PanasonicA starter deck with editing chops
The starter model from Panasonic, the DMR-ES10, manages to preserve many of the most notable features of its current and former higher-priced decks. Chief among these is the ability to record on erasable DVD-RAM discs, arguably the most versatile recordable-DVD format, though also the least compatible.
Using DVD-RAM, the DMR-ES10 can perform some simultaneous record/playback tricks that are usually possible only with a TiVo-like hard-disk recorder. These include the ability to play a recording from the beginning before it's finished and to play a previously recorded title while a new recording is in progress.
But DV camcorder users may be disappointed that the DMR-ES10 lacks an i.Link (a.k.a. FireWire or IEEE 1394) input, which would have permitted direct digital-to-digital copying. A similarly direct digital audio link is possible, but only if your receiver has an optical digital audio input and you don't mind paying for an optical cable.
EDITING FEATURES Although the DMR-ES10 also records on DVD-RW discs, Panasonic has restricted some editing features, such as video playlists, to DVD-RAM only. That's too bad, since playlist editing is the only way to change the playback order of recorded program segments, as you might want to do when editing camcorder footage.
REMOVING COMMERCIALS You can also remove commercials from an off-air recording only when you use a DVD-RAM disc. By far the easiest way to do so - both on this deck and among all three recorders here - is via the Shorten Title function. Just use the cueing controls and the ever-helpful Commercial Skip (CM Skip) button to enter the start and end points of the segment you want to remove. It's quick and easy, and the liberated disc space can be reused.
RECORDING QUALITY All three decks can produce image quality equal to or near that of a commercial DVD movie in the top recording modes. At this level, they can fit a maximum of 1 or 2 hours of program on a blank DVD. But, like all of Panasonic's latest DVD decks, and unlike the other two in this group, the DMR-ES10 preserves the same high resolution in its 4-hour mode. The other decks, like all previous DVD recorders I've tested, cut horizontal resolution in half in their 4-hour modes, leading to a soft, VHS-like image.
But Panasonic can't avoid all tradeoffs in image quality as disc capacity increases. While full DVD resolution is preserved in the DMR-ES10's 4-hour mode, I saw a lot more encoding "artifacts" - visual blemishes produced by the processing, such as "mosquito" noise around the edges of objects - compared with the deck's 1- and 2-hour modes, and even in comparison with the admittedly softer 4-hour modes on the other machines. On some material - especially any action sport - the artifacts can be very distracting. On more static programs - like a concert - you'll appreciate the added detail.
In both the 6- and 8-hour modes, vertical resolution is also cut in half, producing an image even softer than VHS. And in the 8-hour mode, there were so many artifacts that video quality became irrelevant. Audio quality is always preserved, however, which makes the 6- and 8-hour modes useful for very long programs where the images are less important than the music or speech.
Panasonic's DMR-ES10 does well as a basic VCR replacement. It has fine video performance and a versatile editing system, and you can probably buy it for less than $200.
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