So, by this time next year pretty much the whole country will have switched over to digital TV, a small town in N.Ireland to see the end of analogue on October 24th, 2012. Whether everyone will have a digital signal by that day is another story. We know from the amount of older people who haven't yet switched their gas and electricity bills to get cheaper deals it's unlikely. New technology and modern ways to pay bills are intimidating and worrisome for some. But if they don't have the digital box or dish by then there will be no Strictly Come Dancing next year.
As we all know we constantly have to retune digital TVs as new transmitters are turned off and others turned up. If you have satellite TV then you also suffer if your dish is knocked a cm or two out of line although the benefit of the dish over Freeview is that you can tune in a lot more stations and so get stuff like Greek channels that play Premier League football at a third of the subscription, fully legally. But Freeview is just that and more than enough channels to keep me entertained, especially now that there is anew series of Curb Your Enthusiasm on More4!
So once you have your box up and running you must decide what sort of DV recorder you need. A single tuner one means you can only record the channel you are watching and so restrictive whereas the more expensive models have two tuners so to be able to record stuff on the side your not watching and at any time, the selling point for this type of kit. The option today tends to be if you have a ton to spend then should you go for the double tuner box or upgrade to BlueRay, but the latter only as good as your TV. I chose to go for this format. To me BlueRay is an extravagant buy as you can't record telly on those machines in BlueRay, strictly for rental users only.
The Panasonic DMR-ES20D is not new tech by any means and a rather chunky beast. It is indeed big, a composite plastic shell that has that metal feel, look and weight (6kg). But at the time of its release (2006) it was top end kit and the complicated remote-control evidence of, more knobs than a Tory Conference ball! Half of those knobs you never use and most of the remote is for show. The most useful options on it are the TV listings display, which make it much simpler and easier to record programs and set timer's with this type of model. You press the Display button and up cometh the listings on your TV screen and you just scroll down to the program and maneuver the cursor over the show you want to record and press Enter! Then press timer record and off out you go!
As I say it's a big beast and sits well on top or under your TV. Disc insert is remote and plenty of cable and SCART slots on the back to set up your variations for home cinema. You will need to research how to use a TV without a tuner to run with your DVD, video recorder and set top box and it is complicated. How you get a handheld to play your old home movies on here is beyond me though.
Normal size discs will just about record two movies and the more advance user can record direct from this player on to their lap top and trim the adverts that way to size the disc better if you are cataloguing stuff. One thing you have to be carful of is when you are asked to format discs when you put them in the machine that they are blank. VHS was so much simple and why I love the old ways best. I can't tell the difference between the quality of a new VHS movie and that of a DVD.
Features wise this is five years old and so no chance of HDTV or Internet connections. No Blue Ray either or flash card memory slots. But it has all the things you need to play most multimedia, including MP4 stuff, and you can play your music in the DVD player. Some people forget that. It has only the one disc player and so you can't pirate anything easily. One irritant is that if you are a save the planet type and turn off everything at night you have to reset the players clock in the morning so to be able to set the timer. You can reset the clock just be pressing the EPG (Electronic Program guide) menu.
On the whole I have had no real issues with the old lady although you have to pay attention if you are using the timer to record. In my TV area we are losing and gaining channels all the time (ITV3 has gone this morning) and so make sure you record the right channel on the menu display. You also need to press timer record once you leave the DVD tuner channel. I quite like the in vision fast -forward, something new to me, and the super slow motion options.
Price wise it's around £90 on Amazon and the like and still value. Most duel tuner kit is still more than that although you don't get the new options on this, of course. If you want a stoic classic that is still being produced because its reliable then why not the old girl?
Blu Ray: No
Built-In Modem: No
Built-in Sat-Tuner: No
Compact Flash Card: No
DTS Decoder: No
DVD Audio Playback: Yes
DVD Combination: No
DVD+R Playback: Yes
DVD+R Recording: Yes
DVD+RW Playback: Yes
DVD-R Playback: Yes
DVD-R Recording: Yes
DVD-RAM Playback: Yes
DVD-RAM Recording: Yes
DVD-RW Playback: Yes
DVD-RW Recording: Yes
Electronic Program Guide yes
HDTV ready: No
HDMI Interface: No
IPTV (Internet Protocol Television): No
Integrated VCR: No
MP3 Playback: Yes
MP3 Recording: No
MPEG4 Recording: No
Memory Stick: No
Multimedia Card: No
Number of Discs: 1
PCMCIA Interface: No
Photo CD Playback: Yes
Progressive Scan: Yes
Real Dolby: AC3
Secure Digital Card: No
Show View: Yes
Smart Media Card: No
Super Audio CD: No
Super Audio CD Playback: No
Super Video CD / Video CD Playback: Yes
Table / Portable: Table
USB Interface: No
W-LAN Connection: No
xD-Picture Card: No
I have had this product for a few years and it has been very reliable. The product is multi-functional, acting as a freeview box and a DVD player/recorder. The built in freeview box works just as well as the set top box I previously had, and provides a TV guide feature so you can see what is on any particular channel that day, and what is on every channel at one particular time. From the TV guide, you can select programmes to timer record. It plays Region 2 DVDs and has all the normal DVD player features. The only problems I have had with it are as a DVD recorder. It normally works fine, but occasionally it will not read a disc properly and claim the disc is full when in fact it is empty. This can normally be fixed by switching it on then off again, but if you want to record a programme, this can be quite annoying! Once recorded, programmes can be deleted if required, or the disc can be 'finalised' to prevent programmes being recorded over. At this point you can also name each programme and give a name to the disc for future reference.
In general the product satisfies each of the three roles and I would recommend it.
I've recently had to leave the domain of Sky television, and was getting extremely bored with the terrestrial offerings. I therefore decided to get a freeview box, but then decided I rather missed my old DVD recorder. I therefore decided to purchase a DVD recorder that incorporated freeview, not having a great deal of money to spend (<£200) I knew that a hard drive was out of the question, but I did want as much flexibility as possible and so I chose the Panasonic offering which was on sale for £179.99 at Richer Sounds.
---The Basic Specs---
The DRM ES20D is the most basic of Panasonics combined freeview/DVD recorders and it roughly equates to their previous basic model the ES50 with a few improvements. Whereas the maximum recording time on the ES50 was 6 hours, the addition of the letter D has boosted recording time to a maximum of 8 hours. Along with the increase in recording time, the ES20D gives greater flexibility in the type of disc that can be used for recording. Although previous models were described as "multi-format", we were confined to the use of DVD-R and RAM. With the new generation we can still use those formats, but also have the ability to use DVD+R and DVD-RW (although I have not attempted to use all of these formats), which means that the age old problem of having to buy different types of disc for different machines is virtually a thing of the past.
No-one could ever accuse the Panasonic range of DVD recorders as being contenders in a beauty contest and this model is no exception. It has a larger than average footprint, think of the very first VHS recorders and you'll get an idea of the size, and it's a fairly hefty weight too. That saying, the silver casing does look quite stylish and is easy to keep clean.
Unlike with some machines, a degree is not necessary to set-up the recorder, there is a plenitude of inputs, but all you really need is a scart to connect to your television and your existing aerial lead. On switching on for the first time, the recorder searches for digital channels, sets the clock and downloads the EPG (Electronic Programme Guide), there really is nothing to it. One disappointment (for me at least) was the lack of a DVD-RAM disc in the box, which means the recorder is not quite ready to go from the box, but otherwise connection and set-up is a simple enough procedure.
Although I don't own a Panasonic television and haven't been able to test it out, there is also a Q-Link function that allows the recorder to link up with other Panasonic equipment during set-up. The remote control can also be set to operate various other brands of television.
As I've previously stated there are a huge number of connection possibilities, it is easily possible to have a Sky box, game machine, VHS and camcorder all running through the machine, without having to unplug anything. There are SCART (in and out), RF (in and out), component, AV (in and out), S-Video and optical output. Everything you could possibly need.
I must say that the remote control is a vast improvement of previous models I have owned. Gone is the slide down section and all buttons are immediately accessible and fairly well set out. I found the jog wheel a little difficult to get the hang of, but now find it a great addition to the remote. From fast forward and reverse to frame selection to menu navigation it seems to make my life easier.
For those that don't realise, Freeview is digital television that is transmitted over the airwaves. Very shortly, the "old fashioned" analogue signal will shortly be switched off leaving us forced to find some form of digital transmission. At the moment there are three mains ways of receiving digital television, satellite (Sky), cable (Telewest, NTL) and freeview (along with top-up TV). Of the three choices freeview is probably the easiest, with no subscription or installation charges, but it is also the choice with fewer channels and a big problem for consumers in certain areas. For example in my previous house I couldn't even pick up a standard transmission, let alone digital, and therefore freeview was completely out for me, so before buying this recorder please check that your aerial is capable of picking up Freeview. Another problem with Freeview is one that is common to Sky and that is that weather conditions can interfere with the signal quality which can often lead to pixalation, sound distortion and even a complete loss of a channel. A further innovation in Freeview is Top-Up TV, which allows you to purchase extra premium channels; this recorder is not, however capable of this function so you are stuck with the basic channels.
That's not to say that there isn't a reasonable selection in the channel line-up, because there most certainly is. There are times when I miss Sky, but they are few and far between. In actual fact there is actually one Sky channel in the line-up (Sky Three), and I have recently been enjoying recording and watching Tru Calling on this very channel. All the standard BBC, ITV and Channel 4 channels are available including CBEEBIES and CITV along with various music and entertainment channels, the shopping channels (why?), a single documentary channel, Film 4 and various radio stations. There's really hardly a point in time where there isn't something on for all tastes.
---The EPG/Timer recording---
As this recorder features freeview, it's pretty much a given that there is going to be a far simpler method of programming your timer recordings than entering start/stop times and channel number. And of course there is, the ES20D includes a programme guide (similar to what you would find on Sky), which while it does show what is due to be shown on each channel in the next seven days, is not as comprehensive as the guides on some standalone boxes. What is missing is a description of each programme, but never mind, you can't have everything.
When choosing programmes to record it is a simple matter to highlight the required programme and press select to enter the record menu, where you can add a buffer to the record time, and even decide to add subtitles. There is, however a limit to the number of programmes you can add to your record list, I believe it is around 25 in number. Once your list is complete the once more simple operation on pressing the timer button on the remote puts the recorder into standby.
The quality of the final DVD depends on two main factors. The quality of the input signal and the recording quality used. There is little to say about the quality of the input signal, obviously the higher the quality the better the final result. You can, however, change the recording quality, from the highest of XP (1 hour/disc), down to SP (2 hrs/disc) through LP (4 hrs/disc) to the far more economical EP (8 hrs/disc). The longer the recording time, the poorer the picture quality, so XP gives far better results than EP. There is also the flexible recording setting that allows you to fit your programme exactly to the disc size. Personally I don't bother with the highest setting as I find SP gives me near perfect results and for programmes that I am only watching the once I use the EP setting, which I find perfectly acceptable on my diminutive 14" television.
---Why Use RAM? ----
Before I go into any detail into the compatibility of the final discs from this recorder, I'm just going to say a few words about why I like using RAM discs. Now these aren't the cheapest discs available, or the most compatible, but they do make full use of Panasonic's technology. It is by using these discs that you can take advantage of the "timeslip" function, which allows you to watch a previously recorded programme while recording another. It also allows you to edit adverts out of programmes and reclaim the lost space. This is due to the fact that RAM discs work in the same way as a hard drive and can be accessed in a non-linear manner.
By allowing the use of so many different disc formats the DVDs produced by this recorder are as compatible as you want them to be. If it's the recording flexibility you are after and you only want to watch your DVDs on the recorder then it won't matter to you that the RAM discs probably won't play on your (or your mates) computer and other DVD players (there are of course a number of players that do play DVD-RAM discs). If you want a disc that will play on other machines then I'm sure that one of the other available formats will play on the required machines, after finalisation of course. With all the formats available, the only difficulty is deciding whether to sacrifice flexibility for compatibility.
I've used the recorder to playback a variety of commercial DVDs, along with a few DVD-Rs that I've created on my computer, and I've had no problem with these. Playback is as smooth as I've come to expect from a Panasonic DVD player, with vibrant colour and good sound definition. Playback of VCDs (video CDs) photo and MP3 CDs is also possible, what is not available is the MP4/AVI format but for me this is not really a problem as such. Although I've not personally attempted to playback either DVD+R or DVD+RW, I would imagine that at least the former would be possible.
The DRM ES20D is certainly an improvement on my previous Panasonic DVD recorder, the addition of the +R and -RW recording formats is a welcome one which makes this machine truly multi-format. The improvements in the layout of the remote control are also most welcome as is the new longer recording time. Picture quality is acceptable at the lower end of the scale and exceptional at the upper, and the freeview facility means that there is no need for a separate box.
All is not, however, rosy in the garden; there are still a few problems. The freeview has a habit of losing signal (but that may be due to the area in which I live) and the EPG is not particularly comprehensive. But all in all I'm glad I picked this recorder, even though it wasn't exactly the cheapest that would do as I required, I could have bought cheaper, but I don't think I would have got as good a quality. So I am therefore whole-heartedly recommending this recorder, for those that wish to join the digital revolution but aren't quite ready to enter the HD market with all the pitfalls that contains.