Pinpointing superior design is the aim of the annual Grand Prix Awards sponsored by Audio-Video International, a prominent trade journal. Its spotlight now turns to the video recorders singled out for special merit in a nationwide poll of video dealers.
Three models are chosen in each category. Among the simplest and least expensive VCRs -- i.e., those with monaural sound of limited fidelity -- this year's winners were the Philips VR6405, the RCA VR520 (both priced at $399) and the Toshiba M-441, which is $10 cheaper.
Even though they are in the bottom price bracket, all have four separate magnetic heads to assure jitter-free slow-motion and still-frame displays -- a refinement rarely found on economy models in the past.
All three models display instructions on the screen to guide the user in programming the VCR.
With the current emphasis on better sound in video, VCRs capable of recording in high-fidelity stereo are gaining a greater share in the market.
Among such models, the winners were Mitsubishi's HS-U52 and Panasonic's PV-4962, both listing at $649, and RCA's VR671HF, priced at $529.
The Mitsubishi features an automatic tracking adjustment to assure jitter-free pictures from tapes recorded on other VCRs, such as rental tapes or tapes borrowed from friends.
Panasonic's model is the only one in this group with bar-code programming. This allows the viewer to program the VCR simply by running a penlike sensor over a printed bar code specifying the day and time of the show to be recorded. This makes programming as simple as adding up bar-coded prices at a supermarket checkout counter.
In addition, the Panasonic has provisions that allow for smoother editing. For example, the flying erase head assures jitter-free transitions when selected segments from a homemade camcorder tape are transferred.
The final group of home VCRs considered for these awards are high-resolution models intended for serious video amateurs who insist on the best picture quality attainable through current home-video technology.
This requires Super-VHS capability or Extended-Definition Beta (if the Beta format is preferred), with correspondingly stiff prices.
All VCRs in this category offer image resolution with more than 400 horizontal lines. This exceeds present transmission norms so that broadcast or cable programs can be recorded with almost no loss of image quality.
Winners in this group are JVC's HR-S5800 ($1,499), Mitsubishi's HS-U82 ($1,699) and Sony's EDV-9500 ($3,300). In addition to superb image and sound reproduction, both the JVC and Mitsubishi models offer fairly elaborate editing functions.
When used in conjunction with camcorders of similar quality, these deluxe VCRs make it possible to produce near-professional home videos.
The Sony EDV-9500 is the only VCR among the Grand Prix winners that operates in the Beta format, which still has faithful adherents among those intent on the best image quality.
This machine offers every imaginable technical refinement along with elaborate editing features. However, it will not play VHS tapes.
Similarly high image and sound quality is attained by videodisc players at much lower cost. This accounts for their rapidly rising popularity among viewers insistent on the best possible picture. Of course, videodisc machines are for playback only. You can't record on them.
Grand Prix winners in this category are the Philips CDV600 ($1,029), the Pioneer CLD-1080 ($600) and the Sony MDP-333 ($650).
All three are so-called combi-players, which play both videodiscs and regular sound-only CDs. This makes them highly suitable for use in combined audio-video systems.