HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



October
2004

Reviewed by
Wes Marshall

 


Panasonic
DMR-E55
DVD Recorder

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: DMR-E55

Price: $299.95 USD
Dimensions: 16.94"W x 3.13"H x 10.82"D
Weight: 8.58 pounds

Warranty: One year parts and labor

Features

  • Universal remote control
  • VCR Plus+

Features (cont'd)
  • 3D Y/C Separation
  • 3D Noise Reduction
  • Block Noise Reduction
  • Mosquito Noise Reduction
  • Inputs: composite video (three RCA), S-video (three), audio L/R (three RCA), RF (one UHF/VHF)
  • Recording: DVD-RAM, DVD-R
  • Playback: DVD-Video, DVD-Audio (two-channel), DVD-RAM, DVD-R, Video CD, CD, CD-R, CD-RW, MP3 CD
  • Time Slip Function
  • 10-bit/54MHz video DAC

Throw away your videocassette recorder. No more lousy VHS tapes tangling, tearing, and wearing out -- DVD recorders have come to the rescue.

Early on, when Panasonic and a few others introduced home DVD recorders, the cost was exorbitant, but now prices have begun to plummet. What can you get at the low end? Well, Panasonic’s DMR-E55 is their most reasonably priced player-recorder at $299.95 USD, but it still has plenty of features to warm the heart of any home-theater fan.

Description

The DMR-E55 is a nice looking unit, sleek and silver, standing 3" tall and weighing 8.6 pounds. It comes well packed, with a detachable power cord, composite A/V cable, a coaxial cable, and batteries for its remote control. The remote is a dramatic improvement over the one that came with Panasonic’s earlier, more expensive DVD recorders. That one had hidden buttons, and was larger and more squared-off. On the new version, everything falls effortlessly to hand, and the buttons are grouped in an easily recognizable way.

The DMR-E55 has one component output, which can be used in either interlaced or progressive mode, along with the usual composite/S-video and analog and digital audio outputs. There is also a 75-ohm output; some videophiles scoff at this, but I find it useful for distributing signals to televisions throughout the house. The DMR-E55 has three inputs that accept analog audio, and your choice of composite or S-video. While all of us would like to have at least some component inputs, a pure unprotected digital input is better yet -- but that’s unlikely to happen until MPAA head Jack Valenti and his merry band of intruders decide to give up their quixotic crusade.

Features

Although the DMR-E55 is Panasonic’s bargain player, it has features galore, most of which come from its ability to record and play DVD-RAM discs. Most important are its TiVo-like abilities. First, the recording runs faster than the feed, so you can record one program while watching another that you’ve already recorded. Sports fans can set the DVD-RAM to start recording at the beginning of the game, and then pause or do an instant replay. Finally, you never have to find an empty space for recording. Because DVD-RAM is true random-access memory, the DMR-E55 finds any open slots and records in those areas. This last trait also pays benefits for people who want to edit, such as home photographers, or folks who like to excise commercials from their archival copies of Tripping the Rift.

The DMR-E55 is also a general-purpose player that will handle pre-recorded DVDs and CDs. It can play DVD-Audio discs, but only in analog stereo. It won’t play SACD, DVD-RW, DVD+R/RW, or LPs, but it does play one other type of disc that I found very useful: MP3s on CD. Want some nice background music? Rip about 10 hours’ worth of MP3s onto a CD, drop the disc in the DMR-E55, hit Play, and forget about it.

Decisions, decisions

Setting up the DMR-E55 was simpler than with the last generation of VCRs, with one potentially confusing item: When you use the recommended S-video connection for your cable or satellite box, you’ll also have to use the 75-ohm input to take advantage of the DMR-E55’s automatic channel- and time-sensing features. Then you connect everything to your processor, plug in the DMR-E55, and after it asks you some questions about your time zone and whether you’re connected to an antenna or a cable box, it immediately starts looking for available channels and the correct time. Those tasks completed, setup is just a matter of following the menus.

Like a VCR, a DVD-R can record at different speeds; also like a VCR, the more data you cram onto a disc, the lower the picture quality. At the DMR-E55’s highest speed, XP, a standard DVD-R blank will hold one hour of programming; at its lowest speed, EP, it will hold eight hours. Panasonic also offers FR (Flexible Recording) mode, which I found very useful. The station I time-shift most often is Turner Classic Movies, and many of the classics aren’t exactly two hours long. For films that run 90 minutes or less, or over two hours, I program the DMR-E55 for the film’s precise length. The machine then automatically selects the best possible rate to fit that time.

The DMR-E55 doesn’t include an IR blaster, but it does come with a built-in tuner. If your cable system doesn’t require a cable box, setting up your recording will be a piece of cake. Just program the channel and time (or use VCR Plus+), and the signal will go through the DMR-E55’s internal tuner. If your cable system does have a box, or if you’re a DirecTV subscriber, you’ll have to make sure the box is tuned to the channel you want to record when the DMR-E55 pops to life.

Torture tests

In recording from DirecTV to the DMR-E55, I generally used SP speed, which yielded two hours. Watching TCM’s old black-and-white films, there was no difference between the original and the recording; ditto for most color films. But when I recorded letterboxed Technicolor films off TCM and blew the picture up to fill the screen, there were obvious blocking artifacts that hadn’t been in the original. In the DMR-E55’s defense, even pre-recorded letterboxed DVDs don’t look all that great on my 10’ screen. Switching to XP speed (one hour) made the recording identical to the original. In the ultimate torture test, I passed the point of diminishing returns when I used the FR mode to record Ben-Hur, an ultra-widescreen film with a running time of just under four hours. With the picture blown up to fill the screen, the distortions beat the signal.

The best-looking pictures I receive come from our local PBS station, KLRU. With a roof antenna, we can pull in some very clear signals, and because KLRU is the home of Austin City Limits, I tried recording a few ACL broadcasts to get a sense of the DMR-E55’s visual and sonic capabilities. Stevie Winwood reprised his ACL Festival gig in the studio, and I was particularly interested to again hear him rip into the guitar solo of "Dear Mr. Fantasy." At the one-hour XP speed, the recording looked virtually identical to the original feed. Blown up to the largest possible picture, the recording looked just slightly digitized but still great. The sound was just a little brash compared to the analog feed, but not enough to detract from the fun.

I also recorded Gillian Welch, owner of one of the most plaintive and singular voices in American music. This time I used the two-hour SP mode. While the picture was better than that from any VHS recorder I’ve used, including some very-high-end S-VHS machines, it was just slightly off the mark. I would never mind watching Austin City Limits at SP speed, but if I wanted a permanent copy to treasure for years, I’d record it at XP.

Recordings made at the DMR-E55’s four-hour LP speed looked like a good VHS tape, the six-hour EP speed like a poor VHS tape. If all you want to do is record the babysitter’s activities, you can go to the eight-hour EP speed, but both picture and sound will be bad enough to ruin whatever you watch. At least Panasonic offers you the option.

Bottom line

I’ve used only one other home DVD recorder, Panasonic’s DMR-E60S ($550). The DMR-E55, for $250 less, ties or beats the DMR-E60S in every category: setup is simpler, the GUI is more intuitive and better looking, the remote is easier to use, and the picture is just as good. The DMR-E60S had only one major advantage over the E55 -- a FireWire input for folks with video cameras that have a FireWire output.

Within today’s constraints -- it’s not HD, and you can’t dub your own commercial DVDs to make safety backups -- Panasonic’s DMR-E55 has nailed shut VHS’s coffin. It’s simpler to use and easier to set up, the medium is more dependable, editing is more straightforward, and the price is, finally, right. You’ll be able to find one of these in my equipment rack shortly.

Review System
Speakers - ATC SMC 50A (mains), Sonance Symphony (surrounds), KEF Model 100 (center), Sunfire True Subwoofer Signature
Processors - Lexicon MC-1, Fosgate Audionics FAP T1, Bel Canto Design PrePro
Amplifier - B&K Video 5
Sources - Pioneer DV-434, Panasonic DVD CP-72, Sony DVP-NC685V DVD players; Integra DPC 8.5 universal audio/video player; Panasonic DMR-E60S DVD recorder; JVC HM-DH40000U D-VHS recorder; Philips DSR6000 DirecTV/TiVo; Tascam CD-RW4U CD recorder
Cables - Canare, Straight Wire
Projectors - Runco Cinema 750, InFocus ScreenPlay 5700, Epson Cinema 500
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Matsushita Electric Corporation of America
One Panasonic Way
Secaucus, NJ 07094
Phone: (800) 211-7262

Website: www.panasonic.com

 


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