As we mentioned in the intro, the DVD-RAM format gives the Panasonic DMR-E55S some of the functionality of a hard-disk recorder such as TiVo--although, unlike its sibling the DMR-E85HS, it does not contain a hard disk. While a DVD-RAM recording is in progress on the DMR-E55S, you can watch it from the beginning or play back something else. Basic editing, such as shortening segments (read: removing commercials) and dividing one program into two, is also available, although you're better off performing advanced video editing on a PC.
The four recording modes give you 1- to 6-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 an exact amount of video, say, 2 hours and 35 minutes.
DVD-RAM is much less compatible than -RW or +RW formats, so you'll want to use the rewritable discs for those expendable TV recording sessions. Highly compatible write-once DVD-Rs are best for archive-worthy video that will play back on virtually any DVD player.
The Panasonic DMR-E55S includes VCR Plus, but the recorder's inability to control a cable or satellite box limits its real-world usefulness for TV recording. (For example, you'll have to set your tuner box to the correct channel beforehand for timer recordings.) To get that kind of control, you'll need to step up to the DMR-E65S or another recorder that has an IR blaster.
The back panels each have two A/V inputs with S-Video, and there's another behind a flip-down door on the front. Also on the rear are an RF input and output for cable or an antenna (just like on a VCR), a pair of A/V outs with S-Video, a progressive-scan component-video output, and an optical digital output. The only missing item is FireWire, which is available on the step-up models.