In the corrupted words of Mark Twain, ‘reports of the death of VHS are greatly exaggerated’. A number of high-profile brands are still making videotape players, although they tend to be combined with hi-tech digital recording to add some up-to-date credibility.
The reason why this analogue technology prevails is simple: people still have hordes of treasured tapes that they either want to watch or transfer to DVD disc. Enter the DMR-EZ47V, which combines a DVD recorder with a VCR in one rather chunky unit.
Despite the lack of a hard disk, the deck is still packed with features, although there are a few omissions. On the DVD side, it will record onto every format going, including DVD-RAM, which opens up the possibility of non-linear editing.
Those of you upgrading in time for digital switchover can rest assured that this deck features a digital terrestrial tuner. Aside from the full Freeview channel roster, the digital tuner gets you MHEG text and a seven-day EPG, but unlike Sony and Pioneer, Panasonic hasn’t yet added series link to its recorders.
Among the sockets on the rear is an HDMI output that, bizarrely, enables you to watch VHS tapes in hi-def resolution.
The HDMI output is joined by progressive scan-capable component output and two Scarts, enabling you to output and input RGB signals (essential if you’re planning on recording from an external digital set-top box). The deck can also be hooked up to a home cinema system using the optical digital or analogue stereo audio outputs.
A terrific range of connections, then, but the front panel lacks an SD card slot or USB port for playing back a digital media collection (and it won’t play DiVX or WMA from discs). But there are DV, S-video and composite video inputs for transferring footage from peripheral devices.
The deck offers just four quality settings: XP (one hour), SP (2 hours), LP (4 hours), and EP (8 hours). You can roughly double these times when using a dual-layer disc, and Flexible Recording lets you fit a programme exactly into the remaining space on a disc.
Recordings are stored in the Direct Navigator menu, which uses moving thumbnails and provides access to a range of editing options, including partial delete and playlist editing, which allows you to organise chapters from any recording into a new sequence without affecting the originals.
VHS features are fairly basic, but include SP, LP and EP recording modes, a 16-event, one-month timer and S-VHS Quasi Playback (SQPB), which allows you to playbackS-VHS tapes in VHS quality.
Ease of use
You’ll soon be right at home with the unit’s impeccable operating system. This generation is easier to use than ever, with a straightforward menu structure, a big-buttoned remote and responsive firmware that eliminates annoying pauses when changing channels or navigating the menus.
This slickness extends to the EPG, which uses the left-to-right timeline design made popular by Sky+, in eye-candy colours.
When working with a decent source such as BBC News 24, the DMR-EZ47V’s sensitive and stable digital tuner produces consistently striking pictures, full of bold, captivating colours and sharp detail. The red captions that accompany news coverage are vivid and rolling text is steady and legible.
Happily, the XP mode easily captures these terrific Freeview pictures without compromise. Colours enjoy the same levels of intensity, patterns and textures remain focused and there’s a pleasing lack of noise.
HDMI upscaling is excellent and ensures that recorded images arrive at your screen in the best possible quality. There’s some over-sharpening, but it’s a minor qualm.
SP mode sees only a slight drop in quality, with an occasional trace of extra noise in evidence during fast camera pans. This ability to fit up to two hours onto a disc in high quality makes it an ideal mode for recording all but epic movies.
Even LP mode recordings look great, because the deck retains the 500-line resolution used by XP and SP, whereas other recorders might drop to a lower resolution.
Pre-recorded DVD playback is of the highest order, particularly when you spin a top quality disc such as King Kong, which is packed with chop-smacking colours and enough detail to satisfy the demands of even the biggest TV screens.
But the biggest surprise is the quality of VHS playback. With the deck’s upscaling set to 1080p, VHS images look cleaner and more stable than ever. Our tape of the Star Wars Special Edition looks remarkably clean and colourful, with jitter and colour bleed kept to a minimum. As a result, videos transferred to DVD also look great (subject to the state of the original tape) and if you run out of DVDs, then bear in mind that VHS recordings from the Freeview tuner are perfectly serviceable too.
Sound quality is solid right across the board, from the dynamic stereo Dolby Digital recordings (or LPCM in XP mode) to full-on 5.1-channel playback through a home cinema amp and speakers. Audio CDs and MP3 files are also enjoyable, making this a decent source for music and movies. Even VHS tape hiss is kept to a minimum.
If you’ve got hordes of tapes that need digitising, then this is possibly the best machine for the job, given its superb VHS and DVD picture prowess. You could argue that it’s pricey for a recorder with no hard disk, and you could buy a budget DVD recorder and VCR separately for less. But you’d be missing the convenience of having both in one, as well as that fantastic operating system and performance.