D-VHS Digital Recorder
|Despite all the
high-definition televisions being sold, the vast majority of the world still suffers from
a dearth of hi-def programming. Whats 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 theyve 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)
didnt 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 JVCs latest
thoughts on the D-VHS medium, the HM-DH40000U ($999.95).
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
What does it do?
The HM-DH40000U is the
best-looking VCR Ive ever seen. I mean that two ways, but lets 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 were stuck with all of
tapes downsides -- wear, storage size, and extensive seek time. Theres not
much JVC can do about the first two problems, but theyve 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 thats
usable with recordings made on your own HM-DH40000U unit. Push Menu on the remote, select
Navigation, and there youll 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 machines memory banks. However, because this info is stored in
the HM-DH40000Us 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
cant 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-DH40000Us IEEE1394
iLink connection. HD signals with copy-protection obviously cant be recorded, and a
lot of unanswered questions remain about what will and wont 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 youre 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 Ive 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 JVCs 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
youre recording something from a camcorder or you have one of the mere handful of
boxes that output HD on FireWire, the HM-DH40000Us 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 were 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 youre 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 youve ever seen. It produced the clearest picture Ive
seen from any source Ive 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 Ive had in
my system even comes close to the HM-DH40000U.
|The Real PiratesJVCs HM-DH40000U wouldnt be
necessary if it werent 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. Ive seen Malaysian and Chinese pirated versions of
films, and the quality isnt that good. In fact, theyre usually shot at a movie
theater with a camcorder. Some people are happy with 8-bit, 8000Hz mono MP3 files, and
others arent happy without an SACD thats indistinguishable from the master. I
dont think its 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 dont exist while
ignoring the dangers that do? He should take his limited resources and go after the real
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 films 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 didnt). The differences between Dolby and DTS are a matter of
taste; with the HM-DH40000U, you have the choice.
The bottom line
The HM-DH40000Us 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
wont 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 youre 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.
|Speakers - ATC SMC 50A
(mains), Sonance Symphony (surrounds), KEF Model 100 (center), Sunfire True Subwoofer
- Lexicon MC-1, Sunfire Theater Grand Processor III
|Amplifier - B&K Video 5
- 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
- Runco Cinema 750, Boxlight Cinema 20HD, PLUS Piano Avanti HE-3200, InFocus ScreenPlay 7200, InFocus ScreenPlay 5700