When shopping for a DVD recorder, keep in mind that these machines are nothing more than specialized mini-computers at the core. They all operate with certain parts, made by just a few part makers. As a reviewer, it has always been my goal to look "under the hood" and see what made a machine tick, and try to find out why machines worked good or bad.
When you work with VHS tapes, you want to look for certain abilities in a machine.
(1) NR. MPEG compression technology is hindered by noisy source, and it looks pretty bad. So you want a machine that will effectively (that's the key word! EFFECTIVELY!) remove grain noise from your VHS sources. There are a couple effective noise reduction chipsets out there. LSI is probably the best one. And then certain machines have NR circuits in addition to the encoder chipset. JVC, Pioneer, Toshiba.
(2) Chroma noise. This is the red/blue muck you find on VHS tapes. Your DVDs will be as clean as an original tv broadcast if you can remove this garbage. Even commercial VHS releases suffers from chroma noise, it's an inherent flaw of the VHS and S-VHS formats.
Some samples, from an extreme chroma error, to compare (right click, save as ... don't try to watch these in the web browser, the server will stall on you):
This was done completely in software, but the concepts and application is the same. These may also have some ghosting that would not be found in hardware chroma noise correction.
(3) Clean encoder. Because you're dealing with a somewhat noisy (even when cleaned) medium resolution source, you want an encoder that will perform well when stressed. It needs to not be confused by noise. LSI is an example of an excellent encoder chipset that almost never gets confused. Panasonic is an example of a really tacky chipset that makes noisy video because it's confused easily.
(4) Choice of recording modes. It would be preferable to have a machine that can record at 352x480 and still give it a decent bitrate. Using the "dummy" specs of a DVD recorder (SP mode, LP mode, etc), you want a machine that has a functional 3-hour mode. Or at very least the ability to see your own interval of 3 hours. For example, the JVC DVD recorder has "FR" mode, and FR180 (180 minutes) is 3 hours at 352x480.
(5) Overall quality, usability and asthetics of the product. This is not really important to the VHS->DVD aspect, but more towards it's general use. You clearly want a machine that can be understood relatively quickly. LiteOn makes idiot-proof machines. JVC has a simple 3-tab layout on one screen. Philips would require a degree simply to use the remote. You'd also like a machines that has minimal flaws (most machines have some sort of flaw, sometimes major).
Now, I told you all this, so you'd understand where I came from.
JVC uses an LSI chipset, it has it's own JVC NR filters, and then pretty much anything you record on this machine will look better than the source you fed it.
The stuff you read about JVC machines having "loading" errors is overblown. You will notice the same couple of people moaning all across the Internet. Some people have nothing better to do than complain wherever they find an audience. When it comes to technology reports on the Internet, realize most people go online and research only when they have a problem. THey don't go online to make good reports too often.
"Loading" is a generic message that means the machine has a problem. The "loading" issue most people refer to infected a small minority of the first-run machines built in 2004, the JVC DR-M10. Most of them were summer 2004 builds, usually made in China, and mostly NTSC (USA). At most, it was 5-10% of machines, maybe far less. The problem (a resistor used in the model) was quickly identified as the root cause, and JVC fixed it for no charge. Machines that got returned to the store (rather than the customer having JVC fix it) became the refurbs models that can be picked up cheap on sites like ecost.com. Some machines had further errors, usually when the "loading" issue was ignored and not repaired by the user, which led to larger hardware failures (chipset and drive). It's sort of like the brakes on your car. The longer you let the problem linger, the more they ruin, and it spreads into surrounding parts. Rarely did a "loading" issue re-surface once the resistors were replaced.
This is all past history, and has been for quite some time. The DR-M10 model was long ago discontinued and replaced by the upgraded DR-M100 unit. This unit has an entirely different power supply, so "loading" errors are impossible for that reason.
I have had a JVC DR-M10 Japanese-made unit since May 2004, using it almost daily, and I've never had a loading error from anything other than a bad disc. I plan to buy either a DR-M100 or DR-M30H in coming months. I've tested and tried countless other machines, and so far none of them can compete to the JVC units.
Having a good VCR will definitely help. If your tapes are copy-protected commercial VHS releases, you will need to buy a full-frame stand-alone timebase corrector (TBC), regardless of your choice in DVD recorder.
I've been testing and using DVD recorders for coming on 3 years now. If you have any more questions, ask.
So, the final advice on the best machine? JVC DR-M100S