By this time next year, you'll probably be able to buy a DVD recorder for around $200. But if that's too long a wait for you, consider Panasonic's DMR-E50K, the most-affordable option on the market right now. The company's 2003 entry-level model, available online for as little as $370, can do everything that last year'scan--and for less money. Sure, the E50K is missing some cutting-edge features and a built-in hard drive, but for straightforward VHS archiving and VCR-like TV recording, this Panasonic fits the bill.
Except for its relatively thick black case and a big, unattractive DVD Recording logo on the drawer, the E50K looks pretty much like a regular DVD player. The unit is also available in silver as the DMR-E50S. The central, animated display is well organized, especially the recording information: one glance at the cool-looking spinning-disc icon gives you the status.
Access to the E50K's many functions is provided by a series of boring, complicated menus that beginners will find hard to understand. Unfortunately, the manual is dense and doesn't do a very good job of explaining the options.
Unlike the step-up, the E50K has the same clunky, plastic remote that came with earlier Panasonic recorders. The control's principal downfall is a slide-down hatch that inconveniently conceals a slew of useful buttons, such as Open/Close. Very little space separates the keys, and the three menu buttons look too alike. But once we were accustomed to the layout, we appreciated the ability to access functions without resorting to the menu.
This entry-level deck comes with a 64-page manual and can present quite a learning curve. Thanks to the DVD-RAM format, the E50K gives you some of the functionality of a hard-disk recorder. While a recording is in progress, you can watch it from the beginning or play back something else. Basic editing, such as shortening segments and dividing one program into two, is also available. That said, you're better off performing advanced video editing on a PC.
Each disc you burn bears a relatively unattractive, unalterable main menu. The four recording modes give you one- to six-hour discs; the picture quality decreases as the length increases. There's also a convenient flexible recording mode that lets you fill the remainder of a disc with a certain amount of video--say, 2 hours, 35 minutes.
Although DVD-RAM isn't compatible with as many machines as the other two rewritable DVD formats, Panasonic says more manufacturers, such as Samsung and Hitachi, will produce DVD-RAM-capable players in the future. You can also record on write-once DVD-Rs. They're &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ecdrinfo%2Ecom%2FSections%2FArticles%2FSpecific%2Easp%3FArticleHeadline%3DDVD%2520Media%2520Format%2520Compatibility%2520Tests%26Series%3D0" target="_blank">highly compatible and less expensive than DVD-RAMs, which cost $5 to $8 per disc.