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Review: Victor HD-7900 VHD Player

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Victor HD-7900

Victor HD-7900 VHD player with AHD port

HD-7900 remote control - also works with the HD-9300

Introduced in 1984, the Victor HD-7900 was JVC's top-of-the-line VHD player. The front panel identifies the player as VHDpc, which means it has an AHD connector port on the back. Although AHD originally stood for Audio High Density, which was JVC's VHD based 4-channel digital audio disc system, the success of the CD format lead JVC to investigate other uses for the port. Re-identifying it to mean Advanced High Density, the port could be used for computer control of the VHD player or for connecting an adapter for field-sequential 3D playback. In addition to the AHD port, the back panel has RF outputs (not usable in the US), a standard RCA jack for video and 2 RCA jacks for audio. Power is 100 volts, which requires the use of a transformer in the US.
The front panel of the HD-7900 is quite barren; from left to right there is a power button, play and eject buttons and indicators for disc side 1 or 2, stereo and bi-lingual playback. Just below the main panel are a headphone output, microphone input, and a switch for adding reverb to the microphone input when the unit is used with Karaoke discs. There is also a mini jack for wired remote control, although the unit comes with a full-featured wireless remote.
Disc loading is manual. Pressing the power button turns on the player and drops down a door to unveil the disc loading slot. As the jacket is loaded, the disc is removed by the player (with the side 1/2 indicators lighting as appropriate) and the mechanism gives a mild push back indicating the jacket can be removed. Once removed, the door pops back up and the player automatically starts playback, with a picture appearing on the screen within 10 seconds. Player and turntable noise are very low, much lower in fact than either LD or CED players. When a stereo disc is played, the Stereo light on the front panel lights up, and goes out during mono playback. If a bilingual or dual-channel audio disc is played, the A-B indicators light signifying which channel is playing. You can only select individual audio channels when a disc is so coded - it is not possible to play only the left or right channel on a standard stereo VHD disc. Play starts in the 'normal' mode and left alone, the disc will play straight through, when it reaches the end, the player will go into the "unload" mode. With the remote, however, a large number of features are available.

As you can see from the picture, the remote is a very high-tech-looking 'membrane' type affair. Like a typical microwave oven, no actual buttons are present, just flat "pictures" that you lightly touch to activate a feature. From the remote the disc can be paused (which automatically releases back to play after 3 minutes to protect the disc and stylus from unnecessary wear) and placed into the unload mode. You can also do time (minutes/seconds), chapter or page (track) searches. Page search is essentially equivalent to frame search on a CAV LaserDisc, but instead of a single frame, VHD stores 2 frames per track (there are 54,000 tracks on each side of a 60 minute VHD disc). Chapters can also be stored for programmed playback. There are direct chapter access controls too. Images can be frozen (with the quality of the freeze depending upon any movement between the 2 frames shown) and stepped forward or backwards and the remote can place the player in a 2x forward mode (without sound). On 3D discs, the 2X forward mode will display the image in the field-sequential format, sadly, without sound (which requires a 3D adapter). Slow motion reverse and normal play reverse are also available. Audio channel A/B selection is possible from the remote too. Two visual scan speeds are provided (both in forward and reverse). The slower of the two runs at about 5 times normal and the faster at 64 times normal. With both the picture is always viewable. Because the VHD disc has no grooves and the stylus is flat, wear on the disc during special effects playback is of no concern.
Doing a time or chapter search, or seeking from page 1 to page 54,000, is very fast, never taking more than 4 seconds to reach any point on the disc. This is due to the small (10.2 inch) disc size and the small area the stylus has to search over. Picture quality, judged from standard discs (no VHD test discs are available) was excellent. While resolution is only around 250 lines, the picture looks much better than even Super-VHS and comes very close to LaserDisc. Color fidelity is also very good with almost no chroma noise. The player handles drop-outs on poorly cared for discs very well, with most discs exhibiting a smooth, detailed image. Sound is likewise spectacular. No ticks or pops can be heard, nor can any noise modulation, caused by the 2:1 companding noise reduction system, be perceived. Unlike CED or LD, visual drop outs do not cause corresponding noise in the audio. Because the VHD noise reduction system was used on all titles (it was part of the format standard, not a band-aid 'add-on' like CX in LD and CED), even mono titles have smooth, quite backgrounds with no hiss. Both bass and treble are very good although bass is a little 'flat'. It's not quite as deep as analog LD's bass, but is better than CED. Treble is better than both analog LD and CED and has none of the 'spitting' or 'splatter' that both formats can suffer from.
The stylus can be easily changed via a small access door on the top of the player - like the CED format, the VHD stylus is enclosed in a cartridge that is easily removed and replaced. According to Victor, a VHD stylus should last over 2,000 hours and each disc over 10,000 plays.