Upside: The most impressive feature about Panasonic's new high-end DVD recorder, the DMR-E500H, has to be its mammoth 400GB hard disk drive. Using the highest compression setting (EP), Panasonic claims this home entertainment beast can record up to 709 hours of video. At the other end of the scale, using the highest quality (lowest compression) setting (XP), the company claims up to 89 hours of video can be stored on the device. With its DVD recorder, the E500H can transfer up to eight hours of video to DVD-R or DVD-RAM discs (or 16 hours on a double-sided DVD-RAM disc).
Aside from being able to record almost a month's worth of video on its hard disk, the DMR-E500H has some nice finishing touches, such as a DV input to download footage from camcorders and SD/PC card slot which can transfer JPEG, TIFF, MPEG4 to the hard disk or straight onto DVD.
A noteworthy addition we saw was an Ethernet jack that allows you to stream MPEG4 media from the E500H's HDD or DVD to a networked PC, use Panasonic's Diga Manager software. Similarly, JPEG images from the device can be transferred to the PC. This also allows two of the E500H units to be linked to view recorded programs from either device -- which would be quite a costly affair.
The E500H can perform timeslip, a function that allows you to start a live recording from the beginning, while the player records through to the end. Another feature is simultaneous recording, which allows you to record two copies of the same video: one in high-quality MPEG2 for optimal TV playback and a lower quality MPEG4 file that can be transferred onto an SD memory card for playback on other devices -- such as PDAs and portable video players.
The DMR-E500H also features gold-plated output jacks for 5.1-channel audio with the help of a built-in Dolby Digital decoder.
Downside: Panasonic, being solidly ingrained in the DVD-R camp, the E500H is unlikely to support DVD+R media. Another disappointing limitation of the device is it seems it cannot act as a networked storage device, especially considering its enormous hard disk drive. Unfortunately, the unit only features one analog tuner. Digital aficionados will have to invest in a separate set top box.
Outlook: Due to hit stores at the beginning of October, the Panasonic's E500 will retail for a whopping AU$3,299. Certainly, it is an expensive DVD recorder but that doesn't stop us dreaming about seeing one under the Christmas tree. It will also be interesting to see the boundaries of the E500H's connectivity over Ethernet. Stay tuned to CNET.com.au for the full review in the following weeks.