VHS tapes compatible with flat screen TVs -- to a point

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Q: Can we view our VHS tapes on these new flat screen TVs? We are getting mixed signals from sales people who act like they have never watched movies on VHS tape.

Some say plasma sets will distort the picture less than LCD, but when asked if there is a way to adjust the picture to correct the distortion they don't have an answer. We have hundreds of VHS family and commercial tapes that are just too expensive to copy onto DVDs.

Livermore, Calif.

A: Besides the expense and possible copyright violations, converting VHS tapes to DVD will not make them look any better. I recommend you just use your tapes with your VCR.

The VHS tapes and VCR will work fine with any TV you buy. Just connect the RCA composite video (yellow) and corresponding audio cables (red and white for a stereo VCR, and white for a mono VCR) to your new TV and play. You also can use the coaxial cable.

You were not specific about the kind of distortion you expect. One possibility is the difference in resolution between VHS tapes and HDTVs, which leads to a soft-looking picture. VHS tapes max out at 240 interlaced lines of resolution, or 240i. Flatscreen plasma and LCD TVs are either 720 or 1080 progressive lines, or 720p and 1080p. This mismatch leads to a soft, sometimes grainy picture. There isn't much you can do about the softness.

The other distortion possibility is the stretching from watching a 4:3 standard format VHS tape on a 16:9 widescreen HDTV. You can correct the distortion by going into the TV's menus and changing the aspect ratio to 4:3.

Q: I read your article about Blu-ray machines several weeks ago. You suggested value-conscious buyers get an Insignia, Sylvania or Magnavox player with a 1.1 profile. They sell around $169. Where can I find these machines? I haven't been able to locate them.

Buffalo, Minn.

A: The Insignia NS-BRDVD, Magnavox NB500MG9 and Sylvania NB501SL9 Blu-ray players are exactly identical and have proven to be outstanding. They are extremely reliable, reasonably fast, and picture quality is excellent. They also have an SD Card slot on the front panel for viewing digital camera pictures on your TV. The picture viewing feature works extremely well, and if you have one of these players, I recommend you try it.

Best Buy's $169 Insignia NS-BRDVD (not the new NS-2BRDVD model) seems to be discontinued and is getting hard to find. I prefer it over the others because it has a full one-year parts and labor warranty. The Magnavox and Sylvania players are one-year parts, 90 days labor. If you haunt a few Best Buy stores, I imagine you will come across an NS-BRDVD somewhere. If you do, snap it up!

The Magnavox is available at Sam's Club and Wal-Mart. You can buy an extended warranty very cheaply and match or exceed the Insignia's warranty. The Sylvania is sold at Sears. Both are available online at Amazon.com. Prices are usually around $199 or less, and well worth it.

Read past columns and product reviews by Don Lindich at www.soundadviceblog.com .


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