Sony DVDirect VRD-MC5

July 7, 2009 at 12:00 am Leave a comment

With analog technologies moving to digital, youre probably cringing at the prospect of your entire VHS collection crumbling over time. Buying and installing a capture card— as well as figuring out how to use your PC to convert these tapes to digital format, is way complicated—but theres a superb alternative. The Sony DVDirect VRD-MC5  is the easiest way to convert your entire VHS collection (as well as video from your camcorder and photos from your digital camera) into DVD format, with one click of a button. All of this is done without the use of a PC, and you can see whats being recorded on its 2.5-inch LCD screen. Its worthy of an Editors Choice, just like its predecessor, the VRD-MC1, though this new model is unique in the market.

Those seeing the DVDirect for the first time might not guess what it does, because it doesnt look like any conventional external optical drive. It sits flat like a standalone DVD player. In fact, one might think it was a portable DVD player with its 2.5-inch LCD screen situated in the center. Sony has actually made the VRD-MC5s screen half an inch bigger than the VRD-MC1s, making it similar in size to the electronic viewfinders found in the back of point-and-shoot digital cameras—except the quality of the DVDirects screen is much better. (It wont be too long before Sony puts in a screen twice as a large, given the way LCD prices have dropped.) The buttons are pretty straightforward. The big red button lets you record photos or videos with just one touch. The arrow keys help navigate the menu, which you can get to by pressing the Return button. The Stop button is self-explanatory.

Although the VRD-MC5 is a great tool for capturing video from a camcorder, its main draw lies in converting old VHS tapes into DVDs. Youll need an A/V cable—either a red, white, and yellow or S-Video cable—to connect the DVDirect to your VCR. (Sorry, this cable doesnt come with the VRD-MC5—you have to buy it separately). When you hit the Play button on your VCR, the VRD-MC5 will automatically stream video onto its own LCD screen. You can record or stop recording at any point during the feed. You can also set up an automatic timer in the menu screen. The process is similar with a camcorder, though you will need to buy an additional cable (FireWire or USB) for data transfer. The VRD-MC5 also supports high-definition camcorders like the Sony HDR-HC3 HDV 1080i Handycam, which uses Sonys proprietary AVC HD format. It doesnt support other HD camcorder formats, though.

The selection menu has grown since the previous version, so there are several things you can do to enhance the DVD experience. First, make sure you pick the right quality mode. You can choose from five quality recording modes (HP, HSP, SP, LP, SLP) that range in recording time from 1 hour in the HP (high-quality play) mode to 6 hours in SLP (super long play) mode. For maximizing DVD space without compromising video quality, I suggest using the SP mode (2 hours). Bear in mind, these times are for 4.7GB single-layer DVDs; the amount of content you can load doubles with 8.4GB dual-layer DVDs. Sony adds four basic title menus with different colors and styles that you can choose from, although you cant add transitions, special effects, or anything fancy. This is on-the-fly recording—youll have to use professional video-editing tools on a PC for sophisticated tasks. Speaking of PCs, Sony removed the DVDirects capability to connect to a PC and a USB printer, which it used in previous versions, so its now a standalone device. That also means you cant use it as an external USB DVD burner for your PC. The lone USB port is for connecting USB camcorders only. As with previous versions, you cant connect this device to your TV because it lacks video output ports, and you cant play a DVD from, say, Blockbuster or Netflix on the LCD screen—not that youd want to, anyway.

The VRD-MC5 has three multimedia card slots that support Memory Stick Duo, MS, SD, xD, and CompactFlash formats. You can view your photos as thumbnails on the LCD screen, with up to six thumbnails per screen, or one at a time if you want larger images. You can then pick and choose which ones to burn onto a DVD, or just burn everything from the flash card. Creating a slide show that works with a DVD player and incorporates an MP3 musical track is as easy as clicking the selection on the menu. After the burn is done, you can preview the finished product on the LCD screen. One pet peeve of mine is that the VRD-MC5 doesnt burn CD formats, so youll have to use DVD media even if you want to burn only several photos.

Sony doesnt provide any specifications for the DVD drive used in the VRD-MC5 because you cant connect it to a PC anyway, so its really only one speed—which burns at a good clip. I was able to dub 2 hours worth of camcorder footage, with a number of 10-minute chapters and a title menu, in 25 minutes. Burning 120 photos from my SD card, with slide show and music, took roughly 10 minutes. As stated earlier, it doesnt come with any cables as the previous versions did, and it doesnt bundle burning software like Nero 7.0 (which is a moot point since, as Ive said, you cant connect this to a PC).

The Sony DVDirect VRD-MC5 is the easiest way to transfer video from a VCR or a camcorder, or photos from a camera, to a DVD, taking only a matter of minutes to do it. It lacks some functions the previous versions had, such as a USB port that connects to a PC or printer. Also, the accessories arent as impressive without the data cables and software bundle that the previous iteration had. But thats how Sony was able to bring the price down to $229, from the VRD-MC1s list price of $299, and its a tremendous bargain considering what you can do with it. If you have camcorder tapes piling up or youre worried about your old VHS collection turning to dust, the DVDirect VRD-MC5 can easily make your memories digital.

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