Dig this intensely cool piece of 1990s home video technology I picked up! Found recently (at the end of January or start of February) at a somewhat-far-off thrift store, the RCA “Home Theatre” S-VHS VCR (model number VR725HF) came into my life…for only $4. Four bucks?! That’s a great price for a regular VHS VCR, never mind an S-VHS VCR! Needless to say, it became mine.
I was initially a bit apprehensive with this one. It was a little grimy, and while I plugged it in and tested it as best I could while there, it didn’t seem to be working quite correctly at first, though this was naturally all “sight unseen.” (I.e., it wasn’t hooked up to a TV.) Eventually it seemed to be running well-enough for me to take a chance on it, and besides, it’s not like I trip over Super VHS while out and about all the time anyway. And so here we are. The final verdict? Read on!
As you can better see in this closer-up here, not only was this a 4-Head, Hi-Fi model (as you’d probably expect of an S-VHS), but it was also part of RCA’s “Home Theatre” line. Not “Theater,” “Theatre.” Fancy! Around the late-1980s and up through at least the mid-1990s, RCA really pushed this concept, through swanky TVs, audio equipment, and as advertised on the deck here, even their own satellite receivers. Naturally home video was also part of that equation. This was all a relatively big deal in the 90s, as technology was advancing far enough to where the “home movie experience,” or at least something approximating it, was a progressively feasible goal for consumers. Back then, the better, more-advanced equipment you had, the cooler your living room was. Then again, this was almost-certainly true before and after, too; people always want the biggest and best, after all.
This model also has the VCR Plus+ feature. Lotsa VCRs around that time did. What was it? Next to programs listed in TV Guides and whatnot, there was a numerical code. Punch it in on the appropriate VCR menu, and it’d automatically record the show. I never used the feature back then, and I don’t think our VCR at the time even gave it as an option, but it’s a neat concept.
This isn’t the first S-VHS deck we’ve seen here in recent months. Astute readers (all two of you) will recall the incredible “prosumer” Panasonic AG-1970 that I wrote about back in September. That thing is a legit beast, and while no one will claim this RCA to be in the same league (it’s decidedly a “consumer” unit, as opposed to a “prosumer” one), it definitely lives up to the “Home Theatre” branding. If nothing else, it’s nicer than the Memorex S-VHS VCR I wrote about years ago.
I’ve mentioned before my ambivalent feelings regarding electronics, or more specifically VCRs, from the 1990s. In general, they seemed to become cheaper, flimsier, less-feature-packed, less-reliable than decks from the 1980s. That’s a generality of course, and naturally there were exceptions. Some (okay, many) VCRs from that decade fell into the “affordable” arena, often with plastic casing, 2-Heads, no stereo, etc. etc. etc. My old Zenith is a good example. BUT, some rose above whatever trappings the format had fallen into, be it through slightly more features, higher build quality, or just through a slick-casing. My rad ProScan is a great example.
Well, this RCA is undeniably one of those exceptions. You might be tempted to think that all S-VHS VCRs would be exceptions, since they were Super VHS and thus higher-end by definition. That wasn’t necessarily so (I direct you back to the previously-linked Memorex post), but luckily this RCA is one of the good’uns.
Though compared to my last S-VHS adventure, you may not think so at first. It doesn’t have a ton of options built into it. Or at least, none that I can see; the original remote was MIA, and hey, maybe there was more that could be accessed there. As it stands here though, you’ve got only standard play-stop-eject-rewind-forward-record-pause options at your fingertips. I can’t even access the much-ballyhooed VCR Plus+ option. Near as I can tell, anyway.
Luckily, much of what I can do is accessed through a jog shuttle. I do loves me a jog shuttle, even if it’s usually just for aesthetic reasons. Turn the knob for faster rewinding for fast forwarding, stop for still mode, hit play to get back in action, that’s how this RCA goes about things.
Also, there’s, uh, specific buttons for stopping and ejecting, and recording.
Speaking of recording, you didn’t have to record in S-VHS; you could use this as a regular ol’ VHS VCR, if you so desired. This is accessed through the little S-VHS button pictured here. The light sez it’s on. Since S-VHS required specific S-VHS tapes, and since regular VHS tapes were far more common, if you wanted to pick up a cheap blank tape at the grocery store, you’d just push the S-VHS button “off,” and then you were good to go! I don’t know if the recording quality for normal VHS would have been any better than usual, but 4-Head Hi-Fi is always a good thing anyway.
Unlike many mid-1990s VCRs, instead of a cheap plastic casing, the RCA VR725HF is housed in good ol’ metal, and with the black color-scheme, it’s a pretty slick-lookin’ beast. There’s some rounding on the front corners, but it’s mostly slim and boxy, though ridges (?) along the bottom almost give it a foot-stand-like appearance. I don’t know how to describe this, bu I tried to show you in the pic here.
I like the looks of this one. It has a heavy duty appearance and feel, yet a clean, elegant design. It almost (almost) comes off as minimalist, but in a good way. I may not go so far as to say it is minimalist, because it compares well to many of the other VCRs of the period in this regard. No, it doesn’t boast a ton of features, at least not on the unit itself, but what’s here is attractive. True to its name, this had to have look derned classy in the home theaters (theatres) of the mid-1990s.
Here’s the precious, precious back of the VCR shot you’ve all been clamoring for. I feel like I’m required to include these shots for this to be a full, proper review, but in truth, I never have all that much to say about them. It’s the connections area of the unit, okay? Antenna, AV, and S-Video jacks are all found in abundance. I do like that it has S-Video in and out ports.
Also, see, 7-14-1995. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t.
Even though I picked this machine up over a month ago, it wasn’t until this past Wednesday that I dragged it out, cleaned it up, and started fully testing it. You know why it didn’t seem like it was working correctly when I first did preliminary testing upon discovery? Because upon initial start-up, it brings up an option (via blue screen) to scan for channels. Pressing (most) any button will exit out of that, which is why it did seem to start running well shortly afterwards. Or maybe it just hadn’t been used in years and needed time to warm up, I don’t know. Like I said, it was sight unseen.
(I guess there’s some form of ancient memory inside, because despite unplugging the thing after doing a quick channel-scan, it hasn’t asked me to scan again upon subsequent power-ups; what was scanned has, erm, remained scanned.)
Anyway, I don’t know if it was serviced at some point or just built insanely well, but this VCR works wonderfully. Like I said, it was a little dirty when I grabbed it, and even now you can see some scratches on the front panel in my pictures (I did give the whole thing a good disinfectant wipe rubdown), but despite its former life and July 1995 birthday, it handled just about everything I threw at it like a champ. I tempted fate and kept it going for over four hours Wednesday, ran both a ‘good’ tape and a problematic one in it, and both displayed wonderfully and came through the ordeal unscathed. (This is good, because I’m fond of both tapes, and had one or both been eaten, there’s a good chance you’d have heard me yelling from wherever you are. “What’s that?” “Oh, it’s just North Video Guy screamin’ again.”)
The only issue that came up was that the stereo kept switching to mono with a few things I recorded back in 2012, BUT those were from the same channel, same brand of tape, same program even. It didn’t do that with other recordings from around the same period, so maybe it was a fault on the channel? Or the tape brand I used? I don’t know, but I’m considering this RCA “workin’.”
‘Course, I kinda wanted to see the actual S-VHS stuff in action too, you know? I mean, it handled my old, regular VHS just fine (indeed, phenomenal tracking, picture stabilization and sharpness, even with SLP), but when you’ve got a (relatively) super-charged machine like this, you gotta see it all.
Luckily, I had some S-VHS tapes. They were given to me a few years ago, and despite not having a (working) S-VHS VCR right then, it was really only a matter of time. So, I went digging for them, and came up with the 2003 CBS broadcast of Bruce Springsteen’s Barcelona concert. I’ve owned the entire show on DVD for years, but this was recorded in S-VHS SP, so hey, gotta check it out!
It looks terrific. Okay, sure, at the end of the day it’s still consumer videotape, it’s not as sharp as a DVD or something, BUT the higher-resolution is immediately noticeable. I mean, just look at Bruce here! The quality is, needless to say, superior to even a regular SP-recorded tape.
So, for only $4, I got a real bargain. An RCA S-VHS VCR that appears to work perfectly, and looks cool to boot. I hit up a lot of thrift stores, but things like this just don’t show up everyday, and certainly not at that price. RCA did good work, and that’s evident even now!
Back in the 1990s, for our home entertainment center, we had an RCA 4-Head Hi-Fi deck. Not an S-VHS, mind you, just normal VHS, but for years it served us well. I eventually ran it into the ground (young tape-head and all), but that was hardly a fault on RCA’s part. When it comes to 1990s VCRs, it was probably one of the better ones to be had. Dad was big into the entertainment center thing, so that deck coupled, with surround sound, it was definitely cool to watch (and hear!) big budget Hollywood product on that thing.
This RCA S-VHS VCR reminds me of that childhood deck, which is totally an added bonus here. All in all, another fine addition to my collection!