Sony GV-D900 Video Walkman

a mini-review by John Beale  Nov. 15th 1998

First impressions

The D900 is a portable MiniDV VCR with a 5.5" LCD screen (there is another model without the screen). It is compact at 6" wide, 5" deep, and 2.5" high when closed (not including cabling or battery). It's roughly the size of a thick paperback, like a James Michener novel or a Tom Clancy thriller. It does not come with a battery, but has a battery charger and an adaptor cable with a battery shell on one end, and a cable that connects to the charger on the other. It uses the same kind of "InfoLithium" batteries as the TRV900 camera, but it uses more power so you have to use the NP-F730 size or larger. I got it for home editing; I don't plan to run it on batteries at all.

On the right side there is a headphone jack, a speaker grille, and a LANC control jack.Behind a fold-out cover are an S-Video jack plus three RCA jacks for composite video and left and right audio. All four are bi-directional, depending on if you're playing a tape or recording.  There's also a DC power output for a TV tuner accessory. In back there's the battery connector, the DV IN/OUT (it's a 4-pin Firewire/I-Link jack) and the IR "LaserLink" LEDs behind a window, which also do IR remote control of a VCR or camcorder. On the left side, behind a semi-hidden panel there is a twenty-contact connector for optional accessories, including a TV tuner and a jog dial editing control. In front there is an IR detector: the D900 does not come with a remote, but it works with the one that came with my TRV900 (RMT-811). Supposedly you can set it to work with other Sony remotes, but that didn't work with my Sony VHS VCR remote (RMT-V231B).

Opening up the cover you see the fairly simple control layout and the 4.25 x 3.25 inch LCD screen (5.5 inch diagonal). The manual says 940x234 pixels total (this must be counting the R,G,B pixels separately). Turning it on you hear a faint whining noise like a hard drive running. This comes from a small internal cooling fan, making it noisier than a TRV900, although it isn't an issue for me since I'm not using it while recording audio. The fan turns off when you fast-forward or reverse the tape, and turns back on when you stop the tape, which is kind of funny.  An issue of current draw from a battery, perhaps.

Playback and Record

You can record from S-Video, composite video, or DV-IN. It comes with a 6-foot firewire jumper cable with the 4-pin connector on both ends, so you can connect it to your TRV900, VX1000 or other firewire camera.  Firewire connectors on computers tend to be the larger 6-pin kind (for powering devices that don't have their own battery, I guess). If you send it a video signal on the firewire, it shows up on the screen and the video output jacks. If you send it an analog video signal it appears on the screen and you can record it, IF you have the firewire cable unplugged. With firewire connected it is always in DV-IN mode instead of analog-in, so you can't use it as a stand-alone real-time DV digitizer. To get DV out you need to record the analog video signal on tape, and then play it back.

You can play, FF, REV, slow-motion and stop using the panel controls. It can do photo/date searches, x2 forward/reverse and single frame steps forward/back but you need a remote for that. It has much better sound than I would have expected from a 1" speaker. For best audio you'll still want to use headphones, I expect.  The LCD screen is nicer for playback than the smaller TRV900 viewscreen, but it's about the same pixel resolution so don't expect high-definition video from it.

Important note: the device is advertised as capable of SP and LP recording and playback. So it is, and it has no problems playing back tapes it records in either mode. However it has dropout problems with LP tapes recorded by my TRV900, and the timecode display is intermittent, suggesting the tape is on the ragged edge of unreadability. The same is true of LP tapes recorded by the D900 and played back in the TRV900. So, for interchangability you'll want to use SP mode only. I tried SP tapes recorded by each unit in the other one and they played back with no dropouts and no timecode glitches. Later note 12/9/98: another user with the D900 and TRV900 says he has no problem interchanging LP tapes between units. Evidently my units aren't aligned as well.


The D900 has a built-in 20-segment assemble editor so you can put together up to twenty different clips and record on your external VCR or camcorder, using the D900 as the source deck. It controls the VCR using IR remote signals.  If you want to use the D900 as the record deck you need an external editing controller. The video output goes out of the firewire and analog video outputs at the same time. I sucessfully assembled a program using firewire output to my TRV900 but I still had to use the IR link to control the camcorder (tape record, pause etc). I would have thought the camera control would be through firewire too, but if so I don't know how to activate it. The manual does not say one way or the other. There is a semi-automatic calibration function to determine the timing offsets needed for record and pause for your particular record deck, so as to get maybe 3-4 frame accuracy. Going to the TRV900 you can't get frame-accurate edits, or I can't anyway (that is, on the TRV900 record deck- the D900 used as a source deck is frame-accurate).

Here are some additions to this review from a newsgroup poster:
Subject: Re: GV-D900/GV-D300 Opinions & Price?
Date: Wed, 02 Dec 1998 09:48:12 GMT

I would just like to add a few points:

> If you send it an analog video signal it appears on the screen and
> you can record it

Normally, yes. It should be additionnaly pointed out that the D900 will
detect analog copy protection signals (macrovision) and refuse to record in
that case.

There also is a note in the instructions about digital copy protection (says
unit will not play copy-protected cassettes or record copy-protected firewire

>    Editing

IMHO, the built-in assemble editor is a real ergonomics disgrace, but opinions
are not facts. Nonetheless, I would like to point out that the semi-automatic
calibration function is not usable via the firewire output. So if readers of
this group plan to use the assemble editor to create a DV tape on a DV-in
enabled camcorder, they should forget about accuracy.

Let me explain a little more. The calibration function works by outputting
numbers on the video outputs and sending IR commands to the recording VCR. The
user is supposed to note which number were recorded when the command was
executed and use that for calibration.

However, the numbers are only output on the ANALOG output. So if you plan to
use a DV camcorder as recording device, unless you have one with analog
inputs, you cannot calibrate it.


Some additional notes


The GV-D900 as a "title" function. it uses the memory on DV cassettes that
have it, only permit basic titles (2 sizes), and is not ouput on firewire,
just on analog.

I have the PAL version. PAL and NTSC version cannot exchange DV cassettes (the
new camcorders, like the PC-1E, can).

Quality of record and playback is very good. I tried different signals (from
Laserdisc and DVD) and cannot see any difference between input and ouput (on a
projector), except maybe a little jaggyness on high-contrast diagonal lines
(and even then I am not sure). Even better, the unit includes a TBC (like any
digital recorder) and noticeably improves marginal signals. For example, VHS
dubs are better than the original (more stable, less color bleeding) (but you
still see it's crap VHS, I said better, not perfect). Note that if the input
signal is really crappy you might sometimes get dropped frames.

Use on batteries: you get about the claimed battery life. That is rare enough
to be noted.

"Mysterious" connector on the left: Sony sells an optional tuner for the unit
and it connects here. They also have separate cameras to connect to it (don't
know if they are really available).

Date: Sun Dec 20 10:14:35 1998
From: Marc Lerner 
Subject: DV Editing

John, I'm going to summarize my experience editing with the GV-D900 and the
TRV900.  You may want to post this on your site (feel free not to or to edit
it as you will).

My current equipment consists of the Sony TRV-900 camcorder, a Sandisk 20
meg memory card, the GV-D900 DV Video Walkman tape deck, and a consumer
level SVHS vcr.  Since I don't yet have the computer horsepower for true
Non-Linear Editing, I do linear edits using the camcorder and the GV-D900.
I take my original DV tapes and do assemble edits on the GV-D900 and then
use the TRV-900 camcorder as the master recording deck using the firewire
cable. The GV-D900 has had no problems with tapes recoded at either SP or
LP. The edits are accurate and the GV-D900 does a very good job of pausing
and unpausing the camcorder.  It may not have exact frame accuracy but it is
very effective.  Using Ulead's Photo Impact 4.2, I've created many excellent
title shots, saved as JPEGs and then recorded by the TRV900 from either a
floppy disk or the memory card (one of the TRV900's most spectacular
features, in my mind).  

If I want to use a different title than the one which is on the original
tape, I create it save it to disk and then record it right onto the master
tape on the TRV-900.  I can then edit out the original title on my assemble
edits. I also made a pure black JPEG and use this as a dividing mark
between my edit sequences.  It's certainly not as good as a fader but it's
better than abrupt cuts between events taped at different times. After a
sequence is recorded on the camcorder, I playback to the end of that
sequence, pause, and record the black JPEG from disk. I put the cam back
into record pause and let the GV-D900 send the next sequence. The number or
types of these "divider's" is limited only by your own imagination. You can
use any color/text/graphic combination you can think of as long as you can
save it as a 640x480 JPEG sized at 8.89x6.6.67 inches.  The TRV-900 will
record it flawlessly.  

I now have a pristine, no-loss master DV tape. I just record that from the
GV-D900 onto either SVHS or VHS tape, using the S-video cable in either
case.  The results have been very good.  Using the DV master rather than
directly mastering on SVHS or VHS, decreases the generation loss and
produces a very acceptable dubbed image.  Family and friends to whom I've
given either SVHS or VHS tapes to have been very pleased.  It's not nearly
"professional" but for "keepsake" distribution purposes, it is a wonderful
system.  My only wish right now is for a Panasonic AG-1980 SVHS deck in
order to produce even better distribution copies, but after spending lord
knows how much on the DV equipment, $1000 for a another tape deck seems a
bit heady (especially to my wife ).  I am considering the JVC-S9500
deck, however.  It is records an excellent picture and has a 4 meg Time
Base Corrector which greatly improves its video output.  At around $500 -
$540, it seems like a very good buy.



> How durable are the heads/mechanism  of the TRV900 / GV-D900 ?

Date: 24 Jan 1999 19:12:39 GMT

I looked at the tape transports on my two MiniDV devices and, to my
surprise, the GV-D900 Walkman does look different from the mechanism on my
TRV900. The D900 has 5 metal posts in front of the head forming the tape
path, plus a black (pinch roller?). Two of the posts are angled from the
vertical, one more than the other. The TRV900 has six metal posts, a pinch
roller, and a white plastic post ("V" cross-section) of unknown
purpose. Again, two angled posts but both at the same angle to the
vertical. I'm describing what's visible when the MiniDV cassette is not
inserted; what posts may come to the fore then I have no idea.

The axis of the D900's video head is tilted along two orthogal planes
relative to the tape transport, and the TRV900's head is tilted in only one
plane. (If you can visualize that!)  What this means for reliability I have
no idea.

Some people have been concerned about head life, etc.; I don't have any
hard data. One (1) person emailed me (yesterday) that a tape roller broke
off in his TRV900, necessitating factory repair. That is the only
mechanical failure I've had word of yet on either TRV900 or D300/900.  Now,
I'm not Sony Service obviously, but I do get 1-2 emails a day about the
TRV900 due to my FAQ/web page.  The technology is very new and it's
probably too early to make any real judgments about lifetime though.


Warning Note: Compatibility issue: I have a Truevision Bravado DV2000 firewire card (same as Radius MotoDV card) that consistently works fine with my TRV900, both record and playback. I can sometimes record OK from the D900, but sometimes get glitches. Playback video from the PC to the D900 using the Radius DVPlayer always just gives me a screen full of black and white blocks [screen shot]. I get a warning screen after playback such as this:
Problem playback statistics:
  0 frame(s) dropped due to inadequate disk performance. [...]
  17 event(s) where frame(s) were dropped due to late interrupts. [...]
  353 total frames played.
  9.9 MB/second average disk throughput.
My computer is a Pentium 200MMX running Windows 98, Premiere 5.1, MotoDV 1.1.3. Video is coming from a separate E: drive, an 8gig UDMA/EIDE. The D900 and TRV900 do talk to each other fine over the firewire cable.

Subject: Soft case for GV-D900
From: Anthony Migliore
Date: 18 Aug 2000
For any GV-D900 owners who are looking for a soft case, I'd like to pass on this solution. The model DM1 from case logic (actually made as a CD player case) fits the GV-D900 nicely and cost just $15 USD.

There is just barely enough room for the GV-D900 w/NP-F950 battery attached in the larger zippered pocket (I disconnect the NP-F950 battery and lay the battery on it's side for a nicer fit). It has smaller zippered pocket that has room for the audio, s-video, and firewire cables, the remote from my TRV-900 and a few tapes. There is an additional mesh outside pocket, but I couldn't find a good use for that.

There is no room for the manual or the AC adapter/battery charger, but it contains (and mildly protects) the GV-D900 w/battery and cables very nicely. For a picture, try and search for DM1.

Back to TRV900 page.