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 , the Toshiba , 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.
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.
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. 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 , 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.