VCR Basics - Part 2
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of VCR basics
VCR front: Display Panel, Controls, Cassette
Cable Connections - VCR to TV
VCR Hookup to TV without Audio/Video input jacks
TV must be set to channel 3 or 4.
Use RF Coaxial cable RG-59 or RG-6. Video and Audio carried combined on
VCR Hookup to Stereo TV
TV must be set to LINE Input for stereo sound from VCR.
If you have powered on the VCR and the TV, connected your cables and
tuned the TV to channel 3 or 4 if using RF cable, you can now press the
MENU or PROG button on the VCR remote. Some VCRs have a EASY-SETUP
button. Most VCRs want you to select your LANGUAGE before anything
else. After that, many VCRs also want you to set the proper time of day
(CLOCK) before you setup channels or any advanced options.
Select from the on-screen menu (seen on the TV screen) SET CLOCK or
equivalent selection. Enter hour and minute (AM or PM) by using the
buttons on the remote. Consult owner's manual if arrow buttons on
remote do not work as on-screen navigation is always a function of how
the manufacturer of the VCR has "programmed" the functionality of the
VCR. Some VCRs use a plus/minus scheme while others use a up arrow/down
arrow selection combined with the OK button or an equivalent button on
the remote control.
Some VCRs made after 1998 have a very user friendly setup process,
walking you thru each menu step by step. The Auto Clock Set feature in
some VCRs takes advantage of a signal sent from PBS stations and cable
companies which contains the current time of day information. By
setting the VCR to "AUTO" clock set, the clock in the VCR can be
automatically set to the correct time as soon as it receives the time
signal although some VCRs have to be turned off in order to set the
You tell the VCR if you are connected to Cable TV or Antenna. Select
one or the other. Over-the-Air broadcast TV uses VHF/UHF channels while
Cable TV uses more channels. Some VCRs have built-in tuners which will
go all the way up to channel 125 for analog Cable TV. You can setup
only the channels available to you so that you will not get static when
channel surfing on inactive channels.
If you get channels 4, 5,
29, 60 for example, you do not want to stop at channels 6, 7, 8, 10,
11, 13 etc. and see snow, you just want to skip inactive channels. This
process is automatic in modern VCRs but takes a few minutes to perform
as each channel is scanned for a signal and those with a signal are
stored. After this process is completed, you can press CHANNEL+ or
CHANNEL- on the remote and only go to active channels for your area.
To play or record video, insert a video cassette into the rectangular
slot in the front of the VCR. Push gently until the cassette is pulled
into the machine. The plastic door will close and the VCR will mount
the cassette and ready the magnetic tape for playing/recording. A VCR
moves the tape in the videocassette over a spinning drum inside the
VCR. This drum contains the "heads" which are used to record and
A VCR has buttons on the front panel and the remote control to RECORD,
PLAY, PAUSE, STOP, REWIND and FAST FORWARD the tape. Also an EJECT
button to remove the cassette from the VCR.
VCRs have many moving parts inside which are plastic and metal. Always
be patient when operating a VCR because many operations take a moment
or two to get started. Many VCRs have "intelligent" rewind and fast
forward for example, altering the tape speed slower or faster as
required for optimum operation.
If you just want to watch TV, turn the VCR off and the antenna
connection going into the VCR will be "passed thru" to the TV antenna
input. This means you have to connect a coaxial cable to the TV VHF
input jack in order to "pass thru" the signal. If you use RCA type
cables for stereo TVs, you may have to keep the VCR turned on in order
to send the stereo signal to the TV. If you do not care about stereo
sound then a single coax RG-59 cable will suffice. The VCR/TV
switch/button on your remote control allows you to switch back and
forth between the VCR source signal and the TV. The VCR source signal
is either the videocassette or the VCR television antenna/cable signal.
Remember the VCR has a television tuner and your TV also has it's own
While you record video and audio, the tape is moving past the "heads"
at a specific rate of speed. Most VCRs use "SP" (standard speed) and
"SLP" or "EP" (extended speed) for recording. Setting the VCR to "SP"
will give the best video results and allows about 2 hours of content on
a T-120 video cassette tape. However if you want to maximize your tape
usage, a setting of "SLP" will yield more content on the tape, about 6
hours. You sacrifice some quality for the extra content.
Record Protect Tab
The VHS video cassette is a plastic housing with two plastic reels
inside. The feed reel contains the source magnetic tape and the take-up
reel contains the tape after it has been recorded/played. On the back
of the cassette is a small square tab of plastic which controls the
ability of the VCR to record on the VHS video cassette. If the tab is
in place, then the VCR can record on the tape. If the tab is missing,
then the VCR cannot record on the tape. Pre-recorded movies will have
the tab removed in order to protect the tape from being written over.
Removing the tab creates a small hole about the size of your fingernail
and this hole prevents the VCR from recording on the tape. Some people
later decide to record on the tape and place a small piece of
cellophane tape over the hole to again allow recording.
When you get your TV programming from cable TV or satellite TV and you
want to record a TV show while you are away (unattended or timer
recording), you have to be able to select the channel you want to
record on the receiver and not the tuner in the VCR. This is because
the tuner in the VCR is not able to convert satellite signals or tune
scrambled cable TV channels. If you own a VCR which has the capability
to send signals to the cable/satellite box, you may be able to change
channels on the cable/satellite box when the timer recording needs to
take place. This way you can select the proper channel to tune in, and
with the proper connections, record the TV show on the VCR.
The optional device works like a remote control and plugs into the VCR
back panel. The other end of the cable has a small emitter which
transmits the codes to the remote sensor on the cable/satellite box.
Sony calls their version "cable mouse". Others call it "cable eye" or
IR (infra-red) Blaster.
The optional Cable Mouse
$17.95) allows unattended channel-changing of DIRECTV receivers or most
cable TV boxes for timer recordings. CAUTION: Incompatibilities exist
with some cable boxes and not all decoders/receivers will work with
these devices. Also, as cable TV and satellite receivers evolve, you
may find these setups do not work. The newer digital cable and DBS
boxes have hard disk video recorders built-in, so this problem can be
Cable box on TV with VCR "cable mouse" setup
to change channels.
Frame advance / slow
VCRs with this feature allow you to view super slow or even frame by
frame for examination of video. 4 head VCRs give you an amazingly sharp
image allowing you to freeze the action.
60 sec. rewind for T-120 tape.
Newer VCRs do not have a
knob for tracking control adjustment as this is done automatically.
Older VCRs have a manual adjustment control for tracking problems.
Adjust left or right for correcting tracking errors.
On-screen status display
A DISPLAY button on the remote, controls what you see on the TV screen
as indicators of status such as channel, tape speed, counter etc.
Record one channel, watch
Since the VCR has a tuner and your TV has it's own tuner, you can, with
the right hookup, view a TV program on one channel while recording a TV
show on another channel. With cable TV as your signal source, you would
use a signal splitter to route channels to both the VCR and TV.
The VCR has a very
powerful capability to not only record a TV program, but do that
automatically for you while you are away from home. This is called a
timer or timed recording. You setup the information beforehand and the
VCR does the rest. The VCR turns itself on at the preset start time,
records the channel you selected and stops recording at the time you
How to setup a VCR timer recording:
Use your VCR remote control to enter the VCR on-screen MENU and select
the timer section from your
list of options.
Enter the channel, start time, stop time, date and tape speed for the
TV program you want to record.
If you want to record the same TV show every day or once a week etc.
there are menu selections which will set this up.
[SUN'S~SAT'S]: You can record TV programs on the same channel at the
same time every week.
[MO ~ FR] : You can record TV programs on the same channel at the same
time every day Monday through Friday.
To set multiple days, use
the 'down arrow button' in the date field until desired choice
Auto Tape Speed Select
If you are not sure the
tape is long enough for timer program recording in the SP tape speed,
set the recording tape speed to AUTO. Recording starts in the SP tape
speed. If the tape length is not long enough, the tape speed
automatically changes from SP to SLP.
Press MENU again on the remote control to exit and save your changes.
Make sure you insert a blank VHS cassette with enough tape to record
Turn the VCR off and it will enter the timer mode. Usually there is an
indicator light on the front panel which shows the VCR is in timer
mode. This indicator can be a clock symbol or the word "Timer" lighted
up on the display.
When the date/time occurs, the VCR powers
on, starts recording on the
cassette tape and stops when the end time occurs. If you selected "one
time recording", the entry you setup in the timer section is erased. If
you setup a cyclical recording schedule such as every day, your entry
will still be setup in the timer section.
When recording from a cable TV box or digital satellite receiver,
additional considerations are required.
Most modern VCRs are "cable ready" meaning they have tuners in them
which can tune unscrambled channels from analog cable TV. Also,
depending on your hookup configuration, you could set your VCR to
channel 3 and record cable TV channels tuned on your cable box and sent
to your VCR, since they will be converted by your cable box. This means
you could even record scrambled channels that you subscribe to, or
digital channels from a digital cable box converter as long as the
digital cable box converts them to VHF channel 3 (or 4) output for your
standard VCR. Having this type of a setup means that when you select
which channel you want to record in the VCR timer section, you need to
specify channel 3 (or 4) and make sure your cable box is powered on and
set to the correct channel (CNN, TBS, TMC, HBO) at the time of the
using a cable decoder box or Digital Satellite System, make sure the
decoder box is on and set to the correct channel for timer recording
and enter channel 3 or 4 (which ever you set your TV to), as the
channel to record. Your VCR should be connected to your converter box
so that the converter box output goes to the VCR input. The converter
box can output to channel 3 or 4 such that your VCR antenna input jack
can pick up channel 3 or 4. If you use RCA type cables to connect cable
box to VCR, set VCR to L1 (Line 1) input.
Many VCR's offer "VCR
Plus+," which makes timer programming easy once you've initially
pointed the VCR to your area's channels (channel mapping). VCR Plus+
lets you use those numbers after the TV show descriptions in the TV
listings: you just activate the programming feature, punch in the code,
and you're ready. VCR PLUS+ Silver and VCR PLUS+ Gold take this one
step further by doing the channel mapping automatically when you enter
your area's zip-code. See VCR
Copying home video from
your camcorder to
a VHS tape is easy. Just hookup
your camcorder to a VCR input
jack (yellow video and white audio) then play your camcorder video and
record at the same time on the VHS VCR to a cassette.
VCR to VCR recording
Connection to Stereo
You can hookup your audio
to an amplifier instead of your TV and get richer sound from
loudspeakers. You have to use RCA type cables (red and white) from the
VCR audio OUT to the AUX IN on the stereo receiver or amplifier. The
same for recording from a stereo, only use the VCR audio IN. You could
even do a timer
recording of a radio show by
setting the VCR up to
record at a specific time.
Secondary Audio Program -
If your VCR has a MTS
stereo tuner, and many do, then you can select SAP instead of stereo
sound in order to hear any available audio channel for your current TV
program. The audio can be a different language, so you will hear the
dialog for the TV program in another language. It depends however on
what is available for that program. Some TV shows may have a Spanish
audio dialog available or may have nothing at all. You can easily
switch back to stereo mode by going into your on-screen MENU options
and selecting STEREO sound instead of SAP.
VCR formats other than
VHS is not the only format
available. For a price, you can get 8mm, MiniDV and S-VHS
machines. There are even a few Beta VCRs still around from the
1970s and 1980s.
Recording a TV show at
slow speed (SLP or EP) on S-VHS gives a better picture than recording
on fast speed (SP) on regular VHS.
8mm is popular for
camcorders, and there are a few 8mm home VCR's, but it's not big as a
home format. It's small and portable, which is nice for camcorders.
VHS and 8mm tapes won't
fit in each other's machines. So, if you want to play a tape from the
other format, you'll have to copy it over to the other type and live
with the inevitable loss of quality. With MiniDV today the most popular
camcorder format, there are MiniDV machines however the price is high.
You have to have a TV capable of displaying the higher resolution or
you might as well just convert your MiniDV over to VHS.
TAPE SPEED = IMAGE QUALITY
A faster recording speed
gives a better picture. This is because less information has to be
recorded onto a particular section of tape. So if picture quality means
a lot to you, record on SP for regular VHS. If it really
means a lot to you, buy S-VHS or go to DVD.
A word about LP. Besides
being an obsolete form of recorded medium that was pushed out of the
spotlight by compact discs, LP is a middle VCR speed that fits between
SP and SLP (or EP). Not too many VCR's offer this speed for recording
any more, but most if not all of them will automatically play it back.
Still, when all is said
and done, most people are perfectly happy with regular VHS, which is by
far the most popular and affordable format. Just realize that you can
do better if it's important to you.
When VCR's first came out
their audio quality was about equivalent to AM radio. VHS eventually
added stereo sound that gave you two audio channels that were
marginally better than AM radio and then, finally, stereo hi-fi audio
entered the fray. And the rest is history.
Hi-fi audio is the
ultimate VHS sound playback system. It isn't quite CD quality but,
except for some occasional fluttering you may notice coming from your
speakers, you may never notice the difference. Hi-fi works just fine at
all tape speeds and will also pick up the Dolby Surround encoding on
most of Hollywood's releases. It won't decode the Dolby Surround, but
it'll pass it along to your decoder. And if you're going to run the
VCR's sound through an audio system, and you can afford it, you should
definitely opt for "hi-fi" audio. It isn't as good as digital CD sound,
but it's close enough for most occasions. This is especially important
if you like watching movies. Even TV programs benefit from hi-fi sound
these days; many of them are recorded in Dolby Surround and if your VCR
has an MTS stereo tuner (and most do), and if you have a Dolby Surround
decoder built into wherever you're plugging the VCR (usually an
audio/video receiver or a TV) you'll be able to take advantage of the
Hi-fi audio is so good
you can use your VCR as an audio tape recorder, though it's not nearly
as convenient as cassette, DAT (Digital Audio Tape), or Minidisc. And
you can't stick the tape into your car stereo, no matter how hard you
push it. But for recording TV and watching movies, it's great.
Even many low end VCR's
today come with MTS stereo tuners. This is a must if you want to take
advantage of stereo TV (or bilingual TV) broadcasts. Most major shows
are now broadcast in stereo (or even encoded with Dolby Surround -
which an MTS tuner will also pass along to your decoder), and while the
sound quality isn't as good as a tape or disc, it still beats mono.
MTS tuners also have the
"SAP" feature (a rather insulting-sounding acronym that merely means
"second audio program") that isn't used very much but that allows the
broadcaster to send bilingual programming, or programming with an
alternate audio track (like a commentary).
Most VCR's are also
"cable ready," which means they can pull in a multitude of channels.
Numbers vary depending on the make and model, but what's important to
consider is how many channels you receive in your area (or how many you
anticipate will be offered over the life of the VCR - channels that
you'll actually use).
Don't forget, you'll
spend more time with the remote control than with the front panel
buttons on your VCR. Many manufacturers are taking this into account
and virtually eliminating them from the VCR itself. This isn't a big
deal unless you chronically misplace the remote and are suddenly faced
with a programming emergency…
Some remotes are
"unified" or "universal," which means they operate more than just the
VCR. They can also be used to control a TV, LD player, cable box, etc.
And they sometimes operate other brands of equipment, too, usually by
having you enter a code from a list supplied by the manufacturer. It's
an easy process and you'll like the results. Don't expect these remotes
to replace the other ones, though; they generally only operate the main
functions of the other components, which is still a bonus.
Before buying, make sure
you're comfortable with the remote, with where the buttons are and how
the whole thing feels. Make sure you can figure it out! And make sure
you think it'll be easy to use in dim lighting.
If you want to copy from
another VCR or a camcorder, it's nice to have a set of audio and video
input jacks on the front of your VCR.
Here are some features
you might run into on your quest for the perfect VCR:
PROGRAM: This is a set up
feature you'll probably only use when you first unpack the VCR. It
searches all the channels it can receive, automatically programming the
ones it gets and ignoring the ones it doesn't. This sets up the
"channel up and down" buttons. Every channel is still available from
the number keys, even if there's nothing on them. After
auto-programming, you should go back and erase the channels it
memorized but that you don't want to scan, like scrambled pay TV
channels you don't want, the airport listings, or the all commercial
channel. Again, these channels will always be there if you have a
number pad on the remote: you just won't hit them when you channel surf
up or down.
CLOCK SETTING: A quick way of
eliminating that flashing "12:00". Some channels broadcast a signal
that can set your clock. Make sure the channel you use is in the same
time zone as you are!
HEAD CLEANING: Every time you
insert a tape, this feature gives the heads a quick scrub.
TRACKING: Sometimes called
"digital tracking," this feature is nice when you're playing tapes and
you don't know where they've been. It automatically adjusts the VCR's
heads for the best playback. It doesn't always work perfectly, but it's
START: This is a feature that,
when you slip a tape into the VCR, it turns itself on and, if the
tape's "write protect tab" (the little plastic tab you remove to
prevent the tape from being recorded on again) is broken, starts
REWIND: When the tape reaches
its end, the VCR switches into rewind mode and zips it back to the
SHUTOFF: Auto Shutoff is just
what the name says: it shuts off by itself.
EJECT: The VCR spits out the
tape when it shuts off. This can be handy when you've left a
"write protected" tape in the deck because the next time you walk by
the VCR, you have a chance to be warned to put a recording tape back in
for your next time shifting session.
EFFECTS: These are nothing like
those seen in Jurassic Park and other movies. These digital effects, in
fact, are merely toys you may never use. The most popular is Picture in
Picture, which can let you see two programs simultaneously. You need
two picture sources to take advantage of the feature, though, like two
tuners, a videocassette and a tuner, etc. Others include trinkets like
mosaic or pixelization, which are fun to see once but basically a waste
of time and money unless you're planning to use them in your own video
ERASE HEAD: This is a nice
feature if you're going to do a lot of editing with your VCR. It's an
erase head mounted on the spinning drum with the video (and hi-fi
audio) heads. It makes for clean, sparkle-free edits. If you don't plan
on doing a lot of editing, pass this feature by: it adds to the price.
SEARCH: This is really nice.
The VCR puts a mark on the tape each time it begins recording, and
later you can have the machine find these marks either by number or by
scanning forward or backwards. It makes finding the beginning of your
recording programs easy. It certainly beats scanning back and forth
A little wheel or knob on
your VCR and/or remote that lets you scan at various speeds, from frame
by frame to high speed.
NOISE REDUCTION: A circuit that
shovels snow from your picture. Does a better job than not having it,
but another way to reduce video noise is to buy a laserdisc player.
What to look for in a VCR:
feature than lets you skip over commercials during playback.
Higher-end models breeze through ads automatically, while this is a
manual function on less expensive VCRs. Movie Advance automatically
skips ahead to the beginning of the feature on pre-recorded tapes.
Plus+ is a programming tool that uses the numerical codes published in
most TV guides. You simply enter
this code, and the VCR knows that you want to tape your specific TV
program, on Tuesday at 9 PM. VCR+ Silver and VCR+ Gold are easier to
set up; just punch in your zip code, and the VCR automatically maps
your cable network's channels.
jog/shuttle wheel allows you to advance frame by frame during playback.
This is a great tool for video editing, and sports fans love being able
to use their own slow motion. Some VCRs have a jog/shuttle wheel on the
VCR unit, while more expensive models have one on the remote as well.
erase heads are great for editing, as they give you crisp edit points.
If you're not going to do any editing, skip this feature, as it adds to
the cost of the unit.
universal remote can operate other components, such as a TV, DVD player
or even another VCR.
you record a lot of TV shows, you'll value an index feature.
When you pop in a tape, you'll get a listing of contents; select an
item and the VCR will take you to the right spot.
input jacks will make your life
easier if you download frequently from a camcorder; you won't have to
fumble around the back of the unit to get hooked up.
S-VHS VCRs have a feature called ET, or expansion technology.
This lets you record S-VHS quality on standard VHS tapes instead of
more expensive S-VHS tapes.
all VCRs now have four heads, automatically set the clock to the
correct time and use onscreen programming.
Also, most VCRs have automatic tracking, although some have a manual
newer VCR models can deal with the ever-growing number of cable TV
channels and are compatible with digital cable television.
But if you plan to run your expanded cable TV through the VCR, it's
worth checking this out before you buy. There are problems programming
VCRs through cable boxes, and since there are so many flavors of cable
TV, you should be prepared for some issues; often you may need to
purchase a "cable eye" or "cable mouse" to control your cable box.
VHS or S-VHS?
broadcasts deliver about 330 lines of horizontal resolution; VHS VCRs
are capable of about 240 lines. This means that standard VHS VCRs will
not give you quite as crisp a picture as a broadcast will. Super VHS,
on the other hand, can put out 400 lines of resolution, so taped TV
should look like the real thing. Satellite TV looks especially good on
S-VHS, with all 400 lines of DirecTV resolution coming through crisp
S-VHS VCRs are the better
choice for picture quality, but experts say they have some drawbacks.
First of all, S-VHS VCRs are more expensive. Second, S-VHS recordings
aren't compatible with most VHS VCRs. This means if you tape a show in
S-VHS format and pass it on to a friend, your friend's standard VHS VCR
may not be able to play it. Of course, you can turn off the S-VHS
feature and record in regular VHS mode, but then you're not using what
you paid for.
VIDEOCASSETTE CARE INSTRUCTIONS
The most common causes of damage to video cassettes are improper
storage and improper loading into a videocassette recorder
1. Always store a VHS videocassette upright, like a book, away from
anything magnetic or that might emit a magnetic field. This includes
television sets, speakers, computer monitors, telephones, microwave
ovens, and airport security gates. NEVER lay a videocassette flat on a
television set , speaker, or computer monitor.
2. Protect videos from extreme temperatures. Do not leave videos for
extended periods in automobiles. Videos can be damaged if played before
reaching room temperature-- they may stretch if hot or easily break if
cold. Allow cold videos to lie unpacked for at least two hours, to
reach room temperature before playing.
3. Be sure that your VHS format VCR is in clean condition. Depending on
usage, clean the magnetic heads periodically.
4. Load the video into the VCR gently, and in the direction of the
arrow embossed on the cassette case. Usually, the VCR will do the work
once the cassette is inserted.
5. Find the VCR's tracking dial so that the video's playback can be
adjusted, if required. The tracking adjustment is usually on the bottom
of the front panel of the VCR, as a small wheel or knob labeled
"Tracking." If you experience any "snow" or distortion on your TV
screen, or if the audio sounds garbled: simply adjust the tracking both
ways, unit the picture and sound become clear. Of course, this
procedure will only affect and correct a tracking problem.
6. To avoid tape damage, use an "image pause" feature only when
necessary. Never pause more than 10 to 20 seconds, maximum.