Panasonic DMR-E80H Hard Disk/DVD-R Recorder Reviewed

Panasonic DMR-E80H Hard Disk/DVD-R Recorder Reviewed

A throw back to the days when we all thought the DVD-R would replace VHS. Well, years later we know the DVR was the ultimate winner of the battle but they weren't very common during this time in the market

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The Panasonic DMR-E8OH breakthrough hard disk/DVD-R recorder lets you record video, edit precisely, set index points, and transfer to DVDR or tape without generation loss... what's not to like? Since my first tape recorder in the mid-1960s, I've wanted to accomplish three things: record TV shows without commercials; assemble compilations of clips of my favorite songs, movie scenes, news stories, etc.; and do simple editing of home productions. In the 1960s, you could do these things (audio only), by physically cutting and splicing the tape. It's taken 40 years and some 60-odd recorders later to produce a video recorder which can perform these tricks fluently, without editing generation loss.

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Most people are satisfied with any video recorder that works when they pop in a tape. The Panasonic DMR-E8OH is a machine for the rest of us. As a second-generation hard disk/DVD recorder, Panasonic has worked out many of the quirks of their earlier model (DMR-HS2), while building on the editing strengths of their DVD-RAM platform and the simple, high-quality recording offered by DVDR discs. Toshiba also makes a HD/DVD-R recorder, and Philips' DVD+RW format allows for some editing directly on the DVD (without using a hard disk), but the Panasonic DMRE8OH edits with accuracy and ease that the other machines don't match, and for a price that's hard to beat!

Like previous Panasonic DVD recorders, the DMR-E8OH allows you to record directly to DVD-R (or DVD-RAMs) one track at a time. DVD-Rs must be finalized before they can be played in a standard DVD player, but for more control over your recording, tracks can be recorded first to the hard disk, edited if necessary, and then dubbed in half the time to the DVD-R. Unlike Toshiba's technology, you transfer tracks one at a time (or several at a time), building up a DVD-R as you go. Unlike Panasonic's earlier HD/DVD-R offering, there's no loss of quality when making a high-speed transfer.

Unique Features
If you're already familiar with DVD-RAM editing on a Panasonic machine, learning the DMRE8OH is a snap. Editing on the hard disk works exactly like a giant DVD-RAM. The DMR-E8OH offers two kinds of editing: Shorten Segment and Playlist Editing.

"Shorten Segment" allows you to set the start and end points of the material to be deleted, select "OK", and it's gone. This is great for cutting out commercials, or trimming the beginning and end points of your track. The deleted space becomes available for future recording at the end of the disk. There's no undo feature so what's gone is gone forever.

"Playlist Editing" offers non-linear editing like you'd otherwise need a computer to perform. The DMR-E8OH lets you set the beginning and end points for each scene or clip, and then arrange the clips in any order for playback. You can fine-tune the start and end points, add clips, or reorder at any time. The clips can come from any number of tracks on the hard disk or DVD-RAM. You can make a duplicate playlist so you can edit more than one version of the same program.

The accuracy of editing is largely controlled by the DVD format. If you perform a high-speed dub after "Shorten Segment" editing, the edit points can be off by a few frames, resulting in a brief pause at the edit point. The DMR-E8OH always defaults to giving you a shorter clip, so you'll never see a commercial.

When doing real time dubbing, Panasonic offers two modes which can improve the edit quality. In "Seamless Play" mode, there is no pause at the edit point, but the sound is muted slightly before and after the edit, which may cause you to miss a word or two of dialog. If you turn "Seamless Play" off, there is a brief pause at the edit point, but precise dialog editing is possible. This feature also works with playlist editing. Toshiba and Philips machines always pause at an edit point and don't offer any feature for precise editing.

The DMR-E8OH also lets you set markers on the hard disk or DVD-RAM, which translate to index points (chapters) on the finalized DVDR. This adds a professional touch to your productions that wasn't possible with earlier Panasonic machines.

The DMR-E8OH can transfer tracks to and from DVD-RAM discs without quality loss, making it possible to save tracks outside the machine.

Each track on the hard disk or DVD-RAM can be given a title of up to 64 characters. The DMR-E8OH also records the time, date, and channel. All this information is passed along when a track is dubbed, and the title can be changed at any time before a disc is finalized.

Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
With three sets of S-VideoNideo/L/R inputs (one set on the front), and two sets of outputs, connecting this machine is limited only by your imagination. You'll probably want to make the DMR-E8OH your primary DVD player (as it plays DVD-Rs much better than a non-recording player), so connect the component video outputs to your primary monitor, and the optical audio output to your Dolby Digital decoder or receiver. The DMR-E8OH offers progressive-scan output and passes DTS audio. There are no miniDV (FireWire) input or memory card slots on this unit, but Panasonic's similar DMR-E100H model offers these features (along with a larger, 120GB hard disk), for $400 more.

Note that the RF output on Panasonic DVD recorders is merely a pass-through of the RF input; there's no internal channel 3/4 modulator to watch the output of the recorder on a TV's RF input. While it's unlikely you'd watch such a fine recorder on such a primitive set, you might find an RF output useful to send the picture to other rooms, or to a small black and white TV as a dedicated editing monitor. In either case, you'll have to make do with the video (baseband) outputs.

Be certain both ends of the power cord are plugged in firmly, as a power interruption while writing to the TOC area or finalizing a disc can be disastrous.

There's a lot of brouhaha on the Internet about the black level on this and other Panasonic DVD recorders. To correct for previous mistakes, Panasonic offers the ability to set both input and output levels to normal or darker. The default settings (input = darker, output = lighter) will produce correct black levels, so you should leave these settings alone and ignore the chatter about this issue.

One menu setting you should change immediately is "DVD-R Compatible Recording," which is found under "Disc" on the setup menu. Change this setting to On. This is necessary for bit-accurate, high-speed dubbing to be performed from the hard disk to DVD-Rs.

Most on-screen displays can be turned off for a cleaner output (see the "Display" menu). You'll probably want to leave these displays on while you're learning the machine, and you can turn them off at a later time. This allows you to play a clean start from paused video, something you can't currently do on any PVR.

Finally, you'll want to set the time and do a channel scan if you're connected to an antenna, or a cable system without a cable box.

There are no audio level adjustments or meters on the DMR-E8OH, which is particularly disappointing, given its application of assembling clips from different sources. If you want to assure a consistent audio level, you'll need to control and monitor audio with external equipment.

Playing (and Recording) with Your New Toy Because the DMR-E8OH records on its built- in hard disk, you don't even need to pop in a blank DVD to start recording. Panasonic makes selection of the HD or DVD quite easy: there's a button on the left for the hard disk, and a button on the right for the DVD. These buttons are duplicated on the remote control. On the machine, the button glows green for whichever side is selected. Above each button is a small LED which glows red when that side is recording and blinks when in record-pause.

Between these two drive select buttons is a full-featured fluorescent display, which includes a graphic showing record and playback status, channel/input, track number, and time. There's only one time display, which is a slight limitation, and it is difficult to read from a low angle. Above the track number is a display for recording speed: XP, SP, LP, or EP. SP glows in blue, while the others are orange, which provides an excellent warning if you step off the SP speed. The right side of the unit includes Stop, Play, and Record buttons, plus Channel (input select) up and down, but the main unit lacks enough buttons to do many necessary operations. For example, it's impossible to eject a DVD-R from the front panel after finalizing it! (You need the remote control to hit Cancel first.) There's also no Pause button on the machine, which is necessary to pause or restart any recording.

Playback at various speeds is greatly improved over previous models. Audio, at normal pitch, is provided at 1.3X and 3X speed (which Panasonic insists on calling 2X). The 3X speed is a bit fast to be intelligible while the 1.3X is barely faster than normal, but it does allow you to watch many programs in less time. The 3X playback is very smooth and can be recorded for special effects. Five scan speeds allow playback up to 100X forward or reverse, slow motion at various speeds, and frame advance and reverse, which are invaluable for precise editing. Separate Track Forward and Reverse buttons are provided on the remote.

You can play back a recording while it's being made (just press Play during recording), and you can also play back any other program--from either the hard disk or a disc in the DVD drive--while you're making a recording. Panasonic also offers a "Time Slip" feature which can show a PIP of what you're recording while you're playing back a different point. To switch from playing back to what you're recording, you press Stop, which is a bit confusing.

Timer recording works pretty much like any video recorder. VCR+ programming or "date/time/channel/input" programming are available, but there's no cable mouse for cable or satellite box control. This isn't a fatal flaw as most modem cable/satellite boxes can be set to change the channel by themselves when necessary, or if, like me, you record most things to TiVo first anyway. By design, this recorder eliminates the need for a TiVo, but, as its programming ability is far less sophisticated than a TiVo, you may want to continue to use your TiVo as a front-end unit, especially if it's a DirecTiVo (or DishPlayer) which doesn't cause any loss in picture quality. The DMR-E8OH does offer one special programming feature, which Panasonic calls "Renewal Recording," where each new episode of a show deletes the previous episode on the hard disk (or DVD-RAM).

You can punch in a title for the recording when setting the timer, then select recording to the hard disk or DVD. Be careful with this setting, as a slip of the finger can cause an unexpected recording on whatever half-finished DVD-R you've left in the DVD drive!

Read more about the performance of the DMR-E80H on Page 2.
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One of the most rewarding features of the DMR-E8OH is the ability to
edit commercials without watching the program. Simply record any TV
show without watching it, then zip through the show, using the "Shorten
Segment" feature to cut the commercials. Once you're done, you can
watch the show continuously, dub it to a DVD, or play it from the
DMR-E8OH while recording to VHS, SVHS, VCD, etc. using another recorder.

Recording Speeds
Panasonic offers four fixed recording speeds which give you one, two,
four, or six hours on a standard 4.7GB disk. The one and two hour
speeds (XP and SP) offer full 720x480 resolution, while four-hour (LP)
cuts the horizontal resolution in half (360x480) and six-hour speed
(EP) cuts vertical resolution in half (360x240). Video digititus is
also worse at the longer speeds, and yet, they can be very acceptable
for certain material, such as presidential speeches. The SP speed
records video at 5Mbps, which is excellent for most material, while the
XP speed ups the ante to 10Mbps. This offers a noticeable improvement
only on certain unusual material, like a close-up of rapidly moving
water. XP speed also allows you to record the audio in PCM mode
(instead of Dolby Digital 2.0), which purists will enjoy.

Panasonic also offers "Flexible Recording," or FR, which allows for
any amount of time between one hour and six hours. Previous Panasonic
models offered full (SP) resolution up through two hours and 23
minutes, and dropped to LP resolution for recordings longer than that.
The DMR-E8OH works slightly differently, offering full resolution only
up to two hours and four minutes. Between two hours and five minutes
and two hours 59 minutes, a compromise resolution is used, which offers
almost identical picture quality with less digital artifacts. For three
hours and over, LP resolution is used. This new standard is arguably
worse for recordings between two hours and five minutes and two hours
23 minutes, but better for recordings of 2:24 --2:59.

Note that all recording speeds normally record in variable bit rate
(VBR), where the actual bit rate is varied higher or lower than the
average, based on the complexity of program material. VBR can be turned
off, though there's no obvious reason to do so.

There's no problem mixing recording speeds on the same disk (but not
on the same track), and most DVD players will play through all speeds
seamlessly (though some older models will not).

The Extra Ten Minutes
While Panasonic rates a 4.7GB DVD as two hours at SP speed, there are
actually two hours and ten minutes available. Previous Panasonic models
could take advantage of the extra time only if you erased a track: up
to ten minutes of time lost when tracks were erased from DVDR discs
would re-appear, as if by magic. This was excellent for aborting false
starts and erasing the bad recording without losing any time. Even more
bizarre: if the last track on your disc wouldn't quite fit, you could
actually delete it and try recording something shorter in the recovered
space.

The DMR-E8OH lets you do this too, but even better, you can actually
record on the extra ten minutes. To accomplish this, dub your tracks
from hard disk to DVD-R using the full dubbing menu (not the quick dub
button). You'll notice that, for high-speed dubbing in the dubbing
menu, the DMR-E8OH shows the available time in MB rather than minutes,
and if you work it out (about 34 MB/minute), the full two hours and ten
minutes are available. In fact, you can even add up to ten minutes to a
full disc you've already made on another Panasonic machine, if that
disc isn't finalized.

Dubbing Where You Shouldn't There are many useful applications for
dubbing from a DVD-R back to the hard disk, or from a playlist on a
DVD-RAM to the hard disk, or even from the hard disk to itself (for
example, to record a freeze frame, slow motion, or Playlist), but
Panasonic doesn't offer this feature. However, the simultaneous record
and play ability of the DMR-E8OH makes it quite easy to achieve. Simply
connect one set of outputs on the machine back to its own inputs
(S-Video and L/R audio). Be sure you've selected the right input
(you'll see some video feedback). Select the hard disk side and press
Record. Then select the DVD side and play your material, or, you can
play any program or Playlist on the hard disk side. When you're done,
stop the play, then the record, and trim the beginning and end points
of your dub using the "Shorten Segment" feature. With three sets of
inputs and two sets of outputs, you can wire the DIVIR-E8OH permanently
this way. This feature is strictly for editing your own material and
won't work with copy-protected commercial DVDs, as the DMR-E8OH detects
Macrovision and stops recording.

Finishing Your Production
The DMR-E8OH allows a 43 character title for each track (it actually
allows 44 characters, but the last character is often cut off in the
final menu). There's no thumbnail picture menu feature, but I found
that machines offering this feature just meant extra work to select the
picture, and the resulting thumbnails were often too small to see
anyway. I sometimes create my own full-screen picture menu by starting
each track with a relevant freeze-frame (played back from a TiVo or
created with the dubbing method above).

Track titles are carried over when tracks are dubbed, and can be
modified up until the time a disc is finalized. You can also enter a
disc title.

Index points are possible if you dub tracks from the hard disk in
high speed mode. If not, you can dub your track to DVD-RAM in real time
mode. This will produce a high-speed compatible track which you can dub
back to the hard disk, and then to the DVD-R.

Simply set markers on the hard disk or DVDRAM on a high speed, dub
compatible track, and these markers will become index points on the
finished DVD. Deleting or moving markers is a bit trickier than setting
them, but can be done through the "Display>Play" feature.

Before finalizing your disc, select a background color or pattern
for your menu screen. Nine selections are offered but the color
selection is a bit odd: there are plenty of pinks and pastels to choose
from, but no black or red. It would be really nice to preview the
finished menu before finalizing the disc, but this isn't possible.
Finalizing usually takes about four minutes.

Final Take - The video quality and editing features of the unit
surpass all previous video recorders and are a real treat for anyone
looking for a powerful machine. While it's not quite an Avid in a box,
it's more than adequate to edit TV commercials, compile clips, and edit
or rearrange scenes from home movies. I've kept very few of the
machines I've tested over the past 20 years, but the DMR-E8OH has
become a permanent addition to my video system.

Additional Resources
• Read more source component reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Find a receiver to pair with this source.
• See more about the audiophile world at AudiophileReview.com.
• Discuss all kinds of gear at hometheaterequipment.com.

Panasonic DMR-E8OH Hard Disk/DVD-R Recorder

Special Features:
80GB hard disk stores 34 hours at SP speed
DVD-R and DVD-RAM recording
Simultaneous record and playback
4 recording speeds (1,2,4,6hrs.) +
"Flexible" speed provides good quality up to 3 hrs.
"Shorten Segment" editing great for deleting
commercials, assembling compilations, trimming clips
"Playlist Editing" offers random-access,
non-destructive editing
"Divide Track" feature; tracks can also be
combined through Playlists
Dub tracks or playlists from HD to DVD-R or
DVD-RAM
44 character title for each DVD-R track
9 color/pattern choices for DVD-R menus
"Markers" set on the Hard Disk translate to
index points on DVD-R
Editing and index points play back correctly on
most DVD players
PCM audio recording (XP speed only)
MP3 VCD CDR/CDRW playback
3 sets of video inputs, 2 sets of outputs, plus
component output (Y,Pb,Pr)
Optical digital audio output
Digital comb filter for excellent quality on
composite video inputs
32-event timer with VCR+ and "renewal" recording
10 bonus minutes (SP) possible on DVD-Rs
High-speed dubbing at 2X for DVD-R, 4X for
DVD-RAM (SP tracks)
Dubbing from HD to DVD-R in high-speed mode is
bit-accurate; dubbing with speed conversation
is also possible
Bit-accurate dubbing between HD, DVD-RAM,
and back allows for infinite offline storage
Dubbing from DVD-Rs, playlists, etc. to hard disk is
possible with trick
Commercial skip button (skips forward one minute)
Can record directly to DVD-R, hard disk, or
DVD-RAM; DVD-Rs can be built-up one
track at a time, or several tracks at once,
in real time or high-speed mode
DVD-Rs must be finalized before playback on
DVD players
Warranty: One Year Parts and Labor
Dimensions:17"W x 3"H x 11.5"D
Weight:10 lbs.
MSRP: $799, Retail price: $699

Missing Features:
Audio level control and meters
FireWire, component, or DVI video input
Memory card reader for still pictures
Thumbnail menu creation
Joystick, Thumbstick, or Jog/Shuttle on remote
RF modulator for IV output
Cable or Satellite box control
DVD+RW, SVCD playback

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