Avi Greengart is an expert on the convergence of technology and entertainment: video, audio, computing, and wireless, how these are coming together, and what's likely to survive long enough to make a difference in your life.
Column #26 (12/31/2007)
VCR/DVD Combo Players
Avi, our VCR died recently, and when we went to the store to replace it, we saw that they had a combination DVD/VCR machine for only $249. We’ve been thinking about getting a DVD player… should we get a combo unit?
A combination VCR/DVD player has several advantages and disadvantages. Read on, and decide what matters most to you. But before we begin, lets dispel a couple of myths:
· A combo unit doesn’t have a price advantage – for the same money, you can separately buy a better VCR and an equivalent (or better) DVD player.
· A combo unit will not let you copy DVDs to VHS cassettes. Most DVDs have Macrovision copy protection, and the combo unit won’t copy them. The exceptions: some informational DVDs (and some adult titles) aren’t copy protected, and the some combo units let you copy those, some don’t.
A combo unit typically fits both a DVD player and a VCR into an old-style full size VCR housing. You can come close to matching the size by pairing any number of pint-size VCRs with a thin stylish DVD players (from Sony and Philips, for example), but the thin DVD players sell for a premium, so if you do that, the combo comes out ahead on price, and may still fit better into a single rectangular space.
A combo unit typically offers convenient hookup to your TV – just a single set of wires to connect, where separate units require two sets of wires. This makes a difference in three situations:
1. With people who hate wires SO MUCH! (Oooh, I just hates them!)
2. With an older TV that only has one set of inputs, the combo unit can be hooked up directly to the TV. Using separates in this situation requires a switch of some kind – either a Radio Shack switch box ($30) or the switching capability built into an audio/video receiver ($200+, but this will give you dramatically better sound).
3. With a newer TV that has picture-in-picture, having separate VCR and DVD video inputs allows you greater flexibility in what picture you’re watching in your picture.
Ease of Use
On the whole, a combo unit is easier to use than two separate boxes. But, many VCRs have convenience features (programming, clock set, etc.) that are missing on the combo units.
A combo unit has a single remote that operates both components. This is generally thought to be better than two separate remotes from different manufacturers, or even most “Universal” remotes designed to control different components. However, a well designed single-purpose DVD player remote control is simpler than anything that has to also control a VCR; when you want to use the VCR, use that remote. Since the remote control is the way you interact with the device on a daily basis, I recommend checking out your choices in the store and deciding what you like best.
Any time you put more moving parts into a single chassis, you increase the odds of something going wrong. With separates, if your VCR dies, you replace it, but in the meantime, you still have your DVD player. With a combo unit, if one dies, it could take the other with it.
Here the advantage is relatively clear – separate components are definitely better. However, on a small television the differences aren’t all that noticeable.
Consumer Reports recently rated the VCR section of a combo unit well below many of the regular VCRs they tested. The performance of the DVD section of a combo unit – when combined with older television – is fine.
But if your TV is newer and/or larger, you may be able to notice the performance hit, and you lose some flexibility. Not all combo units have component video inputs (the highest quality connection), so you may be limited to S-video inputs (the next step down). And if you have a digital television that can accept progressive scan inputs, no combo units have a DVD section with progressive scan capability.
The separates advantage is relatively clear here as well.
If you’re looking for something to improve the audio side of your movies, there are many Home Theater In A Box systems to choose from that have integrated DVD players – but none that have a built-in VCR. Going this route limits your flexibility somewhat as well (because you are getting a different kind of combo unit), but they may work well for you if space is your primary consideration, as some of the receiver/DVD player modules are pretty darn small.
If high resolution audio is important to you, there are many DVD players on the market that can play DVD-Audio or SACD discs – but no combo units. However, DVD players that support DVD-Audio or SACD are still a bit more expensive than entry-level DVD-Video-only models.
If space or ease of setup is your primary consideration, a combo unit has fewer connections, and is smaller than comparably priced separates.
If ease of use is your primary consideration, consider a combo unit, but pay close attention to missing VCR features and the design of the remote control.
If performance, repair, or flexibility are your drivers, go with separates.
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