Saturday, August 22, 2015

Video Recording has not vanished

It almost  seems like conspiracy.  Pretty much the only video recording done anymore is through cable, satellite, or service fee type boxes like Tivo.  Standalone video recorders that let you freely record unprotected video content over the air or re-record or compile or even display earlier recordings of which you may already have a large collection, a staple of consumer electronics 1980-2009, have almost completely disappeared from stores.  Computers can also do recordings, but that takes more work than most people can imagine.  (I spent 40 hours with Nero before I made my first working DVD.  And now I can't get Roxio to do things the way Nero did, no matter how much time I spend with it.)

Back in the 1980's, it seemed like most Americans had a video recorder, a video cassette recorder.  Those haven't been visible in stores for a decade or more.  Interestingly the Movie industry made a turnaround making more profit from recorded video sales than theaters for the first time, only after the consumer right to record certain kinds of video (not copy protected the way movies usually are, but most broadcast programming) for personal and "fair use."

DVD recorders were hot in the 2000's.  This time there was little evidence of a movie industry conspiracy to shut down video recording.  The history of recording capability and pre-recorded video sales going hand-in-hand was remembered, it seemed.  Then, right around 2009, when the new ATSC video standards kicked in, and recent changes to US laws, and new corporate monopolies (notably Blu Ray) and agreements, DVD recorders vanished from stores as well.

Now the leading electronics manufacturers Sony, Panasonic, Pioneer (a resurrected Pioneer btw) do not manufacture video recorders for sale in the USA.

This is (or would be) hideous for collectors now archivists of old video recordings.

As it turns out, the situation could be better, but it isn't the end of time.

For one thing, if you are willing to take a gamble, virtually every piece of gear ever made is still being sold on eBay, much of it claimed to be in mint condition.  Right now, for example, there's the ultimate star of consumer DVD video recorders, the Pioneer DVR-650, for a buy-it-now of $999.  That's actually better in key ways than another very high end Pioneer you can buy brand new today (new old stock) for world import dealers for around $750, the region-free Pioneer LX-70, which lacks the playlist combine feature, but may otherwise be one of the best machines Pioneer ever made.

Sony makes consumer Blu Ray recorders, for reasonable prices, but only for the Japanese market, with Japanese tuners, lower voltage, and other aspects that are sufficiently infuriating to Americans that they aren't much recommended, so forget them.  Sony doesn't make DVD recorders anymore, and it turns out that when they did, they were having Pioneer make them, and Pioneer seemed to make their own machines slightly better.

Panasonic makes DVD recorders sold as nearby as Canada, which also lack American ATSC tuners but are great for recording from video streams and re-editing existing discs.  They have some of the best disc editing features.  These machines can be bought Brand New from video specialty dealers.  No US warranty.  I bought a Panasonic EH69 from B&H and added the 4 year extended warranty for $60.  This is up there with the best machines sold in the USA ever, so why whine?

So we can actually buy some of the best machines ever made brand new in stores, just not around the corner at your local Circuit City.

But around the corner at your local Wal-Mart or Sears you can get a Magnavox 557 DVD recorder with 1Tb hard drive for $299.  Actually they are not in stores, but you can order them online and pick up at your local store, as I plan to do today.  You can get 3 year extended warranty which I also did.  These feature ATSC digital tuner so they can record OTA broadcasting for time-shifting and archiving just like the old days with VCR's.  These machines are not made to have the luxury feel that Pioneer and Sony, especially, were famous for.  But that so-called "build quality" actually may mean quite little in performance or reliability.  Especially reliability.  Heavy users were reporting failures with their Sony DVD recorders in three years or less.  Mine went 6 years until the hard drive died (which I easily replaced), but only 8 years until the DVD drive failed (which is extremely difficult to replace and no service center will do it now that the official $300 part is no longer available).  So called "build quality" is often done to please the techie owner who pops the top off, or hefts the unit, or reads the specs, but may mean little in actual performance, especially using HDMI instead of analog outputs.  We'll see how it seems to me.  At least the 557 is brand new with warranty unlike most of what you get on ebay.  And it is said that Funai sells replacement parts for reasonable prices and repair is not as expensive or difficult as with Sony.

I do find my Magnavox 537 to be noisier than I would like and am hoping the 557 will be better.

Anyway, if you look, you see we have some of the best stuff still available, it's just not as visible as it was in the 2000's.

WRT high definition recorders, we have those too.  Forget the Sony's, as I said, sadly because they are reasonably priced, but you can get Blu Ray recorders from JVC and Tascam at B&H.  The problem is the steep price and limited capabilities.  The cheapest has a regular price of $1400 and they go up to $3000 or more.  I once saw a special on the cheapest JVC for $999--that's not bad considering the superiority of high definition recording.  I am not sure how fully useful these are for US consumers.  I think people buy these for recording from high definition cameras.  They do record standard definition through analog inputs up through S-Video, but only permit high definition digital input from cameras and the like.

So the limited high definition recording options are one valid reason to whine.  The movie industry got the copyright law it wanted, and that's the fallout.  Also, another thing I haven't mentioned, no video recorders permit any kind of digital unit-to-unit connection, which would be very handy in many dubbing and editing situations.  Digital input is only allowed from cameras, or from discs themselves if not copyright protected.

There is some loss in dubbing through the analog connection because digital video must be converted to analog and back.  But when you adjust things just right, it can be extremely good.  I'm doing that right now, offloading the videos on my Sony DVDR-HX900 (which has dead DVD drive) onto my Pioneer LX-70.  I discovered that to really get the direct output of the Sony and the Pioneer to match, I needed to set the Pioneer Black Level to IRE 7.5.  Before that, the Pioneer looked washed out, even through HDMI at 1080i (which shouldn't require the "step up" black level that was standardized in the USA during the early analog era).  After the adjustment--WOW!--the Pioneer really looks good, and it seems as though nothing is lost recording from one unit to the other through S-Video.  The key test was a "black screen" test.  The the IRE 7.5 artificial black background in the 4:3 picture exactly matches the black bars.  This also suggests, contrary to some reports, that the S-Video output of the Sony RDR-HX900 does have IRE 7.5 black step up, which is the NTSC standard.

Standard definition NTSC, 480i, isn't bad at all.  It was the best you could get until not long ago.  I often say that DVD's are standard definition, and this is mostly true.  Commercial DVD's can use a progressive scan rate 480p, and that is just beyond anything a standalone DVD recorder will let you record.

As was said going way back, you may need reasonably good attention and a large retinal distance (big screen or close screen) to see the difference between 480i and 480p on the best material and with the best up conversion to your display (though it has seemed many devices just don't do well with 480i inputs anymore--aha another conspiracy!).  Not long ago, a high end video system would be built for $30,000 with video projector, screen, and Farudja deinterlacer just to display 480i content because that was basically all that was available.

Now let me whine some more.  One of the worst things about Commercial DVD's are the endless Copyright messages and often now Previews which go on and on.  And they go on and on no matter how many times you have watched the disc.  And if you haven't pre-stored the position, if that's even possible, when you pick up viewing you have to go through all the crap all over again.

The Kitchen System has a Sony RDR-HX900 which has a dead DVD drive and is being retired.  It will be replaced with a new Panasonic EH69.  The other recorder is a Pioneer LX-70, which is great for dubbing from PAL or World Region discs.  For dubbing PAL discs, I have a video format converter.  So this makes the Kitchen remain the A/V production center it has always been since 2005 when I first got the HX900.

The Bedroom System had a Sony DVP-CX995V DVD/SACD/CD carousel.  It's being replaced by a pair of Magnavox DVR's with 1Tb drives, a 537 and a 557.  So this continues the tradition of having a vast array of videos online at the push of a button in the bedroom.

Here's an interesting discussion about the video recorders still available today (well, 2012, but things are about the same).

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