SMR logoRCA VH920 Video Switcher Review
Video switching, both composite and S-Video, has become a necessity in these days of image-based entertainment. The inexpensive RCA VH920 allows a single television input to accommodate up to six individual source components and provides seamless programmable switching. Retailing for just $80, is this switching box too good to be true?

 

RCA VH920 Video Switcher

RCA VH920 Video Switcher
Click for a larger image.

Do you have an older TV with minimal inputs?  Do you suddenly find yourself with a DVD player, DSS system and S-VHS VCR and only have one S-Video input?  You say your receiver doesn't do S-Video switching?  Is your significant other complaining that it's become a real pain to figure out what input belongs to which component?  Does any of this sound familiar?  If so, then read on... I might be able to help.

Not long ago I found myself in this very situation.  Before I had DVD, DSS and a Playstation® I had a nice 27" Toshiba TV, a stereo VCR and no home theater.  Then one warm July night my life changed.  A violent thunderstorm rolled through the area and, you guessed it, we got nailed by a lightning strike.  All of the expensive electronics in the house were on top-notch surge protectors except, of course, that Toshiba TV.  Well, to make a long story short, we decided that if we were going to replace the TV we should go all out and buy a good 35" model.  We managed to find a closeout deal on a Proscan with a decent picture.  True, it only had one RF, one composite and one composite/S-Video input, but all we had to plug into it was a VCR anyway, so that was no big deal, right?

That was then!  The new TV prompted the eventual shift into home theater and the rest is history.  We've since added a full surround system, followed by a DVD player, a DSS system and most recently a Sony Playstation.  For a while I was content to run the DVD player through the S-Video jack, the DSS via the composite input and the VCR to the RF jack.  The Playstation was the straw that broke the camel's back.  The only way I could find to hook it up was to run it through the second set of AV inputs on the front of the VCR.  This meant switching the TV to channel 3, turning on the VCR, hitting the TV/VCR button and then setting the VCR to the second AV input.  I think this process is a real pain and the rest of the family likes it even less than I do.

I could have replaced my receiver with one that does S-Video switching but quality receivers with this feature and the preamp outputs I require aren't exactly cheap.  Besides, did I really want to have to fire up the whole home theater every time I wanted to watch CNN?  Enter the RCA VH920 Video Switcher.

Not knowing how well this was going to work, I wanted to obtain the switch locally to ease any possible returns.  I had planned on coming home with a Sima SVS-4 but, as it turns out, the only place I could find the Sima brand (a large national electronics chain) doesn't carry the switcher and wasn't interested in ordering it.  So, I ended up at Circuit City, another large national chain and when I asked about remote controlled video switches they pointed me in the direction of the RCA.  It doesn't do Composite to S-Video conversion like the Sima but it comes with two more inputs and at $80 was significantly less expensive to boot.  What the heck, if it didn't work I could always bring it back!

RCA VH920 Video Switcher
Click for a larger image.

First of all, you get to remove this unit from an actual cardboard box, unlike the blister packed manual switchers I've seen from Sony and Terk.  I hate blister packs so that was one vote in favor of the RCA to begin with.  The unit itself is about 2˝" high, 11" wide and 7" deep and looks to be reasonably well constructed.  At the very least it's a far cry better than the el cheapo manual jobs that only go for about $30 less.  The back panel sports complete S-Video, composite video and left and right audio jacks for five inputs and one output.  There is an additional input on the front.  Power comes via a supplied "wall wart" style transformer.

Setup is simple enough once you get everything plugged into the back panel.  Make sure you have a little room to play around as the wiring can get messy in a hurry behind this thing.  With four inputs and one output coming into the back panel I have sixteen wires crammed into a pretty small space.  I would recommend bundling the wires into groups to keep things from getting all tangled up.  I know some audiophiles will tell me I should separate all my wires, keep them off the carpet and bathe them in green light, but I say sanity dictates otherwise.

Once everything is hooked up, all you have to do is program the unit with the commands from your remotes.  The unit itself doesn't come with its own handset but instead learns the commands off of your existing remotes to handle the switching.  The process is as simple as pressing the learn button, selecting the input you want to "learn" and pressing the power key on the corresponding remote.  If you forget how to do this and can't find the manual; have no fear, RCA was smart enough to print all of the programming instructions on the bottom panel of the unit!  There's also a function to program the unit to power down by teaching it the power off button from your TV's remote.  Pretty slick, huh?!

That's really all there is to it!  Now, when I fire up the DVD player, the video switcher selects the appropriate input and nobody has to know what component is connected to what input on the TV.  If, that is, all of your sources are either composite or S-Video.  As I mentioned earlier, the RCA doesn't do composite to S-Video conversion, so you may still have to switch the input on your TV between those from time to time.  The better choice may be to get the S-Video cable for the Playstation and never have to worry about it again.

RCA VH920 Video Switcher
Click for a larger image.

As far as video quality goes, I can't tell any difference between running the DVD player straight to the TV or running through the RCA switch first.  Maybe I could see it on a larger rear projection TV but I kind of doubt it.  What I do see is a tremendous improvement in video quality from the DSS system now that it's S-Video to the TV.  That alone made this a worthwhile purchase.

So, at this point you're thinking that I'm about to make an unqualified endorsement of this product, right?  Wrong.  Nothing is ever perfect and this is no exception.  I have run into one relatively minor problem that needs to be mentioned.  You see, it seems that whenever a member of my family presses the mute button on the original Proscan TV remote, the RCA switches to the DVD input (for a Sony S300 DVD player).  I have no idea why and as yet have been unable to come up with a way around the situation.  Neither of the universal remotes in the house exhibit this behavior so I can't explain the situation at all.  For most people, I'm sure this would never be a problem, but I won't swear to it.  Luckily, for me, the remote in question has been relegated to treadmill duty and doesn't see all that much use.  But the situation does get mildly irritating when you're a couple of miles into a run and accidentally mute the TV.

There you have it.  I wish it did composite to S-Video conversion and it has an operational quirk that may or may not be a problem for somebody else, but overall it does what it's intended to do.  No mess, no fuss and it gets the job done without breaking the bank.  It won't eliminate war and poverty or align the planets, but it might just help bring harmony to your marriage.  I guess that's not such a bad thing for 80 bucks!

 

© 2000.

 

Amazon Electronics
The RCA VH920 Video Switcher can be purchased on-line from Amazon Electronics

More information about RCA products can be found upon the official RCA web site

Text © Jeff Van Dyne; HTML © SMR Home Theatre and Images © Jeff Van Dyne & SMR Home Theatre cannot be reproduced without permission. Playstation is a registered trademark of Sony Consumer Electronics. The images on this page are digitally watermarked: Digimarc http://www.digimarc.com/

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Last updated 06 May, 2000

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