Just because you're buying a budget-priced DVD/VCR combo doesn't mean that it has to look like one. The handsome and affordable XBV243 does an admirable job pulling double duty in an entry-level home theater. Just bear in mind that while this Zenith may look fancy on the surface, you shouldn't expect high-end performance. Just because you're buying a budget-priced DVD/VCR combo doesn't mean that it has to look like one. The handsome and affordable XBV243 does an admirable job pulling double duty in an entry-level home theater. Just bear in mind that while this Zenith may look fancy on the surface, you shouldn't expect high-end performance.
Mirror, mirror, on the deck...
To date, this is the best-looking DVD/VCR combo deck we've tested. The silver-toned chassis is adorned with a classy, mirrored front panel, which in turn hosts a number of buttons that are small enough to be unobtrusive. The LCD is bright and easily viewable, but it won't be a distraction in the dark. The remote, while a bit cluttered and lacking backlit or glow-in-the-dark knobs, is serviceable enough. Thankfully, an elegant onscreen menu system makes navigation a straightforward affair.
In terms of connectivity, the unit is adequately equipped with both S-Video and component-video outputs. And while the XBV243 lacks an optical digital-out jack, it does offer a coaxial digital-audio output for connecting the deck to an A/V receiver.
As noted, the DVD menu system is a breeze to navigate, so tweaking the settings, such as aspect ratios (4:3 PS, 4:3 LB, and 16:9), is no problem. Noteworthy features include reasonably fast load times and swift switching between DVD and VCR modes. We also appreciated that the XBV243 can play MP3-encoded CD-Rs, though, like most DVD players, this deck displays only the first six characters of a song's title.
Once configured and ready to go, the XBV243 delivered video performance that was a hair better than that of the rest of the combo-deck pack. Like most entry-level DVD players, the Zenith's performance flaws became more visible when we hooked it up to a Samsung Tantus 4:3 HD-ready set. During the title sequence of the Star Trek: Insurrection DVD, stacks of hay seemed alive with blurry movement, a phenomenon known as dot crawl. The resolution on the haystacks was only slightly crisper than that of competing players, but the moiré pattern (when lines overlap to create blurring) wasn't as pronounced when using the XBV243. Next, we looked at chapter 24 of From Hell. When trying to make out details in London's murky streets, we quickly lost picture detail within the folds of Jack the Ripper's coat and people running about in the shadows; the movie almost became pixelated at times.
On the VCR front, performance is on a par with that of a sub-$100 four-head model; in other words, we can't say the player is anything special, but it's still quite sufficient. Like most VCRs, this Zenith has RF inputs and outputs to feed a cable or satellite signal through the deck to the TV. With an eight-program record memory and an equally easy-to-master menu system, the XBV243 is also simple enough to program.
With a $249 list price, the XBV243 is in the same league as combo players such as Samsung's . But we must give props to Zenith for creating a slick-looking, easy-to-use product. And when you consider its slightly better performance, the XBV243 has an edge over the current crop of combo decks.