One of the prevailing trends in the modern home theater is the increasing availability of combo players that combine more than one appliance in a single box. For example, a television set may be combined with a dvd player a VCR or both. A receiver may combine with a DVD player and so on. This is not new, for large home entertainment centers were common in the 1950's through seventies, combining stereo with TV in a wooden cabinet designed to blend in with the furniture. Today's combo players are not designed to resemble an early American cupboard with a picture tube, but they are in many ways like the older system.

Combo players as such have two important advantages. First a combo player may be less expensive than separate components. This is important at the entry level in the market, where $100 may be the difference between haves and have nots. Combo players are also compact, which is important in a small apartment or dorm.

The disadvantages of combo players is that they are of entry level quality. The gear may be reliable, but excellent performance should not be expected. If you seek high quality equipment, separate components are the better choice. At the high end, separates may be the only choice. The combo player may be smaller and lighter than the combined pieces they replace, but the player itself is usually larger overall than any equivalent single function appliance. But for me the really damning issue is reliability.

VCRs, and DVD players are mechanical devices which means they have moving parts. Mechanicals break more frequently than pure electronics. Televisions too have their foibles. In the event of a breakdown, the entire unit has to go in for service. If the VCR section of your TV/VCR combo breaks then you have lost both pieces during service. With separate components you can still watch TV while the VCR is in the shop.

Worse, you can lose everything together, just as you bought it. Entry level electronics are disposables, too inexpensive to justify repairs that always break $100 in cost. If the TV goes out in a TV/VCR combo it is very possible that the VCR is also lost because many designs do not allow for it to be hooked up to another TV. If a separate component breaks you replace it. If a combo player fails catastrophically then you have lost everything, and the replacement cost goes up. Even if the integrated VCR can be used with another TV, the surving piece becomes nothing more than a very large and heavy VCR.

For this reason I prefer separate components in my system, and encourage others who can afford them to go that way.