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GROUP TEST Ė DVD/VCR COMBIS

 

STANDFIRST

Just when you thought VHS tape was on the way out along comes the DVD/VCR combi, but is this a new lease of life for tape or a the last gasp of a dying format? Ashley Norris puts five new combis through their paces.

 

 

INTRO

Shoehorning a DVD player and a VCR into one box sounds like the perfect solution to a couple of problems that have emerged following the hugely successful launch of DVD.

 

The principle objection to DVD, certainly in the early days, was that it couldnít record TV programmes. DVD recorders are now available but theyíre still fairly expensive and thereís uncertainty over the various formats on offer so many people are sticking with their VCRs -- until the dust settles -- and good old VHS shows no signs of disappearing. The other problem is a simple lack of space. Adding yet another box to the pile of audio and video components under the TV, not to mention the extra cables and remote handsets, can be a major headache, which the one-box DVD/VCR combi promises to eliminate.

 

The truth is a little more complicated. Inevitably with a combi you will have to make some sacrifices. Most current models are pitched towards the budget end of the market, which has performance implications and you will miss out on some of the more exotic VCR and DVD features. Theyíre not as flexible as separate AV components either so you canít update one or the other components to take advantage of new facilities.  Itís also worth pointing out that all of the models weíve looked at have built-in copy protection systems, so you canít run off duplicates of DVD movies on tape. 

 

On the plus side past experience with other combi technologies suggests that reliability is unlikely to be an issue, they are generally quite easy to install, and take up a lot less room than two separate boxes. With a combi you can still record TV programmes and your tape collection is safe, for a little longer at any rateÖ

 

 

REVIEWS

 

BUSH DVHS1

The Bush DVHS1 has the distinction of being the cheapest DVD/VCR combi so far and unfortunately it shows, though not necessarily from the outside. Front panel styling is up to the minute and itís neatly laid out but under the bonnet itís all rather basic and itís the only machine in this roundup not to have some sort of auto installation system or a Video Plus+ timer, both of which are near standard features on VCRs these days. Itís also found wanting in the connections department with no S-Video output, only one (coaxial) digital output nor does it have an RGB output though thatís not unusual on combis, so we wonít hold that against it. The lack of an S-Video socket is nuisance though, and it does mean that the DVD player will not be giving its best, on the other hand it makes installation a lot easier and Bush thoughtfully include a SCART lead in the box.

 

Setting up the VCR is an unwelcome reminder of how it used to be with lots of button pressing but once itís done itís fairly easy to use, though thatís mainly due to the fact that it has relatively few facilities and playback options.

 

VCR performance is typical of a budget machine, the picture is borderline grainy and colours are coarse. DVD picture quality is better but the narrow contrast range makes the picture look dull and flat. Noise levels on the VCR and DVD soundtracks are about average and audio CD performance is okay.

 

Whilst the DVHS1 fails to qualify as a home cinema component we can see it proving popular as a second-string machine for the kids or in the bedroom, connected to a small screen TV, where itís limited AV talents wonít be stretched too far.

 

MAKE/MODEL            BUSH DVHS1
Price ££s                      199

Contact             Bush 020 8787 3111

 

DVD Features

Region 2 only NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, 2-stage zoom & shrink,

 

VCR Features

NICAM Hi-Fi stereo sound, 8-event/31-day timer, NTSC replay

 

Connections                  AV in/out (SCART x 2), composite video, mixed stereo and coaxial bitstream (phono). Front panel: AV inputs (phono)

 

PLUS

Itís cheap and it doesnít look too bad

 

MINUS

Basic facilities and very average AV performance

 

Picture  2/5

Sound               3/5

Features            3/5

Ease of use            3/5

Value                4/5

 

 

 

HITACHI DV-PF2

Over the years Hitachi has produced some cracking VCR and DVD players so you would think it would have no trouble coming up with a top-grade combiÖ To be fair the DV-PF2 has a decent enough spec, it looks quite smart, the price is okay and it performs well but there are signs of it being put together a bit hastily.

 

The most glaring problem is the front panel display, or rather the lack of one for the VCR functions, you have to rely on the on-screen indicators and that also means thereís no clock display, which a lot of people will miss. The control system and menus are all a bit convoluted and there seems to have been little or no attempt to integrate the DVD and VCR functions so itís not especially easy to drive, until you get used to its funny little ways.

 

Otherwise itís mostly good news, DVD features include MP3 replay, it has a picture zoom, thereís 3D sound and it has an S-Video output. The VCR is blessed with NICAM sound a Video Plus timer and front panel AV inputs

 

VCR performance is fine, picture noise levels are below average, colours are well defined and thereís near zero jitter. The DVD player compares well with many current budget and mid-range models, the contrast range is good, helping to bring out detail in darker scenes, colours are bright and natural looking. On the audio side background noise on the VHS soundtracks is well suppressed and the DVD soundtracks are crisp and lively so it can double up an audio CD player without disgracing itself.

 

Weíre a little disappointed, not to say surprised by the missing VCR display and awkward controls but this is basically a good machine, itís fair value with a decent set of features and good AV performance.

 

MAKE/MODEL            HITACHI DV-PF2E

Price ££s                      250

Contact             Hitachi 0345 581455, www.hitachitv.com

 

DVD Features

Region 2 only, NTSC replay, MP3 replay, SRS 3D sound, zoom

 

VCR Features

NICAM Hi-Fi stereo, Video Plus/PDC timer, auto tuning, NTSC replay, picture control

 

Connections                  AV in/out (SCART x 2), S-Video (mini DIN), stereo and coax bitstream (phono), optical bitstream (TOSlink). Front panel: AV inputs (phono)

 

PLUS

Good AV and fair value

 

MINUS

No VCR clock and a clunky control system

 

Picture  4/5

Sound               4/5

Features            3/5

Ease of use            3/5

Value                4/5

 

 

 

JVC HR-XV1

Normally you can spot a JVC AV product at 20 paces, it has earned a good reputation for solid, mostly very well designed, middle to top end equipment, so the slightly tinny-feeling and not so pretty HR-XV1 seems just a little out of character.

 

The VCR has the kind of spec youíd associate with one of the better budget NICAM machines with standard-issue stuff like a Video Plus+ timer, auto installation, NTSC replay and front mounted AV input sockets, the only slightly unusual extra is quasi S-VHS replay. Itís a similar story with the DVD player with old favourites like MP3 replay, a 3-mode zoom (with picture shrink) and a switchable 3D surround effect setting.

 

Despite the XV1ís slightly cheapo looking casework performance is well up to JVCís normal high standard. The VCR delivers a clean stable picture, colours are natural looking and picture noise levels are a little below average. A slightly wider contrast range wouldnít go amiss on the DVD output but itís by no means a problem and it just means that gloomy scenes can sometimes look a bit muted, otherwise the picture is packed with detail and it handles difficult shades like skin tones without any trouble whatsoever.

 

Thereís some background hiss on the VCRís stereo hi-fi tracks but itís nothing to worry about. The DVD playerís stereo output is pin-sharp, though, and audio CDs sound really good, with the sort of depth and resolution youíd expect from a mid-range hi-fi deck.

 

It seems likely that JVC has outsourced this player but it appears to have kept a tight reign on performance and apart from the frumpy looks and large, clumsy remote it is a competent and mostly well thought out design.

 

MAKE/MODEL            JVC HR-XV1

Price ££s                      300

Contact             JVC UK 0870 330 5000, www.jvc.co.uk

 

DVD Features

Region 2 only, NTSC replay, MP3 replay, multi-speed playback, zoom/shrink, 3D sound

 

VCR Features

NICAM Hi-Fi sound, NTSC & SQRB (Quasi S-VHS) replay, Video Plus/PDC timer, auto installation, multi-speed replay

 

Connections                  AV in/out (SCART x 2), S-Video (mini DIN), stereo and coax bitstream (phono), optical bitstream (TOSlink). Front panel: AV inputs (phono)

 

PLUS

A good all round design,

 

MINUS

Staid looks and awkward remote

 

Picture  4/5

Sound               4/5

Features            4/5

Ease of use            3/5

Value                4/5

 

 

 

LG DV1000

Most combi manufacturers emphasise the fact that their machines have two deck mechanisms; not so on this one and you have to get fairly close to the DV1000ís front panel to spot the faired-in tape and disc loading doors. Apart from that itís a very conventional design with NICAM, auto setup and Video Plus on the VCR and MP3 replay, picture zoom and 3D sound for the DVD player. There is an interesting-looking VCR facility called Commercial Skip but this turns out to be a picture search mode that zips through a recording in 30-second intervals, depending how many times you press the button.

 

AV connections could be better, there is no S-Video socket for example so picture quality on DVD replay is not going to be as good as it might be and it has only coaxial bitstream output, which might be a problem on AV systems with optical-only connections. Operationally itís not too bad, though the remote handset has rather a lot of buttons for what is after all quite a basic machine.

 

VCR picture quality is about average for a budget deck, highly saturated colours tend to be a bit whiskery around the edges and more efficient picture noise reduction wouldnít go amiss but itís fine for timeshifting. DVD performance is quite good and would be even better with an S-Video output, thereís plenty of detail, it handles fast movement and sudden changes in brightness without a murmur and colours are bright and reasonably lifelike.

 

Audio performance is in line with most budget decks, thereís some noise on the VHS soundtracks but DVD and audio CD sound are both reasonably crisp and clean.

 

A fair effort but apart from the neat front panel design, AV performance is undistinguished and thereís little to make it stand out from the crowd.

 

MAKE/MODEL            LG DV1000

Price ££s                      250

Contact             LG Electronics 01753 50047, www.lge.co.uk

 

DVD Features

Region 2, NTSC replay, MP3 replay, multi-speed replay, zoom, 3D sound

 

VCR Features

NICAM Hi-Fi stereo sound, NTSC replay, Video Plus/PDC timer, auto tuning, commercial skip

 

Connections                  AV in/out (SCART x 2), composite video, mixed stereo and coaxial bitstream (phono). Front panel: AV inputs (phono)

 

PLUS

Good looks and fair spec

 

MINUS

Average performance

 

Picture  3/5

Sound               3/5

Features            3/5

Ease of use            4/5

Value                3/5

 

 

 

PANASONIC NV-VHD1

The Panasonic NV-VHD1 brings a welcome touch of class to the proceedings. Needless to say the extra sophistication comes at a price and the VHD1 is the most expensive combi to date but when you look at the feature list, and more importantly, how well it performs then you may consider it money well spent.

 

You can see it is different because it has two display panels, but thereís plenty more, including a Super LP recording mode which stretches a E-240 tape to a full 12 hours. It can also play S-VHS tapes, thereís Intro Scan, an ĎIntelligentí timer, high-speed rewind and Owner ID. In contrast there are relatively few DVD goodies though it does have RGB and S-Video outputs and better than average trick-play facilities but thereís no picture zoom, which is quite unusual these days. 

 

The remote is a bit of a handful; control layout is awkward and weíre not terribly keen on the tiny mechanical switch used to select operating mode but like the dual displays you quickly get used to it.

 

VCR picture quality is excellent and as good as anything youíll see this side of a top-end deck with bright sharp colours and lots of fine detail. It drops off a bit in Super LP mode but not as much as you might think and itís perfectly adequate for heavy-duty timeshifting. DVD performance is also outstanding with a wide dynamic range, revealing hidden colours and texture even in the darkest corners of the picture. 

 

It sounds every bit as good as it looks with crystal clear VCR soundtracks and smooth sounding DVD and audio CDs that really need to be heard through a decent hi-fi system.

 

Definitely the cream of the crop, you pay a bit more Ė well, quite a lot more Ė but itís immediately obvious where the money is going!

 

MAKE/MODEL            PANASONIC NV-VHD1

Price ££s                      370

Contact             Panasonic (08705) 357357, www.panasonic.co.uk

 

DVD Features

Region 2 only, MP3 replay, 3D spatial sound

 

VCR Features

VHS EP mode, NICAM Hi-Fi stereo, quasi S-VHS & NTSC replay, Video Plus/PDC timer, one-touch recording, auto setup, intro scan, owner ID code

 

Connections                  AV in/out (SCART x 2), S-Video (mini DIN), stereo and coax bitstream (phono), optical bitstream (TOSlink). Front panel: AV inputs (phono)

 

PLUS

 

MINUS

Handset controls could have been better thought out

 

Picture  5/5

Sound               5/5

Features            4/5

Ease of use            4/5

Value                4/5

 

CONCLUSION

The Panasonic NV-VHD1 is a clear and easy winner. It costs more but in this case thereís an obvious correlation between price and performance so if space is at a premium and you donít want to sacrifice picture or sound quality this is the combi to look at first.

 

JVCís HR-XV1 is a worthy runner-up but itís based on a fairly basic set of parts so donít expect too much in the way of frills. The Hitachi DV-PF2 is in the same performance bracket as the JVC combi but itís let down by the odd omission of a VCR front panel display and the rather rudimentary controls. LGís DV1000 looks great but AV performance is at best average and the price is nothing special. The Bush DVHS1 brings up the rear, itís cheap and cheerful and okay on a small bedroom TV but we wouldnít consider using it for anything more demanding.

 

 

BOX COPY 1

New DVD/VCR combis are coming out of the woodwork but itís likely to be a fairly short-lived phase. VHS has been a good friend but it is now getting very long in the tooth and the job of recording video is gradually shifting towards hard disc drives and recordable DVD technology. In any event analogue and digital video systems do not sit easily beside each other and there are very few crossover points, whereas digital recording playback and recording systems, whether using optical or magnetic discs, can share a good deal of common circuitry.

 

Already HDD/DVD units like the revolutionary new Panasonic DMR-HS2, combines the best of all worlds, with an HDD recorder for time-shifting TV programmes, and a DVD-RAM/R deck for archiving material to disc, or transferring movies or old VHS recordings. This machine and the inevitable stream of imitators that will follow are almost certainly the shape of things to come.

 

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R. Maybury 2002, 2511

 


 

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