JVC is fond of reminding people that the company invented the VHS format back in the '70s. Flash forward a quarter century or so, and behold what may very well be the ultimate VCR. JVC's $1,499 HM-DT100U is the company's flagship D-VHS model, and until Blu-ray and HD-DVD recorders hit the market in late 2005 or early 2006, D-VHS is the only way you can archive high-def programming at full HD quality to removable media.
Upside: Thanks to the DT100U's built-in HD tuner, the only thing you'll need to record over-the-air HD broadcasts is an antenna. And unlike standard DVD recorders, this ultra-VCR will record any HD signal at its native resolution (1080i or 720p, along with 480p and 480i modes). The special D-VHS cassettes (you can't use standard VHS tapes) hold 4 hours of HD content or up to 24 hours of DVD-quality, standard-definition video. And the DT100U comes equipped with component and HDMI outputs as well as a FireWire port, so it will interface with any HDTV. There's even a handful of prerecorded high-def D-VHS tapes available. And yes, this uber-VCR is fully compatible with all of your old VHS and S-VHS tapes.
Downside: The built-in tuner is great for over-the-air broadcasts, but if you're looking to record cable or satellite shows in high-def, you'll need to make sure your TV or set-top box is equipped with a working FireWire port; that's the only external HD input the HM-DT100U can accept. Even if it has such a port, the deck may not work with it, so make sure of compatibility before you buy. And this is still a VCR, after all, so all those familiar pitfalls will apply; even if the tapes don't stretch or break, you'll be stuck with linear rewind and fast-forward, not DVD-like instant track access.
Outlook: JVC's HM-DT100U offers the unique ability to receive and record HD--on removable media. If you can't wait for Blu-ray and you're willing to pay a premium, the HM-DT100U may be worth the price. Meanwhile, D-VHS fans looking to save some money can opt for the step-down model, the HM-DH5U, which lacks the built-in HD tuner and is available at half the price.