Panasonic DMR-E95H DVD/Hard-Disk Recorder
While you might want to start with a budget model if you're looking for your first DVD recorder, there are good reasons to explore the higher end of the price range. Up there, you'll find models that make it easier to do time-shift recording and that provide storage and editing options not found on starter units. For example, Panasonic's DMR-E95H is a deluxe DVD recorder if there ever was one. It has a built-in hard-disk recorder offering a huge storage capacity - 160 gigabytes (GB), or up to 284 hours in the lowest-quality mode - as well as an easy-to-use onscreen programming guide. PDF: Playback Compatibilty
You can dub recordings from the hard drive to both erasable DVD-RAM and write-once DVD-R discs. You can also record directly to DVDs, but going that route means you aren't taking full advantage of the intimate hard-disk/DVD-recorder connection. In any case, you'll appreciate the Panasonic's TiVo-like features - available with both hard-drive and DVD-RAM recordings - like being able to pause a program you're recording, or backtrack and watch it from an earlier point, while the recording continues uninterrupted.
Since the hard disk's spaciousness encourages time-shifting, you'll also appreciate the TV Guide OnScreen point-and-click programming system, which is as easy to use as TiVo's. But unlike TiVo, it doesn't require a phone connection or an hours-long setup period before you can use the recorder. The TV Guide system piggybacks its program information on broadcast or cable signals and only needs to be told what Zip code you're in and when you switch cable providers or change from cable to antenna signals, or vice versa. As a fallback, the recorder also has VCR Plus+, and you can always program recordings the old-fashioned way - by manually entering the date, channel, and start/stop times. The DMR-E95H provides standard editing functions for removing commercials or rearranging segments from your hard-disk or DVD-RAM recordings. These include playlist editing, which can also be used to assemble rudimentary video productions from, say, DV camcorder footage recorded through its hidden front-panel i.Link (a.k.a. FireWire) input. To save your edited work, you can copy from hard disk to DVD at either high speed (from 3 x to 32 x depending on the original recording mode and the type of DVD) or normal (1 x ) speed - the latter gives you the option of dubbing at a lower bit rate than the original (trading off image quality for a longer DVD recording time). In high-speed dubbing, the deck copies the hard-disk data directly, without decoding and re-encoding the video or audio signals, preserving the recording's original quality.