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Panasonic DMR-E20

DVD Recording Comes Home

by Jim Bray

If you've been waiting for recordable DVD's, your wait is over.

Panasonic's DMR-E20 is an honest to goodness DVD player/recorder that also replaces your VCR.

It ain't cheap, but for $1500 you can not only burn your own DVD's, you also get the ability to record something while you watch something else or start watching a program from the beginning while it's still recording the ending, like with a PVR.

This remarkable Panasonic records on DVD-R discs for one time recording or DVD-RAM discs which can be used over and over again.

The DVD-RAM discs are scarcer and more expensive than DVD-R discs but they're a great way to record TV programs onto disc, or lay down raw, temporary footage for editing.

As DVD player, the DMR-E20 gives you optical digital audio and component video outputs, and as a VCR replacement you get a TV tuner/timer (with VCR Plus) for programming the burner to record TV when you aren't around. If you use a two sided DVD-RAM disc you can get up to 12 hours of video onto a single platter.

I didn't have a chance to try DVD-RAM recording, but I did snag a DVD-R disc for testing. Unfortunately, confusion over the DVD recording standards led me to buy one labeled "For Authoring" and it wouldn't work in this consumer unit, so I exchanged it for one labeled "For Data" and it worked fine.

So make sure you don't get the wrong disc!

Anyway, the recording process is perfectly straightforward and once you get used to the interface it's pretty much the same as using a VCR. Since you can only record once on a DVD-R disc, you probably won't want to use it for garden variety TV recording, but it has some terrific other uses.

For example, I have about ten different VHS, VHS-C and 8 mm videocassettes lying around the house gathering dust, tapes I've used over the year to record family stuff like the kids growing up, Christmases and the like. Having the DVD-R machine gave me the perfect opportunity to go through all this stuff, decide what I wanted to keep and what I could safely toss into a landfill, and archive the whole shebang onto a single DVD-R disc.

So I did. The DMR-E20 isn't really a heavy duty editing deck, but you can do rudimentary cutting. If you need a lot of editing you'd be better served dumping your footage into a computer and editing it there before putting it onto the DVD-R because, since you can only record to the disc once, if you make a mistake it's there forever.

I learned this the hard way, and my home movie DVD now has about thirty seconds of a news show because I was silly enough to go and get a glass of water while burning video in real time.

The quality was fine. I recorded on the slowest setting, which gives six hours' recording time (on the single sided disc), and got a disc that was indistinguishable from the VHS original. Faster speeds should give even better quality, but remember the old axiom "Garbage In, Garbage Out" - a VHS original is never going to look better than that, so save the faster speeds for better quality originals.

Every time you press the "Record" button a new chapter is begun, and if you hit "Pause" an index point is recorded. What this means on playback is that you get a menu on the disc showing each chapter (identified by date and time recorded) and when you access that chapter you can skip to the index points by using your chapter forward/reverse buttons.

One of the big concerns with DVD burning is compatibility, and I'm happy to say that my home-burned DVD played back with no trouble on my new Toshiba DVD player, my kids' new (low end) Sonys and, except for the first two tracks (weird!), even my four year old player. Chances are good that if you want to send copies of your home movies to Aunt Mabel, she'll be able to play them.

The same can't be said for DVD-RAM, however.

Can you burn DVD movies? Legality aside, most DVD movies are copy protected, and this could (and should!) cause problems.

But this machine isn't meant for video pirates; rather it's a new generation VCR, offering digital quality recording and playback, with plenty of flexibility.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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January 31, 2006