How bad are these new VCRs or DVDCombos for transfers? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 49 Old 08-24-2010, 06:26 AM - Thread Starter
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I'm prepping a small home setup to do the conversion of a few hundred VHS videotapes to one of the Magnavox HDD recorders...mainly VHS 2 hr concerts... all sorts of different recording devices were used originally. I'm going to feed the VCR signal through a sony full frame TBC before going into the Magnavox...but one question remains - what am I going to play the tapes with!?

Are any of the currently available VCR models from Best Buy, etc...really that bad? I know the gurus say to go with Panasonic pro units, etc... but I know how trashed these things get, how many hours are on them...and even though folks are mentioning other prosumer models available on ebay, etc..I'm concerned I'm just rolling the dice on units that were trashed at someone's house watching disney movies over and over again. I don't want to babysit the tapes - they're not home movies, just stuff I want to archive and get the best quality I can with minimal fuss. I will eventually get to some more important tapes I may wish to tweak, and a bunch of 6-8 hour tapes as well...and don't expect a lot of quality out of these... just wondering how others may have approached htis, or if they've tried any of the current models that I see on the Best Buy site... (Excluding the $250 upconverting models - I have no need to upconvert these things...

Any help is appreciated!
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post #2 of 49 Old 08-24-2010, 06:46 AM
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The vast majority of new VHS VCRs or combo units are built extremely cheaply. Although eBay is always a gamble, your best best is to look for a good one there, or on Craigslist. Stick to the major manufacturers, and put Panasonic, JVC, and Mitsubishi at the top of your list. A major shift in build quality occurred with VHS VCRs in 2000, so consider looking for one built in the '90s, or even before if it's in good shape. I purchased a couple of Sony Super Beta Hi-Fi decks off of eBay to do exactly what you're doing, and luckily, they were in excellent condition with very little head wear. And, I recently acquired a Mitsubishi VHS Hi-Fi deck from eBay new still in the box for less than $75.
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post #3 of 49 Old 08-24-2010, 07:07 AM
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Also pay a visit to your local consignment and pawn shops...you may find a decent vcr there you can use.

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post #4 of 49 Old 08-24-2010, 07:44 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PeteMI View Post

(Excluding the $250 upconverting models - I have no need to upconvert these things...

Upconverting VCR?

Or do you mean the combo? That would only be the DVD part.

Yeah, find a decent well respected model off of eBay. They'll probably have been at least maintained by someone who knew how to take care of them.

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post #5 of 49 Old 08-24-2010, 09:47 AM
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I'm not criticizing, but your priorities are seriously off kilter if you own a Sony full-frame TBC but are asking if you should couple it with the piss-poor VHS section of a current combo unit. That you could know what a full-frame TBC is and how to use one, yet even consider feeding it with a VHS mechanism that cost all of $4.49 to produce, seems contradictory? But we all start with our tape projects somewhere, and I've tried some bizarre mixes of hardware myself , so lets talk:

Quote:


I don't want to babysit the tapes - they're not home movies, just stuff I want to archive and get the best quality I can with minimal fuss. I will eventually get to some more important tapes I may wish to tweak, and a bunch of 6-8 hour tapes as well...

I'm not going to tell you the VCR in a new combo is totally worthless: assuming it works out of the box, its a VHS player and you will get a signal off of it. Whether this signal meets with your stated ambitions is something else entirely. There are a few AVS members who sincerely feel they're "completely satisfied" with the tape dubs they get just by using a new Toshiba DVD/VHS combo recorder. I envy them: either their tapes are very compatible with the combo deck, or their experience with VHS is that it always looked terrible so they don't notice a difference. But the majority of us here have been disappointed by such VHS sections: if you have tapes recorded prior to 2000, they usually will not track well on a current cheap VHS transport, and if any are second generation dubs or from camcorders, it gets worse.

Like it or not, there are many "orphaned" technologies that are now only available second hand on eBay or Craigs List (try finding a good FM tuner, dedicated audio CD player or film camera new in a store). While there is of course some risk, the majority of transactions go smoothly and careful shopping can reduce the risk tenfold. You indicate you've already studied the AVS threads that cover the various recommended Panasonic, JVC and Mitsubishi vcrs so I won't go into too much detail on them here. Suffice to say its usually best to start with a Panasonic AG1980 and add a JVC or Mitsubishi as needed or as money permits. No AG1980s have been used to play Disney tapes for children: these were $1600 vcrs at a time when $1600 felt more like $2200. They are built of solid metal, all parts designed for easy modular service because they were intended for professional use and maintainance. Most used 1980s look worn on the exterior but are good inside, and even a broken one bought for $50 and restored for another $150 is a fantastic VCR that will work great with nearly any tape. Its legendary TBC and noise reduction circuits render most external TBCs like your Sony obsolete (except for clearing Macrovision).

The Panasonic AG1980 vs JVC (model whatever) debate rages endlessly, after several years extensively using both I've come to the conclusion its largely a matter of personal taste and defending what you already blew your money on. In very rare instances, the AG1980 will track a tape worse than a fancy JVC deck: almost always this is because that original tape was recorded on a JVC. Nothing unusual there, like attracts like. But aside from this, I rarely if ever see advantages to the JVC image over the Panasonic 1980: just slight differences in the overall presentation. If your dubbing task covers hundreds of tapes, it helps to own both if you can afford both, plus a lower-end consumer Panasonic or Mitsubishi for those random tapes that don't play at all well on high-end VCRs (EP/SLP tapes for some reason often conflict badly with the TBC and noise reduction in the JVC/Mitsubishi units and the 1980, even when its switched off).

Good used Panasonic 1980s can be had for $99-250 depending on seller, condition, and demand at the time you are shopping. Don't overpay for one that includes the remote, it does nothing a generic remote can't do, and the 1980 can be operated by any Panasonic remote made in the last 20 years. At the moment, eBay is in its dead-in-the-water annual summer doldrums so its a good time to shop for just about anything. Stick with sellers that give clear accurate descriptions that show they know what they're talking about, and that offer a minimum 7 day return guarantee (not that it matters, eBay now forces ALL sellers to accept returns whether they agree or not). I would not buy a used JVC SVHS model: they have all changed hands from one forum member to another so many times they're likely beat to death, and still overpriced. Look instead for the more recent JVC DVHS models, which have the same features and image quality but better mechanics and much less mileage on them. You can also still find the occasional JVC DVHS as "brand new old stock" at dealers sites like B&H. The Mitsubishi HS-HD2000U is another excellent DVHS with similar performance to the JVCs, they were very pricey two years ago but can now be found well under $200 used if you're patient. (The JVC and Mitsubishi vcrs do require their remotes for most functions: be sure you get the remote with the unit.)

Your very slow SLP tapes might be best handled by a "cheap" vcr. Practically everyone has an unused Panasonic VCR sitting around the house somewhere: ask friends/relatives and try to score one for free. Or check Craigs List and pay no more than $25, preferably for a 1995-1997 model (Panasonic consumer models have a date printed on the back panel, ask the seller). A 14 year old Panasonic will still wipe the streets with any current VCR mechanism when it comes to SLP playback.
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post #6 of 49 Old 08-24-2010, 12:14 PM
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There are a few AVS members who sincerely feel they're "completely satisfied" with the tape dubs they get just by using a new Toshiba DVD/VHS combo recorder. I envy them: either their tapes are very compatible with the combo deck, or their experience with VHS is that it always looked terrible so they don't notice a difference.

I am one of those who is happy with my Toshiba DVR670 combo. Is the quality of the picture I get on VHS tapes great? No. I doubt that the original poster would be happy with the quality since he wants quality with minimum fuss. I want minimum fuss with something watchable. For those of us more interested in convenience and less picky about picture quality, the Toshiba combo is a good solution, I think.
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post #7 of 49 Old 08-24-2010, 02:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CitiBear View Post

There are a few AVS members who sincerely feel they're "completely satisfied" with the tape dubs they get just by using a new Toshiba DVD/VHS combo recorder. I envy them: either their tapes are very compatible with the combo deck, or their experience with VHS is that it always looked terrible so they don't notice a difference. But the majority of us here have been disappointed by such VHS sections...

That's me. I bought and tried many of these units, and I was unhappy with ALL of them. Even the Panasonic DMR-EH75! I have friends who have asked me how I did my VHS transfers when they discovered mine had worked, and theirs had failed. I told them to get the best possible VHS player, and use the for recording the DVDs only.

Luke

Evil is charming and beautiful. It makes you doubt yourself. It asks for one small compromise after another until it whittles you down, and it functions best when no one believes in it.-JOA
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post #8 of 49 Old 08-24-2010, 03:09 PM
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I think the OP is talking about using a combo player to feed his Magnavox DVDR. In that case I agree with most who suggest most combo players have extremely poor VHS sections. I've tried a Sony combo(early 00s) and it's VHS section wasn't too bad as well as several Samsung VCRs only which were also pretty decent. As Citibear said if your tapes were recorded on a cheaper 2 head or even cheap 4 head then sometimes the best playback will be on a similar grade player. It's kind of a crap shoot and as others have said it's best to have many VHS players to try and if your entire tape was recorded with the same machine and speed you shouldn't have to babysit the player very much. Just check it out occasionally to make sure noting is going wrong. Again as others have said, pawn shops or even the goodwill or craigslist.org are excellent places to get VCRs for cheap. Many of the more recent(00s) were hardly used as people migrated to DVD.
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post #9 of 49 Old 08-24-2010, 03:35 PM
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I would check out a few thrift stores like Value Village or The Salvation Army. I have a Value Village near by and every time I check it out, there are at least 3 VHS Hi Fi decks kicking around. Priced around $15 to $20 each with an exchange policy if the VCR is broken.

Since your first project consists of tapes recorded in SP - I would say just about any working VCR should track your tapes just fine as long as your tapes have been properly stored.

I would be very, very careful purchasing an AG1980 off of eBay. Although these VCRs were built like tanks, most have very, very heavy usage and many are the same decks being shipped around the country over and over again, risking further damage every time they are re-shipped. If you search this forum - you will find out that a few people received damaged decks.

My bottom line:
If your tapes are recorded in SP, taken care of and stored well - any half decent used VCR (JVC, Panasonic, Mitsubishi) purchased at a thrift store for under $20 bucks should do the trick.

I had my 2002 era JVC HR-S3911U SVHS since new and used it as my only recorder, timer shifter, archiver, player from 2002 to Sept 2009 without one single problem and it tracks each and every one of my tapes including x-rental tapes with 1983 dates on them that I purchased used. The deck still works today but I only use it to archive on DVD and to play out the odd tape without archiving.

Just be sure to test your new second hand VCR with a non-important tape to make sure the mechanism isn't eating tapes.
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post #10 of 49 Old 08-24-2010, 03:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colloquor View Post

I purchased a couple of Sony Super Beta Hi-Fi decks off of eBay to do exactly what you're doing, and luckily, they were in excellent condition with very little head wear. And, I recently acquired a Mitsubishi VHS Hi-Fi deck from eBay new still in the box for less than $75.

This is interesting Colloquor, as I was under the impression that sony beta hifi units tended to go south if not frequently exercised. I have recently received one that was only used on rare occasions about fifteen years ago, so the owner gave it to me. Not sure it will even play. Glad to hear that the one you got in 'excellent condition, with little head wear' is still operational. I may unwrap mine , pop in an expendible beta tape,and see what happens!

Re vcr, I'm hanging on to my ancient jvc VHS recorder ... HRVP58U -- it was a fairly basic 4 head hifi unit, and still going strong. (BTW, just noticed one on ebay for under $40- they claim it's in good shape) Even when the old ones bite the dust, they are still useful for video /audio passthrough purposes. In case you're interested, here are the specs.

Features

* Hi-Fi Stereo with MTS Decoder
* VCR Plus+ Instant Timer Programming
* Plug & Play
* Super VHS Quasi playback
* Picture Control
* Dual Azimuth - 4 Video Heads
* Express Programming
* ShuttlePlusonRemote
* Instant Review
* Auto Index
* Standard VHS
* Auto SP - EP Timer Recording
* 1 Year / 8 Event Timer
* Multi-Brand TV/Cable/DBS Compatible Remote
* 19 micron width EP Heads
* Front AV Inputs
* AV Outputs on Rear Panel
* 181 Channel Tuner
* Multi Lingual Color On Screen Menu. Menu Button on VCR.
* 1 Year Parts, 90 Days Labor Warranty
* Shipping Weight 9 lbs.
* Power: AC 120V - 60Hz
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post #11 of 49 Old 08-24-2010, 04:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jjeff View Post

I think the OP is talking about using a combo player to feed his Magnavox DVDR. In that case I agree with most who suggest most combo players have extremely poor VHS sections...

I got that. In case I wasn't clear, I *WAS* talking about the VHS playback quality of these devices.

Luke

Evil is charming and beautiful. It makes you doubt yourself. It asks for one small compromise after another until it whittles you down, and it functions best when no one believes in it.-JOA
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post #12 of 49 Old 08-24-2010, 05:16 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks everyone for the input...wow..subscribed to the post but didn't get any notices all day, then I checked back and saw all this great info...I love this forum

@citibear.. I'm not looking to find the cheapest piece of crap I can and put it next to a full frame TBC...heh... but I got the TBC for next to nothing and it does all the work.. rolling the dice on ebay after reading countless years of posts about people buying old Panasonic decks off of ebay and then being thrashed in pro environments and then people dubbing tons of stuff and reselling them sounded like the gamble was getting bigger....and that I may just be asking for trouble with these decks versus perhaps getting something new in the store with new heads, even if it wasn't 'top quality yet heavy wear'.. But basically I'm coming away with the thought that it's pretty tricky to find something to 'do the job' in one unit, that i'm going to need a few decks for this project to do it right... so I think I have some hunting around to do. A lot of my personal stuff was recorded with a Samsung unit, Sony before that, then I believe a JVC, and back in the 80s a RCA unit with a corded remote. Unfortunately I sold all of the stuff and kept 'upgrading' so to speak, which evidently is leaving me with a lot of variables in the playback category...then again, a lot of my stuff is purchased from collectors who used all sorts of gear, so who knows.

I bought a nice sony svhs deck off ebay 7-8 years ago and it ended up having a playback problem after a few weeks, ended up having to get it serviced and used it a while until i realized that the conversion process to PCs at the time was an absolute time consuming nightmare... Then DVDR's came on the market and I regained some hope - but I have a lot of concerts on tape and most of them came through as compressed pixelated dark messes, as the compression tried to work it's magic on 80% dark images... It seems to have gotten a bit better, and at least I have a mechanism for getting stuff to PC directly without running it through all sorts of filters to look halfway decent and worry about the machine kicking off a defrag process or viruscheck in the middle of a recording and making me want to restart... so I thought I better start this process before the tapes were completely useless...

@Tulpa - thought I read some reviews of a VHS deck with blueray built in that also upconverted...I hadn't seen it, but I got the impression it was doing it with VHS too...which I've never seen before either, but thought maybe it was something that's come up since the last time I looked at these...

@JJeff - Yeah, I'm trying to feed the Magnavox HHD unit...don't want to make DVDs with it right now..just get it in a computer based format without watching my life roll by me as I run all my stuff through endless cleanup cycles on the PC. I'm a VHS hoarder and past video editor who has all sorts of interesting stuff recorded that I like to go back to from time to time, but none of it's priceless family memories...just a few projects, but those are on Panasonic M2, and also D3 and D5...finding a deck for those is another problem altogether...

Ok, so going to look at some local shops and see what i can find...maybe I can even find some local gear to avoid the shipping surprises

Pete
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post #13 of 49 Old 08-24-2010, 08:12 PM
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The best VHS player on the market now is in the Panasonic DMP-BD70V Blu-ray Disc/VHS Multimedia Player. Trouble is, Panasonic seems to have discontinued the unit, so in the past two months, the price had gone from $140 at Amazon (list price is $400) to $450 from an Amazon reseller. The only shortcoming of this Panasonic is that it has no S-video out, just RCA video and audio out jacks and an HDMI output jack. This VHS unit has great tracking control, unlike my JVC S-VHS recorder, lately good only at chewing up tapes before I tossed it.
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post #14 of 49 Old 08-24-2010, 09:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Super Eye View Post

My bottom line: If your tapes are recorded in SP, taken care of and stored well – any half decent used VCR (JVC, Panasonic, Mitsubishi) purchased at a thrift store for under $20 bucks should do the trick.

I tend to agree with this in a lot of cases, but perhaps not this one. PeteMI has had professional experience with studio VCRs, so his "floor" of acceptable results is a bit higher to begin with. He also mentioned a lot of his tapes are of "concerts", and by now a lot of us know what "concert tapes" are: a reason to get a Vicodin prescription (so you can veg out while the tapes inevitably transfer horribly no matter what encoding hardware you use). Concert tapes are hopelessly difficult to transfer and need all the help they can get. Your average thrift store or freebie VCR is just going to give PeteMI the same results he accomplished previously and didn't like: badly encoded dark noise. No ordinary VCR connected to an external TBC can do a damn thing about the dark noise: this requires a VCR with built-in head TBC and digital noise filtering, especially if feeding a PC or into a Magnavox DVD/HDD recorder (the Magnavox has a great encoder but it suffers the same sensitivity as a PC to "concert tapes"). And like it or not, the only VCRs with these features are the same old cliche we're all bored to death talking about them Pana AG1980, JVC svhs, JVC dvhs and Mitsubishi dvhs models.

Quote:


I would be very, very careful purchasing an AG1980 off of eBay. Although these VCRs were built like tanks, most have very, very heavy usage and many are the same decks being shipped around the country over and over again, risking further damage every time they are re-shipped. If you search this forum – you will find out that a few people received damaged decks.

Again I do not really disagree, but the problem here is people have unrealistic expectations about used high-end VCRs. Yes, a few lucky ducks manage to find a one-owner AG1980 or a JVC 9911 from a little old lady in Pasadena, but come on: that isn't typical. When the initial rush on these decks began in 2003 most were already old as the hills and worn out, never mind now in 2010. Its a matter of priorities: if you have hundreds of tapes from many sources over many years, and you want the best possible results, you need a 1980 or JVC variant, and you need to budget to have it repaired and brought back to spec. These things can last forever if serviced, but you'll probably need to service it when you get it. Rather than hunt for (and overpay for) a "perfect" Panasonic 1980, its a better idea to pick up a decent-condition sample for $100 or less, with known issues described by an honest seller, and pay to have it fixed: the 1980 was designed for easy servicing, that was and is part of its appeal. The vintage JVCs are much more difficult to fix, since they were consumer units not intended to last 20 years: with JVCs you're better off tracking down a new-old-stock or low-mileage DVHS model, as I recommended above, or a Mitsu HS-HD2000U. Deals for those are out there, but again not for $25, more like $150-250 for a mint unit.

I don't just pull this info out of my ass, I own or have owned the vcrs in question. Yes, sure, you can get a total burnout unfixable AG1980, but its comparatively rare. I bought a dozen over the last two years for a big project- of those 12, one was a total waste, two needed minor tuneups, and the rest worked just fine upon receipt (and still do). I paid between $79 and $159 for each of them, no more than that. I picked up one new-old-stock Mitsu 2000 dvhs for $299 and another mint used one for $155. I borrowed a JVC DVHS from a friend of a friend, to compare with my Mitsubishis and my JVC 9911, and the performance among them was too close to call a winner. Any these machines will blow away a thrift shop VCR at playing the proverbial "concert tapes". If you want the best results possible, they are worth the $300 to get a mint example, or $100 for an iffy one + $150 to repair it.

The opposite is also true: if all of your tapes are simple easy recordings from TV, or pre-recorded, or they're all SLP/EP, you'll likely be fine with a $25 Panasonic, Quasar, Mitsubishi or JVC. What you need to spend depends on what sort of tapes you have and what sort of results you want to achieve. But the color purity and dark noise will almost always be much better with the more expensive specialty VCR.
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post #15 of 49 Old 08-24-2010, 10:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tulpa View Post

Upconverting VCR?

Or do you mean the combo? That would only be the DVD part.

Believe it or not, there was actually at least one model that upconverted both.

http://store.jvc.com/product.asp?Model=DR-MV1S

(Even though there's no picture for it, it really did exist - I saw it with my own eyes at Best Buy, and Crutchfield also sold it.)
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post #16 of 49 Old 08-24-2010, 11:13 PM
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Well, I guess that goes to show a lot of weird devices have made it to market here and there.

The challenge is finding it.

Don't believe everything on the Interwebz! A duck's quack DOES echo!
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post #17 of 49 Old 08-25-2010, 05:07 AM
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All I archive is concerts and I archive on SP speed so I'm pretty familiar with the quality or lack of from recording concerts on VHS SP as I have a few hundred of those. I agree that you should get better results with a deck that has built-in head TBC but after all VHS is just VHS and the question is HOW MUCH BETTER will your results be? As to the built in digital noise filtering I've seen in a number of prosumer gear from the 80s or 90s - I'd say leave it turned off if you can.

Believe it or not I also come from a broadcasting background (since 1980) and I am very familiar with broadcast grade tape formats like Betacam SP.
VHS or even SVHS are not considered true broadcast formats. Don't get me wrong, all the post production studios and TV stations I've ever done business with have professional grade SVHS decks and external proc amps and TBCs that used to be worth tens of thousands of dollars but really no VHS deck and no amount of external tweaking will get rid of all VHS video noise.

Don't take my word for it - just watch a re-run of America's Funniest Home Videos to see what I mean. The networks dub those kind of viewer submitted home videos using the best equipment money will buy but the final result is only slightly better than the original (other than bringing IRE and audio levels and frame rates to legal broadcast standards.)

So the question one should ask himself before starting a dubbing project:

Are my VHS recordings badly out of spec?
If the answer is no than an internal TBC and internal digital noise filtering won't do that much good to improve the picture.
In other words the better your VHS recordings are to start with, the less of an improvement a deck like the AG1980 will do as internal TBC won't be needed as much and in my opinion all internal DNR from a 25 year old prosumer deck should be turned off..

So to have slightly better quality and spending more money and perhaps having to deal with the hassle of receiving a defective deck doesn't bother you, take a chance on ordering a 25 year old high mileage deck from eBay.

On the other hand you can purchase a $20 deck from a thrift shop clean the heads, manually adjust the tracking for each tape, put the deck in edit mode (This turns off all the PB enhancements and plays out the signal in as a raw form as possible, helping to get rid of VHS noise) use good A/V cables between recorder and player and dub at as high bit-rate you can get away with, hopefully fitting one program per disc.


Quote:
Originally Posted by CitiBear View Post

these were $1600 vcrs at a time when $1600 felt more like $2,000

I think if they made the exact same deck today it would cost around $399 tops. Today technology is a lot cheaper - for instance, that digital noise reduction used in the AG1980 today would add no more than $25 to total cost, really think about it. Back when the AG1980 came out, I bet that digital filtering/caching cost hundreds of dollars. Back then a high Mhz SVHS chip must of cost a few hundred easily, by the time I bought my $169 SVHS deck, I bet the SVHS chip and the SVHS heads combined didn't bring the cost up over a normal VHS deck by more than $30.

Don't get me wrong CitiBear, I am not arguing with you, I'm just throwing out another point of view. If the original poster's tapes are really trashed and out of spec - maybe the OP should look for a AG1980, or better yet, a lightly used DVHS for $200. But if his tapes are average or better, I'd just get any used brand name VHS machine for the project. Concerts on VHS will exhibit video noise and one should digitize at as high bit rate as possible to keep artefacts at a minimum.

BTW, my personal experience with a prosumer grade deck with a head TBC and digital noise filtering goes back to the year 1991:

One company I freelanced for would have me shoot very cheap bar band gigs with a Hi-8 CCD V5000 camcorder worth about $3,500. (With today's technology the camcorder would be worth around $350) The built in camcorder deck had the head TBC and digital noise filtering for playback straight out of the recorder. We also had a high-end (can't remember model number) stand alone dub deck and a consumer deck. While the TBC decks did eliminate some video noise, the amount was questionable. It did stabilize the picture but any stand-alone TBC should do that. The built-in digital noise reduction would be laughable by today's standards and should NOT be used as all it did was add artificial processing that in my opinion made the picture look worse. We're talking 1991 prosumer technology here.
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post #18 of 49 Old 08-25-2010, 10:35 AM
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Originally Posted by Super Eye View Post

...On the other hand you can purchase a $20 deck from a thrift shop clean the heads, manually adjust the tracking for each tape, put the deck in edit mode (This turns off all the PB enhancements and plays out the signal in as a raw form as possible, helping to get rid of VHS noise) use good A/V cables between recorder and player and dub at as high bit-rate you can get away with, hopefully fitting one program per disc...

And here was my problem! I had tapes in a stack labeled, X-Files, NOVA, etc. I added episodes to the tapes as they were broadcast. I used EP mode, or course, I used two relatively high end Mitsubishi (U82?) VHS decks for dubbing one tape to another to remove the commercials. Over time, these got dirty and I swapped them out for others, then back when they got professionally cleaned. On a single tape, I would typically have episodes of a program that were recorded on two or three different VCRs. Adjusting the tracking for the first episode didn't necessarily work with episode three on that same tape.

The problem became much more difficult in my later recordings. By then, I had discovered very long (T180 and T210) tapes, and the physical tape being so thin made tracking of a single program extremely difficult. (But wasn't I clever putting so much data on one single tape? ) I could adjust the tracking, and watch as a noise bar move onto the image from the bottom, creaping up, then back down, only to appear on the top of the image a minute or two later. It would crawl down maybe a quarter of the way, then start to crawl up, appear at the bottom again, move up about a quarter of the screen, then start down again. Continuous tracking wasn't very useful. I had to find the exact right VCR for each tape, or even in rare cases more than one to get the entire contents of a single tape. In the end, I had six different VCRs that I used for my tape dubbing project.

I did finish the whole 1250+ tapes, and I got reasonable transfers for all of them. Most worked without much hassle, only a few were really difficult. I am very glad to have finished that task! So is the wife, who had despaired of my ever completing it.

Luke

Evil is charming and beautiful. It makes you doubt yourself. It asks for one small compromise after another until it whittles you down, and it functions best when no one believes in it.-JOA
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post #19 of 49 Old 08-25-2010, 06:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Super Eye View Post

Don’t get me wrong CitiBear, I am not arguing with you, I’m just throwing out another point of view.

I know, Super Eye, I'm not really arguing with you, either: we're old forum pals! And the more points of view the merrier, when I average out multiple responses on any particular thread its much more useful than if just one person replied to a question I'm interested in. The reason I'm so excitable on this topic (okay, I'm always excitable, set that aside for now) is that the answers lately are drifting to extremes with no middle ground. It is no more true that you MUST use a high-end VCR than it is to say you NEVER need a high end VCR: most people will get a decent result either way, but many will not, and I myself have been aggravated no end that I can't just use one VCR for all my hundreds of tapes. It has slowed my transfer task dramatically having to switch among multiple AG1980s, a JVC 9911, two Mitsu DVHS, two old Quasars, four old Panasonics, and a two-head GoldStar. Out of all these, the AG1980 has proven the most overall useful. The JVC and the Mitsus do not track as well, but have better color with the TBC on. The 1980 tracks better, especially EP tapes when TBC/DNR is needed.

The fancier VCRs clean up a lot of ills, but figuring out which deck to use and which of its settings should be active for each tape gets real tedious real quick. Each tape reacts differently to being "processed" or "improved", and I do agree with you Super Eye that the processed look is often less desirable than the noisy-but-natural look of ordinary VCRs. After the first year, I began re-evaluating the absolute importance of each transfer, and forced myself to admit if I haven't watched a movie or TV show since 1988 I'm not likely to do so anytime soon, and when I do will I really care if it looks "blah" compared to "a bit better than blah, but not much"? If the answer is "no", and the tape has no significant issues, it goes straight to one of my cheap-but-good VCRs. No settings, no fussing, no babysitting.

BUT, I do have a lot of scary-noisy tapes made on very early VHS decks like 1980-82 Magnavox and RCA. Early VHS performance, to put it charitably, sucked (VHS did not get acceptable to my eye until the "HQ" video enhancements became standard at the end of the '80s). Very early off-air VHS has more luma and chroma noise than actual picture information, with these tapes the somewhat fake "processed" look added by the high-end VCRs is less obvious than the huge improvement in color smoothness and absence of snow. The high-end VCRs also help with camcorder sourced material, which is always a trial for some reason, and the 1980 is helpful with some second-generation dub tapes and stabilizing the ones I foolishly made with consumer "enhancer boxes" in the 80s.

Cards on the table: lets be real about "concert tapes". These are almost always bootlegs, and their quality ranges from surprisingly good to just awful. There is no consistency in how best to handle them, either: I have some Dylan material that was tenth generation to begin with, its barely watchable, but surprisingly is NOT improved at all by my better-grade VCRs- it plays better in the ordinary cheap VCRs. While many of the really good-quality concert stuff I have plays better on the fancy VCRs. I always have to experiment. I think with the better concert tapes, the contrast between dark stage and well-lit performers is more clear, which perversely gives digital encoders a harder time than the cruddier tapes which have a more consistent noise pattern. The TBC/DNR in the higher-end VCRs smooths out the noise in the dark stage areas, allowing the PC or DVD encoder to concentrate more on the well-lit action we really want to see.

And thats why I recommend PeteMI try one of the upmarket VCRs. They might be able to solve the image issue that bothers him, in some cases. In others, not so much. Its a roll of the dice each time.

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Originally Posted by Super Eye View Post

I think if they made the exact same deck today it would cost around $399 tops. Today technology is a lot cheaper – for instance, that digital noise reduction used in the AG1980 today would add no more than $25 to total cost, really think about it. Back when the AG1980 came out, I bet that digital filtering/caching cost hundreds of dollars. Back then a high Mhz SVHS chip must of cost a few hundred easily, by the time I bought my $169 SVHS deck, I bet the SVHS chip and the SVHS heads combined didn’t bring the cost up over a normal VHS deck by more than $30.

Agreed, but my point wasn't about the cost per se. Even at the time the AG1980 was still being sold, most VCRs at the consumer and "semi-pro" level had already moved to all-plastic chassis, stamped-tin transports, and their entire electronics being reduced to the size of a CD jewelcase. Both Panasonic and JVC were already selling "consumer-grade" SVHS decks with similar TBC/DNR features, at half or less than half the cost of an AG1980. Much of the cost involved in the 1980 was due to its heavy-duty mechanical construction, cast aluminum transport, and multiple modular circuit boards that are repairable at the component level (not to mention its exclusive full-frame internal TBC which was never matched by any other VHS vcr below the multi-thousand-dollar studio models). Aside from its TBC and DNR features, the key advantage of the AG1980 over all competitors, then and now, was its eminent repairability. The equivalent TBC/DNR equipped consumer models from Panasonic and JVC were not easily serviced: the JVCs were and are a nightmare to adjust, especially the tracking and transports, and the similar Panasonics were actually disposable, even the $700 models: I know, I had them, and when they broke down right after their warranties expired Panasonic's advice was "we can't fix 'em, throw 'em out and buy new ones".

OTOH, the AG1980 will be repairable for as long as there are techs who remember what a VCR is. The tracking and transport are easily adjusted back to perfect spec, the huge circuit boards can usually be repaired if a cap or transistor blows, spare heads are still available, thorough service documentation is available, and the thing was so popular you can easily find a "junker" for spare parts for $30. So the AG 1980 is one of the safest bets in a used VCR land, as long as you plan accordingly and budget for a possible tuneup. Most of mine required no service at all, two needed just minor adjusting to the loading mechanics, and one needed a new power supply (that one only cost me $50, I decided not to bother fixing it and traded it to my tech against the service cost of the other two).

If you don't want to deal with the posibility of repairs, but still want the noise filters and TBC, don't buy an AG1980. Don't buy an old JVC svhs, either: they're far more likely to need repairs and be harder to get service for. Look instead for a JVC or Mitsubishi DVHS, most of these were made between 2000-2004 and JVC kept making a few until recently. With a bit of effort you can still find new ones leftover at dealers. And second-hand DVHS decks are almost always mint condition: Joe consumer never bought these for the kids room, they were owned by home theater buffs and rich folk.
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post #20 of 49 Old 08-25-2010, 07:26 PM
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All excellent points CitiBear.
Sometimes I forget that your and some other members dub projects are much bigger and more complex than my own dub project.

When I first registered here – you gave me so much info and tips regarding my 780 Pio clone. I decided to hang out here because of all the knowledge you and some others share here.

I always appreciate your points of view. I had written my points because to me, PeteMi’s project sounds inline with my own small dub project.

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I'm prepping a small home setup to do the conversion of a few hundred VHS videotapes to one of the Magnavox HDD recorders...mainly VHS 2 hr concerts... all sorts of different recording devices were used originally.

That’s why I recommended any Panasonic, JVC or Mitsubishi Hi Fi model. Although in my case I need a SVHS-ET deck as many of my VHS tapes are recorded in SVHS-ET.
Most of the non ET regular VHS tapes are either commercial tapes or recorded on Philips, Mitsubishi or Sony VCRs from the mid 80s to late 90s. Most are first generation broadcasts or second generation bootlegs from Laserdisc, VHS or Beta decks. A few are even DVD boots.

The other day near my complex I found around 300 VHS X-rental tapes dumped near a recycle area. I went through them and kept about a dozen concert videos, some rare. The oldest one in non Hi Fi and has a printed date of 1982. Most are Hi Fi and are dated around 85/86. I played around 6 of them so far and all tracked fine on my VCR. I must have a horseshoe up my ass
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post #21 of 49 Old 08-25-2010, 08:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Church AV Guy View Post

On a single tape, I would typically have episodes of a program that were recorded on two or three different VCRs. Adjusting the tracking for the first episode didn't necessarily work with episode three on that same tape.

Yeah, I actually have a few tapes that have two recordings per tape, recordings made on different VCRs. If I taped odd length stuff that ran around 79 minutes, I would leave the rest of the tape blank until I would find another odd length program around 39 minutes. That would fill a T120 nicely using SP speed. So I guess I should of written:

Quote:
clean the heads, manually adjust the tracking for each program, put the deck in edit mode (This turns off all the PB enhancements and plays out the signal in as a raw form as possible, helping to get rid of VHS noise) use good A/V cables between recorder and player and dub at as high bit-rate you can get away with, hopefully fitting one program per disc...

That advice wouldn't be enough for your project, too many red flags.

-I had tapes in a stack. On top of each other?
-I used EP mode
-dubbing one tape to another
-T180 and T210 tapes

My advise only applies to

Quote:
If your tapes are recorded in SP, taken care of and stored well

I should add to that.
Quote:
If your tapes are recorded in SP, taken care of and stored well First generation, Second at most, T120, T160 worst case.

1250+ tapes. Wife
Amazing that you still have a wife after such a complex project.
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post #22 of 49 Old 08-26-2010, 10:53 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CitiBear View Post

OTOH, the AG1980 will be repairable for as long as there are techs who remember what a VCR is. The tracking and transport are easily adjusted back to perfect spec, the huge circuit boards can usually be repaired if a cap or transistor blows, spare heads are still available, thorough service documentation is available, and the thing was so popular you can easily find a "junker" for spare parts for $30. So the AG 1980 is one of the safest bets in a used VCR land, as long as you plan accordingly and budget for a possible tuneup. Most of mine required no service at all, two needed just minor adjusting to the loading mechanics, and one needed a new power supply (that one only cost me $50, I decided not to bother fixing it and traded it to my tech against the service cost of the other two).

Where do you send them for repair? Whom do you recommend?
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post #23 of 49 Old 08-26-2010, 10:56 AM
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Also, Church AV Guy/Luke mentioned using a Mitsubishi U82 way back when. I have one of these, which I picked up off eBay a couple years ago. Built like a tank, with lots of nice adjustment and processing features. It doesn't look like the PO abused the thing, but it seems in need of some serious cleaning and calibrating--or even a set of new heads.

Anybody know if the U82 is fixable like the Panasonic 1980?

Also, anybody know where I can get a copy of the manual, preferably online and for free? It didn't come with a remote, and while it responds to the basic commands of my Mitsu remotes for newer models, I haven't figured out how to get in to set the clock.

I'd be willing to spend a certain amount of money to bring it back up to spec just because it's cool (same mindset of people collect and restore old washing machines, I guess!).
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post #24 of 49 Old 08-26-2010, 12:30 PM
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Originally Posted by doswonk1 View Post

Where do you send them for repair? Whom do you recommend?

When I've needed a VCR repaired I usually hand-deliver it to a local NYC shop called Video Hospital on East 12th Street. Its run by Japanese, they've had the same location for 20 years or more- seems like they've been there forever. Like with all the better-staffed Japanese-run camera and video service centers, there's a bit of a communication issue, but a lot of pros bring their gear there for repair which is how I heard of the place. They are terribly slow sometimes but they do good work and back it up. I haven't used them in over a year, so can't vouch for how they are right this minute, and I don't recommend shipping a VCR for repair purposes if it can be avoided, its better to find someone local you can drive to.
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post #25 of 49 Old 08-26-2010, 12:56 PM
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Originally Posted by doswonk1 View Post

Anybody know if the U82 is fixable like the Panasonic 1980?

Unfortunately, I do know from first-hand bitter experience that the Mitsu 82 is an orphaned product, very difficult or impossible to have repaired depending on your specific problem. Mechanically it was possibly the most well-built VCR ever offered in the consumer market, it was really just the medical-market BV-1000 model housed in a nicer cabinet. The two main problems with this VCR are the transport and the power supply. Tracking issues can usually be adjusted, unless they are due to a failing drive motor or related to the power supply. The drive motors are long out of production and the power supply uses a scarce integrated circuit which is prone to failure and is now irreplaceable.

The U82 was my first and last *major* mistake on eBay. I bought it in 2004 when I was new to how eBay worked and wasn't as savvy as I am now about how to smell a rat. At the time there was a high-volume seller of used VCRs with mostly positive feedback, who wrote listings that sounded like he was expert, and the pictures were huge and attractive. My first mistake was not researching the U82 history before I bought it: I was so dazzled by its "pro" appearance I took it for granted it was a recent model with a TBC. My second mistake was not reading between the lines to see the seller was a little too slick to be believed. When the U82 arrived, I immediately realized that photos lie: in the flesh, you could clearly see it was an o-l-d model from the late 1980s: at least ten years older than I thought. When powered on, I noted a failing wind/rewind motor and poor hifi tracking. And it did not have a TBC: its digital circuits only provide the faddish "special effects" that were popular towards the end of the 80s (digital still, solarize, etc).

Upon initial contact the seller was friendly and offered to pay to have it fixed. But then we found out it could not be fixed, it was too obsolete and its weird power supply would cost over $200 to rebuild. The seller then got nasty and abusive, my only recourse was to leave neutral feedback, which he replied to by slamming me with a retaliatory negative, the only negative I've received in six years. My only satisfaction came a year later, when eBay finally cleaned up its act and started forcing sellers to back up their stuff whether they wanted to or not. The seller departed eBay and AFAIK has not returned: I would smell his listing style from a mile away.

The U82 is an ENORMOUS vcr, twice as big as the AG1980 which is no shrinking violet itself. The cross-country shipping cost alone dented me for $50, and I foolishly got caught up in a bidding war for the damn thing which I won for $378. Later on, it dawned on me he must always have had shill bidders on call, because these old VCRs never went that high at other sellers (except for the AG1980, which was still fetching $700-800 used in 2004). I eventually sold my dead U82 for scrap for about $50, making a total loss for me of nearly $400, ten times more than I've ever lost on any used item. Talk about a bloodbath, but I learned fast after that, and eventually made up the loss selling a couple of AR turntables I picked up at yard sales for a huge profit (the eBay gods smiled on me that week).

Moral: do your research! Know the age and repairability of what you're considering. Don't overpay: there will always be another, eBay never sleeps. If the listing seems too slick, the seller will be slick. Understand your "hidden" rights under today's eBay policy: no matter what a seller says, if they sold you a lemon and did not say it was a lemon in the listing, eBay will force them to take it back. For additional protection on items over $100, its a good idea to link a dedicated credit or debit card to your PayPal account, so you can doubly cancel the purchase thru your card. Caveat Emptor, as the man said.

While large and impressive, there are good reasons why the Mitsu U82 and similar Sony 1000/2000 quickly fell out of favor for VHS>DVD dubbing: thier tracking drifts, their IQ is not as good as you'd expect, and they're one-off showboat models made completely of rare, trouble-prone parts. They are difficult and expensive to keep in good working order. While it does become repetitive and boring to discuss the AG1980, Mitsubishi HS-HD2000, and JVC models ad nauseum, the fact is they remain the only high-end VCRs worth bothering with.

Quote:


Also, anybody know where I can get a copy of the manual, preferably online and for free? It didn't come with a remote, and while it responds to the basic commands of my Mitsu remotes for newer models, I haven't figured out how to get in to set the clock.

To my recollection, the U82 was similar to the AG1980 with a drop-down front panel full of buttons and slide switches. I believe you set the clock using the switches and buttons, like most older VCRs were set. If you can't figure a way into the clock from the front panel, you'll need to find one of the old-school Mitsu remotes with a jog/shuttle wheel on it- the older Mitsu models relied on the jog/shuttle wheel to navigate their menus (although I have had some success using the four arrow keys and enter buttons on the newer no-wheel Mitsu remotes). Instruction books for the U82 or its sister BV-1000 are extremely difficult to find, even if you're willing to pay: it was a very low production, low distribution model.
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post #26 of 49 Old 08-26-2010, 03:26 PM
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Quote:
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The U82 was my first and last *major* mistake on eBay. I bought it in 2004 when I was new to how eBay worked and wasn't as savvy as I am now about how to smell a rat. At the time there was a high-volume seller of used VCRs with mostly positive feedback, who wrote listings that sounded like he was expert, and the pictures were huge and attractive. My first mistake was not researching the U82 history before I bought it: I was so dazzled by its "pro" appearance I took it for granted it was a recent model with a TBC. My second mistake was not reading between the lines to see the seller was a little too slick to be believed. When the U82 arrived, I immediately realized that photos lie: in the flesh, you could clearly see it was an o-l-d model from the late 1980s: at least ten years older than I thought. When powered on, I noted a failing wind/rewind motor and poor hifi tracking. And it did not have a TBC: its digital circuits only provide the faddish "special effects" that were popular towards the end of the 80s (digital still, solarize, etc).

Ah, the old trick of the nice, professional-looking fotos, with the nicks and dings on the cabinet touched up with a Sharpie. Been there, got hosed on that. By far, my best eBay VCR purchases were from honest ordinary folks selling off a recent model machine that they had barely used before they got a DVR or DVD player. I did especially well on some listings with poor photos because other buyers tend to ignore them. But reading what the seller [i]said,[i] I could tell that he was letting go of a cherry piece of gear. After getting burned a couple times, I stayed away from high-volume used electronics sellers. (I ate a total loss or two before I wised up on some things.)



Quote:
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To my recollection, the U82 was similar to the AG1980 with a drop-down front panel full of buttons and slide switches. I believe you set the clock using the switches and buttons, like most older VCRs were set. If you can't figure a way into the clock from the front panel, you'll need to find one of the old-school Mitsu remotes with a jog/shuttle wheel on it- the older Mitsu models relied on the jog/shuttle wheel to navigate their menus (although I have had some success using the four arrow keys and enter buttons on the newer no-wheel Mitsu remotes). Instruction books for the U82 or its sister BV-1000 are extremely difficult to find, even if you're willing to pay: it was a very low production, low distribution model.

Sounds like my U82 is a boat anchor. I know I didn't pay anywhere near as much as you paid for yours--probably around 50 bucks, plus shipping, which had to be pretty high. At the time I figured it was a high-end late 80s item, and I was rolling the dice. I kinda like the little drop-down door that creates a mini control board, with the handy job/shuttle dial on the right-hand side, and I'll bet that back in the day the U82 was swell for home editing.

But these days, all I really need is a playback machine with manually adjustable tracking. When I stocked up on VCRs a couple years ago, I was actually still using the VCR for backup TV and FM radio timeshifting, so it was still part of my daily routine, as it had been for early 20 years. I wanted to be sure I had the hardware to continue playing my tapes. Since then, I pretty much only rack up a tape to make a DVD dub.

I do have a jog/shuttle remote from the still working HS-U580 I purchased new in 1998. May see if I can set the clock just for kicks, but from my testing so far, the thing's heads are so shot it ain't even good enough for non-critical viewing.
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post #27 of 49 Old 08-26-2010, 05:07 PM - Thread Starter
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Ok, so I went over to the Salvation army today and quickly realized there's 2 dozen units for $10 a piece, and i'm sort of looking and wondering 'now what, mr bright ideas...which one?' I'm already persuing the road you guys mentioned about the higher end decks, but for something to use for the SLP tapes and various riffraff that might not be happy with the 1980 and DVHS deck, would you specifically look for Panasonic/JVC 1990's units and that's about it? Saw some Sony "HiFi" units without dates, a Panasonic Omnivision 9455 4 head that looked temping, then some various other models that all looked pretty much like wallpaper: curvey buttons with the same general look of cheapness..heh....definitely no die hard machines with more than 8-10 buttons on the front for the basics, and no remotes..

Can't beat $10, but I'm not even quite sure what to look for other than possible datestamps on the back and if it actually works... for this level should I be picky or just even keep an eye out for one I may have previously recorded some stuff with?

Great posts on all this stuff, by the way - very helpful...plus it's making me realize i'm not the only one crazy enough to transfer all these tapes and care about it in the process! ..heh...!

Pete
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post #28 of 49 Old 08-26-2010, 09:05 PM
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I have a Panasonic "Omnivision" DV-9662 that I got ca. 1999-2000 to be the "B" deck to my Mitsubishi HS-U580. Even compared to the 580, the 9662 seemed flimsy and plastic-y when I first got it, but it had a nice feature set, and the PQ was only a small notch below the Mitsu.

Only downside was the thing has what I presume to be a head misalignment that made it useful only as a time-shifting machine. It'll play tapes recorded on it just fine, but its tapes won't track properly in any other VCR. And commercial tapes or tapes recorded on another VCR don't track properly when played on it. I didn't use it much for the first couple years I owned it, so I figured out this problem long after the warranty had expired.

It served as the main VCR at my "during the week" residence for a while during the period when I was essentially living in 2 places (2002-2005). When I got my DVDR up and running, the first thing I did was dub all the "keepers" recorded on the 9662.

Hardly in the league of Citibear's favored Pro-Panny, but I wouldn't turn up my nose at one that doesn't have the head flaw.
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post #29 of 49 Old 08-27-2010, 11:39 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by doswonk1 View Post

Also, Church AV Guy/Luke mentioned using a Mitsubishi U82 way back when. I have one of these, which I picked up off eBay a couple years ago. Built like a tank, with lots of nice adjustment and processing features. It doesn't look like the PO abused the thing, but it seems in need of some serious cleaning and calibrating--or even a set of new heads.

Anybody know if the U82 is fixable like the Panasonic 1980?

Also, anybody know where I can get a copy of the manual, preferably online and for free? It didn't come with a remote, and while it responds to the basic commands of my Mitsu remotes for newer models, I haven't figured out how to get in to set the clock.

I'd be willing to spend a certain amount of money to bring it back up to spec just because it's cool (same mindset of people collect and restore old washing machines, I guess!).

I'm sure I still have a U82 manual somewhere. It was very thick, not like a Tom Clancy novel, but easily four times as thick as any DVD recorder manual. It might be hard to find, but if you really want it, well, I'm not going to ever use it again, or the three U82s I own (want them for parts?) and at least two original U82 remote controls (darn expensive and not too reliable).

At Thanksgiving time I am heading through your part of Iowa, maybe we could arrange to meet.

They are nearly as heavy as an old washing machine. Okay, maybe not.

Luke

Evil is charming and beautiful. It makes you doubt yourself. It asks for one small compromise after another until it whittles you down, and it functions best when no one believes in it.-JOA
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post #30 of 49 Old 08-27-2010, 12:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PeteMI View Post

Ok, so I went over to the Salvation army today and quickly realized there's 2 dozen units for $10 a piece, and i'm sort of looking and wondering 'now what, mr bright ideas...which one?'

Its hard to tell at which point those of us making suggestions are just splitting hairs or whether you'd actually notice differences among thrift shop VCRs. I can only give my own personal opinion: there was a definite and (to me) noticeable drop in overall playback quality across ALL brands after the 1996 model year. I remember buying and returning a half-dozen midrange to lower-high-end VCRs in '97, before I grudgingly settled on a Mitsubishi 680 as the best I could do (it was the only "affordable" model left with editing features and flying erase head, which I used a lot). I don't know whether all mfrs began sourcing a common degraded video part, or what the issue was, but I could not find any VCR that was even half as good as the RCAs and Panasonics I had bought in 1994 or earlier. The post-1996 full size consumer Panasonics were particularly brutal: unbelieveable amount of luma noise, as if they had an internal cheap sharpness control pinned at the max. Really bad for playing marginal tapes or dupes of any kind.

Ten years later, when I began my DVD transfer projects, I did note certain models of consumer Panasonic/Quasar were better than others, and of course discovered the "pro" AG1980. Sharp brand VCRs also tended to be a little better. The Sonys with the smaller chassis are much much better than the full size at playback, and much more reliable: look for a narrow-body Sony and avoid the big ones. Everything else was pretty poor, even the otherwise-nice Mitsubishis. (the lower-end Mitsu 448 and 748 are the sturdiest post-1997 models, very well built, but PQ is just adequate compared to the earlier Mitsus and their later DVHS). So I would say at the low end, look for a nice Sharp, a smaller Sony, a Mitsubishi 448, or especially a Panasonic, GE or Quasar curvy midsize model with a date stamp of 1998 or earlier: these tend to be better than the full-size consumer Pannies of the period. Avoid ALL very small, contemporary Panasonics made after 1999, in black or silver finish: these got really bad, and have weak motors. Also avoid any late-model Panasonics with very hard-edged squared off front panels: these are actually rebranded bottom-feeder JVCs! Skip any silver-colored or full size Sonys, all JVCs (very bad bet used), and any Mitsubishi with flaps covering controls on the front panel (these are prone to shattered loading mechanics).

Granted, for $10 you could try five or six models and just donate the bad ones back to the thrift shop: consider the $10 a rental or tryout fee.
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