Doing The DVD Combo

A DVD player is already a terrific bargain - an inexpensive black box that can play discs full of razor-sharp images, immersive surround sound, and fascinating extras. But what if you could wed a DVD player with another popular entertainment device like, say, a TV, VCR, or game console? Well, it's already being done. Test-driven here are four of the more intriguing examples: the Go-Video DVR4000 DVD player/VCR, Sony's DVD-playing PlayStation 2, Panasonic's PV-DF2000 TV/DVD/VCR/FM combo, and Neon Technology's SurfReady NTV-2500, which shares its DVD player space with a TV tuner, MP3 player, picture phone, Web browser, and karaoke machine.

These combo devices have advantages beyond melding your favorite entertainment technologies. Because everything is in a single box, they can save lots of space in an equipment rack or on a bedroom dresser. And that integration means you won't have to deal with the cable spaghetti that results from patching together different components.

So on paper all of these components seem to have a lot going for them. But do they deliver the goods?

Go-Video DVR4000 There's no doubt that more and more people are coming to prefer watching movies on DVD instead of VHS. But opting for a DVD player won't help you play your collection of videotapes - unless, of course, you get a DVD player/VCR like the Sensory Science Go-Video DVR4000 ($349). Its predecessor, the DVR5000 (which we reviewed in January 2001), was one of the first such combos. The DVR4000 is essentially a stripped-down version. It has one laser pickup instead of two, which means it can't play CD-Rs and CD-RWs. The lack of VCR Plus recording means you have to enter the start and stop times and channel number yourself, while the absence of full Dolby Digital decoding means there are no multichannel analog outputs. And it can't play S-VHS videotapes.

So what's left? For one thing, the DVR4000 makes dubbing a non-copy-protected DVD to tape as simple as pressing the front-panel Copy button. (Pause the DVD, and the tape pauses, too.) Unfortunately, this feature isn't all that useful since there aren't many discs around that don't have copy protection! I was, however, able to dupe an adult title I keep on hand for just such occasions. The copy maintained as much picture detail as you'd expect in transferring a movie from DVD to VHS. I also had no trouble copying a mainstream Hollywood movie from Video CD, a lower-resolution pre-DVD format still popular in Asia. The movie looked as good on tape as it did on the VCD.

The DVR4000 is one of the few DVD players that sports an RF (radio frequency) output and comes with an RF cable, which is useful if you want to hook it up to an old TV that lacks any other video inputs. Of course, the DVDs you play won't look or sound any better than standard broadcast TV in that case. The player also has composite-, component-, and S-video outputs, stereo analog audio outputs, and both coaxial and optical digital audio outputs.

In The Lab: Go Video | Sony | Neon | Panasonic