Video technology has its odd ducks, and few are odder than the VCP.

No, not VCR, but VC P --for videocassette player, rather than videocassette recorder.

As a cheaper alternative to the VCR, the VCP's time would seem to have come and gone. After all, VCR prices have tumbled to the point where the smart shopper can find major-brand Beta models for around $180 and even basic VHS machines in the low $200-plus range. Yet Video magazine found enough interest in VCPs to devote a cover article to them in February, reporting that about 100,000 of the playback-only gadgets were sold last year in the United States.

Also, a couple of people have recently asked me if I'd recommend a VCP for specific purposes. For example, a colleague said she already owned a Beta Hi-Fi VCR and a Pioneer LaserVision disc player, but had no way of playing VHS tapes that friends were offering to lend her. Since VCPs sell for as low as $150, wouldn't it be smart to get one?

Though it's hard for a tape-off-the-air fiend like me (seduced by the cornucopia of cable programming) to understand why, other people say they're only interested in purchasing a machine that will enable them to watch movies they can rent at video stores. Is the VCP an answer?

Or how about the VCP for an extra video machine in the house--say, for the living room or den, to show rented movies when friends come over?

Since the average VCP is not only less expensive than the average VCR but also a bit smaller and lighter (12 to 15 pounds), it does have some appeal, especially if you'd like to tote one along on a trip, or have limited shelf space. It's relatively simple to install and use.

Beyond those advantages lies a sea of bad news. General Electric, Magnavox, Quasar, Sharp and Sylvania each market a VCP with such features as search, pause and three speeds, but they retail for as much as comparable VCRs ($299-$399). If you're going to save money by buying a low-priced VCP, you'll have to settle for fewer features.

Samsung, a Korean company, makes the most inexpensive VCPs (marketing some under the name Supra USA), but buying one of these models involves some compromises. The Samsung VT503P and the Supra SV-40 and SV-70, for example, play back at only one speed--SP (standard play). That's fine if you're only going to watch prerecorded tapes from the video store--they're always recorded at this speed. However, if you want to watch something a friend has taped for you at the slower LP (long play) and EP (extended play) speeds, you're out of luck.

The Supra models have handy--in fact, practically essential--features (search, pause, slow motion), but neither the Samsung VT503P nor VP2090 does. Almost any recent VCR model, no matter what the cost, has these basic special effects, three speeds and sometimes other "bells and whistles." Other normal VCR features, such as tracking controls (which can clear up certain picture problems), are also missing from VCPs. Most VCPs don't have remote control, either.

No matter what your proposed use for a VCP, you'd probably be better off spending a few extra bucks for a VCR. After all, even if you don't want to record anything now, you may change your mind someday--and find yourself stuck with a machine that's noteworthy more for what it doesn't do than for what it does.

VIDEO DISCS FOR RENT: Bernard R. Schafer, owner of a unique store called Action (2140 W. Artesia Blvd., Torrance), wrote to say that besides being a one-hour photo business, Action offers another service that may interest some readers. After reading in Home Tech that Ken Crane and Tower Video, two of the local stores with the largest video disc selections, didn't rent software in this format ("Video Discs Trying to Get Back on the Beam," Feb. 21), Schafer wrote: "I'd like to tell you that at my store here in Torrance I have one of the largest collections of laser video discs for rent in the Los Angeles area. I have more than 1,000 titles in this format which rent for $2.50 per night. However, the rental market has not been as large as I expected, but we will keep trying. Maybe it will catch on soon."

Also renting video discs is Video Place. Its Monrovia (662 W. Huntington Drive) and Long Beach (6417 E. Pacific Coast Highway) stores rent the discs for $3.20 per night. However, the Video Place in Monterey Park does not provide this service.

POST TIME: Unfortunately, Home Tech cannot give personal replies to inquiries so please keep your questions to those of general interest.

Steve and Elizabeth Scholtz of Los Angeles have written to complain that the prerecorded videocassettes they bought in Europe are incompatible with American-format VCRs. For a fee, some businesses will duplicate European tapes to VHS or Beta-format tape; check under Video Production Services in the Yellow Pages.

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