There's a similar setting for DVD recording. Sometimes what you want to record doesn't fit well with the available recording modes. For instance, say you want to record a movie that's 2 hours and 5 minutes long, but don't want to drop down to LP mode. Panasonic has a solution for this, and it's one of our favorite features: flexible recording, which allows you to completely fill a DVD with content and optimize the video quality. Unfortunately, you'll need to schedule a recording at a specific start and end time, which may not be a workable option if, for example, you're recording a Yankees game that slips into extra innings.
We liked that Panasonic included chasing playback again on DVD-RAM discs, which means you can watch a program from the beginning, even while it's in the process of recording. Additionally, you can watch a different program recorded on the disc, while it's in the process of recording. Think of chasing playback as a limited, DVD-RAM based DVR, which may be adequate if you don't plan on recording much. On the other hand, it's not as DVR-like as you might expect; you can't pause or rewind live TV, and the capacity of a single disc is pretty limited. We did appreciate the inclusion of the "CM Skip" button, which allows you to blast by commercials a minute at a time.
The DMR-EZ48VK can also dub videos from VHS to DVD or vice versa. The caveat, of course, is that they can't be copy-protected Hollywood releases. But anyone with home movies or old TV recordings on VHS will appreciate the ability to finally make a quick and easy DVD copy.
As for connectivity, the DMR-EZ48VK comes with an HDMI output, which is capable of upconverting DVDs and incoming signals to 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. There's also a component video output, which is capable of upscaling incoming signals and homemade DVDs to 1080i, but is limited to 480p for commercial DVDs. For older TVs, there is also a standard AV output with S-Video. There are two AV inputs with S-Video and composite video (one front and one back) used to connect to standard home theater components, as well as a FireWire input for connecting a camcorder. Rounding out the connectivity is an optical digital-audio output, which can be used to playback surround sound such as 5.1 Dolby Digital on commercial DVDs.
In addition to AV connections, the DMR-EZ48VK also sports a front-panel SDHC card slot and a USB port. The SDHC card slot can display JPEG images, and you can display JPEGs and listen to MP3s off a USB memory stick. You can also access media burned onto both DVDs and CDs. Even better, the DMR-EZ48VK can play DivX video files located on DVDs, CDs, an SD card, or stored on a USB thumb drive.
To test DVD-recording image quality, we connected the DMR-EZ48VK to our DirecTV HR20 via S-Video. The video quality in both XP and SP was excellent and virtually identical, making it easy for us recommended choosing SP mode and gaining the extra hour of recording time. By comparison, the video processor of the rival Toshiba D-R410 DVD recorder couldn't handle the full resolution of DVDs--as exemplified by recording HQV's tests--and it showed on a relatively soft recording of the "Late Show with David Letterman". The Panasonic also finalized its recordings sometimes as much as 30 seconds faster than the Toshiba.
As usual, we were impressed by the Panasonic's video quality in LP mode. While most recorders experience a big drop-off in image quality from SP to LP mode, the DMR-EZ48VK's drop-off is slight. Comparing clips of Arrested Development in XP and LP mode, we could see a slight difference: XP mode occasionally had more detail in the backgrounds, and we saw slightly more compression artifacts and jaggies at various times in LP mode--but it's very slight and the vast majority of users will treat it as equivalent. That means you can get 4 hours of near-XP quality on a single DVD. No other DVD recorder we've tested can do that.
Stepping down from LP to EP mode drastically reduced the video quality. Plenty of detail was lost in the resolution test pattern from Silicon Optix's HQV test suite, with lines bleeding into each other. In one scene from Seinfeld, a newspaper is thrown across Jerry's apartment and we noticed that the paper "doubled up" with plenty of compression artifacts. The Toshiba faired poorly on all three of its high-capacity settings: we noticed little difference between LP, EP, and SLP, all of which were comparable to Panasonic's EP mode.
We didn't have any trouble getting the Panasonic to record on all disc types, including DVD-RAM, DVD+R/-R, and DVD+RW/-RW, and having it display in the correct aspect ratio on wide-screen TVs.
VHS recording performance proved to be much more defined in quality levels. Obviously, SP yielded the best results, while VP rendered material that was barely watchable. We'd recommend taking advantage of the Auto setting and allowing the device to calculate the best setting for the amount of tape you have.
We do have one complaint about the speed of the VHS functionality: seems a bit slower than VCRs we have used in the past. But the picture quality and performance of the DMR-EZ48VK surely outweighs its lethargic operation.
DVD player performance
Testing pure upconversion performance, we once again started off with HQV. The Panasonic did fine on the first test, demonstrating its ability to handle the full resolution of DVDs. The Toshiba, however, fell apart right away. It could not render the 1080p section, washing out the vertical lines into a flicking box. The Panasonic had middling performance on the next jaggy tests: it had trouble handling the third of the three shifting lines, and the rotating white line had more jaggies than we'd like to see. The Toshiba failed this altogether. On the flag test, the Panasonic also produced quite a few jaggies. Despite handling the resolution test well, the DMR-EZ48VK had some trouble with the detail test, as we saw curved lines known as moire in the white marble steps. On the other hand, it did an excellent job on the 2:3 pull-down test, successfully kicking into film mode in a fraction of a second.
We also took a look at some actual program material. We started off with Star Trek: Insurrection, and the DMR-EZ48VK handled it well, as it smoothly rendered the curved railings of the bridge and hulls of the boats. Next up was the introduction to Seabiscuit, and we were impressed with the DMR-EZ48VK's performance. Sure, we saw a minor jaggy here and there, but overall the picture looked excellent on this notoriously difficult sequence. It won't compare to high-priced DVD upscalers, like the Oppo DV-983H, but it's definitely good enough to be your DVD playback machine if you're not a picky videophile.
Editors' Note: The DVD-recording capabilities of this product are identical to that of the Panasonic DMR-EA18K. As a result, the reviews are very similar.