Pros: Excellent picture quality for recording and playback, DVD recording, FireWire
Cons: Not cheap, no 5.1 audio input
The Panasonic DMR-E100H is a DVD-Recorder with a built-in 120 GB Hard Drive. The DVD recorder part of the unit can record DVD discs of two formats: write-once DVD-R and rewriteable DVD-RAM. The programs can also be recorded to the hard drive and then from the hard drive can copied to the recordable DVD as needed.
The finalized write-once DVD-R discs play in most DVD players, whereas rewritable DVD-RAM discs can be played in most newer Panasonic DVD players (the new Panasonic S25 DVD player cannot play them). Panasonic claims that DVD-RAM discs can be erased and re-recorded up to 100,000 times.
Both DVD recorder and the hard drive recorder part produce better picture quality than any analog VCR (S-VHS VCRs included). Also, the DVD is a much more durable media than the magnetic tape and requires no rewinding.
In addition, the device has PC card and SD card slots as well as a FireWire (i.Link) input for digital connectivity with digital camcorders.
This recorder is silver with partial mirror finish. Its front panel features a flip-down lid, which conceals front inputs (S-Video, composite video, analog stereo audio and DV IN a.k.a. i.Link a.k.a. FireWire). The right side of the front panel has buttons to control playback and recording, change channels and erase, buttons for Time Slip function (allows you to see instant replays while recording the remainder of the show). Two backlit buttons on the right side of the disc tray let you switch between the HDD (hard drive) and DVD recording. The left side has SD card and PC card slots.
The rear panel has two more inputs (including S-Video) as well as two A/V outs (also including S-Video). Additionally, there are an RF (antenna or analog cable) input and out, component video out (progressive/interlaced) and a digital optical audio out. No coaxial digital audio is provided.
The E100 has more inputs and outputs than even expensive VCRs and has familiar VCR+, timer recording in addition to manually-programmed recording. A built-in 181-channel tuner lets you record programs off the air or analog cable. The tuner lets the unit to set the clock automatically as well as features auto tuning. There is no digital audio input, however, so you can only record from analog audio inputs, which deprives you from the 5.1 digital sound recording capability (e.g. if you have digital output equipped satellite box). Most likely this was done to prevent one from making copies of 5.1 soundtracks.
The audio recording can be in either Dolby Digital 2.0 or PCM. The 5.1 audio is not available on sources from which you should be recording: camcorder footage, most cable and satellite TV programming. For example, DirecTV seems to carry 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks only on their pay-per-view channels, where you should not be recording from anyway. Also, the 5.1 soundtrack would take more space on the disc and decrease the picture quality and/or recording time. This means that the lack of 5.1 recording capability should not be an issue.
I got an email with questions about copy protection recently. I want to reiterate here that you cannot make copies of most store-bought VHS movies and DVDs as both media types are copy-protected by Macrovision copy guard most of the time. Keep in mind that some TV shows have copy protection and you can only record them once. Because of this, the programs in question can only be moved from HDD to the DVD-RAM or the other way around. They cannot be recorded on a DVD-R disc.
The recorders 1.3x playback mode allows you to play the recording at 1.3x speed while still hearing the sound without the pitch shift. The recorder plays DVD-Video, DVD-R, DVD-RAM, CD-Audio, CD-R, CD-RW, MP3 CD, VCD. It features progressive scan (for TVs that support it), noise reduction (3D NR, mosquito, block).
Both cartridge-enclosed and non-cartridge-enclosed DVD-RAM discs are supported. It supports 2.8, 4.7 and 9.4 GB DVD-RAM discs as well as 4.7 and 9.4 GB DVD-R. The Auto Renewal Recording on HDD automatically overwrites the show repeatedly with every show occurrence if programmed accordingly.
The program and disc titles can be entered, and you can protect segments from accidental erasure, split segments, as well as create playlists. As the programs are recorded, the list of them is created (Direct Navigator) and you can later jump to the beginning of any of them. You can erase the entire program or the parts of it.
The "standard" DVD features are also provided: slow and fast scan, angle select, subtitle select, soundtrack select, parental control, resume, repeat play, virtual surround sound, etc. The E100 can play 2-channel DVD-Audio as well.
The recorders FireWire input can be used to copy your camcorder footage to the DVD media (I suggest DVD-R for storage, because it is more compatible with DVD players).
The E100 can play MP3 files encoded at 32 to 320 kbps and at sampling rates of 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1 and even 48 kHz. You can also view JPEG photos from either an SD card or a PC card inserted in the slot on the recorders front panel.
The DVD-R discs can be played back in most newer DVD players and are also great for archiving purposes. The DVD-R discs must be finalized before you can play them in a standard DVD player. The DVD-R discs have much better compatibility than the DVD-RAM discs and thus should be used if you intend to share them with somebody who is going to try to play them in a non-Panasonic DVD player.
The DVD-RAM discs, according to Panasonic, can be erased and re-recorded up to 100,000 times. Even at the fraction of the promised lifespan, they are much better than video tapes, especially taking into account that the picture quality after multiple re-recordings should not decrease.
Another powerful feature of the DVD-RAM is its flexibility in terms of recording/playback that VCR would never allow. You can record and play the same disc at the same time functionality that other recordable format do not allow. The Chasing Playback mode lets you watch the show from the beginning (or any other point) while the rest of it is being recorded.
This way, you dont have to be afraid to miss the beginning of the show and have to wait for recording to finish. And you can somewhat easily skip over commercials using the appropriate button. I must add that the built-in HDD has the same functionality.
The Time Slip features lets you watch instant replays while the show is being recorded on the DVD-RAM disc. Both cartridge-enclosed and cartridgeless DVD-RAM discs are supported.
The E100H has several modes of recording. They differ in picture quality and amount of video that fits on one disc (or on the hard drive). The best quality is provided by XP mode, which lets you fit 1 hour on a 4.7 Gb 1-sided disc. The SP mode is not much worse in terms of picture quality, but lets you record about 2 hours on a 4.7Gb disc. 2-sided DVD-RAM discs fit 9.4Gb and double the recording times to 2 and 4 hours respectively.
Both SP and XP modes produce excellent picture quality with vivid colors and very good detail level (both DVD and HDD recording). The recordings are mostly indistinguishable from the original with XP having less artifacts. The longer-playing LP and EP mode (4 and 6 hours on a 4.7Gb disc respectively) produce worse picture quality with some video noise and colors that are less vivid. The hard drive capacity allows you to fit up to 160 hours in EP mode (lowest quality).
The so-called flexible recording mode (FR) selects the bit rate based on the duration of the program being recorded, which automatically changes the disc playback time to make the program fit (and varies the picture quality). It also works with either DVD or HDD recording. The playback of the store-bought DVDs is excellent in either progressive scan or interlaced mode.
The recording of the camcorder footage transferred through the DV In (FireWire) in digital form produces excellent results that are mostly undistinguishable from the original.
The supplied remote control can control some TV sets in addition to the recorder itself. It features two distinct power buttons, volume control buttons and a DVD/TV switch that allows you switch some DVD control buttons to TV control mode. Unlike some other DVD recorders from Panasonic, this remote does not have a flip-open cover or sliding door, which is a good thing, but the remote looks button-rich.
Fortunately, the button layout is logical and the directional buttons are relatively large. The recorder also comes with batteries for the remote, a 4.7 Gb DVD-RAM disc, A/V and power cables.
The E100H is much more than a VCR replacement. It has much better recording quality, TiVo-like features, DVD recording from cable, satellite and a digital camcorder. I highly recommend it to somebody who needs such a versatile device. If you dont need all the features, you can get a less expensive recorder from the Panasonic lineup listed below:
Other Panasonic DVD Recorders