Picture quality is every bit as good as the rest of Panasonic’s latest recorders. Pre-recorded DVD playback is sharp and clean through the HDMI output with the upscaling set to 1080p – it effortlessly handles the intricate detail and moody colour palette of ”Pan’s Labyrinth”, keeping block noise and upscaling artefacts at bay. Non-upscaled pictures through the component and RGB SCART output are also highly impressive, although they lack the digital clarity of the HDMI signal.
We’ve already seen Panasonic’s DVB-T Adaptive Noise Reduction doing a great job on the EX88 and EX78, and once again it makes pictures from the built-in Freeview tuner look sublime. The sheer, unsullied vibrancy of the image is really pleasing on the eyes, particularly with the sort of bright, breezy colour schemes that permeate daytime TV, and these pictures are replicated identically when recorded onto the hard-disk in XP mode. Similarly, SP mode looks great, as demonstrated by a very clean recording of the BBC’s Wimbledon tennis coverage.
The latest range of Panasonics also delivers some of the best LP mode pictures we’ve seen, which means that that EX98V is able to retain minute details like the small print during adverts and tricky patterns. Pixel noise is present but it’s not excessive, but in EP mode the fast-paced tennis footage does show up the limitations of the lower bitrate used, resulting in soft and noisy pictures. But as long as you know what to expect then there can be few complaints, and in any case the resulting pictures are far from unwatchable.
Back in the day, Panasonic consistently turned out excellent standalone VHS VCRs and this talent lives on in its combis. Although you probably won’t use it much, the quality of VHS SP recording is decent enough, with tennis coverage benefitting from strong colour saturation – although there’s not a great deal of detail and text is hazy. A pre-recorded copy of ”Army of Darkness” proved to be surprisingly watchable, and we also transferred an old VHS recording of ”I’m Alan Partridge” to the hard-disk and then to DVD, and apart from some rather intrusive buzzing towards the beginning, the finished product is very impressive. The sound clarity is also fine and there’s very little hiss, but it’s worth pointing out that the unit itself is quite noisy when playing a VHS tape.
The DMR-EX98V is a really impressive piece of kit – flexible, convenient and surprisingly easy to use considering the vast amount of features on board. And in terms of picture quality the Panasonic is near flawless, whether it’s live, recorded or on DVD, and it does a great job at combining VHS with these more modern newer digital formats. There are certain areas where rival recorders have the edge, such as Pioneer’s 32-stage recording modes and the ability to store DivX on the hard-disk, plus at around £500 the EX98V is not cheap. However if none of this is an issue then the DMR-E98V will make the perfect recording hub.
Score in detail