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JVC HM-DH5U

JVC HM-DH5U

Don't write the VCR's obituary just yet. JVC--the company that invented the VHS format--is trying to make the venerable videocassette recorder relevant again. Its latest series of digital VHS models record and play back HDTV at its full resolution--something you can't do with a standard DVD recorder. With a list price of $799, the HM-DH5U is the most affordable model in JVC's line.

Upside: Until Blu-ray and HD-DVD recorders hit the market, D-VHS remains the only removable media on which consumers can record and store HD broadcasts at their full resolution. The special D-VHS cassettes (you can't use standard VHS tapes) can hold 4 hours of HD content or up to 24 hours of DVD-quality standard-definition video. The HM-DH5U records and plays back all of the standard resolutions (480i, 480p, 720p, and 1080i) and can display high-def video from its component outputs, its HDMI interface, or its FireWire port. There's even a handful of prerecorded high-def D-VHS tapes you can buy. And yes, this über-VCR is fully compatible with all your old VHS and S-VHS tapes.

Downside: Unlike the step-up HM-DT100U, the DH5U doesn't have a built-in HD tuner. More important is the HD video input: it's limited to a single FireWire connection, so you'll need to make sure your set-top box or HDTV is similarly equipped and that it works with a D-VHS VCR (some FireWire-equipped devices won't work with this deck). But the bigger issue may be the DH5U's videocassette heritage. Yes, this may be one of the most advanced VCRs ever made, but it's still susceptible to many of the same pitfalls as those tape-based products you grew up with: dirty heads, stretched and snapped tapes, and linear-only access ("be kind, rewind").

Outlook: If you want the ability to archive HD content and you're not willing to wait for Blu-ray/HD-DVD, JVC's HM-DH5U is a viable option. Sure, it lacks the sexiness of disc-based media, but it's still all-digital--and online pricing options below $500 make it all the more tempting.

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