Panasonic DMR-E75V DVD/VHS Player
Panasonic is among the many manufacturers that now make combo VHS/DVD recorders; one of their current models is the DMR-E75V. This unit includes a VHS hi-fi VCR and a DVD drive that records on DVD-RAM and DVD-R discs (but not on DVD-RW), and it plays these formats, as well as DVD-Video, CD, CD-R/-RW (recorded with either normal CD or MP3 audio), and videoCD. It can even play DVD-Audio discs, but it only outputs two channels. I found out that playing DVD-Audio involves some sort of downmixing, but I was unable to get any more specific details of the process.
Ins and Outs
The DMR-E75V lets you record broadcast television on VHS or DVD (or both), and it has a program timer similar to any VCR's, as well as VCR Plus+ capabilities. However, there is only one tuner, so you can't record two different programs at the same time or record one show while you watch another, unlike the JVC DR-MV1S, which has two tuners (see the review in the July 2004 issue of Home Theater). You can also dub from either deck to the other, as long as the source is not copy-protected, and you can record from an external source connected to the rear- or front-panel inputs, both of which include composite and S-video along with two-channel audio connectors. Sadly, neither input offers a DV-camcorder connector.
There is one output that the VCR and DVD player share, with composite video and two-channel analog audio connectors. The DVD drive also has its own output, with component video (which you can set for interlaced or progressive operation) and optical digital audio, as well as S-video, composite video, and two-channel analog audio. It's possible to use the VCR or watch broadcast signals from the component output if you set up the unit as if you were going to dub a tape to a disc. However, 4:3 and letterboxed (nonanamorphic) images look stretched on a 16:9 display.
The front panel is straightforward and simple. In the center, below the VCR and DVD drives, is a large display. Characters in the left half (VCR) are blue, while characters in the right half (DVD) are orange. The primary alphanumeric characters are quite large and easy to read. Under each drive are basic transport and channel-up/-down buttons. To the extreme right is a one-touch dubbing control, and to the extreme left is a flip-down door that covers the front-panel inputs, as well as the VCR and DVD forward- and reverse-search buttons.
Firing It Up
When I plugged in the DMR-E75V, the display lit up with the dreaded blinking 12:00. When I hit the power button, the onscreen display asked for a language choice then went through its auto channel-scan and clock-set routine. After that, the OSD displayed the clock setting, but there was no indication of what to do next. When I pushed the enter button on the remote, the OSD displayed the incoming broadcast signal.
The automatic channel-scan process is among the quickest I've ever seen. The procedure to manually add or delete channels is very easy, with no need to go into the menu system at all; simply select the desired channel as if to watch it and hit the remote's add/delete button. This is very cool but a bit dangerous, as you can easily add or delete a channel inadvertently.
The remote's layout is fairly good, with only a few multifunction buttons. Interestingly, the VHS and DVD buttons are the only ones that light up, and they only select which deck the remote will control; a separate output button determines which deck's signal goes to the shared output. Thankfully, there is an input-select button, which prevents you from having to select inputs by scrolling through the channels.
The VCR transport rewinds and fast-forwards very quickly from the stopped state, but it takes quite some time to stop or play once it gets up to full speed. During playback, there seem to be two speeds of shuttling forward and backward, but I couldn't see much difference between the two speeds. More problematic are the severely limited slow-motion capabilities. If you hold the pause button for two seconds, the tape advances slowly, but, when you hit the fast-forward or rewind button, it immediately jumps to fast-shuttle mode. There is no way to change the speed of forward slow motion, and there is no reverse slow motion at all. All of this makes it very difficult to cue tapes up to the right spot for dubbing.
Recording and Reviewing
The DVD deck is generally excellent, with fine performance from the progressive component output. It picked up the 3:2-pulldown cadence quickly and effectively. A waving American flag looked quite good, with only a few jaggies, and diagonal lines at sporting events looked excellent. Mixed film-and-video content was only so-so; the video text on film looked slightly soft. The diagonal ramp in the opening scene of The Fifth Element looked great, as did the village rooftops in the opening scene of Star Trek: Insurrection.
I do have a couple of quibbles with the DVD deck. Although you can start playback at any title simply by typing the title number on the remote, there is no way to specify a chapter number within that title. Also, when playing a DVD, you must hit the stop button twice to view the tuner signal; hitting stop once lets you start playback from where you stopped, but, in the meantime, it displays the DVD logo, which confused me initially.
The DMR-E75V's most important function is dubbing from VHS to DVD. If you want to copy an entire tape, it's one-button easy; but, if you want to pick and choose segments to dub, that takes more work. For one thing, the VCR channel must not be set to "DC," while the DVD channel must be set to "TP." (If you want to dub from DVD to VHS, the opposite conditions apply.) The manual does not say what these letters stand for; all it says is that they are the dubbing input channels (and it was difficult to find even this much info). Also, the manual is incorrect when it states that you can use the channel-up/-down buttons to select these settings; in fact, you must use the input-select button.
Once you get all of that out of the way, you cue up the tape to the desired start point and hit the DVD's record button, which starts the dubbing process. When you've recorded what you want, you can hit the DVD's stop or pause button, cue the tape to the next selection, and go again (keeping in mind that you must press the VHS and DVD buttons as necessary to control each deck from the remote). If you hit the DVD's stop button, the next selection will be a new title; if you use the pause button, the next selection will be a new chapter within the current title. When you're done recording, you can finalize the disc to make it compatible with most conventional DVD players.
Like all recording devices, the DMR-E75V offers several record modes that trade image quality for recording time: The higher the quality, the less material will fit on a disc or tape. I recorded the SMPTE resolution chart and frequency sweep pattern from the Video Essentials disc playing on an external DVD player in all four of the DMR-E75V's DVD record modes. As you can see in the table below, there was no visible quality difference between the top two modes and no difference between the bottom two modes. As a result, I recommend that you use the lowest-resolution mode you can get away with. In the case of VHS dubs, EP mode is fine, since VHS tape has less than 275 lines of horizontal resolution, anyway.
Overall, the DMR-E75V is a fine machine that does its job well. I am not completely satisfied with the procedural ergonomics, which seem more complicated than they need to be, and the manual could be improved (although that can be said of most consumer electronics products). I prefer the JVC DR-MV1S, with its dual tuners, DVD-RW capability, DV input, and better ergonomics, but it costs almost twice as much as the DMR-E75V. If your needs (and budget) are more modest, the Panasonic DMR-E75V is worth a close look.
• Dubs VHS to DVD and vice versa
• Excellent progressive DVD player
• Procedural ergonomics are more cumbersome than they should be