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Reviewed by
Wes Marshall


D-VHS Digital Recorder

Features SnapShot!


Model: JVC HM-DH40000U

Price: $999.95 USD
Dimensions: 17.9"W x 4.2"H x 13.6"D
Weight: 13.3 pounds

Warranty: Two years parts and labor

  • Universal remote control
  • Compatible with D-VHS (HS, STD, LS3), S-VHS (SP, EP), S-VHS ET (SP, EP), HiFi VHS (SP, EP), VHS (SP, EP)
  • Per DF-480 cassette: HS mode (28.2Mbps), up to 4 hours HDTV recording; STD Mode (14.1Mbps), up to 8 hours SD recording; LS3 Mode (4.7Mbps), up to 24 hours long-time recording
  • VCR Plus+ with provided cable-box controller
  • Built-in MPEG2 decoder for direct connection to HDTV

Despite all the high-definition televisions being sold, the vast majority of the world still suffers from a dearth of hi-def programming. What’s someone to do who wants to see a nonstop run of films in HD? Well, you can go to the HBO or Showtime HD feeds, but then you might be stuck watching something they’ve simply upconverted from standard definition. JVC saw a hole in the consumer marketplace for pre-recorded hi-def films, but Jack Valenti and his group of Sancho Panzas in the Motion Picture Association of America (see sidebar) didn’t want any HD films out there for fear someone might copy them. The solution for them was to develop a proprietary system to protect their precious digits from the nasty pirates. Once that was done and accepted, JVC implemented it and released it in the HM-DH30000U D-VHS player. Three years have since passed; now we have JVC’s latest thoughts on the D-VHS medium, the HM-DH40000U ($999.95).

What does it do?

The HM-DH40000U is the best-looking VCR I’ve ever seen. I mean that two ways, but let’s start with the exterior. A thick, mirrored Plexiglas door covers the entire front of the machine and adds a sense of luxury. The silver color looks sumptuous. Overall, it makes a nice visual impression -- and it weighs about 12 pounds, which makes it feel substantial.

Besides providing HD here and now, the HM-DH40000U offers current, forward, and back compatibility. It will play S-VHS, Super VHS ET, HiFi VHS, and plain old vanilla VHS. It will read and play back any tape at 1080i, 720p, 480p, or 480i. Unfortunately, the decision to stick with tape means we’re stuck with all of tape’s downsides -- wear, storage size, and extensive seek time. There’s not much JVC can do about the first two problems, but they’ve made heroic efforts to rectify the last.

While no tape player can ever perform a seek function as fast a DVD player can, JVC has come up with a decent title-search system that’s usable with recordings made on your own HM-DH40000U unit. Push Menu on the remote, select Navigation, and there you’ll find a table of contents that allows you to pick a chapter and automatically fast-forward to it. The system operates by storing the chapter information in your machine’s memory banks. However, because this info is stored in the HM-DH40000U’s memory and not on the tape itself, you lose it if you ever change machines. Also, because the chapter starts are resident in memory, commercial tapes can’t use the chapter system. Bottom line: If you want to look for a scene near the end of the tape, it will take a few minutes.

Those into home recording will appreciate the power and flexibility of the HM-DH40000U. It can record any non-copy-protected HD signal available on an IEEE1394 FireWire connection. A blank D-VHS tape (they cost about $10) will record four hours of HD signal, making it an economical way to archive your HD signals. If you have an HD camcorder, you can hook straight in through the HM-DH40000U’s IEEE1394 iLink connection. HD signals with copy-protection obviously can’t be recorded, and a lot of unanswered questions remain about what will and won’t be copy-protected. Those happy with VHS quality can record up to 30 hours of standard VHS material on one tape.

What the HM-DH40000U does better than just about any other device on the market is feed your display device a pristinely beautiful 1080i hi-def signal. As long as you’re in the market for one of the 68 (at press time) pre-recorded films available on D-VHS, or have your own homemade tapes, the quality of the your picture will be breathtaking. More about that later.

How long has your VCR been flashing "12:00, 12:00, 12:00 . . . "?

Except for the component inputs and outputs, setting up the HM-DH40000U is identical to setting up any modern VCR, and its comprehensive manual is better-written than most I’ve seen. Start by attaching the JVC to your display from the single set of component outs. Next, attach an antenna; the JVC finds the time (no more blinking "12:00") and figures out which local channels are active. If you have a cable or satellite signal, you tell the HM-DH40000U what the brand is; then, with the help of a separate stick-on controller, the JVC will automatically change the channels for your timed recordings. Your hardest decision will be which type of connectors to use with which output devices. The graphic user interface is in nice colors, a step up from the gray screen of JVC’s earlier model, the HM-DH30000U.

You can record signals through only three inputs: composite, S-video, and FireWire. There are no component inputs. That means that, unless you’re recording something from a camcorder or you have one of the mere handful of boxes that output HD on FireWire, the HM-DH40000U’s HD capability is for playback only. Its best-quality recording system for the analog video inputs is S-VHS. The JVC makes a very nice S-video recording, but you can get that capability for $59. The good news is that we’re about to see an explosion in the number of cable and satellite boxes with FireWire outputs. That will make the HM-DH40000U and its D-VHS brethren the only way to make permanent copies of your favorite HD programs. Anyone want a personal HD copy of 24? I do.

How does it look?

Few of the film companies screaming about protecting their intellectual property have jumped on the D-VHS bandwagon -- if you’re looking for hit movies in HD, then take a look at the D-Theater films available to make sure the format is worth your while. If it is, then this will be the best-looking VCR you’ve ever seen. It produced the clearest picture I’ve seen from any source I’ve fed to all the projectors listed at the end of this review. There were a few areas in which the Ayre D-1x ($11,500) looked more filmlike, but in terms of clarity and color intensity, nothing else I’ve had in my system even comes close to the HM-DH40000U.

The Real Pirates

JVC’s HM-DH40000U wouldn’t be necessary if it weren’t for Jack Valenti and his band of miscreants at the Motion Picture Association of America, who live in fear that one of us will find a way to peel off their precious digital signal and go out happily pirating it until the film industry falls to its commercial death. I’ve seen Malaysian and Chinese pirated versions of films, and the quality isn’t that good. In fact, they’re usually shot at a movie theater with a camcorder. Some people are happy with 8-bit, 8000Hz mono MP3 files, and others aren’t happy without an SACD that’s indistinguishable from the master. I don’t think it’s the latter group that Valenti, et al. need to be worried about. They need to re-think their strategy and head after the governments that turn a blind eye to piracy. Am I the only one who thinks Valenti is rattling his sword to show his constituency that he has one? Is he tilting at windmills that don’t exist while ignoring the dangers that do? He should take his limited resources and go after the real threats.

...Wes Marshall

I compared copies of Galaxy Quest on DVD and D-VHS. Individual hairs and fabric textures that showed up with exceptional clarity through the HM-DH40000U looked good but slightly de-focused through the Panasonic CP-72 DVD player. The scenes where Tim Allen fights the rock monster looked as if I was watching the battle through a window with the JVC; the image from the Panasonic CP-72 looked more like a second-generation dub at the local multiplex.

U-571 features lots of dark and claustrophobic scenes, all of them rendered beautifully by the JVC. The film’s shadow detail was limited by the projector, not the source. When the men busted out on the surface in the daylight, the ocean waves looked real enough to wet my screen. My D-VHS copy of U-571 also offered the opportunity to see what a defective tape looks like. When I came to a bad place, part of the picture disintegrated into a series of moving, primary-colored squares. This happened only three times -- far less frequently than with standard VHS.

Digital animation was beautiful as well. I could see the various superimposed layers of artwork in Ice Age. In the opening scene, where the hapless protagonist falls down the mountain, each bounce was accompanied by a little plume of dust; had I wanted to, I could have counted the individual specks.

The HM-DH40000U accepted the new DTS versions of D-VHS films (the HM-DH30000U didn’t). The differences between Dolby and DTS are a matter of taste; with the HM-DH40000U, you have the choice.

The bottom line

The HM-DH40000U’s list price is $999.95, but a quick check on Froogle showed that discounts are available. The fact that only a few D-VHS titles have been released is troubling, but then, lots of folks spend lots of money on items that have even fewer uses.

For the $1000 you would have spent on a high-quality S-VHS player 10 years ago, you can have a look at the future. While the list of D-VHS titles won’t satisfy the Fellini fanatic in your home, it does include some very popular movies -- and if you have a large collection of VHS tapes, the JVC will do a beautiful job of playing them. If you want to make dubs from your HD camera, this machine is a godsend. And if you’re one of the fortunate few whose cable or satellite box has unrestricted access to HD signals -- i.e., sans copy protection and over a FireWire connection -- then you have a great way of time-shifting your HD pleasure.

Verdict: a niche product, but a wonderful niche.

Review System
Speakers - ATC SMC 50A (mains), Sonance Symphony (surrounds), KEF Model 100 (center), Sunfire True Subwoofer Signature
Processors - Lexicon MC-1, Sunfire Theater Grand Processor III
Amplifier - B&K Video 5
Sources - Pioneer DV-434, Panasonic CP-72, Ayre D-1x DVD players; Panasonic DMR E60S DVD recorder; JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS recorder; Rega P-25 turntable, Rega Super Elys cartridge, Musical Fidelity XLPS phono stage; Tascam CD-RW4U CD player-recorder
Cables - Canare, Straight Wire
Projectors - Runco Cinema 750, Boxlight Cinema 20HD, PLUS Piano Avanti HE-3200, InFocus ScreenPlay 7200, InFocus ScreenPlay 5700

Manufacturer contact information:

JVC Company of America
1700 Valley Road
Wayne, NJ 07470
Phone: (800) 526-5308

Website: www.jvc.com


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