Pros: Excellent recording and playback quality, features, inputs, fast scene access
Cons: No analog 5.1 or digital audio input
The Panasonic DMR-E60 is not only a DVD-Recorder, but also has a PC Card slot, an SD Card slot and an i.Link (a.k.a. FireWire, DV) input. The recorder lets you record DVD discs in two formats write-once DVD-R and rewriteable DVD-RAM. The finalized DVD-R discs play in most DVD players, whereas DVD-RAM discs can be played in newer Panasonic DVD players (S35, S55, F65, F85) except for the Panasonic S25.
The recorders front panel features a flip-down lid, which conceals a front A/V input (composite video, S-Video and analog stereo audio) and an i.Link input. Above the lid, there are an SD Card slot, a PC Card slot and the eject button for it.
The right side of the front panel has buttons to control playback and recording, change channels and erase. There are also buttons for Time Slip function, which allows you to see instant replays while still recording the remainder of the show.
The recorders rear panel features two more inputs (composite, S-Video and analog stereo) as well as two A/V outs (including S-Video). There are also an RF (antenna/analog cable) input and out, component video out (can be switched between progressive scan and interlaced mode), a digital optical audio out and an AC power cord jack.
There is no coaxial digital audio out, any kind of digital audio input or a 5.1 analog input. The particular unit I am reviewing was made in Japan (for people who care about the origin of their devices).
The E60 can record/play DVD-R discs and DVD-RAM discs with or without a protective cartridge. It has several modes, which differ in picture quality and amount of video that fits on one disc. The best quality is provided by XP mode, which lets you fit 1 hour on a 4.7 Gb 1-sided disc or 2 hours on a 2-sided disc. The SP mode is not much worse as far as picture quality goes, but lets you record twice as much - 2 hours on a 4.7Gb disc or 4 hours on a two-sided disc.
Both SP and XP modes produce excellent picture quality with vivid colors and great detail level. The recordings are mostly indistinguishable from the original, with only slight artifacts. The longer-playing LP and EP mode (4 and 6 hours on a 4.7Gb disc respectively) produce worse picture quality with lower resolution, some video noise and colors that are less vivid as well as choppy motion.
The FR (flexible recording) selects 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 accordingly).
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 process of finalizing takes 10-15 minutes.
The claim is that the DVD-RAM discs can be erased and re-recorded up to 100,000 times. If you record a show every day on the same disc, that would let you reuse the same disc for close to 300 years. This claim is difficult to test, but even at the fraction of the promised lifespan, the DVD-RAM discs are way better than video tapes and will outlast the DVD format itself.
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. The Chasing Playback mode allows 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 easily skip over commercials.
The Time Slip features lets you watch instant replays while the show is being recorded. In other words, you get some of TiVo/ReplayTV-type functionality without having a hard-drive recorder another advantage of DVD-RAM technology.
The JPEG or TIFF files from the PC Card or SD Card can be viewed onscreen or recorded on the disc. Also, the camcorder footage can be copied directly to the DVD-R or DVD-RAM disc without having to use a computer. And in case with digital camcorder, you can use i.Link (FireWire) digital connection which allows you to avoid any loss of quality due to conversion from digital signal to analog and back.
Analog connectivity is also impressive - the E60 has more inputs and outs than even expensive VCRs and has familiar VCR+, timer recording (as well as manual recording). A built-in 181-channel tuner lets you record programs off the air or analog cable. 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).
The sound can be recorded in either Dolby Digital 2.0 or PCM mode. Although the E60 cannot record 5.1 audio, it can play 5.1 audio properly through its digital optical audio out.
The recorder plays DVD-Video, DVD-R, DVD-RAM, CD-Audio, CD-R, CD-RW, MP3 CD, VCD and XVCD. It features progressive scan (for TVs that support it) and noise reduction (3D NR, mosquito NR, block NR), useful for discs recorded at lower bit rates.
The 1.3x playback mode allows you to play the recording at 1.3x speed while still hearing the sound without the pitch shift. The E60 supports 2.8, 4.7 and 9.4 GB DVD-RAM discs as well as 4.7 and 9.4 GB DVD-R ones.
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. You can enter the program and disc titles, protect segments from accidental erasure, split segments, as well as create playlists.
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 MP3 files encoded at 32 to 320 kbps and at sampling rates of 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1 and even 48 kHz can be played.
The remote control can control televisions in addition to the recorder itself. It has two power buttons, volume control buttons and a DVD/TV switch that allows you switch some DVD control buttons to TV control mode. Some buttons are located behind a sliding door, including input select, open/close, erase and others.
The E60 is a substantially better video recording device than a VCR. It has DVD-like picture quality for recording and features TiVo-like features for playback/recording. And you have the ability to make copies of your video tapes on DVD for archiving (even using a digital connection if using a digital camcorder as a source).
Other Panasonic DVD Recorders
Listed below is the lineup of Panasonic DVD recorders (varying in features and price but with same solid core performance).
Other Panasonic DVD Recorders