- Review Price: £225.06
Incredibly, the VHS format refuses to die despite being usurped by DVD, hard-disk and now Blu-ray recording. It’s a bit like Mickey Rourke’s character in ”The Wrestler” – hugely popular in the 1980s, started to fade as rivals came to prominence but hanging in there despite its age. While you might not be able to buy new films on VHS, most people have old tapes lying around – many of which contain precious memories or much-loved programmes not yet released on DVD – and products like Panasonic’s combined DVD recorder/VCR provide a convenient way of archiving them for prosperity.
The DMR-EZ48V comes equipped with a multi-format DVD drive, which means you can bung any type of blank DVD into the tray (including dual-layer DVD-R and DVD+R) and internally copy VHS tapes onto disc. But of course VHS archiving isn’t this unit’s only purpose. There’s a built-in Freeview tuner too, which means you can record digital TV programmes directly onto DVD (or onto VHS if you prefer) as well as upscale DVD movies to 1080p.
The unit’s chunkiness is explained by the built-in VHS drive, but the black or silver styling is smart and snazzy enough to carry it off and the silver circle of buttons on the right provides an attractive embellishment. The front panel includes a row of AV inputs, including S-video, composite, stereo audio and DV, but unlike Panasonic’s latest DVD/HDD recorders there’s no USB port, which is a tad disappointing.
Around the back is an excellent array of sockets, including two SCART sockets – one input for making copies from external devices, and one output for sending RGB, S-video or composite signals to your TV – as well as component, HDMI and S-video outputs. They’re joined by analogue stereo and optical digital audio outputs.
Setting up the recorder is a piece of cake. Hook it up to your TV, plug your aerial into the RF input on the rear and let the Auto Setup mode do its thing. It finds all the Freeview channels fairly quickly, and runs through a few other settings to save you doing it later. General operation is also easy – to switch between the VHS and DVD drives, hit the dedicated Drive Select button on the remote, plus another button labelled Input Select lets you toggle through the external inputs.
The operating system revolves around the Functions menu, which boasts a blissfully simple layout. From here you can access the Setup menu, which covers every conceivable option, as well as the Timer recording schedule and the Copy menu. The latter runs through a step-by-step process for dubbing recordings – first select the source and destination, set the recording mode and then compile a list of recordings to copy (when dubbing from VHS to DVD). Everything is clearly signposted along the way; making it an easy procedure even for digital recording novices, and the intelligently laid out remote doesn’t complicate matters.
With the built-in Freeview tuner comes a 7-day EPG, which makes it easy to select programmes to record. The EZ48V lacks the Guide Plus EPG found on the EX79 and EX89 and therefore isn’t blighted by the clumsy, space-hogging advert. The layout is a lot less cluttered and is organised into a grid structure showing seven channels at a time (or you can switch to a portrait single channel view) and all the functions are listed at the bottom. You can also search by category, which highlights all the relevant programmes in the grid and shades the rest grey.
However, unlike Panasonic’s more recent DVD/HDD models, this recorder does not come equipped with Series Recording, which means you’ll have to manually set every episode of your favourite shows. It’s a shame, but the lack of a hard-disk makes series recording less of a necessity – plus it features Guide Link, which keeps track of any changes to the schedules so you don’t miss any timer recordings.
Because the EPG isn’t superimposed over live TV, you might prefer to use the straightforward onscreen now/next programme banners, as they show the programme synopsis and other key details without having to leave the programme you’re watching.
The EZ48V offers a range of modes for DVD recording: XP, SP, LP and EP. These allow you to fit between one hour and eight hours on a regular single-layer DVD, or over 14 hours on a dual-layer disc. There are also three recording modes for VHS recording: SP, LP and EP.
Elsewhere on the features front, you’ll find Viera Link and Deep Colour support from the HDMI v1.3 output; MP3 and JPEG playback from CD and DVD; and a range of non-linear editing modes for DVD-RW (VR) and DVD-RAM discs (including playlist creation, chapter editing and partial delete).
On the VHS side, it features S-VHS Quasi Playback (SQPB), which plays S-VHS tapes in VHS quality; the VHS Index Search System (VISS), which adds index signals during tape recording to help you find specific points; and Jet Search high-speed forward/reverse.
The deck starts recording instantly after pressing the button and the quality is nigh-on flawless. Starting with Freeview recordings made onto DVD in XP mode, the resulting images are free from noise, packed with pure, fulsome colours and reproduced with crisp edges. Such is the crispness and purity of the recording that it’s impossible to tell the difference between the recording and the live broadcast. SP and LP also deliver pleasing results, although EP is excessively soft and juddery. You can also record Freeview onto VHS and the results aren’t bad, although we can’t see much use for it with DVD recording on board.
Next up we copied a VHS tape containing some BBC comedy shows onto DVD-RAM in XP and the results are very enjoyable to watch – the picture is surprisingly stable, colourful and detailed, although there’s no escaping classic VHS artefacts like jitter, tizzing edges, noise and softness, the severity of which depends largely on the state of the original tape. But we’re impressed by how slick and easy to use the VCR is, even to someone accustomed to using DVD players for the last decade.
The EZ48V also does a superb job of upscaling DVDs to 1080p, and as a bonus Freeview recordings, live TV and even VHS playback also get the upscaling treatment, which helps them look as clean and sharp as possible on Full HD flatpanel TVs. MP3s also sound terrific when played through a good sound system.
The DMR-EZ48V is a terrific recording tool that not only makes it incredibly simple to copy VHS tapes onto DVD but also offers top-notch 1080p DVD playback and access to free digital TV channels. The feature list is limited compared with this year’s crop of Freeview+ and Freesat recorders – the lack of USB port and series link could be a deal breaker for some, particularly at this price – but there’s still a lot to like, not least the easy-to-use operating system and solid recording quality.
Score in detail