Japanese electronics manufacturers have a long history of putting the US market in last place when it comes to introducing new technology. Many products are available in the Japanese or the European markets before US consumers can get them. Some products never make it to our shores at all.
The Sony line of dual-well DV/VHS VCRs is one example of this phenomenon. Although these decks have been available in Japan for over two years, the only dual-well decks sold in the US are made by JVC.
For dedicated gear-hounds, a few small importers have stepped forward to fill the gap. From resellers like Planet Japan, US consumers can buy Japanese-market merchandise. However, there are a few small drawbacks that potential buyers should consider before doing so:
- Warranty service, or any service at all, may be unavailable in the US. Buyers have reported mixed results in submitting these units to US service centers.
- Since there are very few sources for these items, price competition is not as fierce; don't expect to find a lot of deeply discounted prices.
- You will have to pay a hefty shipping charge, plus US Customs duty of about 2-3%.
- The units are labeled in Japanese, the on-screen menus are in Japanese, and the users manual is in Japanese. Fortunately, the importers generally include a "homemade" manual in English, describing how to read the most important labels, and accomplish the most common tasks.
- Japanese power is typically 100VAC; the imported units cannot use US electrical current directly from your wall outlet. Here again, the importers come to the rescue, including a little power transformer to enable the use of this gear with US power.
One of the latest Sony dual-well VCRs is the WV-DR7. This is a "mid-line" model, falling between the entry level WV-DR5 and the full-featured WV-DR9. All three units feature the same picture quality and transport mechanisms, but differ in the amount of extra features.
I recently purchased a WV-DR7 to replace two decks in my edit bay: a Sanyo GVR-S-955 S-VHS VTR, and a Sony DHR-1000 DV VCR. I knew that I would be giving up a certain amount of flexibility and control by substituting the DR7 for these two top-end decks, but felt that my increasing use of DV nonlinear editing, plus the savings in rack space and connections, would make up for it.
The cost savings was also attractive; I purchased a new DR7 for less than I got for the two used decks.
I have now used the DR7 for several editing projects. Here is what I've found after living with the unit for a few months:
The DR7 is a good-sized, hefty unit. It's solidly built, compared with most consumer VCRs, without the unneeded weight of, for example, the DHR-1000's overbuilt chassis. It is a classy gold-tone in color, a nice change from the black or silver of most VCRs. When closed, the front face of the unit is almost featureless; both tape wells are hidden by the fold-down control panel. Only the main LED display panel and the power switch are visible.
Folding down the front panel reveals the dual tape wells, as well as exposing the deck's controls. This isn't as flexible as the DHR-1000's detachable control board, but is quite adequate.
The DV tape well is on the left. A push of the Eject button flips open its cover. This well can accept both the mini-DV and full size DV cassettes. (This is a nice plus for this deck, when compared to the dual-well JVC, the low-end Panasonic DV VCRs, or even the JVC "professional" DV-600 deck, which only accept the mini cassettes.)
I found that the DV tape mechanism of this deck was not as robust as that in the DHR-1000, nor was the deck quite as forgiving of unit-to-unit differences in tape transport alignment. For example, I frequently had to re-insert full size tapes three or four times before the deck would accept and load them. I also noticed a slight increase in the frequency of digital dropouts when playing tapes in this machine, compared to my experience with the DHR-1000. Very small differences in tape mechanisms and their alignment can cause this to happen with the tiny 6mm DV tape format. How bad was the problem? Not too severe; I never saw any instances of dropout while using the DHR-1000. With the WV-DR7, I would see perhaps one dropout per two or three tapes, especially those shot on my JVC DV500 camcorder.
The jog-shuttle control is not the typical jog dial surrounded by a shuttle ring. Instead, a central button serves as a Play/Stop control, while a surrounding jog ring functions either as a shuttle control (the more you move it, the higher the shuttle speed, in either direction) or as a true jog control (frame by frame advance as you advance the ring around in a circle). The two modes are triggered by a separate button nearby. This took a little getting used to, but once understood, it is as functional as the more traditional control layout.
On the right side of the deck is the S-VHS/VHS tape well. The WV-DR7 is touted for its ability to make excellent DV-to-SVHS or VHS copies, and I found the claims to be well founded. There is a handy one-button dub feature that makes it very easy to make a dub copy. You can also set up a copying operation to start at a selected point in the master tape, rather than a simple end-to-end copying operation.
However, anyone planning on replacing an S-VHS editing VTR with the DR7 should be advised: the DR7 does not support time code on the VHS side. You must not expect frame accuracy on this side of the deck, or repeatable positioning. The deck is intended for the VHS side to be for copying, not for precision editing.
To improve the dubbing process, the DR7 offers improved digital noise reduction/TBC, as well as circuitry which Sony calls "Digital Reality Regenerator". Whether because of this circuitry or because of the direct head-to-head signal path, the WV-DR7 does indeed make very good VHS copies of DV source material, and vice versa. Dubs produced by the deck were as good as, or even slightly better than, dubs made by passing the DV signal via S-video cable to a Studio One proc amp and detail enhancer, and from there into my six-deck dub rack.
Your editing system can control the WV-DR7 either via the Firewire connection (which, like the DHR-1000, is on the front, behind a small drop-down door) or via LANC (Control-L) using a 2.5mm tip-ring-sleeve submini stereo plug. Drop frame time code is standard, as with all Sony consumer DV equipment. I connected the deck to a FAST Video Machine system using LANC, and found it to be as accurate as any other LANC device I'd used. That is to say, it's fine to use as a player, but not accurate or consistent enough to rely on for match-frame insert edits. With the FAST system in particular, the deck was about one-half to one second off when attempting to record inserts. This is not, however, the DR-7's fault; the Video Machine has a bug which produces this large error when recording to many LANC devices. I had the same problem with the DHR-1000. Repeated re-digitization of clips, however, produced near frame accurate results. The start and stop points of the clips were the same, time after time.
I also tested the deck's control via Firewire, using both a Canopus DV Storm editing system and the new FAST Studio DV. Capture and recording under both systems was flawless. I plan to conduct some tests on the accuracy of A/V insert edits under Firewire control, and will publish the results in an update to this article.
There are no manual audio level controls on this deck. I was annoyed by this at first, but soon ceased to miss them. Even on the DHR-1000, such controls would not apply to Firewire recording, due to its digital nature. The automatic level controls on the DR7 are excellent. One less knob to set! (Two, actually). On the DV side, both 12 and 16-bit audio are supported, and audio dub is available to add audio to the second set of 12 bit tracks.
There are two sets of analog inputs and outputs on the DR7. Both output banks are on the rear panel, along with one input bank. The other set of inputs is in front, along with the Firewire port and the LANC control jack. As with any consumer deck, there is no provision for external sync. Analog video is via the familiar composite RCA or s-video jacks; the deck does not support component analog (here is a a big plus for the JVC DV-600; it is the only reasonably-priced DV deck with component I/O).
Note to those shooting with professional cameras: This deck, and almost all DV and lower-end DVCAM equipment (up to and including the DSR-40) are setup with a black level of 0 IRE, instead of the US television standard of 7.5 IRE. To insure against mismatched black levels, you should shoot, capture, edit, and master at 0 IRE if possible. Correct this with a proc amp to 7.5 IRE at the final dub to analog tape, if the project is destined for broadcast or cable.
The Japanese labels and menus: Although I had to spend a little time reading the importer's manual, I quickly became used to the Kanji labels on the unit. I find that I only rarely have to refer back to the manual, if I need to do some task which I haven't done in a long time. Still, it's a good idea to keep the manual in a handy spot.
Recommendations: I would recommend this deck to the low-budget studio/event videographer/filmmaker who is shooting primarily in DV, and editing on a Firewire-equipped DV editing system. It is especially useful for making one-off VHS and S-VHS copies of DV master tapes, as well as providing both DV and basic VHS/S-VHS capabilities in a cost and space saving package. I would not recommend the WV-DR7 as a substitute for frame accurate professional VTRs in a high-end studio. If you already have, say, a BRS-822 or a DSR-85, then this deck would be a disappointment as a substitute. It would, however, make a relatively inexpensive piece of backup insurance for such an operation.
For more information visit: PLANETJAPAN.ORG Importer Site
--- ©2001 by Doug Graham. All rights are reserved.