The RCA DRC8300N goes both ways
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.
Like other DVD/VCR combo recorders, RCA's affordably priced DRC8300N is geared toward consumers who want a multifunction device that can easily archive noncopyrighted VHS tapes and camcorder footage to disc. Retailing for $400 (though available for less online), this attractively styled, mirror-faced model measures 17 inches wide by 14 inches deep by 4 inches high and is about the same size (read: somewhat bulky) as the current generation of VHS/DVD combo devices on the market. The included remote control isn't backlit, but the important buttons--such as Menu, Volume, Channel, Record, and Stop--are easy to find in the dark, and a curved ridge at the bottom of the control fits perfectly between your index and middle fingers, making for a comfortable fit.
Copying VHS tapes to DVD+R or DVD+RW (DVD-R/RW discs can be played, but not recorded) is easy as long as you're within arm's reach of the recorder. Between the VHS slot and the DVD tray is a one-touch Copy button; press it, and a confirmation window pops up with the current recording quality and the time remaining on the DVD. Unfortunately, unlike the GoVideo, you can't change the recording quality from the confirmation window; you must take the annoying extra step of selecting cancel and digging into the settings menu.
Another small gripe: Copying from the main menu takes more steps than it should. Instead of being able to copy tapes or DVDs from the primary menu, you have to dig down to a submenu (one for disc to tape, another for tape to disc), and you'll have to back up and drill down into yet another submenu to tweak the recording quality. (In case you're wondering, the recorder won't let you copy any tapes or DVDs with Macrovision copy protection.)
Unfortunately, the recorder doesn't have an onscreen electronic programming guide à la TiVo, which makes recording your cable or satellite TV feed a distinctly manual affair. Like a lot of competing combo recorders in this price class, the DRC8300N is missing an IR blaster--an infrared flasher that changes the channel on your cable or satellite box. That means you'll have to make sure your cable/satellite tuner is set to the right channel for timed recordings. Even worse, the ubiquitous VCR Plus (a feature that your old VHS player probably has) is missing, too. That leaves you back in the dark ages of digging through TV listings for the starting and stopping times of your favorite shows.
Connectivity is pretty standard: You get the usual DVD outputs--progressive/component, S-Video, composite video, and analog and optical digital audio out--as well as one set of A/V/S-Video inputs on the back and front panels. The back panel also includes VCR-style RF connections for analog cable or antenna hookups. Unlike some competing models, the recorder has no FireWire input for DV camcorders, and it lacks the ability to upconvert VHS signals for the component-video output. In other words, to record video from your camcorder, you'll have to use the S-Video and stereo inputs, and you'll need to toggle between two separate outputs (component and S-Video/composite) when switching from DVD to VHS viewing.
The DRC8300N's DVD recording quality is good, if not exceptional. At the highest quality setting (which gives you about an hour of recording time on a 4.7GB DVD+RW), the recorder captured about 450 lines of resolution, just shy of the maximum resolution a standalone DVD recorder can muster. At the two-hour setting (your best choice for VHS archiving), the DRC8300N's recording quality fell to a still-respectable 430 lines, while it's four-hour performance managed a meager, VHS-quality 270 lines. The recorder's eight-hour mode puts up about 250 lines, but it's plagued with MPEG artifacts that turn the picture into a pixelated, jumpy mess.
Lackluster onscreen programming features and so-so menu navigation aside, the DRC8300N will make relatively quick work of archiving your VHS collection to DVD. But if DV camcorder compatibility and component-video upconversion are important to you, consider instead the similarly priced GoVideo VR3930.