A better option is to find a VCR with a built-in HDMI port. These are most common on VCR / DVD combo players, especially those made after 2008 (when HDMI hit the mainstream). Via the HDMI port, these VCRs can drastically improve a VHS’s video quality.
An HDMI port is also the best option for connecting your VCR to a capture card. This opens up tons of options for digitizing your old home movies and other classics.
VHS tapes are even more finicky than most analog media. They’re very prone to physical deformations and errors.
Timebase correctors (TBCs) are the solution to this problem. A VCR with a built-in TBC will, with rare exception, produce more steady video quality than one without.
The best way to figure out whether or not a VCR includes a TBC is to do some Googling. Your potential VCR’s exact model number is your best friend in this effort. Check out this running list of VCR manuals, too.
A TBC isn’t necessary for a good VHS-watching experience. But if you have the choice between a VCR with a timebase corrector and one without, the TBC option will likely provide a more consistent viewing experience.
This might seem like a silly question for me to pose here, but it’s important to remember that we’re talking about used equipment. And used equipment that’s known for eating its own media, at that.
So yes, before you purchase a VCR, do your best to test it out. Or at least make sure you have the option to return it if it swallows your tape whole.
Besides simply putting in a tape and pressing play, you should test out all the physical buttons on both the remote and the VCR.
Peer around the inside of the deck with a flashlight. Is it gunky or rotted? Physical damage is all too common with VCRs, given how many of them have been sitting in attics since 2012.