Geek Gear Tidbits

Although it has absolutely nothing to do with X-Mas, a load of electronics has arrived at work in the last few weeks, with some interesting items in the mix. I have no inclination to do a full review of anyting, but would like to record some impressions. Here’s the first shot:

JVC DV/VHS Combi-VCR (SR-VS30V) — this just arrived today and will be installed in a multimedia classroom so that students and instructors can view VHS tapes or DV tapes that were just shot on a video projector. At $1100 this is not a cheap piece of equipment, but it is cheaper than almost any other DV VCR out there, made all the better by the addition of a S-VHS deck.

(As an aside, can someone tell me why a DV VCR costs $1000 – $3000 when a DV camcorder, which includes a VCR combined with a pickup and lens, costs as little as $600? What magic component is inside the VCR besides air? Is the differential just an effect of the economy of scale?)

The unit itself feels kind of plasticky and cheap. In place of buttons it has a weird combination shuttle knob that takes care of pause, rewind and fast-forward duties, in addition to changing channels when using the tuner. It feels really cheap, but is actually kind of intuitive to use. To rewind you twist the knob clockwise, but to scan in reverse you push the knob then twist clockwise. I got used to it faster than I thought.

I haven’t recorded anything with it, but playback was quite good on both DV and VHS. A nice feature is that it outputs both DV and analog VHS to firewire, so you can hook this VCR up to the firewire port on your computer and instantly start capturing and editing old analog videos. That feature alone is very valuable, since it saves having to get a separate analog-to-DV bridge converter.

You can also easily dub back and forth between DV and VHS. I’d guess that the DV to VHS dubbing would be the most useful mode since it allows you to share DV videos with just about anyone. The quality of a few test dubs was decent, but not much better than I get with a DV camcorder patched into a VCR. I’d hoped for a little better quality given that the two decks are matched. I’ve found that a little signal boosting results in a better VHS dub and that wouldn’t be too much to add to a $1100 VCR.

It has some editing functions built in, so that you can set up a series of cuts that will dub to VHS. But I really don’t know why anyone would do editing this way given the enormous quality loss of VHS. Perhaps if it was a $300 VCR this type of editing might be good for someone who doesn’t have a firewire PC. But at $1100 my guess is that anyone who can afford it also can afford a firewire PC, and might buy that before buying a DV VCR.
From just my initial impressions it’s a nice little machine. It’s worth $1100 if you’re going to do a lot of capturing DV footage for computer editing, since using your cam as a VCR puts a lot of extra wear and tear on the mechanism. Given that a new cam with good dubbing features costs $800 – $1000, it’s not such a stretch to spend $1100 on this VCR.

But I don’t think it’s too valuable to casual camcorder users, and it’s certainly not worth the price simply to do easy VHS dubs, especially considering that new VHS VCRs are running $50 – $100. I think the market for such a deck would be much greater if they could get the price under $500. But except for serious videographers on a budget or specialized uses, there isn’t much justification to spent that kind of coin.






One response to “Geek Gear Tidbits”

  1. John Doolittle Avatar

    Did you find the mini-DV format difficult to work with. What is your general take on that side of this unit?

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