All Hands On Deck

VCR VCRs might seem like yesterday's news, but they provide a useful point of comparison because practically everybody's had experience with one.

Time-shifting This is the raison d'être of the entire home-recording industry and the cause célèbre of battles all the way up to the Supreme Court. But time-shifting on VCRs hasn't progressed much since the famous Betamax case (1984) made the U.S. safe for home recording. While the VCR Plus programming system is widespread, no VCRs offer an electronic program guide (EPG) for point-and-click selection of the show you want to record. EPGs are the single most useful recording feature of the new systems, but it's been years since any manufacturer has bothered to include one in a VCR.

Archiving If you've been recording for a few years, there's ample evidence sitting on your shelves of how easy it is to accumulate tapes. To have a real archive, you need to label each cassette, something only the most disciplined among us does consistently. When you record on DVD or hard disk, you can create a label in the recording itself. Better yet, labels are inserted automatically from the EPG information when you use a TiVo or other hard-disk digital video recorder (DVR).

Editing Nobody edits VHS tapes anymore, even to remove commercials. And even budding film directors need at least two VCRs to do anything creative. This is one area where PCs and DVD recorders with hard drives really score big.

Making Copies Copying tapes is easy with a dual-well deck, but picture quality will suffer. It's just as easy to copy a tape to a DVD or hard drive using VHS/DVD or VHS/DVD/hard-drive combos, and you'll preserve image quality to boot.

They served us well for decades, but VCRs are now little more than clunky old relics. You'll get better quality, greater durability, and many more options from any of the newer systems.