'Picture. Sound. OK, run VT...'

Technology Finally I own a gadget which is cool for the sake of it. My parents gave me a DVD Video Recorder for Christmas. It's a Panasonic DMR-E55EB (pity they couldn't think of a catchier name) and I feel like I've stepped up the technological evolutionary ladder. It doesn't have a built in hard disk and it's not multi-format (which I'll come to later) but it makes a real difference to sit down and watch something without having to mess about with finding it on the video tape or making do with a smudgy picture or bad tracking. There are a few of these machines knocking around now and although I've only experienced others briefly, I can really recommend this one. Consider...

DVD-Ram The old VHS/Betamax/V2000 rivalry is back, including the fear that you've invested in a dud. There are three basic re-writable formats of disc -- the DVD+RW, DVD-RW and DVD-Ram. Most of the really new players on the market will consume the first two simultaneously. The Panasonic uses its own proprietry format, the DVD-RAM. I should feel locked in, but assuming I treat them with care the dvds can be recorded on up to 100,000 times which is vastly more than the others. Also they're much prettier, with geometric shapes shining through both surfaces. The catch is they're also more expensive -- averaging at about £3.00 a disc. And since they last that long ... but DVD-Ram means ...

TimeSlip Previously the reserve of PVRs, this excellent feature is just dreamy. The best way to explain is by example. I have a habit of missing the first two minutes of programmes. I'll remember something is on, turn on the tv then remember I need to go to the toilet and get a drink. So I'll get to Have I Got News For You after the guests have been introduced and spend the next half hour trying to work out who the random journalist they'd invited that week is because the name they contracted cancelled at the last minute. With this machine I can start recording as the programme begins, go and do what I need to do, then sit down and watch the programme from the start while the Panasonic records the end of it. I can even telling it when to stop beforehand. Perfect for watching the 9 o'clock film at 10pm without having to mess about with subscriptions to things like Sky+. The only downside is I've still got remember that things are on in the first place.

Quality The recording I should explain simply isn't as good as some commercial disks. There isn't enough room on the discs for the information required. But the picture quality is only as good as the source. I've a Freeview box hooked into the back of it running from a portable receiver. So the quality isn't so good to begin with. So I don't gain anything recording on the highest level (XL) which allows for an hour of footage on the disc. The next setting (SL) offers two hours and is perfectly fine and looks much the same as the freeview broadcast anyway. The next setting down (LP) allows four hours and this literally looks like VHS. It's not great but for Friday night comedy or something you're not going to want to keep it will do. Then there is (EP), 8 hours on one disc. As you'd imagine this looks horrible but the sound is OK. It just looks out of focus but its still watchable, like a second generation vhs copy (without the picture roll and wigged out colour).

Play Considering everything it's also a very good quality dvd player. I've been using a Wharfdale for years, but thats getting on a bit and even the greatest of discs are looking a bit unhealthy. The merest bit of dust or minor impact on the surface and everything grinds to a hault. The Panasonic on the other hand seems to be stripping as much information as it can from the discs to the extent they actually sometimes look worse because it doesn't try and gloss over or forgive lower bit-rates (ie, the amount of information stored on the disk for generating the picture and sound) showing up the releases were the people doing transfers have taken some shortcuts. The upside of this is when a film has been given a great transfer it looks really splendid. Trouble is on something like Lord Of The Rings its so good it shows up some of the faker special effects. Thank goodness the ultrafine RGB mode can be turned off if needed without too much of a reduction in quality.

Sound There's an option for the sound to be pushed out of the speakers for a faux-sorround sound effect; a dialogue enhancer which raises the volume of the centre channel of the sound to make dialgue clearer. Both of these improve the overall quality of the sound to the degree that in some cases its like being there even without a multi-speaker set up. Although there are all the relevant holes in the back if that's what you want.

MP3 This is the dvd player I've met which offers a complete file name when playing Mp3 files from a cd. If only they'd thought to include a random function but you can't have everything.

The Look I realise that this is all clearly becoming a bit Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear, but I wanted to mention the look. The player feels like a quality product in its silver livery. Unless you're paying a thousand pound these things have a habit of seems a bit cheap. But this has weight with my dad has always said is a good sign and the remote control has big, chunky clearly presented buttons, a big change from the pingy little light thing which came with cheap player we bought as a secondary for the balcony. Also some of the buttons have a raised edge to help the visually impaired, but which are also handy when you're fumbling around for the pause button in the dark. Overall just and excellent, excellent little thing.

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