Limitations of Vintage VCRs and DVDs

VHS Videocassettes for VCR

Most of the vintage equipment we sell was made long before modern Flat-Screen HDTVs were introduced. They were originally designed to work with the old CRT TVs. These TVs did not have modern HDMI connectivity. Also, they were designed before the introduction of Digital Broadcasting. Lastly, the best possible picture quality from a VCR is far less than you would expect from modern HD and 4K sources. This blog will cover the limitations of vintage VCR and DVD machines.

VCR Connections

VCR Connections

VCRs were designed to connect to your TV with two different methods.

One method of connection to your TV was through the "RF Output". There was a choice to select (with a switch or through the VCR's setup menu) either channel 3 or 4 to output the VCR signal. You would then connect the VCR output to the antenna input on your TV and tune the TV to the selected channel 3 or 4. This analog method has many limitations and is no longer valid for modern TVs due to the transition to Digital Broadcasting since modern TVs cannot receive an analog channel (see Digital Broadcasting below).

The other method to connect to your TV was through an AV Cable. This provided a separate "Composite Video" signal and Audio signal. In the case of Hi-Fi Stereo VCRs, there is a separate Right and Left audio connection. Very few modern TVs have this connection.

VCR/DVD Combo Connections

VCR/DVD Combo Connections

Similarly, most VCR/DVD Combos use these two methods for the VCR and DVD sides. They also have Progressive Scan Component Video output and S-Video outputs which are exclusive to the DVD side. Again, modern TVs do not have these connections. A few of the later model combos have HDMI for the DVD side only and ever fewer have HDMI that works for both the VCR and DVD sides. All product listings for Combos on this website have clear descriptions of the connectivity options. 

Modern HDMI Connection Solution

Composite Video to HDMI Converter

Fortunately, we sell a solution to connect a vintage VCR or VCR/DVD Combo to your modern TV. This bundle includes all the cables you need to connect these legacy devices to your modern TV's HDMI Input and upscale to 720p or 1080p. See our HDMI Converter Bundle HERE.

Digital Broadcasting
As of June 12, 2009, equipment with legacy analog tuners are unable to receive over-the-air broadcasts via antenna due to the transition to digital broadcasting. If you want to record off the air from any VCR and most DVD recorders you need to supply the signal from an "ATSC tuner" (Digital TV Converter) or the audio/video signal from another device. See Wikipedia article.

Typical Digital TV Converter Box

VCR Picture Quality - what to expect
Modern TVs are capable of delivering eye-popping images with resolution of up to 4K or 3840 x 2160 pixels and an aspect ratio (proportion of width to height) of 16:9. VHS has a horizontal resolution of about 200–250 lines at best (and worse at the slower SLP speed), or about 1/5 that of the lowest-quality (720p) HD, and about 1/20 that of the best (4K) resolution. 

Digital Video Resolutions Compare VCR to 4K   Comparison of 16:9 to 4:3 Aspect Ratio
Also, the signal has an aspect ratio of 4:3, not 16:9. If you "stretch" the picture to fill the screen, the proportions will be distorted. It's best to leave the resolution at 4:3 and understand that the picture will not fill the width of your modern TV.

Video tapes are prone to deterioration over time, even if they were never played. Many old tapes have deteriorated to the point of being barely playable. This results in all sorts of video noise, jitter, and color shifting. We test every VCR to make sure it can play a reasonably deteriorated home-recorded tape, but some tapes will no longer play correctly on any machine.

Partially deteriorated VCR tape in 4:3 on a 16:9 flat-screen HDTV

So, it's important to have a reasonable expectation of picture quality when buying a VCR.

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