Panasonic's new entry-level DVD recorder sets a new low for name-brand recorder pricing: it's available for only $200 (list) and even less online. The Panasonic DMR-ES10 delivers sharp recordings even in its four-hour EP mode, while its compatibility with DVD-RAM discs give you plenty of hard drive-type features, including chasing playback. Unfortunately, its skimpy editing options for non-RAM discs make for tedious navigations once it's time to watch your recordings. If you're all about video quality, the DMR-ES10 merits a close look, but anyone who wants to edit or insert chapter stops would be better served by another deck, such as the feature-packed (and now bargain-priced)
Editor's note: An upgraded version of this product, the DMR-ES20 is available for the same $200 list price. It features a FireWire connection for easy dubbing from DV camcorders but is otherwise identical. Anyone with a DV camcorder looking to burn home movies to DVD should opt for the DMR-ES20 instead.
Measuring 13 by 17 by only 2.5 inches, the Panasonic DMR-ES10 looks thin and sleek next to our other components. It's available in silver or black. We like the shaded plastic panel that runs the length of the deck and houses the LED, while the sparse front panel includes just play, stop, record, open/close and power buttons. Beneath a door on the front panel sits a set of A/V inputs, including S-Video (but not FireWire) for directly recording digital video content from DV camcorders.
Panasonic's remote can't match the style of the deck itself, but it's easy to use and can be programmed to operate your TV. The large five-way navigational keypad is surrounded by an array of menu and setting controls, with the play/pause/stop and chapter-skip/fast-forward/reverse controls sitting just above. All that's missing are buttons to cycle through the DVD player's Repeat and Angle modes.
The DMR-ES10's menus, while extensive, get the job done with a minimum of fuss or flash. There's no slick animation, as seen on Sony's DVD decks, but we appreciated the abundance of onscreen help and the diagrams of the remote showing which buttons to push. Within a few minutes, we were breezing through the various menus and functions.
Recording on the Panasonic DMR-ES10 is a simple matter of hitting the Record button or scheduling a recording either manually or with VCR Plus+. Since there's no EPG or IR blaster for changing the channel on your cable or satellite set-top box, you'll have to make sure the box's channel is set properly for your recordings to work.
In addition to its five fixed recording-time modes (one, two, four, six, and eight hours per disc), the deck provides a handy Flexible Recording mode that lets you fit a precise amount of video onto a DVD (anywhere from one to eight hours) while maintaining optimal video quality--perfect for recording, say, a 130-minute movie without resorting to the four-hour recording mode. The recorder also has a Quick Start function that lets it begin recording a DVD-RAM within a second of powering up (other DVD formats take 10 seconds or more before they're ready to record).
The DMR-ES10 records to all DVD formats except DVD+RW. You get a few hard drive-type features when recording with a DVD-RAM disc, such as chasing playback (which lets you watch a program while it's being recorded) and the ability to watch one title while another is recording. You also get plenty of editing options, such as splitting and combining titles, adding chapter stops, and creating playlists that reference your recordings without altering the original files.