X

Panasonic DMR-E95HS review: Panasonic DMR-E95HS

Panasonic DMR-E95HS

John_Falcone.jpg
John Falcone
John_Falcone.jpg

John Falcone

Executive Editor

John P. Falcone is an executive editor at CNET, where he coordinates a group of more than 20 editors and writers based in New York and San Francisco as they cover the latest and greatest products in consumer technology. He's been a CNET editor since 2003.

See full bio
6 min read

Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.

6.9

Panasonic DMR-E95HS

The Good

Hard-disk/DVD combo recorder with huge storage capacity; cable-box control; free TV Guide programming guide; Flexible Recording mode; FireWire, SD, and PCMCIA inputs.

The Bad

Programming guide isn't compatible with satellite or digital cable; nonintuitive user interface; soft recording quality in EP mode.

The Bottom Line

The impressive feature set of Panasonic's high-end combo recorder doesn't overcome some basic shortfalls.
Intro
Long a leader in the consumer DVD-recording arena, Panasonic has added more functions and features to its models with each passing year. But of all the myriad capabilities of the company's DMR-E95HS, a combination DVD/hard disk recorder, the biggest news is the inclusion of TV Guide On Screen. This electronic programming guide (EPG) has the potential to even the playing field with DVD recorders powered by TiVo's wonderful user interface, such as the Pioneer DVR-810H, the Toshiba RS-TX20, and the Humax DRT800. And while the TV Guide EPG isn't as impressive as TiVo's, it has one big advantage: it's free, as opposed to the $13 monthly or $300 one-time fee you'd pay for TiVo's. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for: the TV Guide service works only with analog cable and over-the-air reception, so those with digital-cable or satellite service won't get any benefit. The DMR-E95HS will no doubt satisfy tech geeks with its numerous bells and whistles, and its editing abilities far outpace those of the TiVo-powered decks. Folks who prize ease of use and a universal EPG, however, would be wise to stick with TiVo for their DVD/HDD recording needs. The Panasonic DMR-E95HS has a two-tone silver face that's brimming with buttons, bumps, and slots. It's not exactly ugly, but its looks would certainly play runner-up to those of the head-turning Philips DVDR615. At 3.13 inches high by 17 inches wide by 10.75 inches deep, it's beefier than those ultraslim DVD players that are so in vogue right now but not appreciably bigger than a standard video player in the average home-theater rack.

The busy front face of the E95HS includes some features that distinguish it from its sibling recorders in Panasonic's lineup. To the left of the centered disc tray you'll find two separate slots for SD and PCMCIA cards and a fold-down door for the front-panel A/V inputs. To the right, five indicator LEDs reveal media and function info, and basic controls provide direct access to recording, playback, and channel selection.

The onscreen graphical user interface improves on the obtuse design that Panasonic had in previous years, but it could still use some work. Click the Function button for access to the main menu of features, including the Direct Navigator, a menu of thumbnails that correspond to different recordings on a disc; Timer Recording, for setting up timers or entering VCR Plus numbers; Flexible Recording (see Features); and the Player and Disc Setup menus. The E95HS lacks the TiVo-powered models' idiot-proof contextual menus or even the helpful, wizardlike Easy Guider screens found on Lite-On's bargain-priced LVW-5005. If you value ease of use, go for one of those models; if you're a technically astute power user looking for advanced functionality, you'll be able to muddle through the Panasonic's menus.

The DMR-E95HS's medium-size remote control is standard Panasonic issue. It's densely crowded with buttons, including a numeric keypad and advanced functions, but centrally placed navigation keys and video-transport controls make it usable enough. It can control most brands of TVs as well.

Like last year's impressive DMR-E100HS, the DMR-E95HS is a combo recorder able to record video to its internal 160GB hard drive and DVD-R/RAM discs. You typically record your shows (or camcorder videos) to the hard disk, then dub anything that's a keeper to DVD. Much like with any DVR, the hard disk and the DVD-RAM let you record one program while playing back another; watch an in-progress recording from the beginning; and pause, rewind, and fast-forward live television. The multitasking functionality extends to the dubbing feature. For example, while you're burning a disc of Tuesday night's TV favorites, you can start watching Wednesday's without a hitch.

The DMR-E95HS includes the TV Guide On Screen electronic programming guide (EPG) and an IR blaster, so it can control an external cable box. Unlike those on TiVo-based recorders, the TV Guide EPG is free. But since it needs to be downloaded over an analog TV connection (the data is encoded on some of your local broadcast channels), it won't work with digital cable or satellite systems--a major drawback.

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.

6.9

Panasonic DMR-E95HS

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 8Performance 7