The Good Records video to DVD, VHS, or 80GB hard drive; outstanding recording quality, especially in LP mode; 80GB hard drive; HDMI output; high-speed hard drive-to-DVD dubbing; free TV Guide electronic programming guide worked in our tests; slot for Secure Digital media cards; flexible custom recording speed; FireWire input.
The Bad TV Guide EPG isn't as slick as TiVo; subpar HDMI upscaling video quality; some disc compatibility issues.
The Bottom Line Panasonic's DMR-EH75V DVD/VHS/hard drive recorder is a solid choice for hobbyists who want top-notch recording quality and a subscription-free DVR solution.
Panasonic DMR-EH75V - DVD recorder / VCR combo with 80GB HDD
Combination VHS/DVD recorders come in two flavors: cheap and easy components that make copying VHS tapes to DVD a breeze, and expensive, tweakable units for demanding video editors and gadget lovers. The Panasonic DMR-EH75V ($500) falls squarely into the latter category, with its ability to play back and record to three kinds of media: VHS, DVD, and a built-in internal hard drive. While its street price is about the same as a new TiVo Series2 DT's with three-year subscription, for example, the DMR-EH75V is packed with other features to justify the cost. The most notable extras include dual-layer DVD recording, HDMI upscaling, Panasonic's flexible recording feature, and a free TV Guide EPG, which advertises most of the pleasures of TiVo without the monthly free. In our testing, we were disappointed by the quality of the HDMI upscaling and the unit's compatibility with various discs, but it does just about everything else right. The Panasonic DMR-EH75V is a solid choice for enthusiasts since it boasts a ton of functionality, excellent video quality, and the ability to edit recordings--something that the TiVo-powered DVD recorders lack.
The Panasonic DMR-EH75V's design is pretty basic, but we prefer it to the more cluttered exterior we've seen on similar units. You'll notice that it's little larger than the usual component, measuring 16.94 by 13.88 by 3.33 inches. Underneath the DVD and VHS decks is a large LED display, and to the far right is a convenient set of controls for one-touch recording between the VCR, the DVD recorder, and the hard drive. If you flip down the front panel, you'll notice additional controls, as well as an A/V input with S-Video, a FireWire input for DV camcorders, and an SD media-card slot.
The onscreen graphical user interface can be a bit confusing at first, but you should get the hang of it after a while. To access the recorded material, you press the Direct Navigator button, which brings up selectable thumbnails of your recorded programs. When you want to transfer a program from one format to another (such as hard disk to DVD, for example), you'll hit the Function button, where you can navigate to the Copy menu or the slightly more detailed Advanced Copy option. The process is not as straightforward as it should be; we felt there should be a simple Copy button on the remote, for example. After fumbling for a while, we figured out its logic and were able to do what we needed to do relatively quickly.
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