Panasonic AG-1970 S-VHS VCR (Circa-1993)

I’m gearing up for October, cause you know, Halloween and all that. The goal is to have one ‘spooky’ post per week, but we’ll see. ANYWAY, this, this is just too amazing to not get an update out of. Besides, I should probably write something for September, huh?

After a long dry spell, my electronic finds have picked up as of late, as a couple of my recent postings demonstrate. This one, however, handily tops ’em all. Indeed, while this may not be my favorite, this is far and away the most high-end VCR in my not-inconsiderable collection. Behold: The Panasonic AG-1970 S-VHS VCR! That’s it up above, man! I have other S-VHS VCRs (in fact, my first was nearly four years ago), but none can hold a candle to this monster. With it, I have, however tenuously, stepped into the professional world of VCRs.

Truth be told, I didn’t find this myself. Rather, my good friend Jesse (who y’all met here) came across it at a local thrift store, and gave me a buzz. He picked it up on the evening of August 18th, and the tag on it stated it had been put on the 16th. My last visit there had been on the 15th. I could have very easily missed out on this had the wrong person waltzed in over those intervening days, but luckily Jesse was the right person, and he very kindly picked it up for me. The wait was actually beneficial too; the AG-1970 was originally priced at $20, then marked down to $10, and Jesse used a 20% discount coupon on top that. Grand total? $8 + tax. You can not beat that; S-VHS decks almost never show up in-person around here, and when they do, they’re not the mega-high-end ones like this (such as the example linked above). The least I could do was give Jesse a straight $10 for his troubles.

This store generally prices their VCRs between $5 and $10, and lately, they’ve been hitting $5 pretty consistently. The fact the AG-1970 was initially priced so high shows that just from outside appearances alone, this thing is (or was) special. Even at the high of $20, that’s not a bad price, but $8? Why, that’s a veritable bargain buck bill!

Here’s the thing: I’m now heading into what is basically foreign territory for me. I’m the first to admit it. I know my way around regular VHS VCRs okay, but here, much of this is all new to me. So, here more than ever, I invite people with the know-how to hit up the comments section, please!

A closer look the front-panel. My pictures actually make things look worse than they are; my AG-1970 is a little dusty, a little dirty, but for the most part it’s in really nice shape. You’re just gonna have to take my word on this. I probably should have wiped it down with something before starting this post, but meh, let’s say it’s in “as found” condition, okay?

This was a “Prosumer” unit. That is, it was commercially available to you and I and Johnny-runs-his-mouth over there, but we couldn’t have just walked into any brick-and-mortar electronics store to get it; no no, from how I understand it, these were available at stores specifically specializing in higher-end electronics. I couldn’t find much info regarding the pricing, but one blurb I saw mentioned it retailing for a whopping $1900! “Pro Line” indeed!

(Also, look close; in this pic, my AG-1970 sits atop my cool Magnavox VCR with the door-flap audio level thing!)

“It’s like a battle station!” – My brother, upon my showing him the contents of the cool fold-down door. The flash on my camera makes this look grimier than it really is.

Open the front panel, and that’s where the magic of the machine is evident. This wasn’t just a VCR for recording and playing a videotape in the best quality (then) possible, this was a legit editing station! With feature upon feature (some of which, I’m first to admit, I don’t know the exact function of), this was the kind of machine you’d want for actual video projects. Even though this was a consumer model, I can see it being viewed as more of an industrial unit by schools, businesses, and the like.

No doubt about it, this thing was a beast. There’s quite a few options for audio preferences, as well as the expected video toggles; I was a little surprised to see the switch for SP or SLP recording, but no LP. When you’re shelling out nearly two grand for a model of this nature, why not give any and all recording outputs possible?

I like the sliding tabs for picture sharpness and headphone jack volume, and the dual sliding tabs for the Hi-Fi audio recording levels.

There’s also a switch labeled “TBC.” No, it’s not a misspelling of Elvis’ Memphis Mafia Motto (alliteration); rather it stands for “Time Base Correction.” This is important: TBC can drastically correct / stabilize the picture of a videotape. Wikipedia has a decent write-up on the feature. Because I’m an admitted neophyte in this area, evidently another, external TBC is needed to get the absolute best picture quality, but honestly, that’s probably heading into a zone I’d never notice much of a difference in. I like a good VHS picture, but I’m not really a full-fledged videophile.

Speaking of which, I duly went about researching this deck upon acquirement. This research took me into legit videophile forums; I mean, there were guys debating aspects of these VCRs that pretty much made my head swim. That’s not a slam on anyone; I’m endlessly impressed with these guys that (seemingly) so effortlessly know all the ins and outs of S-VHS. Anyway, the general consensus seems to be that the AG-1970 was good for its time, but the succeeding AG-1980 is the better unit from an abilities and picture-quality standpoint, though the AG-1970 seems to be more reliably-built.

Hey, you throw an AG-1980 at me for $10, I’ll snap it up with extreme fervor. But until then, I’m going to be happy with my AG-1970.

More coolness as we head to the right. Excuse the glare; the display panel is apparently housed in the most reflective surface in the universe. I dig the cool vertical audio level readouts.

The picture doesn’t show it very well, but the display is actually a bit on the dim side. It’s definitely readable, and if you had the lights out, you could probably see what’s going on from where you sat. But, it really should be brighter than it is; I hope it’s not a power supply issue.

Also: Jog shuttle! I’m a sucker for these things; even when a deck doesn’t really need one, it’s still improved by its presence, as far as I’m concerned. ‘Course, the AG-1970 does need the jog, not only because of the functions it provides but also because it’s the AG-1970 and anything less than a jog shuttle would not be fitting for a machine of this stature.

Okay, so right about here is where I’d have a screenshot of something playing on the AG-1970; show the machine in action. I can’t do that though, and here’s why: The VCR certainly appears to work perfectly, and every function I tested appeared to do its appropriate thing, at least as far as the display, uh, displayed. However, I can’t be sure, because I couldn’t get a picture to show up! Not that I think the machine is broken or anything like that; the counter is telling me that something is being read here.

Y’see, what I’m doing it plugging it into the front jacks of the VCR I have hooked up to the PC; that’s normally how I do my testing with new old decks. BUT, because this Prosumer stuff is all totally new to me, for all I know that could just be all wrong. You experts are gonna have to (nicely) let me know, because I don’t have the manual or the expertise to know what, if anything, I’m doing wrong.

But you know what? Let’s say there’s something wrong with a capacitor or whatever, and that’s why I’m not getting a picture. I almost don’t care, because at $8, the AG-1970 was still a monumental bargain. I can always get it repaired if need be; in fact, I’d rather have it gone over from top to bottom, make sure it’s in full working order, before I start regularly using it.

The back of the unit. Plugs and whatnot, obviously. Actually, I’m a little surprised there’s not more of ’em. There’s the expected antenna jacks, and AV jacks, and the channel selector switch. All pretty par for the course.

The really nice feature is the S-Video outputs and inputs though; was there a higher mode of output than that back in the early-1990s? Was composite video around yet? Super Nintendo had S-Video; that’s gotta count for somethin’!

You’ll notice in the title for the post, I listed the date as “circa-1993.” Near as I can tell from my research, that’s around the time this machine was out. There’s no date on the back of this deck, so yeah, circa-1993.

Final proof this thing was mighty high-end? A big, thick, detachable power cord.

Whether it works correctly or not almost (almost) doesn’t matter; just having the Panasonic AG-1970 S-VHS VCR is enough for me. Look at it up there! Just look at it! It’s not just an S-VHS VCR, it’s a professional S-VHS VCR! It’s heavy duty! It’s feature-packed! It’s built like a tank! And it supposedly has really, really nice picture quality! This thing is my new good friend!

Thanks once again to my pal Jesse for grabbing this VCR for me! It’s a fine addition to my collection! (And fodder for my dumb blog is always nice, too.)

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2 thoughts on “Panasonic AG-1970 S-VHS VCR (Circa-1993)

  1. KB

    WOW — that is a legendary deck. Having used an AG-1980 a LOT over the years, I didn’t realize how similar this one looks.
    To answers some of your questions… the TBC on these never seemed to do much for me, but an external TBC can work wonders. There’s some old “Price Is Right” episodes taped off-air (I believe) from the 1970s that are posted on YouTube, and they look amazing because they were run through a TBC. May be worth it to you, although since much of your library seems to be pre-recorded horror tapes, the quality is probably maxed. Unless you have any of those cheesy “Bikini Open” promos from Ch. 29/35 — I would love to see one again for the terrible theme and production values.
    Back to this deck, SP was originally the only speed that Matsushita (Panasonic) and JVC agreed on. A few years later, SLP aka EP came along, which was grudgingly accepted for consumer use. At some point, Panasonic came up with LP, but JVC (and some other companies) refused to even acknowledge it for quite some time. They eventually gave in and added it for playback-only, but even then refused to allow the decks to do slow-motion or other effects in some cases. So LP has always been a sore spot. Since the AG-1970 is a prosumer deck, I imagine Panasonic left it off since it’s not “professional” (as if SLP is). I wonder if the 1970 would play LP, though? I forget.
    The flip-down controls are pretty self-explanatory, except Hi-Fi/normal mix is for when you have, say, an interview or narration program and want to add some background music on the linear tracks (which can be re-dubbed) to what’s already on the hi-fi tracks (which cannot). Good for editing, as you noticed, but not terribly useful in your case. Maybe you should buy an edit controller (they’re cheap these days!) to have some fun with this thing. Of course, you’d need a second deck, too. BTW that “edit” switch is for when you have an edit controller connected on the back, and it disables many functions on the deck itself so that only the edit controller can decide what to do.
    The big mystery for you (and me) is the lack of picture. Are you getting sound? Even through the front headphone jack?
    Forgive me if this sounds patronizing, but are you using a male-BNC-to-female-RCA connector for the video jacks on the back? Have you tried the RF-out just to a television? Or the S-Video connector? The S-Video connector could be shot or have a bent pin, but the others may be fine.
    Have you cleaned the heads? They could possibly be so grungy that the static being output is being mis-read by your computer as nothingness. (This actually happened to me with an AG-1960).
    Also, S-Video predates component connectors, which I’ve never seen on a VCR or even LD. They only seemed to show up with the first generation of DVD players.

    Reply
    1. neovideohunter Post author

      Ah, this is the exact kind of comment I needed! Let me reply in order here…

      1) I’ve actually got TONS of stuff taped off TV, and until fairly recently, that was the main focus of this blog. It was only over the last year or so that I started shifting more towards pre-recorded tapes, mostly because those posts always got far better views and in general had a wider range of interest. (I don’t have that opening off 29/25, BTW.)

      2) Yes, I get sound through headphones. Plus, judging by the display, tapes are definitely being read – it’s just that nothing is (apparently) being output.

      3) Connections: I was using normal red-and-whites for sound and S-Video for picture, all plugged into the front of my “converting” DVD recorder. See, the hope was to get REALLY high quality conversions of rare tapes directly onto DVD, but since this is new territory to me, hooking this deck up that way may not even be possible. That said, if an external TBC is going to make an exponential difference, I may put the whole idea on the back burner until if and when one of those can be had.

      4) Have not cleaned the heads. I’m not sure how things would be read through this particular machine, but I know from experience that when heads are clogged/shot/etc., my PC will give SOME indication that something is playing, even if it’s just a wildly static-filled picture (and even then, I almost always still get sound). That’s not the case here. Was there any kind of blue screen or start-up screen with these? I get nothing but grey.

      I have a feeling the fault here is entirely on my part, but even if something important is wasted in this, I won’t be too upset; I’ve got a capable repair shop near me, and if they can’t save it, this is still a deck I’m happy to have in my collection.

      Thanks for your help!

      Reply

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