When it comes to DVD recorders, the bargain end of the market is predominantly swimming in no-name Chinese imports. Some are perfunctionary, even fewer perform above their status, but most suck more than a Dyson. Good news, however, has arrived at this end of the market in the form of the unashamedly 'entry level' recorder from Panasonic.
Dispensing with the company's trademark combi functionality (most offering either VHS or HDD options), the DMR-ES10 is strictly disc only, but with a twist. This season, multiformat recording has been introduced allowing you to (almost) chuck any recordable DVD into the machine and be good to go.
If you consider that DVD-RAM, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD R and DVD RW are the major formats, it's only the latter that's AWOL. It makes for more versatility than previously seen in Panasonic recorders, not least in one that costs around £200, and adds further weight to this deck claiming the budget recorder crown.
Further, that is, to the simple fact that this model utilises Panasonic's wealth of experience in the field, both aesthetically and technologically. Build quality is well above average. The DMRES10 is a DVD recorder with which you could club a burglar to death.
While not especially heavy, it's built to last; the casing is reassuringly sturdy and it avoids the plasticky feel of many of its contemporaries. Oddly, the disc tray is ranged to the left of the machine and the front connections are found under a flap in the centre. I'm not overly sure why, but when a games console is attached, the leads are a little too exposed with this positioning, for my liking. It's the only minus really.
The fascia flap reveals composite, stereo analogue audio and S-video inputs. There's no DV-link for camcorder hook-up or an SD card slot, unlike most other Panny recorders - obvious concessions for the price point. On the rear-side, the two Scarts are RGB-enabled for input and out, there's a set of component outs that are PAL progressive scan-enabled and an optical digital audio output is also thrown in.
Another composite input is supplied (along with its analogue stereo audio counterparts), as is an S-video input. Of course, they are similarly represented for output too.
Unfortunately though, the RF antenna loopthrough is for a single analogue tuner; you'll have to wait until later this year for Panasonic's highly anticipated range of Freeview recorders. It does, however, automatically grab programme names in areas that support this, so comes with an EPG.
Of course, that means there's only the five channels to choose from, so you aren't exactly spoiled for choice. Nonetheless, the RGB Scarts receive (and loopthrough) set-top box pictures immaculately, so I'd expect it to be suitably partnered. This is an option grossly lacking in many (even big-brand), recorders for the same price. Another tick in the box against its peers is the editing functionality.
Although DVD-RW recording is in Video mode only (increasing its compatibility with other decks, but reducing editing options) the fact that DVD-RAM is supported allows you to benefit from the myriad of editing options the nonlinear format has to offer: removing adverts, splitting titles and hiding chapters, among others.
Essentially, you'll use DVD-RAM to edit your footage, DVD-RW to store your 'throw-away' recordings and DVD-R or DVD R for anything you'd like to archive.
There are four recording modes in total: XP (for 1hr of footage on a singlesided DVD or DVD-RAM), SP (2hrs), LP (4hrs) and EP (6hrs or 8hrs depending on your preference). A Free Rate mode is also on offer for timed or VideoPlus recordings. It alters the bitrate according to the time set, and is the option you'll find yourself using the most.
Pleasure to use
Something I've always liked about Panasonic decks, and the DMR-ES10 is no exception, is the setup and menu layouts. They're easy to use and well laid-out. All functions can be reached in seconds and, as it uses the same muchlauded remote control as the rest of its digital recorder stablemates, quick access buttons are supplied for just about everything you'd want to do.
Finally, its impressive repertoire is further bolstered, like the HDD-inclusive EH50 (reviewed last issue), by the one-second record function. You can press record on the remote and within one second (hence the name - clever, huh?) the show will be etched onto the disc. Anybody who's used any other recorders will appreciate the benefit of not missing the first 30secs of a programme.
But it's in picture and sound quality where you really can see (and hear) the quality. On XP, recorded pictures are near identical to the source material, especially through RGB Scart, and SP only exhibits very minor loss of edge sharpness. LP does feature blocking around edges, especially during fast moving scenes, but colour retention is exemplary, as is contrast with decent blacks throughout.
The final mode, EP, is naturally a last-minute resort option. But if you really need to store six to eight hours of footage, I've seen a lot worse. There's little difference between them, mainly because they both have heavy blocking and noise. Again, though, colour and contrast is retained admirably. There's also no sign of the jitter associated with other machines at this bitrate.
Commercial DVD playback is as good as any regular dedicated player offers, with highly recommended progressive scan capabilities. Clean edges, fine detail and decent digital noise suppression allows you to dispense with a separate deck and keep your rack less cluttered.
Sonically, the machine is adequate, both with self-recordings and pre-packed media. As you drop down the recording options, clarity fades, but this should be expected. A mild fuzziness can be heard during the EP (8hr) mode. But then, you'd rarely use that option when high sound quality is a factor.
When choosing discs to go with the DMR-ES10, it is best to stick with known brands, especially if you want to keep your recorded footage. I tested Memorex, Maxell and Verbatim DVD-R, R and DVD-RW discs and they all worked well, with no drop out.
But using a cheap no-brand DVD-R (bought from the internet at approximately 15p per disc), I noticed some image stammering and, in one case, an inability to play back recorded material. It's worth noting too that this machine handles 8X discs (older players and a few Chinese imports can only cope with 4X).
In a way, it's a shame Panasonic has launched the DMR-ES10, as its Freeview cousins are now tantalisingly close. They'll be more expensive though, so perhaps this isn't a handicap. For now this recorder eclipses all its cheapo peers. The bottom line is, there's no better entry level machine currently available.