JVC's intriguing VCR/DVD combo recorder comes loaded with promise on paper and riddled with annoying quirks in person. The DR-MV1 (£300 or less online) can control a satellite receiver thanks to the included infrared transmitter. It plays VHS tapes in progressive scan, but you must copy to DVD first to do so. And it makes sharp recordings of VHS tapes -- but without chapter stops. While we admire this VCR/DVD combo's attempt to break the mould, it's saddled with far too many compromises. If you're looking to archive your VHS collection to DVD, you'll find it all too infuriating to cope with.
Some of the combo VCR/DVD recorder decks we've seen go for an understated, darker colour scheme, the better to hide their size and bulkiness -- not so the JVC DR-MV1. While it's about the same size as other combo decks in its class (435 by 96 by 347mm), its bold silver front, broad silver stripe and long neon-blue LED strip that glows when the unit's on (you can deactivate the blue light in the settings menu) all make it look that much bigger.
Along a bevelled silver stripe you'll find VCR- and DVD-eject buttons, play and stop buttons, and the VCR/DVD dubbing controls. Flanking the LCD is a pair of doors that hides a set of A/V inputs with S-Video and additional playback controls, plus a FireWire input.
Anyone impatient with complex electronics will find plenty to complain about with the DR-MV1. During everyday use we constantly referred to the manual, since few of the functions are intuitive or well thought out. The midsize remote crams in a dizzying array of buttons, many of which have multiple functions depending on the situation. After some trial and error -- and some hints from the JVC's onscreen menus, which show annotated diagrams of the remote's keypad -- we ultimately got the hang of it.
The JVC's myriad menus are almost as overwhelming as the remote, but again we grew familiar with the various screens over time, and helpful hints abound. Strangely, the menus changed personality when we switched from DVD to VHS mode; the VHS interface has the crude blue background and block letters of a Thatcher-era VCR.
Unfortunately, the deck's setup gets clunky if you want to use high-quality video connections. If you're content with the RF or composite outputs, you can switch back and forth between the VHS and DVD modes with no trouble. But if you want to use S-video or component, they are reserved solely for use by the DVD recorder, which is odd. The same kind of frustration applies when you want to transfer VCR recordings to DVD. Once every twelve minutes, you'll get a pause, at which point a few seconds of footage will be repeated. Intrusive and annoying, it's the sort of fault you'd think would result in the product not being passed as fit for retail.
In addition to manual recordings on both decks, you can programme timed recordings through the setup menu or use VCR Plus. You can plug in an IR blaster that lets the recorder change the channel on your cable/satellite box. You can also set up the DVD recorder to automatically turn on when it detects a video output from a timer-activated satellite box, for example.
Dubbing from VHS to DVD (or vice versa) is a two-step process: you press one of two arrow buttons on the deck itself, then press the Dubbing button. The JVC will record on DVD-R/-RW/-RAM discs and the usual recording speeds are available, including XP (for an hour of DVD recording), SP, LP, and EP modes.
We also loved the custom recording speed, which lets you set the speed manually at five-minute intervals anywhere from 60 to 480 minutes -- a great option for recording, say, a 130-minute show at the highest quality. The JVC also lets you 'chase playback', that is watch a programme from the beginning as it's being recorded midway through, provided you're using a DVD-RAM disc.
The DR-MV1 has all the usual editing functions, except for one unforgivable omission. The deck lets you snip sections out of titles or create playlists with DVD-RW VR discs, but you can't add chapter stops to a title. Even worse, the deck won't add them automatically, which means none of the DR-MV1's recordings have chapter stops -- unbelievable.
The JVC's connection set is pretty solid. Behind the deck, you get component-video and S-Video outputs, an S-Video input, plus a Scart input and RGB Scart output. The lack of RGB Scart input is disappointing, and something you'll definitely notice on recordings made to DVD. On the audio side, there's optical and coaxial digital audio outs, and an RF in/out. On the front you'll find a set of A/V inputs with S-Video and FireWire inputs for a camcorder.
We were impressed with the JVC DR-MV1's VHS-to-DVD dubbing. We dubbed our 12-year-old VHS test tape to a DVD-RW in SP mode and the resulting copy looked great. Much of the video noise from the ageing tape was gone, and the picture looked reasonably sharp. Colours were a bit duller and the picture looked slightly dark, but overall we were thrilled with the results, the lack of chapter stops notwithstanding.
The deck performed quite well in our resolution tests. Using a DVD-RW from the front S-Video port, the DR-MV1 captured about 450 horizontal lines in the one-hour XP and two-hour SP modes. In the four-hour LP mode, the deck scored an impressive 325 lines of resolution, almost 100 more than we've seen on other decks. In EP mode and below, resolution dropped to a much softer 250 lines, as expected. In our test recordings of Star Trek: Insurrection, the peasants fleeing the deadly probes looked solid in the XP and SP modes, with minimal background blockiness, and we were pleasantly surprised by the picture quality in the four-hour LP mode, which looks a bit soft but is still sharper than other decks we've tested.
The DR-MV1S had no trouble with our 2:3 pull-down test, rendering the ragtag fleet in the 2003 Battlestar Galactica miniseries without jaggies or shimmering. In terms of playback compatibility, the deck handled the majority of discs in our test suite, although it failed on a couple of DVD-R and DVD-RW discs, including one that caused it to hang so badly we had to unplug it and reboot, a lengthy process. On the plus side, it handled three out of four DVDs filled with MP3s, a rare feat among standalone decks.
Edited by David Katzmeier
Additional editing by Nick Hide