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It’s Friday night. After a long hard day at work you sink down into your sofa to watch TV. All of a sudden, you remember what’s coming up in 5 minutes: the film you desperately wanted to record for two years. And you forgot to prepare a tape. So, you spend the next 5 minutes frantically fast-forwarding through all your tapes in the vain attempt to find at least 2 hours of blank space. Sound familiar? Not any more… The Sony SLV-900 is a video recorder that works, and works well. I’ll come to the more “usual” aspects later, for now I’ll concentrate on its unique “SmartFile” capabilities. SmartFile is a system invented by Sony to catalogue your videocassettes. The way it works is thus: in the box (and in the shops, hopefully) you’ll find special labels with a SmartFile chip embedded in them. These go on the spine of your cassettes, replacing the normal paper ones that come with the cassettes. Here’s where it gets interesting: whenever you record something using the SLV-900, onto a tape with a SmartFile label, the programme’s name gets pulled from Teletext and is automatically added to the tape’s chip. That way, when a cassette is inserted, you’ll always know what programmes are on a tape, how long they last, and how much space is left, giving you the option to jump straight to any programme by simply selecting its name (that includes selecting “Blank Space”). But that’s not all. On the outside of the recorder, there’s a little “badge” with the SmartFile logo on it: just hold a SmartFile label near it and all the contents of the tape pop up on your screen! Needless to say, this system is extremely useful for anyone who records a lot and doesn’t have the time to write the entire contents of the tape down. The only slight problems I see with this system are: - The SmartFile labels are quite hard to find in the shops -
Theoretically, the system accounts for any programmes not recorded with the SLV-900, but I’m not too convinced. - You can’t add SmartFile data to programmes recorded with other video recorders (i.e., when you buy the video recorder, you can’t convert all of your old videos to SmartFile) Now for the exterior of the recorder. It looks quite classy, with a front panel that flips open to reveal the cassette loader and record setting buttons (like SP/LP, channel). To the right are the control buttons (Play, Stop, Record, etc.) and a Fast Forward/Rewind jog-wheel (to select rewind speed or to view the tape one frame at a time). To the left of the panel is the Standby button and SmartFile sensor (see above). When the panel is up, only the display can be see, which usually tells the time (but you can switch that off to save energy). The recorder doesn’t have lots and lots of options, but that’s better really, because it makes it less complicated. Nearly all of the settings can be set via the on-screen menu (these tend to be Record programming, Tape length, sound options, etc.). The SLV-900 also offers ShowView and One-Touch recording options (the first sets the video recorder according to the numerical codes you find in TV listings, the second lets you instantly start recording by setting a time limit – i.e. 10 minutes, 20, etc.). Installation is also easy. If you have a “SmartLink” compatible TV set, the video recorder gets all of your channels from it, so there’s not a lot of fiddling to do. Even if your TV doesn’t support this automatic set-up, you can programme all the channels via the on-screen menu. And now, the burning question: how’s the quality? In a word, superb. My old recorder used to make the colours “bleed” (this means that colours were shown in blobs, not very precisely), with streaks, but the first time I saw Mission Impossible with the SLV-9
00 I was impressed! The colours were nearly perfectly sharp, with no streaks. Of course, it depends on your videotape, but even with older tapes, the SLV-900 does try to make them look better thanks to its “Tri-Logic Digital” picture enhancing. You might be wondering why I specified “Mission Impossible” as the first tape I saw – the only reason is because I have a Dolby Surround hi-fi, and so I wanted to test the new recorder’s sound quality, too. Surprise, surprise, no hiss, no problems with bass, and a quality that will literally blow you away (well, try listening to the Mission Impossible theme tune with the volume right up!). Surround and Stereo tapes are handled perfectly then, but what about Mono? I suppose it is a bit too much to expect, but I must admit that with my older tapes (10+ years) there was a bit of hiss. Again, it depends on the cassette. All in all then, I am most certainly impressed. I really needed to replace my old video recorder (a rubbish mono Toshiba), but I never imagined how good the SLV-900 was until I actually bought it! OK, I’ll admit it: I was attracted by the SmartFile feature. It sounds like a gimmick, but it does really work – maybe it doesn’t do as much as I had hoped it would, but it does work. If you’re not interested in DVD just yet, I would most certainly recommend that you buy this.