The interface is similar to that of other Panasonic DVD recorders, and we found it relatively easy to use. It takes a while to get used to its logic, but after the first few recordings, we got the hang of it. Most of the navigation is accomplished using the remote's directional pad, and there are plenty of other functions given their own button, including a welcome commercial-skip button that jumps a minute forward. We do have some nitpicks, such as the somewhat confusing Drive Select button that toggles the remote between the DVD recorder and the SD card slot. The clicker can also control most brands of TVs. The Panasonic DMR-ES25S has one of our favorite features: flexible recording length. This option allows you to specify exactly how long your program is, then completely fill the DVD, maximizing the video quality.
We also love the ability to edit video, although you can do so only with DVD-RAM discs, and the method is not immediately intuitive. For example, the easiest way to edit out commercials is to set chapters--using the handy Chapter button--before and after commercials, then delete the chapters using the Submenu button on Disc Navigator. It sounds harder than it is, and it's pretty easy to get the hang of, even if it does get tedious.
While Panasonic claims compatibility with all types of recordable DVD media--DVD-RAM, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+RW, and both -R and +R dual-layer discs--the DMR-ES25S could not record to any of the DVD+RW discs we tried (see Performance). That's not a big deal, however, since you can always buy another type of rewriteable DVD. Naturally, recording to dual-layer media allows you to fit nearly twice as much video onto one disc.
Its connectivity is highlighted by the HDMI output, which has the aforementioned ability to upconvert to 480p, 720p, and 1080i resolution. Upconversion by a DVD player isn't necessary since every HDTV can do it on its own, but the supposed benefit is that the video processing of the DVD player might outclass that of the TV. The rest of the connectivity suite is rounded out by two standard A/V inputs and one A/V output (both with S-Video), a component-video out, a FireWire port, an SD card slot, an optical digital audio output, and RF/antenna input/output.
We would have liked a component-video input, but it's really not necessary. Like all DVD recorders, the DMR-ES25S can't record progressive-scan or HDTV sources anyway, so the improvement in video quality over S-Video would be minimal. Unlike some other recorders, this Panasonic lacks an IR blaster, so if you use a cable or satellite box, you'll have to make sure it's tuned to the correct channel for timer recordings. There's also no VCR Plus or TV Guide EPG to ease timer programming, although for this price, we expect neither a blaster nor an EPG.
If you're looking for a more comprehensive solution from Panasonic, be sure to check out our review of the excellent DVD recorder/VCR/hard disk recorder, the Panasonic DMR-EH75V. Recording quality on the Panasonic DMR-ES25S was very good overall, including the company's best-in-class LP mode. The unit can record in four video-quality modes: XP (1 hour on a single-layer DVD), SP (2 hours), LP (4 hours), and EP (8 hours). While most DVD recorders suffer a large drop in resolution when switching from SP to LP mode, usually from about 450 lines of resolution down to around 250, the DMR-ES25S was able to maintain close to the same quality. This is a big deal, as you can double the amount of content on a DVD with only a small loss in video quality. We recorded scenes from Carlito's Way in both SP and LP modes, and even after watching both several times, it was hard to single out any particular scene where SP was significantly better. We still felt like the SP mode looked a little better and would use it when detail really counts, but for average-quality TV shows, for example, the space advantage of LP mode wins out.
Switching to EP mode, we felt the quality was essentially unwatchable to all but the least-sensitive viewers. The loss in resolution is definitely noticeable, and scenes with a lot of motion in them were filled with video artifacts and chunks of pixelation. We can really only recommend using EP mode for shows with very simple animation--think Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.
Although video-playback quality on the DMR-ES25S via HDMI was far from perfect, it surpassed many of the upconverting DVD players we've reviewed this year. One of the major recurring issues on upconverting DVD players is that some struggle to display the full resolution of DVDs over the HDMI input. Given this history, we were happy to see the DMR-ES25S pass the resolution test on Silicon Optics' HQV test suite in 1080i mode, even though it failed in both 720p and 480p modes. Also on the upside, it passed the somewhat difficult 2:3 pull-down test, with the processing kicking in after about 0.5 second. It also did a particularly good job with the difficult opening scene of Star Trek: Insurrection, smoothly rendering the hulls of the boats and the arc of the bridge.
However, the Panasonic DMR-ES25S failed several tests from the HQV disc. For instance, there was visible combing when titles scrolled across the screen horizontally, and vertically scrolling titles did not look as smooth as they should. It also failed both of the "jaggies" tests completely, with jaggies appearing on a rotating line, as well as on three shifting lines. The most obscure issue we noticed was that the player seemed to change the color of green when it upscaled to 1080i. We first noticed this in an unrelated test in the Windows DVD test annex, as the color of the water in the test seemed to change drastically when we changed resolutions. We confirmed the issues by measuring green with a light meter on several TVs and confirming that it did indeed change the color of green in 1080i mode. This probably is an unnoticeable issue for most people, but it could bother enthusiasts with well-calibrated systems.
We were pleased to run into fewer snags with recordable media than we did with the DMR-EH75H. The Panasonic DMR-ES25S successfully recorded on DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, DVD+R/-R, and dual-layer DVD+R/-R. The only snag we ran into was DVD+RW, which we could not get to work.
On the other hand, disc compatibility in playing back other homebrew DVDs (whether created on PCs or other set-top recorders) continues to be a sore spot for Panasonic DVD recorders. The most frustrating hiccup we ran into was a message that indicated we needed to format the discs to play them. When we declined, the DMR-ES25S refused to play them. This behavior is definitely abnormal, as these discs are part of our normal test suite, and most DVD players have no problem handling them. Even excluding the formatting message issues, the unit choked on several discs we have marked as "easy" in our suite. Additionally, the DMR-ES25S also could not play DVDs with MP3s on them, which isn't a completely standard feature, but even the cheap Samsung DVD-V9650 didn't have a problem with it. If you'll be using only purchased DVDs and DVDs that were recorded by the player, you should be fine, but if you already have a collection of homebrew DVDs, you might want to think twice before purchasing this machine.