JVC's new D-Theater D-VHS HDTV software format has garnered some support from Hollywood studios, but it's still a chicken-and-egg scenario. With only a handful of movie titles currently available, there isn't much prerecorded content to watch on this special--yet pricey--VCR. However, what there is to watch is about as good as high definition gets. JVC's D-Theater D-VHS HDTV software format has garnered some support from Hollywood studios, but it's still a chicken-and-egg scenario. Compared to DVD, there are far fewer D-VHS titles available to watch on this special--yet pricey--VCR. However, what there is to watch is about as good as high definition gets.
Looks like a VCR
The HM-DH3000 is one handsome component. Finished in all silver with a flip-down, see-through, charcoal-gray door that covers the tape-tray-loading mechanism yet still allows you to see the information from the LED, the deck looks impressive, even if it is a glorified VCR. The backlit universal remote is on the big side, but it's well laid out and relatively intuitive to use; it also sports a jog/shuttle wheel and is capable of controlling many different types of A/V components. It's important to note, however, that the jog dial does not work with Digital-VHS (D-VHS) tapes, only with VHS and Super-VHS (S-VHS) formats.
The connectivity suite is quite comprehensive. For HDTV-tape viewing, there's one set of component-video outputs. You also get two composite-video outputs for standard VHS, two S-Video outputs for S-VHS, two S-Video inputs, one RF antenna or cable input, and one RF output. On the audio front, you'll find two sets of stereo audio outputs, two pairs of stereo audio inputs, and an optical digital-audio output. Lastly, there's an all-important FireWire I/O for recording HD sources and DV camcorder footage.
In terms of features, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more functional VCR. Highlights include VCR Plus for ease of recording; support for D-VHS, S-VHS, and VHS recording and playback (yes, it will play your old tapes); High Speed Picture Search; Auto Clock Set; Auto Tuner Set; Skip Search; Index Search; and Video Navigation for editing purposes.
The D-Theater software's claim to fame is that it's recorded at 28.2Mbps, considerably higher than full-bandwidth 1080i HDTV broadcast transmissions, which come in at 19.4Mbps. The increased bit rate is definitely visible on a high-resolution display device, such us our Runco DTV-991 8-inch cathode-ray-tube front projector. But users with smaller HD displays will have to look a little harder to notice the difference.
Our review sample came with two full-length feature films--U-571 and Terminator 2: Judgment Day--as well as a sampler of Galaxy Quest, all of which looked absolutely fabulous and sell for around $35 each. In an A/B comparison with our Dish Network HD feed, the JVC delivered clearly better picture quality. However, it should be noted that we didn't get a chance to compare the JVC's output with a transmission of Mark Cuban's HDNet on DirecTV, which offers a full-bandwidth broadcast that is superior to other HD feeds on DirecTV. As far as audio performance goes, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks on these films sounded quite good, so we had no complaints there.
To record an HD transmission, you have to run a FireWire cable from the JVC deck to a set-top-box HDTV decoder that's equipped with FireWire. Blank D-VHS tapes cost from $15 to $25 depending on their capacity, and you can store up to 4 hours of HD programming or 24 hours of analog material on a single D-VHS tape, which can have a capacity up to 50GB.
We tried connecting a discontinued Panasonic TU-DST50W terrestrial HDTV decoder to the JVC but had no luck recording. It turns out that our first-generation Panasonic isn't compatible with the JVC deck, but the second-generation Panasonic TU-DST51W should work. JVC recommends coupling its deck with Samsung's SIR-T165 set-top HDTV decoder.
JVC recommends coupling its deck with Samsung's SIR-T165 set-top HDTV decoder, which is due out in August and will sell for $799. When we receive Samsung's box, we'll update this review, but for now, we will say that the recorded sample content that we have seen is quite impressive, with virtually no loss in quality from the original source. Also, we had no trouble recording standard DirecTV programming to VHS and S-VHS tapes.
More software, please
The DH3000 D-Theater deck is unquestionably an awesome performer, and we applaud any piece of equipment or format that further enhances the HDTV-viewing experience. That said, as of this writing, there are just a handful of movie titles available. We searched at JVC's official D-VHS site, DVHSmovie.com, and found a mere 39 titles available for sale.
This JVC carries a price of $1,299 but can be had on the Internet for significantly less Even at that discounted price, this JVC is far from a bargain, especially when you consider that HD DVD may supplant this tape-based technology within a few years. But if you have the bucks to burn and want the ultimate in picture quality today, you won't be disappointed.