Panasonic DMR-E75H New Video Tech Meets Old Video Tech
By Jim Bray
Ready to leap into DVD, but don't want to lose all your old VHS tapes?
Well, friends, Panasonic has the solution for you in its DMR-E75H combo unit,
which is a full function VHS VCR and a DVD burner/PVR in one. It offers you
perhaps not the absolute best of both worlds, but a marvelous combo that's flexible
and works very well.
The DMR-E75H offers a powerful combination of features and flexibility. You
can record TV shows to a recordable DVD or to VHS if have blank tapes hanging
around and don't want to spring for the more expensive (for now) blank rewritable
DVD's. You can also record from VHS to DVD, editing your tapes somewhat in the
process. This lets you archive all your old home movies or favorite TV shows,
which is what I found particularly great about the unit.
Pretty neat, eh? And all for $449.95 US, list ($899 Canadian).
The DMR-E75H, like its hard disk/DVD recording brother the DMR-E85H we reviewed
here, is a handsome and very light unit. The
front panel also includes connections for a camcorder (for even more dubbing
flexibility) as well as the basic operation buttons and a small display screen
that shows such info as timer recording status, transferring progress, recording
mode and the like. I found this little screen to be very difficult to read from
across the room, but this is a common complaint I have with units as my eyes
get older. Dammit.
And you can always use the onscreen display...
The back includes an abundance of connections. For inputs you can choose from
two S-Video plugs as well as RF (cable) and 2 sets of composite audio/video.
Outputs include component video, which is the output I used to connect the DMR
to our reference big screen via an external switcher. There are also two sets
of S-Video and composite audio/video, and an RF output for those still going
through life without A/V jacks on their TV.
Oh, yeah. You also get an optical digital audio output for sending 5.1 surround
sound to your receiver/processor.
In all, its about as much connection flexibility as you'd need as long
as you don't want to hook in HD signals or connect a Firewire-equipped device.
We get our TV signals, including HD, from satellite, which generally causes
problems for us during our usage tests. The reason is that, while the DMR downloads
an online programming guide you can use to plan and/or record TV broadcasts,
it's set up for cable broadcasts and not Canadian satellite services. And while
it's thoughtful to have the unit search and find all the TV channels available
in your area, since we use the satellite receiver and hook it in via audio/video
cables this search is pointless: there are no channels (just a single video
feed we can change via the satellite receiver). I only dwell on this because
the Panasonic repeatedly tried to program in TV channels for me when I'd try
setting it to dub from VHS to DVD (until I read the manual, anyway!) and this
was a frustrating waste of time and effort that, if we'd used cable, would have
been a "set once and forget" operations.
And of course the DMR isnt HD-compliant, so we had to feed it the receivers
SD output. This was to be expected, though.
Why wouldnt they make it HD compliant in this day and age? Beats me,
though it would undoubtedly make the unit a lot more expensive and cut down
on the recording time available from blank DVD's. And I'm sure Hollywood wants
to have a say in consumers making digital copies of its HD programming...
Oh yeah, and the DMR-E75H can also be set to output progressively scanned
signals, as well as "dumbed down" DVD-Audio. I wasn't thrilled about the "dumbed
down" part (it doesn't offer true DVD-A performance), but on the other hand
I don't think most people looking for a unit such as this will care.
Anyway, once you have the thing hooked up and the batteries in the remote control
you're off to the races! Here's a partial list of some of the things you can
do with the DMR-E75H:
Record to the rewritable DVD-RAM and/or the write once DVD-R.
One-Touch 2-Way Dubbing (DVD<=>VHS) (as long as your recordable DVD disc
hasn't been "finalized," which is a process by which you set the disc to it
can no longer be recorded on, but which also theoretically lets you play the
disc on other DVD players)
Dual Tuners for maximum recording flexibility
Time Slip recording that lets you view the parts of your program/movie
you've already recorded even before it's finished recording the rest. This is
nice when, for example, you get home half an hour into a program you're recording
because, unlike with a VCR, you don't have to wait for the recording to end;
you can start watching the beginning right away while the DMR records to the
Rating and password protection to keep the kids (or sensitive people) from viewing
stuff you don't want them to.
Hookup and configuration are pretty straightforward; onscreen menus are generally
clear and logical and give you an amazingly wide variety of options. I found
setting up the unit to be easier than actually using it, especially when I wanted
to record from VHS to DVD, thanks mostly to the fact that the abundant buttons
on the remote can be confusing and the unit itself isnt the quickest on
the uptake: fire it up and you have a wait a few seconds for it to come to life
as it apparently looks itself over and figures out what direction up is.
It wasnt a big deal, though, and it doesn't take long to get used to
the ins and outs of the controls. I wish the manual were more clear, but this
is also a complaint I have about plenty of other gadgets besides this particular
In use, the picture quality of the DMR-E75 was just fine, so long as you remember
the GIGO rule (Garbage in, garbage out), which means that the final
picture is related to the quality of the picture being input or recorded, as
well as to the recording speed.
One feature thats kind of cool is the Direct Navigator, accessed easily
from the remote. This brings up small windows displaying all the programs you've
recorded, with dates, times, channels etc. - and you can use the cursor control
buttons to access any of them quickly and easily. And you can edit what the
readout says, to add your own titles or comments. You do this via an onscreen
"keyboard" you access with the remote control.
This is a wonderful way to archive your old tapes. I chose a thumbnail from
each new recording I put onto a particular disk, then labelled it using the
virtual keyboard, and now I have DVD's with menus that let you virtually instantly
access any particular piece of footage.
One thing I didn't like was the unit's automatic setting of chapter stops.
On the discs I recorded, the Panasonic won't let you add your own chapter stops
(for randomly accessing recorded segments). It adds its own, about each five
minutes - which is better than nothing but not good enough.
I found this particularly frustrating when I archived an old rock concert a
friend had recorded for me onto VHS when it was first broadcast TV more than
20 years ago. I couldn't set the chapters to let me skip to particular songs,
just wait for the Panasonic to add its own five minute increments. As mentioned,
it was better than nothing, but not what I wanted.
On the other hand, I now have a digital archive of that concert and can toss
the tape into a landfill.
You also get a built in TVGuide that looks like it would be nifty and easy
to use, but as mentioned it wouldnt work with our Canadian satellite TV
service, so I can't comment on it other than mention the fact that its
The built in editing features can come in handy. You can cut out commercials,
rearrange the order of scenes (ideal when transferring home movies), and as
mentioned you can add your own menus .
As a DVD player, the DMR-E75H is fine. I used it mostly as a progressive scan
unit (its switchable between progressive and interlaced) and found its
picture quality to be as good as one would expect from a mainstream DVD player.
It wasnt up to our reference player (which is a DVD Audio/Video player
only, but much higher end), but it'll serve most "non-video-snobs" well. You
can set it to output to either 4x3 or 16x9 TVs as well, which is standard
DVD player stuff.
Audio was also very good, as long as you don't expect true multichannel DVD
Complaints? A couple, but nothing major. First up, and this complaint also
applies to the DMR-E85 PVR/DVD recorder, is the fact that there's no EJECT button
on the remote control! Duh!
And as mentioned earlier I didnt think the manual was the most clearly
written and illustrated.
In all, however, the Panasonic DMR-E75 is a nice unit that does what you want
it to do, for the most part, and does it well. I was particularly pleased with
its VHS to DVD archiving capabilities which, within reason, are formidable.
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think