With the DMR-E20, Panasonic introduces an EP recording mode that can make DVDs up to six times longer than in the deck's highest-quality mode, XP, which offers extremely clean video recording. (The previous "slowest" mode, LP, made recordings only up to four times as long as XP.) Using a double-sided 9.4-gigabyte (GB) DVD-RAM disc and the EP mode, for example, you can make a 12-hour recording - but you'll have to flip the disc over halfway during both recording and playback. Using the more common, and considerably less expensive, single-sided 4.7-GB DVD-RAM and DVD-R discs, the maximum recording times for the XP, SP, LP, and EP modes are 1, 2, 4, and 6 hours, respectively. (A survey of several New York City stores found blank 9.4-GB DVD-RAM discs selling for $40 to $50, 4.7-GB discs for $25 to $30, and 4.7-GB DVD-R discs for $10 to $15.)
Recording in EP mode comes at a price, however. First, there's the same loss of horizontal resolution that occurs when you switch from the good- to excellent-looking SP or XP modes even down to LP (see "In the Lab" on the facing page). This loss of detail won't be noticeable with common source material, like VHS or 8mm camcorder footage, since the resolution resembles that of those media. But the images are distinctly less sharp in LP and EP dubs from higher-quality sources, like MiniDV or Digital8 camcorders or conventional live TV broadcasts. (There's even a very slight - but usually unnoticeable - reduction in sharpness from watching a source through the recorder's circuits without recording it.)
To compress the video data as much as possible, the EP mode seems to record only one of the two video fields that make up a 1/30 second video frame. On playback, the recorded field is displayed twice to fill a frame but at considerably reduced vertical resolution compared with the other three modes. Objects in slow- to moderate-speed motion exhibit a slight stut tering effect. This isn't visible on talking-head programs, but with sports the picture can look slightly jerky. Use the EP mode judiciously.
In contrast to the video processing, the audio processing, which records everything as a two-channel Dolby Digital signal, seems to remain the same with all recording modes. Its quality is superior to what you can get from analog videotape and is second only to that of a CD recorder. Given this, you could use the ultra-long recording time to capture radio music mar a thons or opera broadcasts.
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