When the VCR becomes a source of embarrassment

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 August, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 August, 2001, 12:00am

I am a little embarrassed to say that I still own a video cassette recorder (VCR).

With the choices available today in recording media, no one should be caught dead with a VCR at home.

I am not saying dump your working VCR. But if it fails, do not get another.

The VHS format, which won over Sony's Betamax format, was introduced in 1976. It has been around for more than two decades, which is a highly respectable lifespan for any technology. It is time to show it the door.

Everyone knows the problems with VCRs. Video cassettes do not last forever and they get mouldy, especially with Hong Kong's humidity. A friend paid US$300 for a videotape of her diving in Puerto Galera, Philippines. Recently, she had to spend HK$850 to get the tape restored because it had grown mould after just six months.

Picture quality on videotapes also deteriorates after every recording, unlike recording on VCDs and DVDs.

However, by transferring your precious memories to an audio CD-R or CD-rewritable, you will have them in a digital format that you can play on TV or PC.

Unlike VCDs and DVDs, videotapes have moving parts which make them susceptible to damage. VCRs, with their small components in an unsealed chassis, also are hard to maintain. They chew up videotapes as well. Besides, VHS tapes are fat and take up space.

It is much better to keep CDs or DVDs which last much longer.

At US$499, the Terapin Video CD Recorder is a good alternative. Made by Texas-based TeraOptix, the system works with virtually any audio-video source, so you can use it to transfer vinyl records or audio cassettes to a CD. The device is a little smaller than a VCR but as easy to use.

The system comes with input options such as RCA, optical, digital coaxial or S-video. To record, place a blank audio CD-R or CD-rewritable in the recorder's tray and hit 'Record'. Input will be converted to MPeg-1 format on the CD.

The recorder runs on 100 to 240 volts AC and accepts NTSC and Pal video signals.

You can play the CD on any computer with a CD-Rom drive or on the Video CD Recorder. It also is compatible with most DVD and VCD players.

You can order direct or read more about the product from

At the Consumer Electronics Show this year, Taiwanese manufacturer Datavideo introduced the VDR-3000DV which is selling in Mongkok for HK$9,000.

It is a little expensive, but it allows for recording directly from a digital video camcorder to a blank CD via a IEEE 1394 port.

Datavideo's device gives better-quality recordings than TeraOptix's because it allows recording on HQ-DVD format. This gives full D1 resolution at 4.8Mbps for up to 18 minutes on a standard 650MB CD-R/RW disc, which can be played on newer-generation DVD players or PCs with WinDVD software.

DVD recorders are available from Sharp, Philips and Pioneer in Japan, but they are expensive and DVD-R, the recordable media, comes at about US$30 per disc.

Another alternative would be a hard-disk recorder - the same technology used in computers. Consumer-electronics makers such as Panasonic manufacture them, though they were originally introduced in 1999 by TiVo in the United States.

Hard-disk recorders, usually priced between US$500 and US$700, are similar to VCRs. They are essentially computers optimised for video-recording and playback, storing the data in a hard drive of about 15GB or more. The system has advanced video compression and decompression hardware so it can usually accommodate up to 30 hours' recording time. The software is optimised to allow recording and playback at the same time. This lets the user pause live television, do instant replay and quick-jump from place to place. Very cool.