The only negative thing about the F1 is the non-hifi mono sound. There was once a PCM digital audio module available for the SL-F1 VCR. Imagine a Betamax with CD-quality digital sound! Sadly the chances of finding one in a dumpster are remote. I've been told they are rare and sell for up to $750 secondhand. Most are being used by the BBC or professional video users.
The SLO-1700 is my only Beta hi-fi machine. It gives great pictures and sound. I haven't been using it that much recently for a variety of reasons. One reason is the lack of a tuner and timer. The B. hifi is connected to a satellite receiver instead of a TV tuner (a partial solution to the problem) and a Panasonic NV-W1. This is a digital standards converter that will change NTSC video signals into PAL (or SECAM) or viceversa. This allows me to send tapes to family in Canada and to use NTSC stuff that I've brought back (a couple of NTSC game consoles and a Canadian Betamax machine (Sanyo VCR-3900 II with tape-chewing bug) as well as some NTSC video tapes.) The Canadian vcr needs 120 volt electricity which is generated by a transformer I salvaged from a scrap Mitsubishi TV. Strangely the vcr doesn't seem to be affected by the a.c. frequency difference (60Hz a.c. in North America vs. 50Hz in Europe).
The Panasonic NV-W1 incorporates a multi-system VHS VCR which facilitates copying between it and the Beta hi-fi. I can copy other people's VHS tapes to my Beta without the usual deterioration associated with VHS to VHS copying. I can record satellite TV on both machines and transfer any of my Beta tapes to VHS if anyone else wants to see them. Yet despite its high price tag, the performance of the W1 VCR is uninspiring compared to the Beta hi-fi.
That's not the biggest problem with the setup. The main problems over the last few months have been the lack of anything worth recording off satellite tv (Nearly all the British tv programs are subscription only & the charges are horrendous. A decoder that let me watch English-language shows for free from Holland recently bit the dust) and problems obtaining blank Beta tapes. In the past I was able to buy ex-Betacam tapes for 30 cents each from a shop in London. They gave excellent results (Betacam SP tapes don't work well, though.) The source of cheap tapes seems to have dried up for the time being. New tapes cost $15 for two at the Sony Centre. New VHS tapes can be bought for as little as $1.50 and offer the same recording time (on PAL LP mode). True, the quality is fairly awful but it's difficult to justify a 10x price increase, especially since I have only one B. hi-fi vcr. If it fails, I lose the high quality sound on all its recordings.
I used to have an antidote to that problem. When the dumpsters were full of Betas, I gathered as many machines of the same type as I could, then repaired them by part-swapping. I had plenty of spare parts left over - enough to last for years, I thought. But you may recall that I didn't find any Beta hi-fi machines in the trash, so I have no spares for them. Furthermore the spares situation has gotten worse. A number of Beta machines for spares were being stashed in someone else's garage due to lack of space. Unfortunately I had to clear this out when the owner's son bought a car. It was heartbreaking, but it forced me to consider which machines to keep and which ones not to.
In deciding what to keep, I had to assume there would be no more 'windfalls' of discarded machines like what happened in Bristol in 1990 when the VCR rental shops disposed of their obsolete stock. Currently, as well as the SL-F1, the SLO-1700 hi-fi and the Canadian Beta, I have two Sony SL-C7's (one has been partly used for spares) with a Wega CW-M1 cassette autochanger (this seems to be a German version of the Sony BetaStack - I put a picture of this on my homepage. If you want to see it, look under home video entertainment). Both these machines are known to be unreliable. I kept the C7 VCR because it's fairly common and well-supported by spares suppliers. I kept the autochanger for its novelty value.
I kept two Sony SL-T7ME PAL/SECAM/NTSC machines, both working. They share a lot of mechanical parts with the SL-C7 and the earlier SL-C5 on which they are based. When plugged in, they auto-select the mains voltage and the TV color system being used. The Panasonic W1, despite its digital conversion wizardry, has to be set up manually. Beta was so far ahead of its time. Unfortunately there are two minor idiosyncracies with the SL-T7ME. Sometimes when recording PAL TV programs from the built-in tuner, it will switch to SECAM for an instant, then back again, causing a momentary color drop-out. This happens with both my machines, particularly when there's a lot of blue in the picture. I don't know if it's a design fault or just due to age. The other problem is the NTSC mode only supports BII speed. The output seems to be incompatible with American NTSC. All I get is a good black and white picture with the digital converter. That means I have to keep the Canadian vcr as well.
The final Beta that I kept is the Sony SL-C30UB. It's a slim, black front-loading deck, fairly basic but good quality. Gifted with a tuner/timer, it was my main Betamax for quite a while until it developed a fault last year. The picture had strong wavy lines all over and became unwatchable. A kind soul on the Internet (Colin McCormick) told me how to fix it for pennies! Now altogether I have 6 working PAL machines and one NTSC one. Despite the ups and downs of the last few months, I hope to be able to continue my exploits with Betamax for some time to come.
Submitted Thu Jul 3 16:46:27 1997