JVC HM-DH40000U D-VHS Player 
Home Theater Accessories Accessories
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Tuesday, 01 March 2005

I remember one glorious day in the early 1980s when my dad and I traveled to the local shopping mall in Echelon, New Jersey in search of some new electronic gadgets. The store in the mall was called Video Concepts and it was like a surreal playground for a nine-year-old. My dad, in his mid-30s, seemed to be having some fun, too. He turned the event into a shopping spree of epic proportions. We bought a fold-down big-screen TV, an Intellivision game station, a good dozen games and a VHS videotape recorder that resembled something the military would use to record Soviet spy activity. With movies costing a mere $100 per, we picked out some classics but rented even more. I can remember the salesman suggesting that this VCR was built to last a lifetime – even at nine, that seemed like a long time.

21 years later, VCRs have finally given way to the DVD player as the preferred way of playing back movies in the home theater environment. In the past five-plus years, the DVD format has launched itself to superstardom in the world of audio/video, but for home theater enthusiasts with the latest DTV sets it has one terrible flaw – no HDTV playback. Much like the corner crack dealer, today’s home theater salesperson knows that once you get your plasma, LCD or rear-projection HD set home, you will be transfixed and drooling over the picture. The problem is that there is a limited quantity of content available on in HD.

This is where JVC’s D-VHS technology comes in. Using a hot-rodded version of the VHS technology, this deck can play back movies and content from a VHS tape in top HDTV formats, including most notably 720p and 1080i. This is a welcome addition to many a top home theater. Being able to watch HDTV on your time schedule was something that, up until Dish Network and DirecTV finally released their HD-DVRs, was damn near impossible.

The JVC HM-DH40000U is a $999 (retail) digital HDTV-capable VCR. As $99 non-HDTV VCRs clutter the shelves of every half-assed electronics retailer in America, you might ask yourself, why do you need such an expensive VCR? The main reason is the ability to play back uncompressed, striking-looking HDTV on your home theater with beaming 5.1 surround sound and a picture that will knock you dead in your tracks. Another reason harks back to that trip to Video Concepts in the Echelon Mall – this very likely is the last VCR you will ever buy. Many people have a lot of movies and special events, some hard or impossible to find, that hold tremendous personal value: home videos on VHS, wedding videos, classic sporting events recorded from TV.
The list goes on, but the most compelling reason to own a D-VHS deck is to play back HDTV on your home theater system.

I didn’t spend a tremendous amount of time recording with my JVC HM-DH40000U, because I use a DirecTV HD-TiVo unit (about $1,000 retail) to record most of what I watch, using the snazzy TiVo interface. You can record HD content on a HM-DH40000U onto a top-quality tape if you have a terrestrial antenna feed going into the D-VHS recorder. Most DVRs do not allow non-encrypted HDTV output. The one that did allow an HDTV output was the first-generation Dish Network HD receiver. A small cult of HDTV fanatics recorded everything they could get their hands on until the day Dish rendered each of those sets useless, replacing them with Dish’s HD-DVR.

Recording with the JVC HM-DH40000U is basically as simply as recording with a traditional VCR. The onscreen menu is needed to access a number of prompts. It is definitely harder to use than TiVo and, with the limited streams of content that can come into your recorder, I found recording on the JVC HM-DH40000U wasn’t anywhere near the reason I bought the unit. I would guess that people with HD camcorders might find a use for a D-VHS recorder to archive their home videos and play them back in their theaters.

D-VHS is an exciting new twist on an old technology. Much like many new technologies, Hollywood stuck its toes ever so slightly in the water and then pulled out. As best I could see, there were about 100 to 150 films released in D-VHS format. That offering makes SACD and DVD-Audio look like a rousing success. In their defense, Hollywood movie studios are looking to sell millions of units of a movie and are scared to death of allowing HD versions of their movies to leave the safety of the lot. On the other hand, with few releases on the market, it is hard to hope that D-VHS will ever become a hit with any audience other than the hardcore home theater enthusiast.

HD Content on D-VHS
As soon as I ordered my deck, I went to a number of websites to buy D-VHS tapes. Amazon and some of the other biggies don’t have the ability to understand the difference between D-VHS and regular VHS in many cases. The site I liked best was www.DVDempire.com, which has a separate section for D-VHS tapes. I bought about a dozen. A few titles listed are either no longer listed or never made it to market. “Moulin Rouge” is the most notable film that never hit the streets. I watched the film in HD on HBO about a year back, and it was likely the most impressive demonstration of HD and home theater I have ever watched. In NTSC, I can sit glued to my screen for Nicole Kidman but in HDTV, “Moulin Rouge” is an epic. As soon as the movie is released, I will buy it.

My search for content on D-VHS took me to eBay.com, where many out-of-date releases can be bought at above-retail prices. The tape I was looking for was a JVC demo tape that I saw demoed at a private residence in Beverly Hills on the new $30,000 Sony Qualia projector. I found a copy, had to pay $85 for it and did so gladly. The content, maybe an hour in total, is absolutely stunning. In native HD, there are scenes from Japanese temples that are frighteningly vivid and sharp. One scene, when a woman dressed in traditional Japanese garb is sweeping the dock of the temple, looked insanely good on my D-ILA HDTV projector. With the extra resolution, you could see the actual differences in the decking of the dock, despite the shot’s somewhat low light. Most HDTV projectors, especially early first-generation D-ILA projectors like the one I currently own, aren’t all that good at reproducing the kind of contrast you expect from a 34-inch HDTV Sony CRT tube set or even a nine-inch CRT projector. However, inject some rocket fuel like this JVC demo tape in D-VHS and prepare to be wowed. Other scenes on the tape show close-up shots of koi fish in a pond, yet motion artifacts are seemingly invisible. Daylight shots of modern skyscrapers are also impressive. Even when panning relatively fast, the architectural elements of the buildings stay solid and artifact-free, meaning that they never look glitchy or jagged, the way you sometimes see on traditional NTSC and even some HDTV feeds.

Movies on D-VHS are a blast and make you wish every movie you owned was on this format. I recently watched the World War II thriller “U-571” on D-VHS. The added resolution helped on the later scenes, which historically have caused my projector to struggle. You can see, as Harvey Keitel’s character takes the stolen German U-boat to a dangerously low 200 meters, the beads of water forming on the gauges of the boat even in a dimly-lit scene. “U-571” is a famous demo movie for bass in a home theater and the D-VHS format is no slouch. Every bit as impressive is the 5.1 surround track on the depth charge scene that starts the film. The soundtrack encompasses you and your woofer will rock your theater with energy at levels you may have never experienced before. If you play just this one scene of the movie for your friends as a demo of your new home theater, you will leave them speechless. It is that impressive.

Another example of a dark film that shines on D-VHS is the cult favorite “Glengarry Glen Ross.” As legend has it, the all-star cast of the movie, including Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino and Alec Baldwin, all did the film for union scale pay. The film is a gloomy look into the cutthroat world of real estate sales. Adapted from a David Mamet play, the film is dark and heavy in dialogue, yet rich in content. Sneak in the back door of any top electronics store for a sales meeting and you might hear the manager quoting Baldwin’s character by saying “Put that coffee down. Coffee is for closers only.” It is a dramatic film, to say the least. On D-VHS, you get to see all of the subtle details that can get lost in the 480i versions of the film. The sound of the rain (which seems to fall for much of the film) is more symbolic to me when the video is resolute enough to reproduce the raindrops on the windows with such detail. Skin tones look more vivid, in direct comparison to the DVD version of the film. For fans of the film, it is like being able to get closer to the art, tying the entire emotional experience together in a way that makes a DVD look like a child’s toy.

The Downside
Hollywood’s lackluster support of the format is the biggest downside. There simply isn’t enough demo material. There are some native HDTV content programs being sold on D-VHS, like “Over Philadelphia” and over a lot of other places. These are similar to the JVC demo tape and are really good for auditioning and testing high-performance HDTV systems. But with less than 200 movies from the major studios out on D-VHS, you have to know that Hollywood is looking to the pending Blu-ray or HD-DVD technology or even Microsoft’s Windows Media 10 format to play back HDTV in the near future.

Videotape at the consumer level basically stinks and I honestly thought I would never purchase another movie on any form of tape again. Not being able to access different parts of movies on demand was hard to accept with D-VHS, compared to DVD. Having to rewind a movie is also something that hasn’t been part of my home theater experience for quite a while. The speed at which the deck rewinds is blisteringly fast nevertheless.

Right now, if you have an HDTV set and want to be able to see the best picture currently available, you need a D-VHS deck. At about $1,000, this is a very expensive VCR, but if you justify the expense as one that might cover you for the rest of your life and yield the added value of strikingly gorgeous HDTV, it could easily be considered $1,000 well spent.
Manufacturer JVC
Model HM-DH40000U D-VHS Player

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