Panasonic's latest VHS-equipped machine, the DMR-EZ49V, is a straight DVD recorder/VHS combi, which can be used to play or record onto both formats, as well as copy content from one onto the other internally.
Get past the dull, chunky design and you'll uncover the sort of array of features for which Panasonic is renowned.
The recorder section supports every type of recordable DVD, which means there'll be no head scratching when buying discs.
Disc recording includes standard XP, SP, LP and EP modes, as well as Flexible Mode that squeezes programmes into a given space. VHS recording gives you SP, LP and EP options.
Predictably there's only one Freeview tuner, which means you can't change channel while recording. With so many channels to choose from that's a real bind. And because it's not a Freeview+ recorder it also lacks Series Link, although admittedly this is not as useful a feature as normal without a hard disk on board – DVDs tend to fill up pretty quickly. But you can set recordings from the EPG or set the deck to record manually.
As for digital media support, the deck will play DivX, MP3 and JPEG files from USB sticks plugged into the front-mounted port, but there's no slot for an SD card or DV input for hooking up a camcorder.
Located on the back panel, the HDMI input offers upscaled Freeview, DVD or VHS pictures in 1080p, 1080i or 720p, while the Scart input supports RGB, S-video and composite video, as well as the EXT Link feature for making timer recordings from external digiboxes.
Finally, on the VHS side you get S-VHS Quasi Playback (SQPB) for playing S-VHS tapes in VHS quality, and Jet Rewind.
Ease of use
User-friendliness has always been a feature of Panasonic's recorders and once again the simple onscreen layout makes it a doddle to operate. However, there's little room on the EPG for the broadcast grid, and as a result, you can't read any of the programme names.
The single-channel portrait view makes things a bit clearer. Another annoyance is the programme info banner, which only displays now and next information. We also think the Setup menu should have been placed with the main Functions, not hidden away in a separate submenu.
Those things aside, the EZ49V is terrific. With a DVD-RAM disc you can partially delete, divide and combine titles/chapters as well as sequence your own video playlists.
It's all conducted using the excellent Direct Navigator and editing screens, which use moving thumbnails and tools for entering accurate start/stop points – the resulting edits are nigh-on seamless.
One of the most useful features is Auto Chapter Creation, which inserts chapter markers when it detects a gap in the audio; it worked brilliantly and enabled us to skip straight over the adverts.
Copying titles or playlists from VHS to DVD or vice versa couldn't be simpler. The deck brings up a straightforward menu screen that lets you enter details such as copy direction, recording modes, copy time etc, then does the rest for you. You can copy JPEGs from USB to DVD-RAM using this method.
All of these functions are controlled using the superb remote, which sports large, idiot-proof buttons and no-nonsense labelling.
The EZ49V does a fine job of playing DVD movies. In 1080p, edges are clean, detail is sharply resolved and movement is fluid. It also avoids such video nasties as block noise and banding.
Recordings made in XP and SP are up to Panasonic's usual high standards. Whether it's the eye-ball-burning décor of daytime TV studios, or the subtle hues of premium BBC dramas, the EZ49V captures it all on disc with the same accuracy and intensity as the original broadcast.
In LP and EP modes the results aren't as impressive, with greater amounts of block and mosquito noise sullying the pictures, but they are still watchable enough.
The EZ49V plays tapes with admirable stability, but the quality of VHS to DVD dubs depends on the state of the original. If you can put up with a bit of fuzz you'll be happy with the results.
VHS audio is obviously the weak link here, but the deck does its utmost to keep hiss to a minimum.
However, there are no problems whatsoever with DVD recordings (captured in stereo Dolby Digital) or movie playback through any of the audio outputs. However, the flat and muffled CD and MP3 playback is certainly not music to our ears.
At £300 the DMR-EZ49V is far too expensive for a product that doesn't even feature a hard disk, and you could probably pick up a separate VCR and DVD recorder for a lot less money, but then you'd miss out on the space-saving convenience of having both in one box.
However, if you have the cash, then the Panasonic is certainly an impressive purchase. It packs features a-plenty, offers superb pictures and goes about its business with typical slickness.
A few things grate, such as the EPG, single tuner and frumpy looks, but on the whole it's a decent way of bridging the gap between new and old technology.
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