Panasonic DMR-E95H DVD/Hard-Disk Recorder Page 3

The 6- or 8-hour EP mode gave a fuzzy picture - which isn't surprising since that mode cuts both vertical and horizontal resolution in half - as well as subtly jerky, stroboscopic renditions of the gymnasts' fluid motions. During swimming and diving events, parts of the image that moved at medium to high speeds - like the swimmers' arms - often showed distracting amounts of mosquito noise (disturbances around the edges of objects) and blocking (the breakup of the picture into mosaic-like squares), which often showed up on the splashing water. Moving up to the 4-hour LP mode restored smooth motion and full vertical resolution (horizontal resolution remained halved), and there were fewer visual glitches beyond some blocking.

Image quality in the 2-hour SP mode was outstanding. Encoding side effects disappeared, and the full DVD-quality horizontal resolution allowed the glitter in the female gymnasts' hair to scintillate clearly, though with something less than the single-pixel-per-sparkle sharpness of the HDTV original. I could recognize features in the distant faces of spectators, but these, too, lacked the original's I-saw-you-on-TV clarity. Panasonic DMR-E95H back

The 1-hour XP mode didn't look appreciably better than SP on either gymnastics or swimming. The picture quality in these modes was inferior only to the original HDTV broadcast - or its bit-for-bit copy on the LG tuner's own hard-disk drive. Most of the visible degradation was owing to the basic resolution limits of the DVD format, which just isn't as sharp as HDTV. And the use of an interlaced S-video connection can be blamed for some jagged diagonals and limited color resolution, which caused the edges of highly saturated colors in team uniforms, national flags, and the swimming-pool lane dividers to look slightly fuzzy.

PLUSExcellent video quality in top modes. Large hard-disk capacity. High-speed dubbing.

MINUSCareful study of manual required. Remote control lacks backlighting, operates only recorder and TV.

If you can afford it, a DVD recorder with a hard-disk drive is always the way to go because you can use the drive's best modes to record everything and decide later what you want to immortalize on DVD. Before dubbing, you can use the Panasonic's editing features to eliminate commercials and otherwise tighten up the program for your "saver" discs. And when dubbing to DVD, you can trade off picture quality for playing time and use less expensive, easily found DVD-R discs.

BOTTOM LINE The DMR-E95H has all the functions you'd expect from a DVD recorder, including time-shift recording and the ability to make DVDs of priceless camcorder footage. Its TV Guide OnScreen programming system is about as easy to use as a TiVo recorder and far simpler (and less error prone) than manual or even VCR Plus+ programming. But no TiVo/DVD-recorder combination I've seen offers the Panasonic deck's extensive editing capabilities, which are essential for making DVDs suitable for repeat viewing. All in all, the Panasonic DMR-E95H justifies its premium price with a wide variety of useful features and medal-worthy video performance.

IN THE LAB DVD-VIDEO PERFORMANCE Maximum-white level error................... -2 IRE Setup level................. +7.5/0 IRE (switchable) Onscreen horizontal resolution........... 540 lines

Horizontal luminance response (re level at 1 MHz) 3/4/5 MHz....................... -1.8/-0.45/-0.45 dB 6/6.75 MHz.............................. -0.82/-1.1 dB In-player letterboxing............................. good

The DMR-E95H performed well as a DVD player, with no significant faults even in progressive-scan playback. For best results when watching material originating as interlaced video, set the progressive-scan mode to Video. As a recorder, it provided the same excellent performance using either the hard disk or DVD-RAMs and DVD-Rs. As usual, the determining factor in image quality was the recording mode selected (see text). - D.R.