Is There An Alternative To VHS In The Digital Age?

In a previous post, I said goodbye to VHS.
Following on from that, I thought I would take a look at the available options if you want to replace, or supplant your old VHS machine.
You’ll be pleased to know there are plenty of choices as you look for an alternative to VHS (a.k.a. VCR – Video Cassette Recorder).

Alternative to VHS

Alternative To VHS: Sky’s The Limit

Some people have decided to “jump ship” altogether and have moved over to Sky , or a cable service such as Virgin Media.
But what if you don’t want to have a monthly subscription and don’t want to install a satellite dish?
Then you will want a recorder that will still work with the Freeview service that you already get through your Aerial.
This is exactly the position I am in. Call me a cheapskate, but I feel I already pay my TV license fee, so don’t see why I should pay any more to see BBC HD channels.
A lot of the options depend on whether you are looking for separate machines or something “all in one”.
You may want separate machines because you already own a DVD or Blu-ray player and just want to have something else to record on.
On the other hand you may decide that an all in one solution would save you some space under the TV.

Separate Them Out

Alternative To VHS: PVR

The first option that many people turn to are PVR (Personal Video Recorder) units.

These have become extremely popular over the past couple of years and are generally seen as the direct successor to VCR/VHS.

Advantages

  • PVRs are relatively inexpensive.
  • All your recordings are in one place. No more messing about with swapping tapes, or trying to remember which tape had which programs recorded on it.
  • Lots of space. These recorders tend to have massive hard drives so you can often record hours and hours worth of programs (between 80 and 130 hours is typical).
  • Easy recording and playback of programs. Entire series can often be recorded with a single option.
  • Intelligent recording schedules. On board software can often highlight when the same program is available in HD (High Definition). When there is a conflict between two scheduled recordings it will let you know when a repeat is on and adjust accordingly.
  • The best ones have two digital tuners. This allows you to record one program while watching another, or record two programs simultaneously.

Disadvantages

  • Cannot record from the PVR to anywhere else. Once that big hard drive is full up, that’s it until you delete some programs off it.
  • If the hard drive fails then you lose all your programs in one go!
  • Unfortunately, these devices (particularly the cheaper ones) seem to have a reputation for hard drive failures…

Alternative To VHS: DVD/Blu Ray Player

Not much to be said other than the fact that a DVD or Blu-ray player will of course allow you to play discs of various kinds, but will not allow recording.

Blu-ray players are backwards compatible, so will allow ordinary DVDs and music CDs to play as well.

Advantages

  • Since they are dedicated to playing discs, they tend to have excellent picture and sound. (Although it’s always worth checking out the reviews)
  • They tend to start up and load disks faster than a more complex machine would.
  • Usually simple to operate.

Disadvantages

  • Cannot copy from disks onto other media.

Alternative To VHS: Internet Streaming

Streaming from the internet is now firmly established and many people are moving over to this way of getting their favourite shows.
The more technically minded buy a big hard disk drive, plug it into their desktop PC/Mac and download/stream programs and movies to it using services such as Amazon Instant Video.
(Amazon Instant Video was previously named Love Film, but since Amazon took over, that label is used exclusively for disk-based rentals by post).
From there, you can view it on the PC or “broadcast” it across your home network to your TV via a router.

Advantages

  • Since media is recorded onto a removable hard disk, it may be possible to backup movies and programs onto DVD/Blu-Ray disk if your machine has this capability. Note that this may not be possible (or may be limited) if the downloaded content has DRM (Digital Rights Management) protection on it.

Disadvantages

  • More technical “know how” used to be required to do this than other options, but with the proliferation of devices such as tablets and smartphones, it is now more possible – just watch your battery life.
  • You may be able to do this through a normal DVD/Blu-Ray player, just by plugging it into the internet!

Alternative To VHS: Blu Ray/Hard Disk Combo

These all-in-one* units combine a Hard disk recorder with either a DVD/Blu-ray player or recorder.
*Not to be confused with “All In One home cinema” systems, which are Surround Sound units with speakers and usually include a separate DVD/Blu-Ray player.

Blu Ray Player with Hard Disk

Since these units have a Blu-Ray player then you can only record onto the hard drive (not onto recordable Blu-Ray disks). However, you can still save some physical space under your TV, if that’s important to you.
Advantages and disadvantages are essentially the same as for the separates.
Most recent models, such as the Panasonic DMP-PWT500 pictured left, also have standard internet features such as BBC iPlayer built in.

Blu Ray Recorder

These devices can do pretty much anything you like: record two programs onto hard disk simultaneously, archive programs to Blu-ray/DVD disk (within DRM limits), or even copy your old VHS tapes onto the hard disk or DVD.
This makes them an excellent alternative to VHS, with the caveat of being slightly more complex to operate

The Panasonic DMR-BWT700 (pictured left) is one example.

Advantages

  • All the advantages of a PVR, but can also archive recordings to Blu-ray/DVD disk.
  • Save space since there is only one box under your TV.
  • Internet functions built in.*

*Note that you cannot record internet content onto Blu-Ray/DVD disk, due to DRM restrictions.

Disadvantages

  • Tend to be more complex to operate the more esoteric functions
  • If it breaks down then you could lose all recording/play options while you get it repaired/replaced.
  • Currently in the UK, the only company that makes Blu-ray Recorders (i.e. where you can record from the HDD onto a Blu-ray disc) is Panasonic.

I have a Panasonic Blu-ray recorder and have been very happy with it.
It sometimes takes a few seconds to switch between the hard disk and Blu-ray drives, which annoys my family no end.

However, it’s been a real workhorse for the last four years, providing all the entertainment we could want, without any subscriptions.
If you want to record and watch programs from Freeview, archive them to Blu-ray/DVD, and enjoy the odd episode via catch up, then you can’t go wrong with one of these. It’s a true alternative to VHS.

If on the other hand, you want all the latest, greatest exclusive programs streamed over the internet, then a subscription service such as Amazon Prime Video, or Netflix may be for you.

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