was a real stinker, sort of upside down shaped so you always ended up pointing it in the wrong direction. The new one is very good, with all buttons where they should be and easy to find.

 

It's fast, very fast in fact and the turbocharged 'Jet Rewind' deck mechanism zips through an 180 in around a minute; if we had the time and inclination to test such things that would probably be close to some kind of record. Other things we like the sound of are a programmable off-timer, so you can fall asleep whilst watching a movie (make sure the TV has it as well…). Here's an unusual one, Exclusive Audio Only Recording, well' at least we think it has it, the idea is the signal to noise ratio on audio-only recordings is lifted by 3dB, but it seems to be an automatic function as there's no mention of it in the instructions.

 

Auto installation takes two minutes and works without a hitch on lightly attenuated signals. All those TLAs must be doing some good, as resolution is as close to 250-lines as makes no difference. Colours are bright and well defined, though saturated reds can be a bit strong; picture noise levels are very low and the picture is steady at all speeds. Background noise levels are below average; the hi-fi tracks are taut with good overall coverage

 

Panasonic UK, telephone (0870) 357357

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features            NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video Plus+ timer with PDC, auto installation, Q-Link, scene/repeat replay, off timer, owner ID

           

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

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****   

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ***

 

CAPTIONS

·        Understated good looks, a big, easy to read display and a largely clutter-free control panel

 

·        AV connectivity is adequate with two SCARTs and line audio outputs on the back panel

 

·        Panasonic return to normality with a sensible remote control with all of the buttons in the right place

 

PHILIPS VHR600,  £230

VERDICT *****

Well, it's not going to win any prizes for style or good looks, to be honest the VHR600 is housed in a rather boring, featureless black box. It is in stark contrast to Philips 1998 VCR range with flashy silver-grey control panels but behind the VHR600's bland cosmetics lies an attractively featured and sensibly priced NICAM VCR. First off it has all of the qualifying features for home cinema duties, there's twin SCART sockets, a set of front panel AV inputs, NTSC replay, a multi-brand remote and satellite recording facilities (more about that in a moment). It has an impressive set of trick-play modes (everything except reverse slomo), and it is very easy to install and operate. Philips has always placed a lot of emphasis on video performance and the VR600 boasts the latest version of its Digital Studio Picture Control system, for improving playback on worn tapes and noisy recordings.

 

The initial set-up is a model of simplicity, though it is a wee bit slow, taking over five and a half minutes to complete the job, but all channels were correctly identified and assigned, even with a deliberately weakened signal. The satellite recording system relies on the satellite receiver's timer to wake up the VCR to start a recording; it's the next best thing to full satellite control. There are lots of small but useful convenience features as well, a quality SCART to SCART AV cable is included with the accessory pack, it has a continuous play mode and there's a child lock (though we suspect most kids will be able to figure it out quite quickly…). The menu-driven on-screen displays are well presented and easy to follow and the multi-brand functions on the remote cover more than 200 different makes, even so it refused to have anything to do with an elderly Goldstar set.

 

AV performance is very good indeed, resolution came in at just under 250-lines, noise levels were a little below average and colours look lifelike resulting in a crisp picture, packed with detail. Picture stability is good at all replay speeds and the deck fair whizzes along, winding a 3-hour tape from end to end in around 90 seconds. Stereo audio is largely free of background noise, there is some but it's not intrusive and it copes well with the demands of lively action blockbusters.

 

Philips telephone 0181-689 4444

 

UP CLOSE

Features             NICAM, hi-fi stereo sound, Video Plus+ timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC replay, multi brand remote control, child lock, continuous play, SCART cable included

 

Sockets             AV in/out (2 x SCART), stereo line audio out (phono), RF bypass (coaxial). Front: AV in (phono)

 

Picture             *****

Sound              ****

Features            ****

Ease of use            ****

 

Captions

·        A rather austere-looking machine, the roundy buttons on the right are not as interesting as they look…

 

·        A full set of AV sockets, front and rear, well-done Philips

 

·        The remote handset looks almost normal,  the multi-brand TV control is very welcome

 

SANYO VHR-789,  £200

VERDICT ****

There have been relatively few changes to Sanyo's budget NICAM VCR line up this year, the VHS-789 looks little different to its predecessor, the 778. To be fair this was a highly innovative machine, being the one of the first video recorders to feature a tape library system, and the new model has one or two small enhancements, it's a little cheaper too, however the basic specs remain largely unchanged. The font panel cosmetics have been changed, a few buttons have changed position and the transport control cluster on the right side of the fascia now light up, but they're quite obviously peas from the same pod.

 

Look at it another way, why fix it if it ain't broke? The 789, like its predecessor has almost everything most VCR users are looking for including auto installation, twin SCART sockets and a selection of trick play facilities. The Tape Library System – now it's the 'deluxe' version – automatically stores the details of programmes recorded on each tape, on the actual tape, and it can play back NTSC tapes. There are a couple of useful little extras too, like glow in the dark buttons on the remote handset and automatic speed setting for timer recordings (in case there's not enough tape left). One small quibble about the remote. The transport buttons are big and easy to find but the menu controls are a swine to use. The menu call button is in amongst the trick play functions; menu selection is unlabelled (use the channel up/down keys) and the OK/confirm button is in with the channel numbers.  All very confusing…

 

Auto installation is quite fast – our sample took just one and a half minutes to finish – but it depends on a good strong signal. With a slightly attenuated signal our test machine allocated Channel 4 to programme position 6, even though the picture look clean and teletext was still readable. Re-jigging the channel order is a bit of a chore as well.  Picture noise levels are fairly average, this is nothing to worry about but it takes the shine of an otherwise decent set of results, with resolution topping 240-lines and crisp, well-defined colours. Trick play is very good, still and slomo are both steady and most of the time there is no disturbance during 2x fast play.  Noise levels on the stereo soundtracks are satisfactory and the response is wide and open, so no problems there.

 

Sanyo telephone  (01923) 246363

 

UP CLOSE

Features            NICAM, hi-fi stereo sound, Video Plus+ timer with PDC, auto installation, Tape Library system, NTSC replay, energy-saving 'Eco' mode, luminous buttons on remote

 

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

 

Picture             ****

Sound              ****

Features            ****

Ease of use            ****

 

Captions

·        Very shiny, very snazzy, it lights up too, the button cluster on the right side glows cool green

 

·        Twin SCARTs, line audio out and the aerial connectors, the basic necessities for a home cinema machine

 

·        Glow in the dark buttons, at least you'll be able to find it when it falls down the back of the sofa

 

 

SONY SLV-SE80,  £290

VERDICT ****

We'll pass swiftly over the cost since Sony are not in the business of competing over prices, and whilst you undoubtedly pay a bit more for the name, it's normally worthwhile in terms of specification and performance. That's certainly the case with the SLV-SE80, and it's slightly cheaper stablemate, the SLV-E70. Heading up the feature list is Smart Engine; this is a loose collection of features prefixed by the word 'Smart'. The Smart Dial Timer is a simple one-button/knob control on the front panel for quickly setting the timer. Smart Search is a souped-up tape indexer – and very good it is too -- that stores time, date and channel details of programs recorded on a tape. Smart Link is Sony's variant on the cross-brand AV Link system  (NexTViewLink, MegaLogic, Q-Link etc.) that allows TVs of various makes to communicate with VCRs for channel tuning and one-touch record (what you see is what you record).

 

There's a weird little feature called 'Reality Regenerator', controlled from a button on the front panel (but not the remote handset), it seems to be some kind of picture sharpener and I probably only of interest to dealers demonstrating the machine since switching it off degrades the picture. It is loaded with home cinema goodies, including a fine assortment of trick play modes, OPC (optimum picture control) tape tuning, NTSC replay and a multi-brand remote (20 makes), complete with colour-coded fastext and buttons.

 

Camcorder users won't be disappointed either, in addition to front-mounted AV sockets it has audio dub, which is an increasingly rare sight these days. Owners can store a unique code in the machine's memory, which might help identify it in the event that it is stolen, and the numeric keypad, channel change and TV volume buttons on the remote all glow in the dark. Auto tuning, time and date set-up takes around three and a half minutes and the tuner passed the reduced signal strength test with flying colours.

 

Resolution was nudging 250-lines (with the reality regenerator on), and very clean lines they are too with below average noise and a rock solid picture. Colour fidelity is good and trick play is stable in both directions. Stereo hi-fi sound is good, hiss is a little below average and there's a solid bass response.

 

Sony telephone  (01932) 816000

 

UP CLOSE

Features            NICAM, hi-fi stereo sound, Video Plus+ timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC replay, audio dub, Smart Search, Smart Link, TriLogic picture control, multi brand remote, 'Reality Regenerator', Smart Dial timer, glow in the dark remote buttons, personal ID code

 

 

Sockets             AV in/out (2 x SCART), stereo line audio out (phono), RF bypass (coaxial). Front: AV inputs (phono)

 

Picture             *****

Sound              ****

Features            *****

Ease of use            ****

 

Captions

·        A big solid-looking machine with lots of knob and buttons to play with

 

·        Full home cinema connectivity plus those front mounted AV inputs

 

·        A well thought out remote handset with clearly labelled controls and glow in the dark buttons

 

THE VERDICT 615

As recently as last year we were advising against buying NICAM VCRs costing £200 or less for anything other than the bedroom – connected to a small screen TV -- or to give to the kids; but that was then. Today, you can get a perfectly satisfactory NICAM VCR for under £200, even so, we'd still recommend spending just a little more -- £230 to £250 is the price band to aim for.

 

The most significant change since our last look at the budget end of the VCR market has been the increase in the specification of these machines. Twin SCART sockets, front AV connections, multi-brand remote controls even NTSC replay all used to reserved for mid-market or 'step up' models, now they're almost commonplace on entry-level machines. If you look hard enough there are also some worthwhile improvements in picture quality, on the current batch we've noticed a small but worthwhile reduction in picture noise levels. We put this down to developments in video processing and noise reduction systems, and tape tuning systems, both of which have migrated down from more expensive models. In fact if you look inside many of these machines you will see the same guts and circuit boards as those used in more expensive VCRs.

 

Other equally welcome changes have been small but worthwhile refinements to the control systems, on-screen displays and auto-installation systems. In general budget VCRs have become easier to set up and operate but there are exceptions and there is still of room for improvement. The remote controls supplied with VCRs remain a big bone of contention, the best ones you don't even have to think about using, they're almost intuitive, on others it's a case of hunt the button or function.

 

By the shortest of whiskers the Philips VHR600 squeezes into top place, but it was a very close run thing and JVC HR-J655 really derserves to share the top honours. Both machines gave a very good account of themselves when it came to on-screen performance, in fact we'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between these two and dearer models in their respective ranges. In the end it came down to the secondary features and the Philips had two small advantages with the multi-brand remote control and the trick play functions, it was only let down by the unimaginative styling. We would probably opt for the JVC machine if we had a JVC TV and/or a S-VHS-C camcorder, nevertheless both machines should be high on your shortlist.

 

If you can dig a bit deeper then the Sony SLV-SE80 is well worth the extra.

There's not much to be gained in terms of picture and sound performance over its cheaper rivals but it has got some really nifty gadgets and convenience features, plus the undoubted kudos and unmistakable Sony style. If you can't quite run to the SE80 then its stablemate (SLV-SE70, £260), is well worth thinking about, it has similar performance and drops only a couple of non-essential secondary features.

 

The best value VCR in this group has to be the Sanyo VHR-789. It's a real bargain and sophisticated facilitiess like the tape library system is a real bonus. It's also one of the few VCR in this or any other price category to have a bit of character, though one or two aspects of the design, like the remote control handset, could do with tidying up.

 

Panasonic continue with its long and honourable traditon of producing solidly engineered machines, the NV-HD-640 has no significant vices, it's just, well, a bit predictable. There's nothing wronmg with that of course and in the final analysis it's what ends up on the screen that's important, so we would have no hesitation in recommending this machine for

 

Hitachi can and has done better, the VT-FX750 is far too dear for what it is, the spec simply isn't very interesting and what on earth happened to NTSC replay?

 

To return to the question posed at the beginning of this group test, namely are there any budget VCRs with home cinema credentials, then the answer has to be yes. Budget VCRs are no longer the poor cousins and we'd be happy to give houseroom to any of the six machines tested, though needless to same, some would be more welcome than others.  

 

BOX COPY 2

RIVAL BUYS

 

Aiwa HV-FX800, £200

Promising newcomer (it arrived too late to make it into this group), very well specified and with plenty of useful features. Aiwa VCRs are normally competent AV performers  

 

Bush VCR-880, £200

A notch up on previous Bush video recorders, picture and sound quality are okay but the auto-set up is cranky and there's no line audio output sockets

 

Ferguson FV-305, £200

A passable performer but Ferguson has pared a few too many features to achieve the low price, it's the first machine we've seen without a proper front panel display…

 

Grundig GV-8400, £280

The styling is distinctive and build quality is good but ultimately this is a fairly basic home cinema machine with few if any distinguishing features or characteristics

 

Tatung TVR754, £170

Ultra cheapie NICAM machine, very basic features and so-so performance but it might be suitable as a second backup machine or for light AV duties in the bedroom  

 

Toshiba V709B, £230

Another newcomer, that we've yet to fully evaluate but if past experience is anything to go by it will be an accomplished home cinema machine but with few frills

 

TABLE 1                   

BRAND

HIT

JVC

PAN

PHL

SAN

SON

Price

290

230

230

230

200

290

Video Plus+

*

*

*

*

*

*

NTSC

-

*

*

*

*

*

SCARTs

2

2

2

2

2

2

MB Remote

-

-

-

*

-

*

Sat rec control

-

*

-

*

-

-

Front AV

-

*

-

*

-

*

Audio out

*

*

*

*

*

*

Picture quality

***

*****

****

*****

****

*****

Sound quality

***

****

****

****

****

****

Features

***

****

***

****

****

*****

Ease of Use

***

****

****

****

****

****

Overall score

***

*****

****

*****

****

****

 

---end---

ã R. Maybury 1999 2305

 

 

ADD COPY

 

INSTANT EXPERT – WHY SPEND MORE?

 

As this group test proves you really don’t have to spend a fortune on a VCR to achieve home cinema performance, so what's the point spending more than £300? There are some small but worthwhile gains to had from Super VHS machines – the cheapest ones are now selling for £350 or less – and they make a lot of sense if you own a S-VHS-Camcorder and fancy trying your hand at editing. Off air recordings and pre-recorded tapes may not look significantly sharper on S-VHS models but every little helps. The only downside is that S-VHS blanks cost a little more. However, the most persuasive argument for finding another £50 to £100 is all the extra facilities. The current flavour of the month is tape library and archiving systems, but don’t think they're going to help you sort out your current collection of tapes since they mostly only work on new recordings.  You're also more likely to find things like satellite control and multi-brand remotes on more expensive machines. The top end of the market is also where you will find the specialist editing decks that can help you lick you home videos into shape. The only points to be aware of are that some facilities – like edit control systems – are often brand specific and will only work with camcorders from the same manufacturer. Surprisingly the reliability and longevity of dearer machines isn't normally any better than cheaper models, at least not from the major manufacturers, and it seems to have little effect on resale values.   

---end---

ã R. Maybury 1999 3006

 

 

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INSTANT EXPERT/JARGON BUSTER

 

NICAM -- near instantaneously companded audio matrix, digital TV sound system used by UK terrestrial broadcasters, the quality is almost as good as audio CD

 

Noise – the unwanted part of an analogue video or audio signal. Noise reduces the amount of wanted information it makes pictures look fuzzy, colours become  indistinct, and on soundtracks it generates as an annoying background hiss

 

NTSC -- national television standards committee, US 525-line colour TV system. VCRs with NTSC playback can replay US tapes on most recent PAL (UK standard) televisions

 

Resolution -- a video system's ability to record and reproduce fine detail

 

SCART -- Syndicat des Constructeurs d'Appareils Radio Recepteurs et

Televiseurs. 21-pin plug and socket system used on pretty well all AV products (VCRs, TVs, LD/DVD players and satellite receivers etc.,), used to convey video, audio and control signals between AV devices.

 

Video Plus+ with PDC – virtually foolproof VCR timer programming system, just enter the numbers that appear next to programmes in TV listings magazines and newpapers. PDC or Programme Delivery Control makes sure the VCR records at the right time, the VCR waits for a 'go' code, in case the programme has been delayed. PDC information is also used by some machines to assign station idents and set the time and date during the initial setup

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ã R. Maybury 1999 3006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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