Combo Platter

Going from videotapes to discs is a snap with two-in-one vhs/dvd machines

 Q. A while back, you wrote about transferring old VHS tapes to DVD. But you failed to mention the simplest solution—a combo DVD recorder and VHS machine. What gives? Hoarding the best tips for yourself?

A Mr. Roboto firmly denies any secret hoarding but will admit to a wee bit of oversight on the DVD-plus-VCR issue. Yes, you'll find a small number of combo machines out there, though not as many as you might think. And they're not exactly budget options, either. But if you've got a vast number of home videos sitting on the shelf and not much time to wrestle with a PC, an all-in-one machine might be a wise investment.

As stated in that bygone column on VHS-to-DVD conversions ("Disc Continued," May 24, 2002), the most popular method is to use specialized software to convert your analog video into digital files, then burn them to disc. It's not quite as daunting a process as it sounds, as much of the transfer can be automated. But it still requires some basic fiddling with cables and inputs and such, as well as an investment in a DVD burner (if one's not already in your possession) and a program. Mr. Roboto definitely sympathizes if you'd prefer a streamlined solution.

illustration: Shane Harrison

DVD recorder/VCR combos really couldn't be simpler—pop in the media, hit the appropriate button, and let the magic happen. The machines double as garden-variety players, so you can purchase one as an upgrade for your existing home-entertainment center, rather than a decadent add-on.

Trouble is, the recorder combos aren't exactly easy to find. You'd expect them to be proudly displayed at the end of every Best Buy aisle from here to Saskatoon, but no dice. Samsung announced the DVD-VR300 back in January, for example, but it's still tough to find on the street. Mr. Roboto searched and searched for a demo unit but could only find models on sale in cyberspace—as of this writing, hypeaudio.com has the DVD-VR300 on sale for $618, though the site cautions that the "run-out risk" is high. Despite Samsung's recent upswing in quality, $618 sounds like an awfully excessive chunk of change.

Mr. Roboto did manage to locate a GoVideo VR3930 recorder combo, and must pronounce himself pleased with its performance. It's always a little dicey dealing with an obscure brand, but the GoVideo recorder (specs available at www.govideo.com) was easy to use and produced perfectly serviceable discs out of homebrew VHS cassettes. It's not feature-rich by any means, but the VR3930 is competent and affordable—a unit can be had online for around $480.

One brand to keep an eye on is Sharp, which often releases its latest and greatest gadgets in Japan first. Our brothers across the Pacific are currently enjoying the DV-RW200, a combo recorder that's stuffed to the gills with features, including the ability to record two programs simultaneously—one to disc, the other to tape. No word yet on whether the DV-RW200 will get a stateside release, but that sure would be nice, eh? Perhaps if all of Mr. Roboto's readers send pleading notes to Sharp, they'll get the hint that Americans, too, like their gadgets nice and fresh.


Defogging War

The situation in Iraq can confuse even the most educated of news consumers, especially when it comes to parsing out the intricacies of religious allegiances. If you're not already visiting Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog (juancole.com) on a daily basis, now's the time to get in the habit. The University of Michigan professor, an expert on Iraqi Shiites, knows whereof he speaks, unlike so many TV talking heads. Cole's Arabic skills give this blog a special edge—he's able to translate vital sermons and communiqués from on-the-ground sources. A must-read as the June 30 handover date approaches.


Cheap Shots

Perhaps you're of the anti-corporate mindset, and therefore hate CVS drugstores with every fiber of your being. But here's a good reason to soften your position, comrade: Select CVS stores are now offering a service that lets cameraphone users print their pix for 29 cents a shot. The early word from gizmodo.com is that the print quality's surprisingly good. Alas, you'll need a handset outfitted with Bluetooth or infrared—sorry, no USB hookups allowed.

 
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