Question for recent VCR purchasers

Recently I was looking into buying a new VCR for my parents. They, like I, mostly use the VCR for time-shifting, so ease of recording is a big must. Plus, the TV guide often vanishes for days, so VCR+ is not a really big help here.
Anyway, both our current VCRs (Hitachi’s, theirs late 80s and mine mid-90s) have a similar, and pretty easy, programming set-up - bring up program, then one-time, then quickly type in channel, start-time, end-time, and maybe change the date if needed (else, accept the default of the current day). Very quick, maybe 6-7 strokes - 15 seconds if I dawdle.
Checked the newer Hitachis’ [VTFX series] programming - WTF! It has this extremely annoying cursor concept, where you a press the up key to increment the selected field [say hour], or down key to decrement…I could not find a way to simply enter the darn numbers.
So, if we’re talking about setting a recording on ch 13 at 7:30PM - 8:00PM, this is something like 63 keystrokes, as opposed to 6 - Hello, Come-IN! I can easily see this leading to incorrect programming selection and missed shows.

Anyone have suggestions as to
a.) what the Hitachi User Interface designers were smoking.
b.) more important, decent mid-level VCRs [$120-200 street price] that have a usable user interface.
c.) Telling me if there is a way to enter numbers on the VTFX series, just like the old days.

I’ve heard about a $199(!) Magnavox model that can delete or zip through commercials. Personally I don’t believe it, but check.

I’m a fan of JVC VCRs. They were recommended to me by Anime dubbers, whose VCRs see a ton of use. According to them, JVC was the most durable brand.

My current JVC VCR (a few months old) is quite nice. For one thing, it sets itself up; it finds the local PBS station and synchs itself with some kind of time signal PBS sends out nowadays. And it programs all the channels itself, blah blah blah…pretty much, you plug it in, leave it alone for a few minutes, and you’re off and running.

Since VCR Plus won’t cover your needs, here’s how the JVC is programmed: hit the PROG key, which brings up the VCR Plus screen. On the remote are four +/- keys, one each for start time, end time, date, and channel. Touch one to bypass the VCR Plus screen. Then, you set the time and channel with those +/- keys; holding down a key changes the time in 1/2 hour increments. When you’re done, hit the PROG key again, and that’s it. It’s pretty darn easy, and should work for you. Only drawback I’ve found: having separate keys for each function means that my universal remote isn’t useful for setting the timer any more. No big deal, just one more remote I have to leave out.

The JVC and PBS time signal is only sent out by some PBS stations, but if you have this I assume its great. My PBS dosen’t do this.

The feature that auto fast forwards through commercials is called COMMERCIAL ADVANCE ™. It works very well on low budget programming like soaps, but less well on big budget stuff like prime time tv. I love it and won’t buy another VCR with out it.

A lower cost version is called COMMERCIAL SKIP ™ this only auto fast forwards in 1 or 2 minute increments.

I suppose that’s just a matter of taste. I own a Hitachi VCR and think it’s very easy to use, easier overall than my other one (JVC). My Hitachi has four up/down keys on the remote - one each for date, start time, end time and channel. For date, just tap either up or down and it sets to the default (today). For start time, if you press and hold the up or down key, the time starts to change by 30-minute increments. Same for end time, except it defaults to start time (or was it 1 hour after start time?). For channel, in my case it just takes two taps on the down button to select the LINE 1 input.

But I don’t think there is a way to enter the time with the numeric keypad. If that feature is important to you, I guess you should choose another model. My JVC uses keypads for programming.

Obviously, when I first wrote I was in a huff, as I had to return the Hitachi VTFX etc.
But, upon further reflection, I still think it wasn’t that easy to use.
scr4 - I can see where your particular set-up probably wouldn’t be too bad - but I swear, the set-up on the model I had was unbelievable…
First, up/down cursor to set the start time hour [no seperate AM/PM either - from midnight to 7PM is ~19 clicks], then minutes [no half hour increments as far as I could tell - although the instructions could have been skimpy here and I just didn’t stumble across that feature]…~30 clicks for 7:30PM.
Then set Duration on [not End time] - it seems more intuitive [at least in North America] to set End time.
Finally, channel, date, etc. To me, ughh. To my parents, frustration.
Alas, Max Torque, the fact that your JVC has somewhat similar programming methods worries me that finding a new VCR with keypad number entry isn’t going to be easy.

Maybe this is a problem common to Japanese VCRs. Two years ago my house was burglarized and my old, reliable, wonderful RCA model was stolen.

I replaced it first with a Sony, and the ergonomics were terrible!

  1. Programming was a nightmare. The menus were so “busy” and had such tiny characters that I couldn’t read them to save my life.

  2. I actually use the clock on my VCR. To tell the time. But I also usually have a tape in the machine, and whenever there was a tape in the machine, the clock display was displaced by the tape counter!

  3. Which wasn’t a time counter, but rather a four-digit display of god-knows-what increment.

I took the damn thing back to Best Buy and got a Philips Magnavox VCR instead. It’s much more intuitive and easy to use. We’ve been happy together ever since.

My current RCA VCR uses the numeric buttons to enter the programming stuff, if that helps you.

The very best VCR I had for time-shifting was a top-end SVHS from NEC. They had one button for recording now, for durations in 30 minute increments. However, they had a great button to record later, so at 6:00 you could press it twice to advance to 7:00, then hit the other button to set the duration. It even had a toggle wheel so you could easily set to record from 7:05 for 1:45 minutes. All this without having to go to a program screen (the TV could remain off.) Sweet!

I searched last year for a replacement VCR with the same functions, but no luck.

I agree, this method seems silly. At least my Panasonic has a scroll wheel for +/-, so I don’t need to hold down a key or press it multiple times. What do the VCR manufacturers think, we’re not smart enough to know how to enter two-digit numbers?

As an aside, does anyone find dropdown boxes on websites for month, day, year or state similarly annoying? Let’s see, I can type in my state, that’s two keyclicks, or I can click on the dropdown box, then scroll down a couple of pages, then click on my state, or I can type the first letter of my state, then click down arrow about 6-8 times (depends on the site) until I get to the right state. Gee, thanks a lot!

Forget the vcr. Get them a GE tv with Guide Plus. I have one & I saw one yesterday, $199 at circuit city [25 or 27"]. They have a interactive tv Guide onscreen. Absolutely FREE too. You then get a little wire thing with this tv that you put on your vcr remote window. You select a program from the onscreen daily updated & sorted Guide, push three on the tv remote & viola! The tv instructs the vcr to record that program! the Guide gives vcr plus codes for any program, sorts films, etc. Completely free all you do is enter your zip code…

vcr’s with commercial advance [not commerical skip, which is cheap & not the same] are $99.00 for the crappy rca one that I have. The panasonic $149.00 one might be better.

Labdude, do you know how the COMMERCIAL ADVANCE work? Does it sense a pause in signal and advances/stops the tape till the next pause? In other words, how does it “feel” a commercial? And how does it tell the difference between “60 minutes” and soap operas?
Five, I have to second you on tiny characters they put on everything now. What’s the reason? Maybe there is an excise tax on characters?
Two weeks ago a cable guy installed here a modem, which is about 2.5 feet from my eyes. There are lights on it, which are labeled. I do not normally care what lights are lit, so I do not read the labels. But the other day a company tech asked me on the phone, “which lights are up?” I could not see their names, even after I lifted the modem (there are three cables attached to it, it wasn’t very easy!) from its usual place. I had to examine it really close, so tiny the characters were! And, to me, there was no need to make them that small, other than the tax: there is enough room on the panel to make them as big as the company’s logo, which can be read from afar!

If time shifting is what you want it for, can I suggest a TIVO instead? It makes recording your favorite shows extrememly easy since it downloads the TV scehdule so it is simply a matter of go to the menu, find your show and select it. In fact, you can have it record every instance of a show that is scheduled. Plus it has a ton of other really cool features, like pausing live TV, live TV rewind, etc.

I just bought a VCR last month. I was on a budget, and found a Memorex VCR at Wal-Mart for $120 (Canadian). I find it easy to program, easy to use, and a great price.

I would have liked some of the other features that people listed, but I really couldn’t spend that much.

Commercial Advance works by sensing the audio drop & rise. Plus a few other things. It’s often fooled & sometimes doesn’t catch the commercials. A video made in one vcr with it can play in another vcr with that feature & have the commercials advance.

Consumer Reports reviewed it when it first came out. They said it apparently looks for any fade to black, which commercials always begin and end with. However, it was not 100% reliable.

On the remote of my 3-year-old Panasonic VCR, there is a button which advances the tape by one minute when I press it during play (it doubles as rewind to beginning of program when the tape is stopped). I found out quickly that very few commercials are an exact multiple of one minute. Many commercials seem to be 150 seconds or so, nowhere near an exact multiple. So I don’t use that function; I just use fast forward.

If there weren’t a demand for “easier” entry, VCR makers wouldn’t supply it. So the answer to your question is yes, many people actually are not that smart. Scary, huh?

Actually you can use your keyboard on drop-down menus, at least with both Netscape & IE on Windows. All you do is highlight the drop down field, then type the first letter of the state you need and it will fast forward to the first state of that letter. Hit the key again to advance to the 2nd state, etc. On credit card expiration date drop downs just hit ‘2’ until your year comes up.

Back on topic…I have a low end non-stereo Magnevox VCR that is programmed by using the number buttons, a cancel, and an enter button. Very straight-forward and simple. I think even my parents could handle it.

It’s actually quite complicated. There are different signal analizing algorythms (sp) for different types of shows. (soaps, documentaries, comedys) The most important factor is the fade to blacks that exist between the shows and commercials. For shows that have a good solid fade-to-black the commercial advance almost never misses, without the fade to black it still works, but will miss much more often.


You sure about that? Watch a program that doesn’t have the audio fade & it won’t do the advance when it sees a commercial.

Also, programs with lots of fade-to-black scenes in the program should be tricked but my vcr doesn’t advance through them.

I can attest to the durability of JVC VCR’s. I currently have a VCR that I bought for my parents as a gift in 1986. They eventually upgraded, and I inherited it in about 1991. Aside for a couple of cleanings, it’s still running strong. Fourteen years old! Amazing!

Beside being a sellable feature, an “add killer” SW program presents a huge challenge.<< There are different signal analizing algorythms (sp) for different types of shows. (soaps, documentaries, comedys)>>How does a program know what kind of show is on?
I thought that now a channel logo, usually appearing in the right lower corner, can serve as a trigger. But I am afraid that the stations will start to manipulate the appearance of their logos if there are “hunting” programs, or eliminate them altogether (actually, it wouldn’t be bad at all).
I have enough money to pay for “commercial free” channels, but there are many other problems: instead of commercials I am forced to watch self promotions, “future attractions”, “coming soon” and a lot of other junk. Besides, the content is such, that I watch one movie in two months, on average (I do not watch sports).
I’ll wait till sush time when I can order (by phone or on the screen) what I want and when I want. On my TV or my PC.