Killing VCR Performs
By Jim Bray
The machine that started the video revolution, the VCR, is under assault.
As a movie playback medium its being challenged successfully
by DVDs, and as a TV recorder its beginning to take
heat from hard drive-driven boxes like those from RePlay and
As marvelous as they are, however, neither of these newer technologies
will play back all those VHS tapes youve collected over the years,
so as long as you have them taking up shelf space in your home theres
still room for the old fashioned VCR.
Hence RCAs $229 VR702HF, a fully featured VHS unit thats
cheap enough to be nearly an impulse item, yet which performs about as
well as most people could want.
About the only thing it wont do is record and/or play S-VHS tapes,
which is too bad. The high quality S-VHS never really caught on, however,
so if theyre going to ditch a feature this is probably the right
On the other hand, RCA included one of the niftiest features Ive
ever seen on a VCR: Commercial Advance.
Commercial Advance is how I spell relief. Available on some
RCA, ProScan and GE VCR models of the past few years, it almost completely
frees us from the clutches of the Eveready Bunny and Mr. Whipple.
It works by poring over your freshly-made recording, seeking out and
marking each commercial break. Then, when you play back the tape, it finds
these markings and fast forwards through the commercials, turning a four
minute advertising assault into about thirty seconds or so of fast-scanning
Of course, it means you have to go to the bathroom really, really quickly!
Commercial Advance isnt perfect, but its close. It would
occasionally play a commercial or promo, and once in a while it would
zip through part of the show by mistake, but for the most part it was
a legitimate blessing.
It even skipped RCA commercials!
Another nifty feature, though it didnt work as well, is Movie
Advance. This is designed to fast forward through the promos many
studios now inflict upon the video movie-consuming public, and cue the
tape up to the beginning of the feature itself.
I tried this on two different pre-recorded tapes and it only worked well
on one of them. On Star Wars, it skipped the promo but, instead
of finding the movies start, it cued itself up to the George Lucas
interview (perhaps this was The Force at work?). On another
tape, however, it cued to the very first shot of the film, even bypassing
the opening logos.
The VR702HF also includes such relatively standard VCR features as four
video heads, Hi-Fi stereo audio, the VCR Plus+ easy recording
feature, and auto clock set. This last feature is a boon for people who
could never get that infernal 12:00 to stop flashing at them
from the front panel.
RCA throws in a few other nifty toys, too, including a partially back
lit universal remote control and an automatic head cleaning system. I
couldnt figure out how to get my head into the tape slot, however,
so I cant comment on how well the VCR cleans.
The initial setup routine, accessed via onscreen menus, is very easy,
and the VCR will search for and automatically program all available TV
channels. There are also trinkets like front panel audio/video jacks,
an energy saving setting, and you can lock your kids out of the VCR so
theyll go read a good book or something.
Okay, theyll probably just play yet another video game
One thing that didnt really turn my crank was the VCRs lighted
buttons. Sure, they make it easy to find whats what on the front
panel, even in a dimly lit room but since you almost always use
the remote control anyway (and since the power button always stays illuminated)
its unnecessary and a tad obtrusive.
All in all, the VR720HF is a pleasant and easy VCR to use. Its audio
and video quality are about what one expects from the VHS format, which
means it made me pine for my DVD player (there just isnt that much
worth taping from TV these days).
If, however, your old VCRs getting a bit long in the tooth, or
you need a second unit for any reason, this RCA will undoubtedly do the
job for you.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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