|Throw away your
videocassette recorder. No more lousy VHS tapes tangling, tearing, and wearing out -- DVD
recorders have come to the rescue.
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
- Universal remote control
- VCR Plus+
- 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
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, Panasonics 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.
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
Panasonics 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 thats unlikely to happen until MPAA
head Jack Valenti and his merry band of intruders decide to give up their quixotic
Although the DMR-E55 is Panasonics 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 youve 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 wont 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.
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, youll also have to use the
75-ohm input to take advantage of the DMR-E55s 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 youre 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-E55s 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 arent exactly two hours long. For
films that run 90 minutes or less, or over two hours, I program the DMR-E55 for the
films precise length. The machine then automatically selects the best possible rate
to fit that time.
The DMR-E55 doesnt include an IR blaster, but it does
come with a built-in tuner. If your cable system doesnt 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-E55s internal tuner. If your cable
system does have a box, or if youre a DirecTV subscriber, youll have to make
sure the box is tuned to the channel you want to record when the DMR-E55 pops to life.
In recording from DirecTV to the DMR-E55, I generally used
SP speed, which yielded two hours. Watching TCMs 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 hadnt been in the original. In
the DMR-E55s defense, even pre-recorded letterboxed DVDs dont 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-E55s 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 Ive 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, Id record it at XP.
Recordings made at the DMR-E55s 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 babysitters 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.
Ive used only one other home DVD recorder,
Panasonics 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
Within todays constraints -- its not HD, and
you cant dub your own commercial DVDs to make safety backups -- Panasonics
DMR-E55 has nailed shut VHSs coffin. Its simpler to use and easier to set up,
the medium is more dependable, editing is more straightforward, and the price is, finally,
right. Youll be able to find one of these in my equipment rack shortly.
|Speakers - ATC SMC 50A
(mains), Sonance Symphony (surrounds), KEF Model 100 (center), Sunfire True Subwoofer
- Lexicon MC-1, Fosgate Audionics FAP T1, Bel
Canto Design PrePro
|Amplifier - B&K Video 5
- 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
- Runco Cinema 750, InFocus ScreenPlay 5700, Epson Cinema 500