- Review Price: £205.90
Most people couldn’t care less that VHS is going the way of the dodo, but there are many others who just can’t let tape technology go, either because they need a VCR to play their video collections or want to transfer irreplaceable tapes onto DVD before they fall apart. If you’re one of those people, then Panasonic has the ideal machine for you – a DVD recorder with a built-in VCR that allows you to copy tapes onto discs internally (and vice versa).
Of course, being a Panasonic DVD recorder, it’s packed with more features than you can shake a tape at, including an HDMI output with video upscaling to 720p, 1080i and 1080p. Not only does this work with DVDs but also VHS tapes, potentially making those fuzzy SD tapes look better than ever before.
It’s also equipped with a digital terrestrial tuner that gets you the entire Freeview channel line-up as well as digital text and a 7-day EPG, the latter making timer programming as easy as pressing a button. That said, it lacks the series and split recording features that make Sony and Pioneer’s latest recorders such a joy to use. Freeview channels can be recorded onto either DVD or VHS, but unlike most other DVD recorders the digital tuner isn’t backed up by an analogue version – a sign of the times perhaps?
The unit is available in black or silver, but either way the bulky VCR parts packed inside make it a bit of a lump. Our black sample is plain looking and understated with a circular silver button being the only cosmetic highlight, but it’s by no means ugly and should blend in nicely with your other kit. A cluster of playback controls and DV input are hidden under a flap on the front, joined by S-video, composite and stereo audio inputs on the left-hand side. Sadly there’s no SD memory card slot or USB port for easy playback of digital media files.
Joining the Viera-Link compatible HDMI socket on the rear is a set of progressive scan component video outputs, two SCARTs (one of which is an RGB-capable input for making recordings on DVD from external digital TV boxes) and composite/S-video outputs. On the audio side you’ll find optical digital and analogue stereo outputs.
Panasonic has always packed its recorders with a wealth of recording and editing features and the EZ47V is no exception. First up, it will record onto every DVD format going, most notably DVD-RAM and DVD-RW, both of which open the door for flexible non-linear editing of your recordings. It also supports DVD+RW, and for permanent recordings it’ll accept any write-once disc, including the double-layer variations of DVD-R and DVD+R.
There are four DVD recording modes: XP, SP, LP and EP, offering 1, 2, 4 and 8 hours’ maximum recording time, respectively, on a single-sided DVD (or double that for double-layer discs), which help you trade off picture quality for recording time. There’s also a fifth mode, Flexible Recording (FR), which makes your desired programme fit exactly into the space remaining on a disc – a valuable tool that stops you worrying about running out of capacity or wasting disc space. For VHS recording, there are SP, LP and EP modes.
As for editing, the most useful function is partial delete, which allows you to cut out unwanted parts of a recording such as commercial breaks. But those looking for something more advanced should check out playlist editing, an effective (and surprisingly user-friendly) way of rearranging favourite chapters into a desired sequence. The recorder plays these chapters from the original recordings, so virtually no extra capacity is used and it doesn’t affect the originals in any way.
If necessary, you can copy these edited playlists (or entire recordings) to VHS. But you’re more likely to use the VHS to DVD copying facility, which is an effortless process thanks to the deck’s straightforward user interface.
The same can be said for every aspect of the recorder’s functionality. We’ve always been big fans of Panasonic’s user interface as it makes everything so clear and easy to follow onscreen – even potentially complicated tasks like creating a playlist can be worked out without consulting the manual. Finding what you want is also easy, as the central menu system groups all the key functions into one handy list.
Thankfully this user-friendliness carries over into the presentation of Freeview displays, which will be a reassuring sight for newcomers to digital TV. The EPG uses the landscape ‘timeline’ design familiar to Sky users (which can be switched to a portrait shape if you wish) with friendly pastel colours and excellent use of the coloured keys on the remote. Talking of which, the superb zapper is laden with large, clearly labelled buttons, helpfully separated into different sections.
In action the deck is simply magnificent. On a basic level, the speed with which it changes channels and calls up digital text is staggeringly quick, making for a slick and hassle-free user-experience. And as a straight Freeview receiver it’s a class act, offering rich and vibrant picture quality with a low amount of MPEG noise (depending on the quality of the broadcast of course) while the robust, sensitive tuner ensures stable reception at all times, even with a poor signal.
All of these pluses make for great news when making recordings in XP mode as the deck stores these sharp, stable pictures in exactly the same quality, while the solid upscaling brings them to screen in the best way possible. Colours are deep and vivid, fine detail is crisply resolved and the only noise in the picture originates from the original broadcast. Brightly-lit, studio-based daytime TV fare like ”Deal Or No Deal”, ”Loose Women” and ”Countdown” look the best, but it also does a great job with trickier film-like programmes such as ”Holby City”. Our only gripe is a harsh black line around the edge of some objects, possibly the result of over-sharpening.
In SP mode, the bitrate doesn’t drop a great deal, which means picture quality doesn’t either, making this a great mode to use when recording movies. There’s very little break-up or block noise with fast movement. However, LP mode recordings look soft-edged and lose that irresistible crispness offered by XP and SP, but as 4-hour modes go this is actually very good, mainly because it uses 500 lines where some other recorders would drop to a lower resolution. However, EP mode has a lower resolution and a low bitrate, a combination that doesn’t make for particularly good-looking pictures, though it’s far from unwatchable.
The surprise package here is VHS playback. We dusted off a cassette copy of ”The Empire Strikes Back – Special Edition” and were impressed by the deck’s suppression of common VHS artefacts, such as colour bleed, jitter and grain. Colour saturation is also strong, making for very clean, bold VHS pictures, and the good news is that this also applies to VHS recordings from the Freeview tuner.
Finally, a run-through of the ”AI: Artificial Intelligence” DVD at 1080i reveals this to be a very talented home cinema source. The movie’s schizophrenic colour scheme is handled with aplomb, from the subtle tones of the dingy forest shots to the neon excess of Rouge City – plus it’s helped along by high detail levels, convincing blacks and a lack of MPEG block noise. It’s backed up by excellent multi-channel Dolby Digital performance from the optical digital audio output.
The DMR-EZ47V is a superb solution for those still clinging on to their cassettes. Picture quality is superb – even in the low-bitrate modes – but above all its wonderful operating system makes it one of the most user-friendly recorders we’ve tested. Our only qualm is the lack of series recording, an SD card slot or USB port, but these are minor quibbles when you consider how much you’re getting for your money elsewhere.
Score in detail
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