The DMR-EZ49V is an excellent performer across the board. With the upscaling set to 1080p, DVD movie playback is crisp and artefact-free, and live Freeview pictures are very strong. We watched a lot of fast-moving events from the Winter Olympics on the BBC, such as ice hockey, skiing and bobsled, and were impressed by how smoothly the competitors move and how sharply their edges are defined when set against crisp white backdrops. Fine detail, like the puffs of snow as skiers come to a stop, are rendered with pleasing clarity and colours are deep and rich but always convincing. Superb.
Select XP and recordings are preserved on DVD-RAM in exactly the same quality. It’s only when you start recording stuff in LP that you start to notice artefacts like mosquito and block noise, and in EP images are excessively soft and juddery – use sparingly.
When dubbing VHS to DVD, don’t expect miracles – the results are only as good as the source tape. But in our tests, a ropey old tape of TV shows stepped superbly into the digital domain using the two-hour SP mode, with well-judged colours, robust blacks and minimal audio hiss. It’s noisy but watchable. And copying in any direction is simple thanks to the easy to follow, step-by-step screens. You can set the amount of time to be copied or just record the entire tape in one go. Using the same screen you can move pictures from USB to DVD-RAM.
There are no problems with USB playback of video, music or photos, and the deck displays the latter in crisp high-definition, which is a real bonus. On a more negative note, digital text is surprisingly sluggish and CD playback is merely average, but this was never a deck designed to satisfy audiophile tastes.
It’s still hard to believe that VHS is still going strong in 2010, but the mere existence of this combi is proof that there’s a lingering demand for it. And the DMR-EZ49V is a great example of how to integrate ageing tape tech with modern digital recording, thanks to its bulging feature list and an abundance of slick recording/editing features, even without a built-in hard-disk. It’s simple to copy cassettes to DVD and the results are impressive, provided your tapes are in good nick. What’s more, the operating system is infused with the company’s usual user-friendliness, plus DVD and Freeview picture quality is top-notch, especially when you employ the 1080p upscaling.
But this deck shares the same flaws as Panasonic’s DMR-EX83. The EPG and onscreen digital TV banners need a dramatic rethink, while the bigger issues of a single Freeview tuner and incompatibility with the incoming Freeview HD service might force some to put away their wallets, particularly at this price. But if you need a VHS/DVD solution right now, then you won’t find many better.