Following in the footsteps of previous Panasonic recorders, the DMR-E95HS includes two of our favorite features: flexible recording length and predub editing. The former lets you fill up a DVD to the exact length of your program (say, a 2-hour, 45-minute movie) to maximize the video quality. And the ability to edit on the hard drive (albeit rather tediously) is useful for chopping out commercial breaks or reordering camcorder videos before permanently archiving them to DVD. Neither of these features is available on competing TiVo DVD recorders.
The E95HS also has two flash-card readers (SD and PCMCIA) for viewing digital photos. You can pop SD cards directly into the dedicated slot or buy a PCMCIA adapter that works with any other format (Memory Stick, SmartMedia, xD-Picture Card, CompactFlash), so just about any camera is compatible. Curiously, though, unlike the DMR-E100HS and the newer DMR-E500HS, the E95HS can't read or write compressed MPEG-4 video files for portable camcorders and video players.
The DMR-E95HS has pretty much every connection you'll need. All the A/V inputs (one up front and two around back) and outputs (a pair at the rear) offer a choice of composite or S-Video. Just like a VCR, the E95HS has an RF input and output for cable or antenna. Rounding out the back side are two outputs: a progressive-scan component-video connection and an optical digital jack (no coaxial). A FireWire input completes the front panel. The only missing link is a component-video input (found on most Philips recorders).As mentioned earlier, the biggest frustration you'll encounter with the Panasonic DMR-E95HS is that its most compelling feature, the free TV Guide On Screen EPG, won't work with satellite or digital cable systems. If you have an antenna or an analog cable system, though, the TV Guide system provides an adequate graphical user interface for choosing and recording your favorite programs.
Another shortfall of the Panasonic approach is that recording isn't always on. Unlike TiVo and Philips combo recorders, which always buffer live TV for easy pausing or rewinding, the DMR-E95HS requires you to actively select what you want to record, meaning you could easily miss a key line of dialogue or a fleeting sports score on the news. On the upside, the remote does have a handy 30-second skip button for blasting through commercials.
As with the DMR-E95HS's sibling Panasonic recorders, we got excellent video quality when we used the XP and SP modes, which can fit one and two hours, respectively, on a DVD. Colors were well saturated, the image was very stable--a big improvement over S-VHS--and SP resolution measured an impressive 450 lines. That dipped to 230 lines in the four-hour LP mode. The six-hour, or EP, mode looked significantly softer than LP, introduced stutter in pans, and managed barely 200 lines of resolution. Panasonic also lets users toggle to an eight-hour EP mode, but it's all but unwatchable. The hard disk uses the same four recording-quality modes, but 160GB give you the luxury of setting everything to XP (36 hours) or SP (70 hours). During dubbing, you can reduce the quality to squeeze more material onto a DVD.
After dubbing to a standard DVD-R, we had no trouble playing it back in a number of other players. The E95HS, meanwhile, did a good job playing most of the discs in our test suite. Our home-burned DVDs (from other recorders) and MP3 CDs played, for the most part, without a hitch. And while the E95HS doesn't support JPEG picture discs (CD-Rs), JPEG photo viewing from a variety of cameras' flash-memory cards (using the SD slot and a separately purchased PCMCIA adapter) worked well. Picture quality was satisfactory; the E95HS demonstrated 2:3 pull-down detection and exhibited decent progressive-scan playback.