S-VHS is a system for enhancing the properties of the humble VHS tape. You might think that you have a 625 line TV, but when playing a tape, you’ll be lucky to see more than 230 visible lines! S-VHS enhances this to about 400 lines, a considerable improvement, not TOO far from the maximum viewable lines, which for a 625-line TV is approaching 500, I think, although I’m ready to be contradicted. It therefore follows that S-VHS VCRs carry a price premium, both in the hardware and the price of the tapes. The JVC HR-S8700 gets round the second problem by allowing the use of ordinary tapes, admittedly decent ones, to give an interim picture quality of 350 lines, this being called S-VHS ET. All in all, the 8700 is not the dearest and not the cheapest in JVC S-VHS range. I bought S-VHS not because I demand the best when only taping “time-shifts” but because I have a lot of camcorder tapes that use this format, and I needed something to replace an older “Panny” model to run them on and copy them to. The 8700 boasts several innovative ideas, including the ability to control a wide range of Sky set-top boxes (STB) so that Video Plus codes can be fed in the once, instead of setting up more than one timer. It comes with an infrared probe that you site in front of your Sky box which takes over from the Sky remote control, allowing the VCR to turn the set-top box on, change to the correct channel, and switch off after the recording period. Unfortunately for me, this facility does not extend to my On-Digital box. Even so, there is a half-way house solution. My Nokia set-top box has its own timer built in. If I take the trouble to programme it, it is capable of switching the VCR on and off in all the right places. OK, it doesn't use VideoPlus codes but it works. What actually happens is that the JVC can sense activity on the SCART lead, and uses this information to start and finish recor
dings. All I have to remember is to press one button on the VCR marked SAT/REC. The VCR is well suited to camcorder enthusiasts. It has a set of video and stereo inputs (including s-video) on the front panel. It can be used for “insert-edits” and sound can be dubbed onto the linear (non-hifi) track after the event. As well as the S-VHS ET facility, the machine can squeeze 12 hours recording out of an E-240 tape, thanks to Extended (x3) Play as well as the more usual Long (x2) Play. Of course, there is noticeable degradation of picture quality, but, heh, if it’s only for time-shifting while on holiday, what the hell? Picture quality on a “real” S-VHS tape is really excellent – not far short of DVD when viewed subjectively. Setting it up was a doddle, the analogue channels and the time being set at first try with no problems. The remote control can be taught to control your TV, and is relatively easy to use. Is it me, or are these things getting “busier”? I got mine from www.unbeatable.co.uk for £317. Don’t be misled by the site name. After it was too late, I found that www.empiredirect.co.uk had it for £258 –DOOH! Verdict ~~~~ Excellent picture quality means lashing out on better tapes. It helps cut through the morass of recording from set-top boxes. It’s well priced, if you want its extra “camcorder-friendly” features. If not, other JVC S-VHS models do it cheaper.