Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
- Good interface; huge hard disk; easy to use
- No continuous time shifting, analogue, weak MP3 and JPG handling
A slick interface and good encoder make this a quality product, but it's not without a few shortcomings.
Price$ 1,099.00 (AUD)
Having been so impressed with Panasonic's DMR-ES30 combo DVD recorder and VHS player, we were looking forward to seeing what Panasonic could do with a hard disk in the box. Sadly, the answer is not much more than it does without one. Rather than take full advantage of the capabilities of the hard disk, the Panasonic just treats it like an extra large DVD-RAM disk.
Most crucially, it doesn't support automatic and continual time shifting, the staple of all good PVRs. It does support chasing play - that is, being able to watch a program that you're recording from an earlier point than the live signal, but you've have to initiate the recording manually to do that, which is not tremendously convenient.
The remote control also leaves something to be desired. It seems short a few buttons, and you occasionally have to work through menus to get to options that other devices can access at the touch of a button. It also has an awful rotary wheel/D-PAD in the centre. Panasonic were going for iPod-cool, but ended with something that's loose, wobbly and generally annoying.
The Panasonic DMR-EH60 does have a very good interface and excellent media support. It supports DVD-R/RW and DVD+R as well as DVD-RAM cartridges. Unusually, it also has a Secure Digital slot in the front, allowing you to insert SD flash memory direct from your digital camera. You can use the player to view images on your TV, and you can also copy them to the hard disk and DVD-RAM disc.
The Panasonic's UI is by no means cumbersome. The speed at which you can name, edit and dub recorded clips on the Panasonic is quite good. It's an 8X DVD-R/+R burner (5X DVD-RAM, 4X-DVD-RW), capable of high-speed dubbing, and there's a decent menu system for selecting and modifying clips for archival to optical disc. You can re-encode during the dubbing process to reduce the file size, but it can only dub at real-time rates if you do that. Dubbing, of course, can work both ways, although you typically can't dub commercial DVD movies. Unfortunately, you can't watch TV while dubbing.
As with most DVD recorders, discs that are recorded in the DVD video format (typically DVD-R, DVD+R and DVD-RW) can be finalised to play on other consumer players. The Panasonic, with its fast burner, does this quite quickly, and produces a disc with a polished menu system (including thumbnails) and quality video.
We tested the different recording levels - from Extra Long Play (EP - 266 hours on the HD, 8 hours on an optical disc) to XP (44 hours on the HD; just one on a DVD). EP recordings were at or slightly below VHS quality recordings; LP (four hours/disc) was good enough for low motion video like soap operas or talk shows, while SP (two hours/disc) was optimal for high motion video like sporting events. The Panasonic has a pretty good encoder, and XP seems like overkill, since we could tell little difference between it and SP. The Panasonic also has an option to automatically reduce the bit rate to fit programmed shows into the remaining space on a disc.
The DMR-RH60 has a huge range of input and output options - including digital and progressive scan component video, and it also has a DV (FireWire) input for dubbing from digital camcorders. It has both SCART and S-Video input and output, along with the usual RCA composite input and output and antenna loop-through.
The inclusion of the SD slot gave us high hopes for the MP3 and picture support in the DMR-EH60. Sadly, it's not great. It's a little slow to generate thumbnails, has a less-than-ideal flicker filter for images and no random play support for music. It is also incapable of reading images and music off DVD-R, +R and -RW discs, although it can read them off CD and DVD-RAM (but who has a DVD-RAM drive in their PC?)
We're fond of the Panasonic's interface, and massive 200GB hard disk and high quality video encoder are appealing, but we suspect Panasonic could have done more with this product. It a good solution overall, but lacks some of the niceties of its competitors.
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