High-Def Discs and Tapes

There's no denying that digital high-definition TV (HDTV) is a vast improvement over our old analog TV system, but if you want to record any of the high-def programs delivered over the air by local broadcasters or via satellite from Dish Network or DirecTV, your options are ridiculously limited. A few years ago, Panasonic released - and then quickly withdrew from the market - a high-def-capable VCR that hooked up via FireWire to its DST-50 and DST-51 set-top tuners. Mitsubishi currently sells a $1,000 VCR that'll let you record off-air digital broadcasts, but only if you connect it to one of the company's three FireWire-equipped integrated HDTVs. And now JVC has rolled out its own high-def-capable recorder, the $2,000 HM-DH30000.

What each of these VCRs has in common is that they record programs in the D-VHS (digital VHS) format. D-VHS tapes physically resemble standard VHS cassettes but store digital bitstreams instead of analog video signals. JVC's deck, however, goes one step further than the other two. Whereas the Panasonic and Mitsubishi are basically "bit buckets" that rely on an external HDTV tuner to decode the signal, the JVC has its own built-in MPEG-2 digital video encoder/decoder. To view recorded programs, all you have to do is connect cables from the VCR's component-video output to your HDTV monitor's input.

But recording HDTV with the JVC isn't nearly as simple as you'd expect. Because it uses a FireWire port to accept incoming digital signals, you'll need one of the precious few FireWire-equipped HDTVs mentioned earlier. However, JVC says that its HDTV-capable TU-9000 Dish Network receiver, which is slated to hit stores this summer, will have a FireWire connection.