GoVideo, the company that brought us the first DVD/VCR combo, has now joined the ranks of those offering DVD recorder/VCR decks. The GoVideo VR3930, which carries an MSRP of $479 but is available for less online, allows you, among other things, to easily transfer content from VHS tapes to DVD, as long as the material isn't copyrighted.
At 16.9 inches wide by 3.25 inches high by 14.2 inches deep, the VR3930 is significantly larger than most DVD recorders, but it's really not that oversized for a combo deck. Its dark metallic finish won't let it be confused for high-end gear, but it will blend better with your existing black and silver components than, say, Gateway's AR-230 DVD recorder. The included remote can be programmed to control the basic functions of your TV, but unlike the one that ships with the step-up VR4940, it isn't backlit. The buttons are logically laid out, and the remote is comfortable to hold, making it easy to navigate through the recorder's straightforward onscreen menus.
The GoVideo VR3930's primary selling points are its ability to record on and play back both VHS and DVD, as well as easily dub VHS tapes to DVD. Indeed, one-touch copying is simple and straightforward. All you have to do is cue up the source and press the Copy button. Up pops a display that shows the current recording mode and amount of free space available. You can change the recording mode before selecting Copy to start the process. During copying, use the Pause button to interrupt recording and the Stop button to end the process. Copies can be made easily from DVD to VHS or vice versa. But you can forget about archiving the entire inventory of your local Blockbuster Video: the VR3930 won't duplicate movies copy-protected by Macrovision--just about all DVD and VHS movies available.
Unfortunately, the unit's ability to record your favorite TV shows is limited. We didn't expect an onscreen program guide at this price point, but the lack of an IR blaster is problematic for anyone who's upgraded beyond analog cable or an over-the-air antenna. Digital-cable and satellite TV subscribers will have to leave their set-top boxes tuned to the channel they want to record when using this deck's manual timer to record their must-see programs. More surprising--unforgivable, in fact--is the omission of VCR Plus. This has become a staple of every low-cost VCR (is there any other kind anymore?) since the end of the last millennium.
The VR3930 boasts all the connectivity options you'd find on a standard DVD player, including component-video output, coaxial and optical digital audio, and two sets of analog stereo outputs. Input options, on the other hand, are somewhat disappointing. A flip-down front panel offers S-Video, composite, and one pair of audio RCAs, plus a single FireWire jack--perfect for connecting DV camcorders. That's great, but the rear-panel inputs are limited to a single RF video jack (for analog cable or over-the-air TV) and one standard composite A/V connection; we would prefer a rear S-Video input for better recording quality from cable or satellite boxes.
On a more positive note, we were pleasantly surprised that the VR3930 can output DVD and VHS video from the component-video outputs, even when switched to progressive-scan (480p) mode. It doesn't make the low-res VHS picture any better, but the ability to play tapes over a single connection saves precious inputs on your TV or A/V receiver. (By comparison, the component output on many combo decks is DVD only, requiring a second connection from the composite or S-Video jacks for VHS playback.)
DVD playback was average, which is to say, it was pretty good. But a combo deck like this one is more about the recording, and the VR3930 handled that task with aplomb. Quality-wise, recordings in the 1- and 2-hour modes far outperformed the 4-hour mode, but even the 1-hour mode fell a little short of many standalone DVD recorders, turning in just slightly above 450 lines of resolution when recording from another DVD via S-Video. The 2-hour mode dropped slightly to about 430 lines, while the 4-hour mode's softer 300 lines more closely resembled VHS and included some MPEG pixelization that was unacceptable to our eyes. As expected, recordings from VHS to DVD in all modes dropped below 300 lines of resolution. You'll want to at least use the 2-hour mode to archive treasured VHS recordings.
Summing up, the GoVideo VR3930 does a great job dubbing from one format to another, but its lack of a credible way to record TV shows from digital-cable or satellite sources is its Achilles' heel. Despite its ability to burn DVDs, this product is more like your existing VCR and has none of the convenience of a TiVo. But if you're looking for a well-built recorder that offers a simple way to archive homemade VHS and digital video camcorder tapes to DVD, the GoVideo VR3930 is a worthwhile investment.