Compatibility Issues I think too much has been made about the playback compatibility of the various recordable-DVD formats in standard home DVD players. Compatibility with computer DVD-ROM drives is of far greater practical importance and has many significant ramifications, especially for editing. Nonetheless, all three recorders reviewed here can burn discs that are widely compatible - the Panasonic and Pioneer on DVD-R blanks, Philips on its "native" DVD+RW format. But each manual has a caveat somewhere to the effect that not all "compatible" discs made in that machine will play in all DVD players.
I certainly found this to be true with a DVD+RW made in the Philips deck, which played on six out of eight players we tried. The DVD+RW also played in the two computer DVD-ROM drives I tried æ until I finalized the disc and used the processing option that's intended to increase its playback compatibility! Neither DVD-RAM nor DVD-RW discs are compatible with normal DVD players (except for Pioneer models, which play DVD-RWs, and some newer Panasonic models that play DVD-RAMs), but I had no problem playing write-once DVD-R discs recorded on either the Pioneer or the Panasonic on all the players and drives I had available.
Still Anybody's Game
DIMENSIONS 17 inches wide, 43/4
inches high, 13 7/8 inches deep
WEIGHT 12 3/4 pounds
MANUFACTURER Panasonic Consumer Electronics, One Panasonic Way, Secaucus, NJ 07094
DIMENSIONS 20 inches wide, 8 1/4
inches high, 15 3/4 inches deep
WEIGHT 22 pounds
MANUFACTURER Philips Electronics, 64 Perimeter Center E., Atlanta, GA 30346-6401
DIMENSIONS 16 1/2 inches wide,
4 1/4 inches high, 14 inches deep
WEIGHT 12 pounds
MANUFACTURER Pioneer Electronics USA, 2265 E. 220th St., Long Beach, CA 90810
It's far too early to declare a winner in the recordable-DVD format war. Such a declaration should certainly not be attempted on the basis of our tests of these three early machines. There's no telling what tricks each format may have up its sleeves. The conclusion that can be drawn here is the same kind we often end up with in comparisons of components with widely varying capabilities: the model that's right for you will depend on what you're looking for.
If ease of use is of primary importance, the Philips DVDR 1000 is the hands-down winner, although selecting the recording mode is much too complicated. This is the recorder that behaves most like a VCR, making DVDs instead of tapes. You don't have to worry about which recording format or disc type to use or about finalizing your discs, and the discs you make should play on many regular DVD players.
If it's the finer points of image quality you're most concerned about, Pioneer's DVR-7000 gets the nod. While its MPEG encoding is about equal to the Panasonic's when they're compared using identical recording modes, the Pioneer lets you really fine-tune the video encoding to optimize picture quality for a given program duration. And it's the only player in this group that has a bidirectional FireWire connector, which is essential for bouncing signals between recorders with minimal loss of quality. On the downside, the Pioneer is the hardest machine to figure out, if not to use, because of the many different disc types and formats it can handle.
The Panasonic DMR-E20 provides excellent picture quality in its 1- and 2-hour modes, and in terms of ease of use, it stands squarely between the Philips and Pioneer. It's also the only one of the three that lets you play back a program from the start while it's still recording (thanks to its Time Slip feature), which increases its appeal as a time-shifting device. Too bad it doesn't have a FireWire connector.
Even though there's no clear-cut winner among these three models, I'm still very excited by the arrival of rewritable DVD recorders. If it were up to me, I'd let a couple of recorder generations go by before declaring which format is technically superior. Trouble is, by then the marketplace may have already chosen a winner. Let's hope that this time the decision is made for the right reasons, unlike what happened in the VCR format war.