Panasonic has trotted out a quartet of new DVD recorders in 2003, including the budget($499) and a pair of models with built-in hard drives, the 80GB DMR-E80H ($699) and the 120GB ($1,199). The focus of this review, the $599 DMR-E60S, rounds out the family and tacks a few step-up features--namely, two slots for solid-state media, a FireWire input, and two-channel DVD-Audio support--onto the basic DVD-recorder frame. It's great if you want to dump digital-camcorder and -camera content to disc, but for superior TV-archiving flexibility, opt for a unit with a hard drive or an electronic program guide.
The E60's somewhat thick case doesn't seem to match the cutting-edge product; in fact, we found the big DVD Recording logo on the drawer downright ugly. A skinny black belt across the silver face cleverly camouflages the two card slots, and the big, animated display organizes information well. We especially like the cool-looking spinning-disc icon that tells you the recording status at a glance.
A series of bland, complex menus are the main way to access the E60's numerous functions. Understanding the options will be a chore for beginners, and the dense manual does a poor job of clearing things up.
Panasonic's new aluminum-skinned remote is an improvement over the plastic clunker you get with the. However, the control's face is still crowded, and we would have appreciated more distinction between the three menu buttons. On the plus side, once we'd gotten used to the layout, we had no problem quickly accessing many of the functions.
Many of the E60's capabilities involve the two memory-card slots. The first accommodates a simple Secure Digital (SD) memory card, while the second accepts any PC Card adapter compatible with SD, CompactFlash, Smart Media, Memory Stick, xD-Picture Card, or Micro Drive media. In addition to offering slide shows and a standard photo-album display, the E60S can transfer JPEG images between cards or from a card to DVD-RAM. The machine cannot burn photos to DVD-R, edit stills or rotate them on the screen, or read music or movie files. The upcoming E100H can handle MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video.
The DVD-RAM format allows the E60S to perform some of the tricks of hard-disk recorders. You can record one program while playing back another, watch an in-progress recording from the beginning, and perform basic editing such as shortening segments and dividing one program into two. Naturally, a PC is much better suited to more-advanced video editing.
Of the three rewritable DVD formats, DVD-RAM offers the least compatibility, but Panasonic says that Samsung and Hitachi will release more players with DVD-RAM capability. The E60S also records on write-once DVD-Rs, which &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ecdrinfo%2Ecom%2FSections%2FArticles%2FSpecific%2Easp%3FArticleHeadline%3DDVD%2520Media%2520Format%2520Compatibility%2520Tests%26Series%3D0" target="new">almost all DVD players can handle. It can also play back DVD-Audio discs, but that's hardly a major selling point. Playback is stereo only, not multichannel as with most other DVD-A-capable units.