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On Video

Hi-Fi Video

Article from International Musician & Recording World, July 1985

An overview of a new generation of band-friendly hi fi video

A godsend for the musician

Theoretically IM's On Video articles have bitten the dust, with the promise that they would return to cover occasional topics of outstanding interest, Well, one of those topics has come up, and it's very prominent on the domestic video scene. It's the whole question of hi fi video formats, and what they can offer the musician as well as the ordinary domestic user.

First question — is the sound quality of the VHS and Beta hi fi formats good? Quick answer — yes. It doesn't take much to improve on the performance of ordinary video, which contains sound recording (even on stereo Dolby-equipped machines) to a narrow band of tape moving slower than a conventional cassette. Somebody also spends hours designing more and more vicious automatic recording level circuits for video machines — in their concern for the domestic user to have it easy, most companies have taken away all possible control over sound on video.

Auto level control's all very well for playback, but in record mode it has some eccentricities which for the musician can become unbearable. Firstly, it will boost recording volume in quiet passages, creating huge swells of hissing noise in the pregnant pauses between dramatic speeches. Secondly, it will squash any sudden increase in volume, resulting in a complete loss of dynamics in music and often in disturbing lurches in volume as the auto circuit struggles to keep up with changing levels.

All this is superceded on hi fi machines, which have auto level on the conventional heads but a choice of auto or manual on the hi fi track. The simple ability to do fade-ins and fade-outs on your audio tracks is a valuable luxury!

As we've implied, the old system of stationary audio heads is retained on the new machines so you can still play your old tapes, but an additional set of audio heads which scan the tape in the same helical (spiral) pattern as the video heads are added to provide hi fi sound.The speed of these heads in relation to the tape surface is frightening, in the hundreds of centimetres per second class, and the sound is coded onto the video track using FM methods and separated again during playback without disturbing the video signal.

Flick from standard to hi fi sound on any cassette recorded with both and the difference is obvious. Clarity is hugely improved, dynamics are better, there's no squashing and for once there's excellent bass and treble to accompany your pictures.

We looked at a £700 Ferguson VHS hi fi machine, the Videostar 3V42, and found it excellent in all respects. There are a few dissenting voices in the video world who believe that there's something odd going on with incompatible forms of dbx noise reduction in series with the hi fi circuits on many machines, but there's little argument about the actual playback quality — definitely as good as a hi fi cassette and rivalling Compact Disc in fidelity.

Close to the edit

The sound quality isn't the only reason a musician would consider a hi fi machine though. Most machines (certainly the VHS machines from JVC, Akai and Ferguson to name but three) also have very sophisticated editing facilities which, in conjunction with their sound capabilities, would allow you to put together very convincing home demo videos.

This has been pretty difficult up to now, particularly using machines which don't allow you to dub on sound after you're happy with the pictures or which squash the sound with auto level circuits when you do come to record it. Vision editing often hasn't been too good either, but the Ferguson and other models have two alternative forms. Assemble Editing simply means going into record at a certain point and adding a new piece of action — tacking pieces on one after the other. On the Ferguson this facility is completely clean — or as Eric Morecambe might have commented, you can't see the join.

The other method is Insert Editing, which allows you to specify both a start and an end point for a new piece of video. In other words, you can take a long piece of film (say a 'safe shot' of your band playing as seen from the audience) and replace just a part of it with a new scene (say a close-up of a guitar solo) without making a mess of what follows. The Insert method isn't quite so indetectable on the Ferguson, but it's pretty damn good!

So the Ferguson can put pictures in order neatly. These can come from another machine, from a camera (the thing even has a decent camera socket — bliss!) or even from the TV (watch your copy rights). Remember, though, that the hifi soundtrack actually shares tape space with the picture (in fact it's recorded physically deeper inside the tape than is the video signal) and so will be affected by changes to the video pattern. This means that any video edits will spoil a previously-recorded hi fi soundtrack.

Not to worry though, because there are three alternatives open to you. Firstly, you could carefully assemble your film in time to your demo soundtrack and copy it across to the hi fi machine from another cheaper machine while inserting the sound from tape (the Ferguson has plenty of in/out sockets to allow this). Secondly, you could assemble the video on the hi fi machine and use the Dub facility to put on a conventional stereo Dolby soundtrack after the video's finished. You can dub in stereo, or in mono onto the left or right channel, you could even dub two different mono versions of a song, one onto each channel at different times, and choose which one you want to listen to using the Monitor Select switch each time you watch the video.

Thirdly, you could put a safe shot and soundtrack onto the hifi machine and Insert Edit new pictures, spoiling the hi fi soundtrack but leaving the stereo Dolby soundtrack alone. Admittedly, two out of these three methods leave you listening to a stereo Dolby rather than a hi fi soundtrack, but how many record company A&R offices have VHS hi fi yet? If you do use the first method, which leaves you with both conventional and hi fi soundtracks, you're sure to impress.

Music Video

Hi fi machines like the Ferguson are a real godsend for the musician, partly because they give real meaning to the term 'music video' at last, and partly because the peripheral features they tend to have are perfect for assembling your own demo videos without all the expensive editing equipment which has previously been necessary. It's easy enough to hire a camera and some lights for a day, perhaps even a simple effects unit which will let you do picture fade or colour reversal. After you've filmed, you're at your leisure to edit using just your hi fi machine and another (perhaps much more inexpensive) model. Edit to your demo tape on a Revox and dub the sound on by your preferred method and hey presto — a very persuasive demo video.

Remember that VHS and Beta are not of broadcast quality (although the Tube has been known to broadcast Low-band U-matic and you could get your effort copied across and try to get away with it), but this wouldn't be your main aim anyway. To act as a neat if not totally professional demo, to sell at gigs or to project on a couple of monitors on stage, the sort of video you can put together with a hifi machine like the Ferguson could be just what your band needs. Orto end with a dreadful pun — get into video hi fi and you could become a hi-fiier.

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Southern Pride

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The Prefab Four

Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Jul 1985

Previous article in this issue:

> Southern Pride

Next article in this issue:

> The Prefab Four

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