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.
If you have a pile of aging VHS tapes that you want archived to DVD, GoVideo's VHS/DVD combo recorder makes it easy. The GoVideo VR2940 ($350 list) produces impressive VHS-to-DVD copies, eliminating much of the video noise you'll find on older tapes. But its most-convenient feature is the ability to automatically create DVD menus complete with thumbnails for the chapter stops. On the other hand, videophiles will cringe at the lack of S-Video inputs--for them, we recommend an S-Video-equipped VHS/DVD deck such as the older GoVideo VR3930 or the RCA DRC8300N.
Measuring 17 by 3.5 by 14 inches, the dull-black VR2940 doesn't look like much; your visitors could easily mistake it for a garden-variety VHS deck. Nonetheless, the front panel provides most of the controls you'll need, including Play/Pause, Stop, Rewind, Fast-Forward, and Channel Up/Down buttons. The DVD/VCR button toggles the controls between the DVD and VCR decks, while a pair of handy one-touch Copy buttons let you begin VHS-to-DVD or DVD-to-VCR dubbing. A small section of the front panel flips open to reveal a set of A/V inputs, including a single FireWire input.
The GoVideo's remote control isn't backlit, but we like the intuitive keypad layout. Just beneath the central navigation keys is the large, circular Play/Pause button, which is flanked by the Previous, Next, Reverse, and Fast-Forward buttons. After a short learning period, we had no trouble using the remote in the dark.
Aside from the FireWire jack, the VR2940's connection options are pretty disappointing. The output selection is fine, including component out, S-Video, and coaxial digital audio (composite and RF outs are also available), but in terms of inputs, you get only composite video on the front and back panels--there's no S-Video input. The good news, however, is that the GoVideo lets you play VHS tapes over the component-video output, even with the deck in progressive-scan mode. Many players force you to use another S-Video or composite-video output for VHS playback.
The VR2940's menus are relatively simple, and after setting up the device and scanning for available channels, we were recording within a matter of minutes. You can set up timed recordings, but there's no onscreen programming guide or even VCR Plus, so don't cancel that TV Guide subscription just yet. There's also no IR blaster for controlling your cable box, so you'll have to make sure your tuner is set to the right channel before setting up recordings. The lack of VCR Plus functionality--a given for even the cheapest VHS decks--is a glaring omission.
We loved the VR2940's new YesDVD feature, which analyzes the video during DVD recordings, picks chapter stops at natural scene changes, and creates a menu complete with thumbnails for the chapters. In our tests, we found the chapter stops a bit random--the player added a stop every three or four minutes, sometimes in the middle of a scene. Still, the chapter thumbnails made for easy navigation (we got 48 chapters for our 105-minute movie, with nine thumbnails per page), and we appreciated having this time-consuming chore done automatically. YesDVD also creates three "music videos" for your new DVD--essentially three short montages of whatever you recorded, accompanied by cheesy rock, jazz, and classical music tracks. The videos are fine for comic relief but not much else.
The GoVideo's recording quality was a mixed bag. In our VHS-to-DVD test, the recording of a dusty, 12-year-old tape looked rock solid--much of the video noise was cleaned up, and even the lightly damaged portions of the tape appeared only as brief flecks of static. (GoVideo credits the clean recordings to its DominoFX video-processing technology.) Colors, however, appeared slightly washed out compared to those in the original, and the whole program looked a bit too bright, even during night scenes. While we were bummed by the so-so color reproduction, the video quality as a whole looked much cleaner; in the end, we felt it was a fair trade-off, especially if you're archiving aging VHS tapes. (Keep in mind that the VR2940 won't record copy-protected VHS tapes or DVDs.)
The recorder's color reproduction fared better with line-in-to-DVD recordings, although the resolution was limited by the low-quality composite-video input. In our test-pattern recordings, the VR2940 captured almost 460 lines of resolution in its one-hour HQ mode, which is about the same resolution that standalone DVD players can muster. The recorder's two-hour SP resolution grabbed between 450 and 460 lines of resolution--still very good, although we noticed some MPEG blockiness in the background and around the edges of the test patterns. The GoVideo's resolution plummeted to about 250 lines in the four-hour EP mode, and big, blocky MPEG artifacts marred our six-hour SLP recordings. Colors looked OK in our test recordings of Star Trek: Insurrection, although we noticed some blocky artifacts in the dark, smoky interior of the damaged Enterprise bridge, even while recording in HQ mode.
Playback on the progressive-scan VR2940 was quite good. The VR2940's 2:3 pull-down detection passed our tricky Insurrection test with flying colors, cleaning up the difficult haystacks and the jaggy-prone bridges.
In all, the VR2940's unique YesDVD feature sets it apart from the DVD-R/VHS competition, which includes models such as the Panasonic DMR-E75VS and the Toshiba D-VR3. As long as you use it mainly for copying VHS tapes, as opposed to recording TV or external video sources, the VR2940 is a good performer and a very good value.