Mitsubishi HS-HD2000U & JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS VCRs

The world of digital television is roiling with copyright paranoia. It seems that Hollywood barely wants you to watch their material in high-definition, much less record it. Nonetheless, two new VCRs capable of recording HDTV are on the market, courtesy of Mitsubishi and Panasonic.

Both use the D-VHS format, which is thought to be transitory. When I reviewed Panasonic's PV-HD1000 D-VHS deck in December 1999, everyone thought the format was an old war horse that would soon be retired. And, with the recent announcement of the Blu-ray format, there appears to be movement toward a DVD-sized optical disc using a blue or near-blue laser that will be able to both play back and record in high definition. But that is for the future, and as with all things involving high-definition versions of Hollywood's offerings, expect a technological solution long before the political debates over copyrights are resolved.

In the meantime, you have a choice of these two recorders. (Panasonic no longer makes one.) But be advised: Both use IEEE 1394 digital connectors for high-definition recording and playback. If you don't have a digital tuner with a 1394 output (at this writing, no such standalone tuner is on the market) or a high-definition set equipped with both an onboard digital tuner and a 1394 interface, you won't be able to record anything in high-definition on either machine. Furthermore, the Mitsubishi outputs HD only on a 1394 connection; to use it to play back from either VCR, the display must also be equipped with 1394 connections and a built-in HD decoder. The JVC also has analog component video outputs and can play back most HD material via this link. But the only way you can use either machine to both record and play back HD programming today is if you have a digital TV with a built-in digital tuner and a 1394 input/output jack. I reviewed both products on Mitsubishi's WS-65909 Diamond HDTV television, which has the appropriate connections.

If you're familiar with a regular ol' VHS VCR, as almost everyone is by now, you'll understand both the Mitsubishi HS-HD2000U and JVC HM-DH30000U right away. Both have silver faceplates and standard VCR controls on their front panels. Both come with mammoth remotes; the Mitsubishi remote has a small display at its top that tells you what you're doing. There's nothing about their ability to record HDTV that changes their basic VCR functions.

But there's one big difference between these decks: The Mitsubishi HS-HD2000U costs $1049, the JVC HM-DH30000U $2000. Why? The JVC is equipped with a expensive MPEG encoder/decoder. The encoder can upconvert analog signals to digital so the unit can function as a digital archiver. The decoder provides for the JVC's HD component analog output.

In addition, the JVC is equipped to play back prerecorded high-definition movies recorded using JVC's new, proprietary D-Theater format, which includes robust copy protection. Last year, JVC quietly won agreement from the Motion Picture Association of America to market prerecorded movies protected with D-Theater. That infuriated Mitsubishi, which, like the rest of industry, regards VHS as an open standard, meaning that any tape playable on one VHS machine should be playable on all. Nonetheless, JVC won agreement from Fox, Universal, DreamWorks, and Artisan to begin releasing D-VHS, HD movies. The studios have announced that the first films to be released in this format will be Independence Day, Die Hard, X-Men, U-571, and the two Terminator films. As of press time, none were yet available, nor had pricing been established. But to play them, you'll have to spend almost $1000 more and buy the JVC VCR. (JVC says a less expensive version will come out soon.)

Sony and AOL Time Warner, two of the first studios to commit heavily to DVD, refused to join this group, saying that VHS was a dated format and it made no sense to move forward with it. But JVC holds most of the VHS patents and has worked aggressively to “refresh” them with new features. A company holding a patent can demand royalties from other companies that use the technology for a period of 17 years. JVC refreshed its patent a few years ago by adding the S-VHS-ET technology, which permits recording in the higher-resolution S-VHS format using regular videotape instead of the more expensive S-VHS tape. Now JVC hopes to ride the tape format a few years longer with D-VHS and D-Theater.

Both machines offer compatibility with S-VHS and S-VHS-ET. Both feature VCR Plus+, which allows you to enter a numerical code for recording a show, though the Mitsubishi ups the JVC one by including VCR Plus+ Gold, which is able to select the correct channel for recording from a cable box or satellite receiver.