JVC will forever be associated with the VHS analogue video cassette format that it invented, but it realises that we consumers are demanding DVD recorders nowadays. It has, of course, sold machines that combine VHS and DVD recording (and one machine - the MX1 - with HDD thrown in too), but here we are looking at a machine that dispenses with VHS pleasantries altogether.
The DR-MH50 combines a meaty 250GB of HDD capacity with multiformat DVD recording. The absence of integrated VHS is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you have loyalties to the S-VHS format that is not fully-supported by JVC's VHS combis. To get decent dubs, simply hook up your S-VHS deck to the MH50 via S-video and analogue audio - and you're sorted!
To make this job easier, the MH50 sports front-panel AV connections - which will also cater for composite video sources like VHS. Needless to say, analogue camcorders are another possibility. Not that digital camcorders are forgotten; there's also an i.Link input nestling here.
The rest of the front panel is quite attractive, with the usual time display and plenty of other illumination (the most obvious of which - the blue glare of the all-important disc tray - can be turned off should it prove distracting). The disc tray is joined by the bare minimum operating controls (HDD/DVD mode switches, standby and essential transport functions). All of which is in stark contrast to the remote, which is jam-packed.
Around the back are more connectors, and here the MH50 disappoints. For a start, the two Scarts fail to offer an RGB input between them (JVC, when will you learn?). In input terms, that's it; should you want to feed a non-Scart signal into the machine, you'll need an adaptor or the front-panel terminals.
At least there's a component output capable of progressive-scan pictures (even from TV!). And three types of audio output are available - analogue stereo phono, coaxial and optical digital. There's also a jack for an infra-red 'wand' - yes, the MH50 is capable of 'taking control' over your set-top box for timed HDD or DVD recordings. A natty auto-install system tunes in off-air (analogue) TV channels and sets the clock. There's only one tuner, and so you cannot record different off-air programmes onto DVD and the HDD simultaneously (this would, of course, also require two sets of analogue-to-digital converters and MPEG encoders - hardly practical in this costconscious competitive consumer culture!).
While recording to the HDD, though, the MH50 will let you watch a DVD (or a previous HDD capture). Another benefit is 'relief-recording', which uses the HDD for 'overflow' capacity if the DVD lacks sufficient capacity for the scheduled recordings. The HDD and DVD also share a 16-event VideoPlus timer.
Thanks for the live memory
The MH50's HDD has been harnessed to provide a useful timeshifting function. 'Live Memory' constantly and automatically records the currently selected channel or AV input to the HDD, and so you can rewind a live broadcast by up to three hours - a neat trick if you arrived home late, provided you left the unit on and tuned into the relevant channel. All (or part) of this 'live buffer' can be saved, thanks to something that JVC calls 'retroactive recording'. All of the HDD recordings are accessed via the 'navigator'.
Sensibly - bearing in mind the MH50's 250GB capacity, which is enough for up to 473 hours of your favourite TV - the navigator allows you to organise up to 200 recordings into 15 categories. The system will also remember the details of up to 99 self-made DVDs. Each HDD recording can be titled, or given a new navigation thumbnail.
It's equipped with four 'preset' recording modes that offer between 1 and 6 hours per blank DVD. There's also a 'free-rate' function that can be tweaked in steps between 1 and 8 hours. As far as recordings are concerned, three types of disc are supported - DVD-RAM, DVD-RW (in 'compatible' video or 'editing' VR modes) and 'write-once' DVD-R. DVD-Rs or video-mode DVD-RWs 'finalised' for compatibility with standard players benefit from user-definable thumbnails, and a choice of menu designs.
Note that, provided the material is not copy-protected, you can copy between DVD and HDD. You can even copy the contents of finalised DVDs (including recordings made on other machines) to the HDD! This process does not, alas, benefit from high-speed functionality. Furthermore, only eight titles can be copied at a time. Why?
Editing? First and foremost is a simple 'divide' function that's useful for dividing long HDD recordings (like a dub from analogue tape) into individual programmes. Partial delete is available, but only for DVD-RAM and VR-mode DVD-RW (the HDD has been left out).
If more complex editing - like the removal of adverts - is required, then 'playlist' editing is a flexible alternative. These edited recordings can be transferred 'as is' at high-speed (up to 32x) to a DVD. An alternative system will let you copy a selection to the disc in a lower-quality recording mode - and there's also a 'just dubbing' function that automatically works out the bitrate that will best fit up to eight of your recordings within the available capacity.
DVD recording quality is ultimately hampered by the lack of an RGB input, unless you're dubbing from DV or have a digital source with S-video output.
Recordings from such sources also look good, provided you use the 1-hour/2- hour presets or a FR mode of less than 2.5 hours. These work at DVD's full resolution; anything longer and, unless you're using VR mode or the HDD, the horizontal resolution is halved. As a result, visible detail is reduced to VHS levels (in contrast, Panasonic's latest machines offer 4 hours in full-res, regardless of media).
As a DVD player, the MH50 is a competent performer (unless you play region-free NTSC discs, which are converted into PAL!). DVD audio quality, from commercial DVDs and self-made recordings, is subjectively good.
Overall, the MH50 is fair and offers a fair spread of features. But it's eclipsed largely by the competition, most of whom now offer RGB input as standard.