Panasonic DMR-ES10 £200

1st Mar 2005 | 00:00

Panasonic finally relents and lets other formats in

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

This recorder eclipses all its cheapo peers

Like:

<p>Multiformat recording</p><p>Built to last</p><p>Support for DVD-RAM</p><p>Price</p>

Dislike:

<p>No Freeview tuner</p>

Since DVD recorders first appeared, Panasonic has supported the DVD-RAM format. This system had the backing of the official industry body, the DVD Forum, but it lost out in popularity to DVD RW because recorders and blank discs for the latter were cheaper.

What's more, RAM discs, though sophisticated, are incompatible with the vast majority of other players. DVD RW and its nearest rival format DVD-RW (another Forum backed disc),on the other hand,enjoy wide compatibility.Go shopping for blanks and you'll be spoilt for choice in everything except RAM.

In light of this,Panasonic has added the DVD-RW format to its latest recorders. It's even thrown in DVD R to accompany DVD-R on the write-once side,so the new model accepts four of the five main disc types,making it arguably the most adaptable DVD recorder to date.

It seems to have taken no more room to add the two new recording formats to this recorder. It's a standalone machine (Panasonic's other models in the range are combi VHS or hard-drive versions of the ES10) so it's small and slim.

The styling is gorgeous - minimal buttons and a large clear display that sits in the black part of a twotone fascia.The well hidden disc tray actually pops out on the far left, surprisingly far from the eject button,and accepts DVD-RAMs in a cartridge,which protects them from scratches and smudges.

Later this year Panasonic will have recorders with built-in Freeview (and by default a programme guide),but the DMR-ES10 is more basic, with just an analogue TV tuner and VideoPlus timer,though it does automatically grab programme names this way, so not all is lost.

Connectivity is fair,with two Scarts (one RGB or S-video in,the other RGB or S-video out) and component ports for PAL progressive scan.Unlike Panasonic's amazing £300 DVD-S97 player, there's no HDMI digital video output or upscaling to pseudo-HDTV quality. Audio outputs are limited to analogue stereo (also used for twochannel DVD-Audio playback here) and optical digital for 5.1 surroundsound DVDs.The front carries extra S-video and composite inputs,but there's no i.Link for DV-cams.

The onscreen menu is as good as any of Panasonic's recent accomplishments.There are a few revisions to simplify access to frequently used functions such as timer recording.

Given Panasonic's history with DVD-RAM,the best features are still reserved for that,so even though tricks like non-linear editing and simultaneous play and record can be done with DVD-RW, they are not available here.Panasonic has excluded the option to format DVD-RWs in VR mode,which enables editing features but makes -RW recordings incompatible in most players.

In practice, though, the appeal of DVD-RW (Video mode) as a broadly compatible but reusable disc often outweighs the benefits of editing, so you might not miss it.

Anyone familiar with the simple editing of DVD RW, however, will lament not being able to divide titles or hide chapters,except with RAM, so a hard-drive combi is essential if you want the best of all worlds. With this Panasonic you'll use RAM for the stuff you want to edit, -RW for reusable and easily compatible recordings (taking the place of VHS) and -R or R for simple archiving.

The XP mode (for 1hr on one side of a DVD) is the recorder's crowning glory - it's all here - sharp detail, fluid motion,powerful colour reproduction and high contrast. Thankfully most of those qualities remain throughout the rest of the recording modes,except for the gradual loss of detail and edge definition. SP mode (2hr) is a good general option.If you're connecting to a set-top box then it should match it for picture.That's not to say it's perfect - look closely and there's a slight loss of sharpness around moving edges and a touch of banding in subtle contours.

If you choose FR (flexible recording) then you can fit specific running times to a disc,which is useful for creating your own inbetween mode. For example, if you have a 90min film to put on its own, then you can get a better-than-SP quality this way.

The LP preset mode doubles capacity to 4hr. With many digital recorders the quality plummets from 3hr onwards, but the DMR-ES10 is not bad at all. Edges are rather blocky, but not nearly as ugly as they could be. We would still recommend SP for action movies or for anything where picture quality is vital.Sadly,the recorder will not write to duallayered DVD R or -R blanks which are now available,so it's wise to split long content over two discs if you're viewing on a screen bigger than 32in.

The lowest quality level is EP, which is a single preset mode with two options in the set-up menu: one provides a maximum of 6hr on a disc, the other 8hr. In the 6hr setting there's heavy digital blocking around moving objects.To its credit the 8hr mode seems no worse visually.Colour and contrast remain consistently impressive,though,so they have some merits.However,we'd only suggest EP for non-essential or 'emergency' use.

Commercial DVD playback matches the sturdy work that the DMR-ES10's best recordings offer, with deep contrast, faithful colour, fine detail,clean edges and decent digital noise suppression.You can spruce up all playback with progressive scan,which on compatible displays gives a more rounded look to the overall image, with first-rate smoothness and outlines,even during fast movies like The Bourne Supremacy.

For a recorder with so many electronics inside, you'd think the sound would suffer - either through neglect or interference - but audio is excellent. Dialogue is delivered with pristine clarity and 5.1 surround effects come through very cleanly.

Overall, the playback and recording quality (except the EP modes) is very good and even LP shows improvement.The DMR-ES10's multi-format recording removes the dilemma of which recorder to get in terms of disc compatibility.DVD RW would be nice - to make it five out of five formats - but that's probably too much to ask!

Panasonic's user interfaces are unparalleled and although we can't wait to see the hard-drive combi and integrated Freeview versions, it's onto a winner with this one.

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