|Manufacturer:||Pioneer Electronics Corporation, 4-1 Meguro 1-chrome, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153, Japan (Distributed by US Pioneer Electronics Corp., 85 Oxford Drive, Moonachie, NJ 07074)|
|Source:||Reader Loan (purchased from Pacific Stereo, Dallas, TX)|
|Cost:||$749.00 (includes RF and Stereo cable). Optional accessory Remote Control Unit RU-1000 $50|
Since our first evaluation of Magnavox Model 8000 "Magnavision" player back in TV #18, we have stated our position several times that the LaserVision system appears to be presently incapable of providing overall video quality significantly better than fast-speed Beta and VHS recordings. We've had a number of complaints and problems with Magnavox's player and MCA's videodiscs, and experienced nothing but delays, difficulties and disappointments in dealing with local dealers and the manufacturers in attempting to get some answers and solutions to our problems.
Enter Pioneer Electronics of Japan, which has been working closely with MCA DiscoVision (now known as DiscoVision Associates) in developing and marketing an industrial computer-compatible optical player for use by businesses and schools. Late last year, that firm introduced a surprisingly low-cost consumer version of the PR-7820 Universal/Pioneer industrial player, lacking only a few features like computer-interface capability. Indeed, when the price was announced last year, the industry was astonished that Pioneer could offer a product of this incredible complexity for such a piddling price tag - a mere $50 more than Magnavox's problematic player.
Pioneer's VP-1000 is without question one of the most remarkable and attractive consumer products I've ever seen. It's dynamic-looking 21¾"x15⅞"x5⅝" white, walnut and dark grey cabinet mirrors the excellent "high tech" Japanese styling of the manufacturer's consumer audio products, and weighs about 38½ pounds. The left top side of the player contains a lift-up door with a clear plastic window under which the disc is inserted. The disc is read by a bottom-mounted laser assembly similar to the one used in the Magnavision - not over the disc, as had been erroneously reported in a past issue (*ahem*). The top right side of the player contains some 24 different buttons and knobs, which should be enough to satisfy even the most gadget-prone among us. The top section contains two green indicator lamps, one for CAV (Constant angular velocity) Standard Play discs and one for CLV (constant Linear Velocity) Extended play discs, as well as [a standby indicator lamp and 10-key pad for numbers], along with a Search button for initiating the mode. Buttons for Chapter and Frame are also provided, which cause a 5-digit frame number (up to 54,000, for CAV discs only) or a 2-digit chapter number to appear at the top left corner of the image on your TV set.
The lower section contains all the player's transport controls, with four light-touch rocker switches for still/step-frame, slow-motion, high-speed picture scan, and 3X Fast motion, all set up for forward and reverse operation. Right next to the slow-motion control is a sliding knob for variable speed, all the way from one frame every five seconds to normal speed (30 frames per second). We noted that no regular reverse motion is provided (like the one found on the Magnavision player), but we did find that you can achieve the same result by placing the Pioneer in slow-moti8on reverse and advancing the variable knob to normal speed.
Four additional buttons are provided for Power on/off, reject/Open (to pop open the disc compartment and allow you to retrieve the videodisc, Pause (which momentarily stops the video images and removes it from the screen), and Play. Also provided are two buttons for selecting Audio Channel 1 and Channel 2. All of these light touch buttons are illuminated from behind with red light, making it easy to differentiate them in the dark.
The back of the VP-1000 contains a switch for the internal channel 3/4 RF modulator, a mini-phone jack for connecting the optional RU-1000 remote control, F jacks for 75ohm in and out (along with terminal posts for 300ohm VHF in), two phono jacks for Audio Channel 1 and 2 out, and two F jacks for Video out and Adaptor out, the later use for connecting an external PCM digital audio adaptor for playing encoded laser audio discs (presently not available).
The optional wireless RU-1000 remote control contains all the frame search transport controls of the player except for the variable slow-motion capability, which is an unfortunate omission. An infrared sensor on the front right side of the player receives the invisible signals from the remote. Alternatively, a 30-foot cable (supplied) can be used to connect the RU-1000 directly to the player.
The Pioneer unit has a multitude of amazing features and functions, chief among them being the frame/chapter search system that is omitted from the Magnavision player. To use this feature, you simply depress the Search button, then Frame, which will cause a white "Search Frame" message to appear at the top of your TV set. Next, you key in the appropriate frame number (from 1 to 54,000) and again press Search. After a momentary delay, during which the Standby indicator blinks on and off, the selected frame will appear on your screen in the still-frame mode. Note that only CAV 30-minute discs can be used with this function: for CLV 60-minute discs, the Chapter Search mode can be used with programs that are prepared with chapter information.
All of the information for these frame and chapter numbers is encoded in the vertical interval (the top black area just outside the image) of the signal as a series of moving shite dots and pulses. These signals are decoded by special circuits inside the player to provide the visible frame and chapter numbers. Another small plus for the Pioneer player is that you can simultaneously inspect both the frame and chapter numbers, with the chapter number appearing just to the left of the frame display. The Magnavision can only display either the frame number or the chapter number, but not both at the same time.
The rest of the controls are fairly self-explanatory. The still/step frame control provides a clear freeze-frame from any CAV disc (with just a trace of flicker and jitter), as well as frame-by-frame advance for detailed study. The Scan control allows you to quickly view the entire disc in forward or reverse in as little as 30 seconds, though we noted that it seems to leap ahead in short spurts rather than the continuously smooth fast motion it provides in reverse. The 3X Fast Mode (labeled "X3", not to be confused with the Beta Slow-speed mode) allows you to lop off ⅔ of your viewing time. We noted that no audio is provided in any of these special modes, though it could be heard very faintly in the background with the player we evaluated.
The playback speed for both CAV and CLV discs is automatically determined by the player by means of additional encoded signals in the programs. As with the Magnavision player, CAV discs play at 1800 RPM, while CLV discs play from 1800 rpm at the inner "grooves" to only 600 at the outer edge. While most optical discs are currently available in the CAV mode, DiscoVision Associates has stated that eventually, all movie-length titles will be manufactured only in the CLV 60-minute format, which will prevent using any of the special and frame-search modes mentioned above., except for Scan and Chapter Search.
One somewhat mysterious feature of the VP-1000 is the appearance of the PCM adapter jack on the back panel. Pioneer has demonstrated their disc player along with prototype Digital Audio decoders at trade shows to provide extremely clean, full-range audio playback. A Pioneer spokesman explained however, that they don't plan to offer a compatible decoder for the VP-1000 until a digital audio standard is established. We noted that Philips and Sony have already a begun work on a smaller laser optical audio disc standard, the "Compact Disc" (not unlike Philips' original "Compact Cassette'), which is presently incompatible with all optical video disc players. We certainly hope that despite Sony and Philips intentions, Pioneer can develop a single player that can handle both video and digital audio discs, if only to avoid requiring the consumer to pay for two separate players.
Nobody says it better than Pioneer in their own excellent brochure on the VP-1000: "A videodisc player is only as good as the software played on it." Unfortunately, just about all of the software we were able to obtain from DVA was marred by a myriad of problems, including everything from dozens of tiny, minute dropouts (which tend to snake across the screen very slowly from right to left), to a strange, subtle veiling of the image that looks like someone placed a hairnet over our picture tube.
In addition, we're still ever-conscious of the unacceptable video noise levels present in the optical disc's image, appearing far worse than most consumer videotape formats. Despite the fact that the resolution of most discs seems to be at least 10% better than almost all ½" videocassettes, this noise problem makes watching the discs a real pain for any video perfectionist.
Pioneer was kind enough to furnish a special UPC Test Disc (#NT-103), which provided a variety of multi-burst video test signals (for frequency response and resolution) full-field color bars, and individual color fields for Yellow, Magenta, Red and Blue, along with a 7-minute test scene from The Sting. While our test facilities do not exactly match those of top research labs, we'd be willing to match our eyes and experience with anybody else's in our subjective evaluations. One thing we discovered was that, in comparing color bars playing back from Beta and VHS tapes and the Pioneer player, even a near-sighted child could clearly see the deficiencies in the optical disc, particularly in the awful color smearing seen in the red and blue bars. Even though Pioneer's promotional literature promises "Exceptional picture and sound quality far better than any home videotape recorder," the discs we've evaluated definitely do not live up to this claim. Whether or not the Pioneer player is really capable of this superior level of performance is honestly hard for us to say, since we have yet to get our hands on an optical disc that really lives up to the performance capable of the system.
On the other hand, the stereo audio signals coming off of Pioneer's demo disc were fairy decent, audibly better than almost all Beta and VHS tapes and providing greatly cleaner highs and better S/N ratio. We did, however, note some annoying ticks and pops from time to time, although they were not nearly as bad as those from RCA's discs. Our final opinion of the Pioneer is that, while we have every hope that it is , in fact, an excellent playback source all the way down the line, this will be impossible to prove until DVA can provide some really decent pressings of their library of optical discs.
We had a small degree of difficulty in getting the manufacturer's specifications on the Pioneer VP-1000, since they're not printed in either the literature, instructions, or the service manual on the product, but a technical spokesman for the firm told us that the video specs should match those of the PR-7820 industrial player. Strangely enough, extremely thorough audio specs are provided from all these sources, probably due to Pioneer's extensive consumer audio marketing experience. Be that as it may, the specs include:
Horizontal resolution: 350 lines
Video S/N Ratio: 42 dB (Color)
Audio Frequency Response: 40-20,000 Hz (±3dB)
Audio S/N Ratio: 55dB (@ 1kHz, IHF-A weighting)
Power Requirements: 95 watts ate 120VAC
We noted that whereas the majority of consumer video recorders are capable of outperforming the LaserVision discs in video S/N ratio at full speed, they don't come near its resolution, with even the best ¾" recorders falling a little below 300 lines. In actual practice, we doubt that the optical disc can really reach 350 lines on an average, though we don't doubt that it can at least hit 300 limes most of the time.
One minor criticism we had with the Pioneer player is that it takes almost 14 seconds to get up to speed from the time a disc is inserted until a picture appears on the screen. This process takes only about 11 seconds for the Magnavision and 6 or 7 seconds for the RCA CED player. In addition, it takes 11 seconds for the disc to come to a complete stop, as opposed to 9 or 10 seconds with the Magnavision. I also can't understand the need for making the player a top-load design, preferring the front-load approach used by RCA and JVC with their respective CED and VHD players.
Other than these minor quibbles, I was very satisfied with the Pioneer player in every way, and feel (as mentioned in #28) that if you must have an optical videodisc player, the VP-1000 is the only state-of-the-art choice available.
Compared with the limited, lower-technology Magnavision 8000 player, the Pioneer wins hands down as far as ease of use, features, appearance and dependability goes. It also seems to handle disc problems a little better than our sample Magnavision (S/N 20845151), tracking most DiscoVision titles with few problems other than excessive dropouts - again, probably due more to disc defects than anything else. We also applaud Pioneer's foresight in offering random-access search functions and remote control accessory, neither of which is available for the Magnavox player. Also, I must confess that I was a bit taken with the VP-1000's clear plastic top window, which allows you to watch the disc spin around - a small improvement over the Magnavision's opaque top.
Magnavox has not yet made an announcement as to whether they'll be introducing an improved version of the 8000 in the near future, but its expected that they probably will do so, if only to keep up with Pioneer. They have stated, however, that they don't plan on releasing a lower-cost version of the Magnavision in order to compete with RCA, although Pioneer has indicated that they may show a "no frills" model at the Summer CES.
As it stands, the VP-1000 is a real "videophile"-oriented product, and one that provides more features and capabilities than one would have thought possible for under $1000, let alone for $750. We consider the RU-1000 remote control to be an absolute steal for only $50. Even if you don't plan on using it very often, we'd strongly advise going ahead and buying it if only to show it off for your friends and neighbors.
We might add here that half the fun we had in evaluating the Pioneer player was in enjoying the "What It Is and How It Works" demo disc (#USP-001) provided by the manufacturer, which includes an 18½ minute demo by Patrick O'Neal as a basic demonstration of the LaserVision system's features and a 10 minute technical explanation by Don Herbert, TV's "Mr. Wizard." This disc was the first pressing from Pioneer's plant that we've seen outside of Japan, and seemed to provide slightly better overall performance than those we've seen from DVA in California.
In any case, despite our thorough suspicion and lack of enthusiasm over any of the videodisc systems we've seen so far, there's no doubt that the optical system shows the most promise for someday being able to provide a high-quality, almost indestructible playback source for the discerning videophile. Unfortunately, that day is not today. We have every hope, however, that Pioneer's VP-1000 will be able to meet the challenge of the perfected videodisc of the future.
(Special thanks to local videophile P.L. for providing us with his experiences with his VP-1000, and to N.R. for assisting with our evaluations. Thanks also to U.S. Pioneer for providing us with the additional technical information used in this report.)
[Ed.'s Note: the March '81 issue of Popular Electronics has an excellent article on the advanced technology and the inner workings of the Pioneer VP-1000.]