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VHS Goes High Definition - From The Home Theater Archives

The Last Stand Of The VHS Format


HDTV and Video Recording

HDTV (High Definition Television) has certainly been in the news a lot lately, with controversy over the current state of HD broadcasting and how HDTV fits into the overall future of television viewing generating important discussion. However, the future of HDTV is not limited to just the broadcasting end of the spectrum. For HDTV to be truly successful, other viewing platforms must be compatible with high definition television formats.

For example, while DVD is fast becoming the dominant form of viewing movies at home, current DVD players and software do not support high definition television viewing. In addition, the current state of recordable DVD also does not address the high definition question. High definition DVD recording and playback for consumer use is not expected until 2006, although several promising formats and prototype products have been displayed at the last couple of CES conventions and other trade shows.

With the lack of high definition alternatives beyond terrestrial broadcast and satellite programming, the answer to HDTV viewing options may just lie in a derivative of a familiar video format: VHS. It may be that the premature anticipation of the death of VHS may need to be re-evaluated if recent product announcements by JVC and Mitsubishi take hold in the consumer market.

Enter D-VHS

While the CE industry and the consuming public have been putting all the attention on DVD, JVC and Mitsubishi have been quietly elevating VHS technology with the development of D-VHS. Basically, D-VHS VCRs are totally compatible with standard VHS, they can record and play all standard VHS and S-VHS formats, but with an added wrinkle: D-VHS is capable of recording in all 18 DTV approved formats, from 480p to full 1080i, with the addition of an external DTV tuner.

In addition, in a recent announcement, four movie studios (Artisan, Dreamworks SKG, 20th Century FOX, and Universal) have given support to produce high definition pre- recorded programming for D-VHS in a format dubbed D-Theater. Unlike current DVD releases, movies released on D-VHS D-theater format will be full 1080i, potentially giving the HDTV owner access to alternative HD programming. This could especially impact the HDTV market in that where many consumers that would like to access the benefits of HDTV but have difficulty accessing broadcast or satellite HD feeds. D-VHS movies could become as close as your local Blockbuster, Suncoast, or the local video outlet. The only consideration is that the current Mitsubishi D-VHS VCR does not support the anti-copy encoding to be used on D-Theater releases, but the JVC D-VHS VCR does, so, for now, if you want to access pre-recording HD films on D-VHS, the JVC is your best option.

Compare Prices for JVC D-VHS VCRS

You can be sure that if this format takes off, Mitsubishi and other manufacturers will jump on the D-Theater bandwagon.

D-VHS Hurdles

Although D-VHS has appears to have a huge potential, there are hurdles to overcome. JVC and Mitsubishi need to resolve compatibility differences between their two products. Tapes recorded on the JVC in D-VHS cannot be played on the Mitsubishi or vice-versa. In addition, it is reported that while the JVC can play back HD recordings on most any HDTV, the Mitsubishi unit is only HD playback compatible with Mitsubishi HDTVs or other branded HDTVs eqiupped with a firewire (iLink, IEEE-1394 input).

Regardless of these differences, however, JVC and Mitsubishi need to emphasize the two common benefits of D-VHS machines: 1. Backwards compatibility with VHS. 2. Its status as the only current home recording format that can record and play back in full HDTV resolutions. If the companies and studios apply their marketing muscle, the two decade-plus old VHS VCR may continue for some in the form of D-VHS, despite the impact of DVD and other non-tape-based platforms.

Conclusion...For Now

However, while DVD makers are still in the prototype stage with video disc-based high definition recorders, as mentioned above, several makers (Pioneer, Philips, Matsushita, and others on one side, Toshiba and NEC on the other) have taken notice of the possible threat posed by D-VHS and have joined forces to speed up the development of Blu-Ray and HD-DVD recorders for the consumer market. However, agreement by all manufacturers on some technical specifics and actual producers are still in conflict. However, D-VHS, despite technical conflicts between JVC and Mitsubishi, is here now. Regardless of which technique wins out (D-VHS, Blu-Ray, or HD-DVD) in the end, high definition video recording for consumers will become commonplace by the end of the decade. You can be sure that as progress is made in this area that your intrepid guide will be there to report it.

UPDATE NOTE: The above article was written previous to 2006, before Blu-ray and HD-DVD reached the market. At that time it was anticipated, based on prototypes that were shown at that time, that both high definition disc playback and recording might be available by 2006. However, that did not occur.

Blu-ray and HD-DVD were indeed introduced in 2006, but only players were introduced in the U.S. and not recorders. On the other hand, Blu-ray and HD-DVD recorders have been available and selling well in Japan. Also, since HD-DVD is now discontinued, Blu-ray is now the default high definition disc format.

At this point it is doubtful that Japanese companies will market Blu-ray Disc recorders in the U.S. due to competition from TIVO and cable/satellite DVRs, and, now, the downturn in the economy doesn't help either. Currently, in the U.S. the only way to record on Blu-ray on the consumer level is via a Blu-ray Disc writer installed or externally attached to a PC.

Lastly, as to the current status of high-definition VHS; JVC and Mitsubishi both introduced such recorders - but at this time, high definition VHS VCRs are very hard to find.

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