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A few years back I decided to join the digital age and ditch my VHS recorder and DVD player for a DVD recorder. After reading opinions on on-line forums I came to the conclusion that the best recorder for me would be a Panasonic DMRE50, which used DVD-R as is write once format and DVD-RAM as the re-writeable.
~~~In the Box~~~
The DVD recorder came securely packed along with a power cable, set of AV cables, remote control (with batteries), single sided DVD-RAM disc (without caddy) and a very poorly written instruction manual.
The E50 is silver in colour and looks quite stylish when lined up with other pieces of my A/V equipment, measuring 430mm x 79mm x 283mm it is approximately the same size as a standard DVD player and easily fits in most TV units.
The recorder is extremely simple to set up, even without following the rather pathetic instructions in the manual. There are two scart sockets (one in and another out) along with component outputs and inputs. Under a flap at the front there is a further set of component inputs along with S-Video. I currently have a video sender, VHS and playstation 2 connected to mine and it handles these inputs flawlessly.
~~~The remote control~~~
At first look the amount of buttons on the remote is to say the least overwhelming. But after a few uses it gets to be almost second nature. The recorder responds quickly to button presses, and the only button missing is one to eject the disc.
As I've previously said this machine records on two different types of disc, DVD-R and RAM. Of the two the RAM discs offer the most flexible recording but lacks compatibility, while the DVD-r offers excellent compatibility ( in my experience).
Which ever disc you use you have the choice of four standard recording modes along with a flexible mode.
This is the highest quality mode available and allows 1 hour recording per disc (or side). The quality is absolutely fantastic, but probably a little over the top when you consider that most digital signals are already compressed. I only ever used this quality for transferring camcorder footage.
This is the quality I stick to if there's a program I want to keep. It's very nearly the same quality as a broadcast, personally I can't really tell the difference. And at 2 hours per side it gives quite a lot of recording time as well.
This is really the lowest acceptable recording mode, giving 4 hours or recording per side. I use this mostly for recording programs that I'm going to watch and wipe. The picture is quite a lot softer than SP mode, and a little bit of pixilation shows up on fast moving scenes.
Although this mode gives upto 6 hours per disc, I personally find it unwatchable, there is a lot of pixilation, and the picture becomes very soft with ghosting.
This is the mode that sets DVD-R recorders apart from the +. The flexible recording mode means that you can set the recorder to record for a specified time and it will work out what bit rate it needs to fill the disc. The great advantage to this is that you do not drop a complete quality level just because you want to record something that's just over a limit.
After a DVD-R is filled you will need to finalise it, and its during this time that a menu is created. Now I must say, I totally dislike the menus this recorder creates, along with the fact that it insists on adding chapter marks every five minutes. The menus are very boring and totally text based, no nice thumbnails or anything.
Now we come to the first great advantage of using DVD-RAM discs. The particular format used for recording on these discs (VR) is extremely flexible and means that the disc becomes a virtual hard drive. You can delete commercials out of programs and completely regain the space, as well as deleting any programs you've watched. I love this feature and use it all the time.
And this is the second advantage of a DVD-RAM machine over a DVD+R, you can watch a previously recorded program whilst recording another. This is a feature that I've used regularly, I will start recording a series of programs and then when it has been recording for an hour or so will start watching, simply fast forwarding through the adverts. Once I'd started using this feature I couldn't believe that I'd ever been able to manage without.
The E50 features a timebase corrector, which improves the quality of recording made from VHS and camcorders. Although the improvement is not fantastic it is definitely noticeable and a handy extra feature.
I find the E50 is very picky on which blank DVD-R it will accept, but have had excellent results with Datasafe premium 4x printable, and the resulting discs have played on every machine that I've tried them on.
With DVD-RAM however, it is far less picky, and I've used several different makes including, Panasonic's own and a Datawrite double sided in caddy. However, it is unlikely that these will play in your DVD players or computer, unless it is capable of reading DVD-RAM discs. Luckily, both my Stereo system and computer do, and if your computer drive does recognise them then there are programs such as TMPGenc DVD Author that can be used to convert the programs into DVD-R.
The recorder will not record on DVD+R, DVD+RW or DVD-RW, so its not worth trying these.
The recorder is able to play most discs in the DVD-R/W format along with commercial DVDs and CDs. It also does a reasonable job with MP3 CDs, and DVD-RAM discs recorded on a Toshiba recorder. I've been completely unsuccessful at getting it to play any discs in the DVD+ format.
~~~Picture and Sound Quality~~~
I've found that the picture and sound quality when playing commercial discs is fantastic, the picture is clear and sharp, even without using the RGB functions, and when RGB is enabled then the colour becomes extremely vibrant.
Unfortunately, the drive in my recorder failed after three months of fairly heavy use and it had to go back to Panasonic for repair. However, due to the long turnaround (2 months), I purchased a new Toshiba recorder with a hard drive while I was waiting.
Since being returned the E50 has been relegated to my bedroom, where it has only occasional use when there is more than one program that I want to record from Sky at the same time.
~~~Price and availability~~~
Although this recorder has been superseded by the E55, it is still available on Ebay at very reasonable prices. I found one that is currently bidding at £62, for this price it makes an excellent recorder for a child's room.
Although I had problems with my recorder to begin with, since the drive has been replaced it has performed flawlessly, so perhaps I was unlucky.
This is an old machine, that can now be found quite cheaply at online auction sites. And as such it is quite reasonable for the price, and far more flexible than the bottom of the range DVD+ machines. However, for many the lack of hard drive can be a major disadvantage, I would therefore only really recommend this either as an introduction to the world of digital recording or as a second recorder.
Evolution is a wonderful process, in the old days we had cassette players in our cars. They changed into cd-players and now they?ve changed into full entertainment systems. The same goes for home video, we?ve had VHS and for many years it served us well. We taped our favourite programmes when we couldn?t watch them. We got the latest movies out to watch at home. But with all this we had to put up with the eventual degrade in quality as the tapes were recorded on too much and played back too often. I remember first watching Silence of the Lambs on an old VHS tape, needless to say it was the final nail in the coffin having had a DVD player for quite a few years I can say that VHS is now dead as a format and that?s down to DVD recorders. With the advent of this technology there is now no need to have a VHS player??trust me once you?ve sampled the delights on offer with these pieces of kit you?ll be throwing the old video out of the window. I decided to upgrade to a DVD recorder from my Pioneer 717 player about nine months ago. This was when there weren?t a great deal of recorders on the market but they had started to come down to reasonable prices. I opted for the Panasonic DMR-E50 after it received great reviews by most people in magazines and people who?d actually bought one. When buying a recorder it?s worth bearing in mind that there are primarily two types of recorder. There is the format that takes DVD-rewritable discs. Then there are models like this Panasonic which take DVD-R?s and also have DVD-Ram capabilities. Having a Ram disc gives you more flexibility for your recording in my opinion. The E50 is a quite slimeline machine with very few buttons at the front to confuse you. Comparing it to my old Pioneer 717, well the 717 looks like one of the early VHS top-loaders in terms of size. Essentially a DVD-recorder works in the same way as a VHS recorder, you select you channel and hit record. But of course DVD means that the quality of your rec
ording is an incredible improvement, it also means that you can record things from TV for safekeeping and those endless re-plays of Pop Idol won?t get faded and have a hissing noise on them. The DVD-Ram side of the Panasonic recorder gives you great control over your recording. For starters there is a Time-Slip option which allows you to start watching a recording even if it?s only half-finished. So in simple terms, if you?ve come in halfway through recording Eastenders, you can start watching it without having to wait another 15-20 minutes. The quality of the recording also doesn?t suffer if you choose this option. At first I was sceptical of what picture quality I would get on recordings. Well this varies depending on what recording option you select. A one-sided DVD-Ram disc can hold up to six hours of video in its EP mode. Recording in this mode means that there is a lot of compression, the picture quality is adequate but can be blocky at times. The best results come in SP mode which offers two hours of recording, the end result is just as good as you?ll get on TV, even the LP mode which gives four hours still makes viewing pleasant. Naturally the quality of the recording is also dependent on the strength of your TV reception. So fat this all sounds a bit boring but then this is where DVD-Ram comes in. It?s a flexible format that means you can really play about with your recording. Say for example you record a concert. You can erase parts of the recording you don?t need, you can create chapter stops at the beginning of each song, and you can move chapters about in the recording. To be honest this is something I don?t use a lot but having the option there is very worthwhile. It?s a big advantage to anyone who likes to transfer their video camera footage to video. This allows you a degree of editing which you can?t get from a regular VHS recorder. With this in mind, Panasonic have added a panel of video connections that are nicely hidden at the
front of the machine. On the normal DVD side this player gives good results. It works like your normal DVD player and had connections for home cinema amps etc. I wouldn?t have bought this recorder is it couldn?t be multi-region. Thankfully Richer Sounds offered the player with this option, it?s automatic as well and has no problem with things like RCE discs from the USA. The playback quality is excellent as you?d expect from Panasonic products. The only problem I have with the machine is the remote control. There?s a lot of buttons on the remote and the main ones are housed under a sliding cover. I would have preferred these buttons just to be part of the full remote. The reason for this is that it makes operation awkward at times especially if you?re trying to access sound and subtitle options mid movie. In terms of consumables you can pick up three double sided Ram discs for £20 from avland.co.uk. Of course it?s beat to ship around but these are well priced for the Panasonic branded Ram discs. These discs can hold up to 12 hours of recording EP mode but also come in a plastic caddy that slots into the machine. This keeps your discs free of dirt and marks. Anyone thinking of getting a DVD recorder would be making a great choice. I haven?t looked back since I bought one and they certainly have sent VHS to it?s grave. There are several Panasonic recorders on the market but this one represents great value for the home user who?s not looking for a lot of thrills.