Magnavox H2160MW9-A (Nov 2009) - Bad VHS Recording Capabilities? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 14 Old 03-08-2010, 01:54 PM - Thread Starter
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(First of all, apologies for the wacky URLs in this message. AVSForum thinks I'm a spammer because I'm new...)


So after much AVSForum reading, I went through WalMart to obtain the Magnavox H2160MW9A ("MANUFACTURING:D", "November 2009" on back label).

My primary motivations for selecting this unit were the good reviews concerning its MPEG-2 codec and its ability to handle video sources with imperfect timebases like VHS. With respect to the latter, basically everything said at www dot avsforum dot com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=940657#PQ7 -- which, yes, applies to the Philips 3575, but then again, the same thread says that the H2160 and 3575 are clones, so...

Anyway, my problem:

I'm finding my unit's handling of VHS far from ideal. It would seem the unit's inputs have some kind of AGC-like video level (brightness) circuitry that's being driven crazy by all my VHS source video. Frequently, the entire video frame's brightness increases very quickly and then returns to normal very quickly ... end result, the whole picture looks like its "pulsing lighter" repeatedly while it's being fed VHS material.

The effect occurs regardless of which input I use (front vs. back, composite vs. s-video).

The effect is visible on all tapes I've tried -- just worse on some than on others.

Even tried different outputs from the DVD-R unit to the monitor, to make sure it wasn't that.

Demonstration video of the problem (VTS_01_1.VOB - 11 MB) is here: www dot sendspace dot com/file/6d6lrc

The demo video file contains a few seconds of a VCR pausing with slight mistracking -- the brightness pulsing seen during this footage is what I'm talking about. Following those few seconds of paused video are a few seconds of moving video, during which the same pulsing can be seen. (Note that during the moving video, you'll also see automatic exposure brightness variations created by the VHS camcorder which created this footage -- the brightness "pulsing" caused by the H2160 is still visible though.)

Anyway, has anyone experienced this internal AGC/procamp brightness instability issue? My first inclination was to exchange it for another unit. But then I thought I'd better ask here. If it turns out this model's latest manufacturing runs are known for this problem, then rather than an exchange, it looks like I'll be doing a return.
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post #2 of 14 Old 03-08-2010, 03:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shillaber View Post

Frequently, the entire video frame's brightness increases very quickly and then returns to normal very quickly ... end result, the whole picture looks like its "pulsing lighter" repeatedly while it's being fed VHS material.

I think I know what's wrong. I have seen this before when connecting a tv/vhs combo to a dvd player. The VHS is detecting the other device and sending the bright / dark signals every few seconds to help prevent copying things illegally.

One way to bypass this "detection" of the dvd recorder by the vcr is to put a RF modulator into the loop. Connect Composite cables from vhs out to modulator composite in. Then connect RF modulator out coax to the dvd recorder's coax input. Connect your regular antenna / cable to the rf modulator in coax.

Believe it or not - it's possible that it's not the 2160 at all - but your vcr.

--Rob
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post #3 of 14 Old 03-08-2010, 03:37 PM
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Are we talking about commercial VHS tapes or home-spun?

You got to be nuts; you want me to pay to watch commercials?
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post #4 of 14 Old 03-08-2010, 04:33 PM
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If it is Macrovision, which is on most commercially made VHS tapes, you will need a filter of some kind in the video line to remove it. There are many, MANY threads on video filtering, and content protection on this forum. An appropriate search should give you many hours of reading boredom pleasure.

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post #5 of 14 Old 03-08-2010, 05:22 PM
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There is a very succinct overview on TBCs and filters here:
- http://www.digitalFAQ.com/forum/show...=9889#post9889
- http://forum.videohelp.com/threads/1...sion%29-errors
- http://www.digitalFAQ.com/guides/vid...k-hardware.htm

Beyond that, NO, this Magnavox unit is not ideal for VHS to DVD quality. It lacks any kind of clean-up filters that would help create a better-than-the-tape version of the video. This recorder will include all the red/blue color noise and grain from your tape. Great recorder for timeshifting TV channels, lousy recorder for converting VHS.

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post #6 of 14 Old 03-09-2010, 06:11 AM - Thread Starter
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Looks like nobody bothered to check out the demo video I provided. (Gee, and I figured that 11 MB would be small enough that nobody would hesitate. )

@lopaka1998 -

Quote:


I think I know what's wrong. I have seen this before when connecting a tv/vhs combo to a dvd player. The VHS is detecting the other device and sending the bright / dark signals every few seconds to help prevent copying things illegally.

I have never in my life heard of a VHS machine that adds Macrovision (or any other copy-protection excrement) to its output upon "detecting" an attached recording device. I have never even heard of a control signalling protocol through which a VHS machine would be able to detect a recorder so connected. With VHS, copy-protection is embedded in the recorded signal on the tape, not generated by the player; and if playing such a tape, the >100 IRE VBI pulses the copy-protection consists of are always present, leaving it up to the purposely-boobytrapped AGC circuitry in modern recording gear (see 17 U.S.C. § 1201(k)(1)) to fowl the recorded image accordingly.

That said, the source material in question here consists exclusively of home videos (no copy protection), and the signal path is a 1997 Panasonic PV-S4670 S-VHS VCR (not a TV/VCR combination unit) connected directly to the H2160's inputs via composite or s-video (i.e., I tried both, one at a time, hoping the problem might only affect one of the H2160's inputs).

Quote:


One way to bypass this "detection" of the dvd recorder by the vcr is to put a RF modulator into the loop. Connect Composite cables from vhs out to modulator composite in. Then connect RF modulator out coax to the dvd recorder's coax input. Connect your regular antenna / cable to the rf modulator in coax.

That might very well work if the modulator didn't contain a 17 U.S.C. § 1201(k)(1)-boobytrapped AGC circuit. However, at the same time, there is simply no way that I'm going to further degrade the quality of my dubs by modulating them to NTSC and back. So unfortunately, this option is out.

@vmalhotra -

Quote:


Are we talking about commercial VHS tapes or home-spun?

100% home spun.

@lordsmurf -

Quote:


Beyond that, NO, this Magnavox unit is not ideal for VHS to DVD quality. It lacks any kind of clean-up filters that would help create a better-than-the-tape version of the video. This recorder will include all the red/blue color noise and grain from your tape. Great recorder for timeshifting TV channels, lousy recorder for converting VHS.

Well, one man's trash is another man's treasure, I suppose. What you describe is exactly what I want. I hate noise reduction, tape dropout masking, and all those other assorted "clean up" algorithms. I want the digital recorder I ultimately settle on for digitizing my VHS and S-VHS library to capture my tapes exactly as is. All that I ask of the recorder I ultimately settle on is that it not make things worse.

Anyway, thanks to all for the responses. But the simple fact is, what I really need is to hear from somebody who owns the same November 2009 vintage Magnavox H2160MW9-A that I have, who can tell me whether their unit produces the same brightness pulsing effect when recording from their non-copy-protected VHS decks. The pulsing effect seen in my demonstration video (whose pulses are fast and not like those one would see as a result of Macrovision). If the H2160, in its newest form, has become worthless for recording from VHS since the original FAQs were written, I'll need to return it and research another digitizing solution. If there's a possibility it's just my unit, on the other hand (i.e., if others have my same unit and don't experience this problem), then an exchange would be worth trying.
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post #7 of 14 Old 03-09-2010, 07:19 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shillaber View Post

... the source material in question here consists exclusively of home videos (no copy protection), and the signal path is a 1997 Panasonic PV-S4670 S-VHS VCR (not a TV/VCR combination unit) connected directly to the H2160's inputs via composite or s-video (i.e., I tried both, one at a time, hoping the problem might only affect one of the H2160's inputs).

I'd suggest playing those tapes with another VCR, esp. non-SVHS. Here's a guy with an Panny PV-7680 VCR who had a similar problem playing to his Sony Wega but no problem with other VCRs.
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post #8 of 14 Old 03-09-2010, 09:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shillaber View Post

I hate noise reduction, tape dropout masking, and all those other assorted "clean up" algorithms. I want the digital recorder I ultimately settle on for digitizing my VHS and S-VHS library to capture my tapes exactly as is. All that I ask of the recorder I ultimately settle on is that it not make things worse. .

Sorry, but it does not work that way. VHS noise does not work well with MPEG compression, and you'll end up with noisy DVDs -- even at XP mode.

If you want "noise and all" versions of the videos in digital quality AND without making things worse, you'll need to look at lossless or uncompressed AVI with a computer capture card setup.

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post #9 of 14 Old 03-09-2010, 01:31 PM - Thread Starter
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@wajo -

Quote:


I'd suggest playing those tapes with another VCR, esp. non-SVHS. Here's a guy with an Panny PV-7680 VCR who had a similar problem playing to his Sony Wega but no problem with other VCRs.

Tried a Samsung VHS/DVD combination deck as my source machine as well, yeah. Same problem, just more subtle in appearance.

I also tried, first with the PV-S4670 and then with the Samsung, one particular VHS recording whose quality was highly unstable -- recorded from snowy antenna reception, and a second generation dub. With that tape, and the PV-S4670 as the source deck, the AGC video gain effect I've been describing went absolutely hogwild -- at times with the video just cutting to black as if the H2160 were detecting the absence of video. Same with the Samsung as the source, but as before, just with the effect being less severe.

Sigh. It would appear that either my unit, or the November 2009 H2160MW9-A itself, just plains sucks as far as compatibility with timebase-imperfect VHS input. I've seen DVD-Rs made with recorders that stably captured VHS with near-shreaded sync and high levels of noise without breaking a sweat. Alas, mine can't handle first generation stuff without starting to buckle under.

@lordsmurf -

Quote:


Sorry, but it does not work that way. VHS noise does not work well with MPEG compression, and you'll end up with noisy DVDs -- even at XP mode.

No worries, I'm rather familiar with that actually. Guess I should have said "capture my tapes exactly as is -- with allowances for any artifacting provoked by low and high frequency color/luma noise." Not sure how to put this aesthetic preference into believable words, but the appearance of the various cheesy NR schemes I have witnessed in action bugs me more than the look of MPEG artifacting brought about by noise. It's the stuff's tendency to muck away finer details and to even harm video in the "temporal" domain (the distinctiveness of consecutive frames, as if a super-subtle 'video reverb' were inline) that bugs me.

*shrug*

So, unless someone can recommend a DVD-R recorder with a great MPEG-2 codec, superb "wacky timebase" compatibility, and an NR algorithm that's somehow magically free of "that NR'ed look," I'd sooner avoid NR entirely and live with the other poison.
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post #10 of 14 Old 03-09-2010, 02:22 PM
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Hopefully Citibear will respond. I know he's done lots of VHS to DVD conversions and many of his tapes were many generations old and of poor quality. I think?? he told me his Pioneer 460 was particularly good for this type of recording.
He gave me one particular recording that was B&W of very poor quality but the dub actually looked quite good, no bright/dark and the picture was very stable on DVD.
I'm not sure if you've tried a video filter but even if your tapes don't contain MV the noise on your tapes could be messing up the AGC of your Magnavox DVDR. A video filter, while it may lose some PQ(mostly in contrast/brightness) may be able to stop the bright/dark pulsing you're seeing. If you don't want to use a filter then maybe a Pioneer like Citibear uses would fit your needs.
LS is correct about trying to clean up the noise of your source. If you're source has a lot of noise your DVDR will try preserving the noise so faithfully that it won't have enough bandwidth to record what you actually want. It's a fine line between filtering the noise on your source and filtering what you want. While I like the PQ my Panasonic DVDRs can produce I don't think they'd be the best DVDR for your purpose. I think they'd macroblock badly no matter what speed you used. I've read some people use(I think the Panasonic ES-10) just for it's filtering qualities. They feed the source into the ES-10 and record it's line output. I don't think any current Panasonics have as good filtering as the ES-10(which I've never owned). IMO Panasonics make great recordings if the source is high quality and clean, not so good for noisy or poor analog recordings.
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post #11 of 14 Old 03-09-2010, 06:11 PM
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You have a number of potential issues, all conspiring against you.

First, the Panasonic 7670 and similar-vintage late-1990s "high end consumer" SVHS and VHS models are perhaps the worst possible choice for playing tapes into a digital encoder. Panasonic at that time changed their relatively decent consumer video circuit for a newer version which is horribly noisy and adds all manner of invisible signal crap that gets picked up by encoders and read as AGC issues, false MacroVision, sync gaps, etc. So first order of business is ditch the 7670, you'd actually be better off with one of the earlier "short wheelbase" consumer Pannies from before 1997. Or, try a prosumer AG1980 with built-in TBC and noise filter, or split the difference with a circa-2000-vintage AG2560 (a remarkably good ordinary VCR with no filters or TBC but excellent tracking and video outputs). Second, camcorder footage is notorious for sending mixed signals to digital encoders, particularly false MacroVision triggers which combined with your 7670 vcrs propensity for its own false MacroVision output creates a total cluster @$%&. Third, the Magnavox H2160 is a fine recorder at a killer price but it does have some issues handling sub-par VHS input. The H2160 amazingly good at recording off-air broadcasts, cable TV, and DV-connected digital camcorder signals but it can barf on even reasonably-good analog VHS: I own two Mags, and each will record random video glitches from VHS which don't appear in the original VHS output at all.

LordSmurf was remarking on the subjective "quality" of the Magnavox video encoding, which is distinct from the technical issues you are experiencing. LS favors old-school recorders which had elaborate noise filtering behind their line inputs to remove luminance grain and color noise, freeing the encoder to use more bitrate for real image data. While I understand what he's driving at, I tend to fall into the "don't want filters on my recorder, I'll take the noise and thanks" category myself. In any case those filtered-input recorders from JVC and Toshiba are long out of production so not really a viable alternative for most people today that don't already own them. If you had one it still wouldn't help with your tape problem since those machines gagged on VHS even worse than the Magnavox unless you added outboard signal conditioners. In my book, adding external processors and all the tweaking they involve defeats the purpose of the standalone recorder being the "easy way out": if you're going to tweak, you may as well use a far more versatile PC authoring solution and get full benefit from your efforts. But thats just me, I have SO many VHS to transfer I lost any illusions about "perfect image quality" years ago in favor of "unattended transfers made on non-finicky hardware that don't give me a headache when I watch them later" .

Awhile back, jjeff and I traded some sample recordings of various signals, from his Panasonic EH55 and my Pioneer 460, which is probably why he flagged me down for you . As it happens, some of the samples I sent him were of atrociously poor VHS sources, including a tenth-generation Bob Dylan TV special from the 1960s and some old PBS comedy shows, etc. As he notes above, jjeff concurred the Pioneer 460 encoded these terrible VHS sources remarkably well, with no additional distortion beyond that inherent in the actual tapes. I cannot guarantee that switching to a Pioneer recorder would solve all your problems, but its possible: I have had a number of AVS members send their worst VHS tapes to encode for them, as a test of the Pioneers mettle, and not once has the Pioneer failed. Its true that older Pioneers were about as poor as the older JVCs and Toshibas at handling sub-par VHS without external processors, but Pioneers made after 2006 have incredibly stable inputs that will tackle the worst imaginable VHS without a hiccup. The results might not satisfy an expert video restorer like LordSmurf in terms of subjective image quality, but if your goal is to just get a watchable DVD with no added unpredictable technical issues a Pioneer is the quickest, easiest route I know of.

Unfortunately, Pioneer was an early corporate casualty of last years global economic meltdown- the company as it once was no longer exists, and they have exited the DVD recorder business. You can still purchase new-old-stock, global-market Pioneer 560 and 660 models from online sources like B&H, World Import or J&R, but at $400 these are double the price of a Magnavox and their tuners are analog-only (OK for some cable systems but no good for current USA digital TV broadcasts). Then again, if you have a lot of VHS to transfer and don't fancy tweaking on a computer, a Pioneer might be a good investment (you could always resell at minimal loss when you're done). If you know anyone in Canada, you could ask them to go to Future Shop and buy you the recently discontinued Sony RDR-HX780: this was a Sony-branded Pioneer 560 which is being blown out now for $249-349 depending on the store.
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post #12 of 14 Old 03-10-2010, 08:32 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks jjeff and CitiBear for the informative responses.

Regarding Panasonic's late-1990s decks, I had no idea they were such pieces of junk in the signal output department! The difference I experienced in the severity of the H2160's problems between my PV-S4670 and Samsung decks did leave me scratching my head, and Wajo's reply and link certainly got me thinking. But this sinches it.

Fortunately, I was already planning on NOT using the PV-S4670 as the source deck for any of my VHS transfers. One thing I've always known about it is that its VHS playback capabilities look absolutely horrible (as if, literally, NR'ed to death). That said, for all of my VHS transfers, I'm planning on using the original machine that recorded most of the tapes themselves. It dates to the mid-1980s when VHS manufacturers were still competing on quality rather than price merits. The thing probably even has 58 micron heads! I also have a couple of early-1990s VHS machines on hand in anticipation of needing alternatives supposing I encounter tracking issues, etc. Hopefully between the original deck and the alternates, I will be good to go for everything that needs transferring in whole. (Thanks for the note on the AG-2560. I'll keep that one in mind as well.)

As far as the AG-1980, I actually owned that deck until it was eaten by a giant power surge. Just my luck that I happened to have it plugged directly into a wall outlet during a period of time when our central heating unit spontaneously arc faulted and fried everything on its breaker circuit. In any event, even if the AG-1980 was still with me, I wouldn't have used it for this project. It's TBC did work wonderfully, provided you had clean tapes. But it couldn't handle VBI dropouts. One glitch during the vertical interval, and the entire frame would jump. Nasty.

As far as "illusions about 'perfect image quality'", the primary reason I have been considering the DVD-R route all these years for eventually transferring my tape library was my belief that DVD-R recorders represent about the only avenue available for performing satisfactory VHS captures. Because VHS (and Beta) are color-under formats, there's something "not quite right" about the luma/chroma relationship when re-combined upon playback. It drives professional TBCs crazy and leaves you with soft, ringy video. As my understanding goes, the TBCs in some (clearly not all, but some) DVD-R recorders, on the other hand, were specifically engineered with consumers transferring old tapes in mind -- not just in terms of their being able to deal with re-composited color-under source material, but in terms of being able to handle timebase instability, sync pulses containing noise and dropouts, etc.

In the end, I would be just as happy (perhaps moreso) with an outboard encoder device for a PC. Problem is, where does one find such a device sporting TBC/procamp circuitry as VHS-friendly as that found in some DVD-R recorders? For instance, at one point, I was thinking about the Hauppauge 1212 HD PVR. That would have been perfect for me. It's input circuitry features no Hollywood copy-protection cartel boobytrapping, and maxed-out bitrate MPEG-4 would let me capture my source material with very little artifacting penalties re: noise. All I'd literally have to do is capture, make minor edits, and dump to BluRay. Alas, after talking with a friend who owns a 1212, I was told the unit absolutely loathes unstable input sources like VHS. (Really, *#@$. Finding that out hurt. It would have been my ideal solution.)

Anyway. Thanks (both of you) for the pointers to the Pioneer models. I would love to find a high quality, "VHS compatible" TBC to put in front of a 1212. But I guess that if any such thing exists, it will be sure to cost an arm and a leg. So, these Pioneers may be my only hope...

@edit - Hmm. Do you know by chance whether the Pioneers' video outputs are "direct" or TBC'ed? I suppose I could do [VHS deck] --> [Pioneer used as TBC] --> [1212]... if its outputs don't operate as direct pass-throughs while it's simply idling.
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post #13 of 14 Old 03-10-2010, 10:30 AM
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those filtered-input recorders from JVC and Toshiba are long out of production so not really a viable alternative for most people today that don't already own them

Have to disagree.

These are still available on the second-hard market (eBay, craigslists, other places where used electronics and a/v equipment can be found.) It actually gets quite a bit of discussion at http://www.digitalfaq.com/forum/foru...l-video-4.html

There are admittedly some trade-offs to filtering, but a slight adjustment to color or edge is easily fixed by a TV set. You can fiddle with black level, saturation and sharpness on most TVs, HDTVs, and even many DVD players.

But there's not fix for blocks and noise. There's really nothing more obnoxious than watching a shadowy scene that looks like it's being watched through some sort of living fog blue-red in color. Basic chroma noise and grain -- something not part of the "real image" -- is so easy to fix.

Toshiba XS decks had adjustable NR, while the JVC was set to a strong default in the chipset.

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post #14 of 14 Old 03-10-2010, 11:34 AM
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While I have toiled in some post-production houses, and have a good working knowledge of how to get what I want out of video electronics, I can't really explain technically what it is the Pioneers (and Panasonics) do thats any different from other recorders. The Pioneer tape-coping abilities are strictly internal, they will not provide passthru benefits to connected devices. I don't think current Panasonics will function as pass-thru stabilizers either, that seems to have stopped with the 2004 models.

Even "pros" can get all tangled up confusing the difference between the built-in onboard TBCs and stabilizers of consumer-oriented gear, as apposed to the separate external processors common to "pro" hardware. For example, the "TBC" in a JVC 9911 or Panasonic AG1980 vcr is not remotely comparable to an outboard rackmount TBC like an iDen or even a consumer TBC like the DataVideo. The internal "TBC" performs more like a corrective to the signal coming directly off the video heads, repairing typical drift and issues like top-screen-flagging internal to consumer VCRs. By contrast, a traditional outboard TBC repairs the underlying sync, removing irregularities like MacroVision, patching over dropped frames and helping to restore audio lipsync drift. Sometimes the internal and external TBCs work well together, sometimes they conflict, it depends on the tape and its individual condition.

When DVD recorders were introduced, they added yet another variation of internal TBC that stretches the definition of "TBC" past the breaking point- they aren't really true TBCs even though mfrs insist on calling them that. More accurately, these are circuits that sort of pre-stabilize the signals from unsteady consumer VHS into something a digital encoder can at least work with. The effect of these early recorder TBCs is usually so weak its invisible, in fact on many pre-2005 DVD recorders it isn't even sufficient to cope with very minor tape issues. The early recorders can just about handle extremely good VHS on the level of a commercially-produced Hollywood tape with no copy protection, or a consumer-recorded SP tape made from a flawless broadcast. But try a tape made from unsteady analog cable TV, analog camcorder or a second-generation dub, and many early DVD recorders encode an unwatchable mess. You can cure this by adding an external TBC like a DataVideo, but using a TBC always entails some smearing and detail loss, so you end up adding enhancers or proc-amps to the chain as well. With a lot of experience, you could learn to fine-tune the whole shebang so that the compromises in the outboard gear don't negate the superior luma and chroma filters in older recorders, but its not simple or quick to do.

After 2005, recorder mfrs gave up chasing "improvements" like noise filtered inputs in favor of a brute-force steady lock on all incoming signals. Overall image quality dipped slightly and became similar among the different brands, since none bothered anymore with image processing beyond making damn sure the recorder could now cope properly with typically crummy consumer tapes. Still, there is some variation in recorder ability to "lock onto VHS input" (for lack of a better phrase). Pioneer and Panasonic DVD/HDD models made between 2006-2008 seem to have the lowest incidence of issues, I've had none with any of the recent Pioneers I've tried and have seldom heard Panasonic owners complain. Exactly how the modern Pioneers and Panasonics manage to avoid tape encoding glitches remains a mystery to me- I just know my Pioneer 550 and 460 never screw up the way my older Pioneer 520, JVC and Toshiba did, or the way my Magnavoxes occasionally do. Perhaps Pioneer and Panasonic limit the absolute heights their encoders can reach, which cuts down on glitches, who knows- but it isn't as simple as including a "TBC", thats for sure. The much older and visually inferior Panasonic ES10 had the most solid VHS lock of any recorder ever sold, and can even be used as a passthru stabilizer for really atrocious tapes, but its encoding artifacts are so terrible it isn't worth using except in dire cases- proving you can go too far in that direction, too.

Of course theres a tradeoff: my vintage recorders have filters that make really good sources look fantastic, and even the Magnavox has an updated LSI encoder thats superior to a Pioneer or Panasonic for SP recording of really good DTV broadcasts. But this isn't consistently true and it varies widely depending on the source material. My Pioneer 550 and 460 may not be quite as finely detailed as my old JVC on a good day, but they are remarkably consistent and predictable: I always know what I'm going to get, which makes more efficient use of my time and expectations. Other people have different priorities- those here with the time, patience and skill to really have a go at their tape transfers feel the Panasonics are rather blocky and the Pioneers can go grainy depending on recording speed and the VCR used as source deck, something I won't deny because its quite true. But its also true getting better results than a current Pioneer or Panasonic DVD/HDD involves a lot more work, more time, much more skill and no small amount of luck with PC solutions or out-of-production second-hand recorders.
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