The DMR-E30S accepts DVD-RAMs and DVD-Rs. DVD-RAMs--which currently run $10 and more for 4.7GB--can be recorded and erased over and over and work with the playlist-editing and time-shifting features. DVD-R ($8 and more) functionality is more limited, but the disc can be finalized to play in standard DVD players; DVD-RAMs can be played back only in drives that support DVD-RAM. We tried playing our test DVD-Rs, including TDK- and Pioneer-branded discs, on numerous units and got mostly positive results. Only a couple of older decks circa 1999--an Apex AD-600A and an Onkyo DV-S525--couldn't read our tests discs.
One gripe we had--and we hope that Panasonic is reading this--is that like the E20, the E30S forces you to put a boring, thumbnail-free menu on your homemade DVDs. We encourage the company to provide the user with a snazzier menu-creation system that has a selection of customizable icons or buttons.
Videophiles will happily note that the DMR-E30S can deliver progressive-scan pictures for their HDTVs. It performed well in our video tests, reproducing DVDs with minimal movement artifacts, sharp detail, and fewer dancing pixels, thanks to a noise-reduction circuit.
The E30S's video-recording quality is much better than that of S-VHS or VHS, with less noise, no jitter, and more accurate color in every recording mode. In XP (one hour per disc) and SP (two hours) modes, this DVR measured the maximum 480 lines of resolution; in LP (four hours) and EP (six hours) modes, resolution fell by half, resulting in a much softer picture.
Panasonic also improved MPEG noise reduction over last year's model. When we recorded a section of Run Lola Run during which Lola speeds past brick pillars that pass in front of the camera, the E30S didn't introduce the blocky artifacts that we saw in the same recording made with the E20. On the downside, we did notice some fine dancing-pixel noise in shadows and moving camera shots.
With a street price of around $600, the DMR-E30S is currently the least expensive DVD recorder on the market. In early fall, Panasonic will release the $1,000 DMR-HS2, which features a built-in 40GB hard drive, a PC Card adapter slot, and a FireWire connection. Some will want to wait for that model, but others who are looking for a more basic DVD recorder should be pretty pleased with the DMR-E30S.