Farewell, VCR

I’ve been looking at DVD recorders for a while now. Until quite recently, they’ve been horribly expensive, and had issues with disc compatibility. There was also the little matter that the blank discs were quite expensive. What I wanted was something that would be a drop-in replacement for my old video recorder, which occasionally eats tapes. Until recently, this wasn’t possible. But now, things have changed. DVD recorders are getting much cheaper (well under £200 in some cases), the disks are getting a lot cheaper, and the quality of the machines seems to be a lot higher.

For me, the best machines are those which include a hard disk as well as a DVD drive. This is great – if you’re just recording things to watch later, you don’t have to worry about having a disk with enough free space, you can just record to the hard disk. You can play your recordings from there, or copy them to a blank DVD if you want to keep them. Nice.

There’s only one place I buy this kind of thing – Richer Sounds. Good service, helpful advice, and they’ll beat anybody’s price. They sell online, but actively encourage customers to visit their chain of busy stores. And if you see the price on their website is lower than the price in the shop, mention the website and you’ll pay the lower price,

So, yesterday, I wandered in, and was soon talking to a salesman. Oddly enough, this was the same one who sold me my DVD player, amplifier and surround speakers nearly two years ago. I was impressed at the time, as he took the time and trouble to steer me away from what I thought I wanted[1] and sold me something a lot better for the same money[2]. Once again, he was very helpful. I had though of buying a Panasonic recorder, but he pointed out that it had one defect – the discs it records can’t be played in most standard DVD players. Oooooh. Good one. So, I reverted to plan B, the Pioneer DVR-420H. This has a suitably large 80GB hard disk, which holds something like 35 hours in good quality recording (that’s better than you’d get from VHS tape). It’s much more suitable as a VCR replacement than some machines, as it uses the industry standard Video Plus system for programming recordings.

Setting it up was simple enough – I had to manually tune some of the channels, but once I’d done that, everything was fine. A test recording worked perfectly, and playback quality was excellent. Unlike my now retired VCR, freeze frame really works, just like on a DVD.

It gets better, of course. The editing feature is really nice. Let’s say you record a programme, and you want to lose the few minutes you recorded before and after the actual running time. This is very easy to do, and can be done to the exact frame. You have the option to give each recording a title, making it much easier to identify in the on-screen index. Another nice touch is the ability to choose the frame that’s used as the thumbnail for the recording in the index – so it can show the title or a suitably unique image to help you identify the recording you want.

Copying to DVD is also quite simple. There is a high-speed option, but this only seems to work for high-quality recordings, which limits you to two hours on a disk. I need to study the huge manual to get to grips with that, I suspect…

So far, I’m impressed. I’m going to have to have a look at all my cabling so I can use the digital sound output into my surround amplifer, and probably rearrange the connectors to the TV, but for now, I have a working recorder that is much, much better than the old VCR.

Nice toy.

[1] A pretty, but not really all that good, all-in-one “lifestyle” system
[2] Cambridge Audio DVD player, which also functions as my CD player, Sony amplifier, Yamaha speakers. Had it nearly two years and still love it.