Copy Cats Page 5

Recording PerformanceSince dubbing is what these machines are all about, I evaluated each deck's ability to copy VHS recordings to DVD. Making such dubs is hard to do well because analog VHS recordings provide inherently unstable signals that tend to flummox digital devices. Unlike regular analog TVs, which tend to take such fluctuations in stride, DVD recorders and even some fixed-pixel digital TVs expect rock-steady signals - like what you get from a DVD player.

Recording aids like the JVC's On-Disc Timer Programming function, which acutally stores timer information on a DVD-RW or DVD-RAM disc, will ensure you never miss an episode of The OC. And it's easy to make VHS dubs for friends.

I'm happy to report that all three recorders handled this difficult task well, taming the instabilities of VHS playback tape to avoid shifting colors, wobbly vertical edges, and a generally gritty picture. The better the original VHS recording (which includes not only the recorded video quality but also the physical condition of the tape itself), the better the results you'll get - especially in terms of picture noise and wobbliness.

Of course, detail in a dub will be limited by the resolution of the original, which in cases of a standard-VHS recording is somewhat less than the resolution capability of each recorder's LP (4-hour) recording mode. For the most part, then, you can use the LP mode to make DVD dubs of noncritical material, like VHS recordings that are themselves dubs from other tapes or of TV programs. If you're dubbing an S-VHS recording to DVD, I recommend going in through each recorder's S-video input and using at least the SP (2-hour) mode.

The Bottom LineAll three decks performed about equally well in DVD playback. Even performance in progressive-scan mode was comparable to that of a good separate DVD player (click to view "in the lab"). Given that overall performance was solid in each case, your decision will be largely a matter of features or price. If you want just the basics, the LG will do fine - but it does list for $150 more than the slightly more versatile Toshiba. Though it costs considerably more than the other two, the JVC offers a raft of attractive features, any of which may prove to be decisive, especially if you plan on making lots of DVD recordings.