I just picked up a brand new ES20 today after deliberations between the ES10/ES20 and the Pioneer 220/225/233.
I have learned a lot in a short amount of time through this forum, so I figured I can contribute a little myself by posting my first hand impressions on the ES20.
I will be updating this post blog-style (adding new things as I discover them, so it will keep growing)
* Please read this section so you can adjust the weight of my first impressions
* This is my first DVD recorder
* With VCRs, I am okay with the 6 hour mode. (I am not very demanding/picky on image quality)
* For this, I'm using a 20" analog TV
* I am not an expert
* Some problems may be masked because I am using entry-level components so please keep that in mind!
* I am not brave enough to open this to see what's inside
First Impressions - Summary
* Overall I am very impressed so far it has definately exceeded expectations.
First Impressions - Hardware
* It feels very lightweight - listed weight is 5.6 lbs. I wouldn't put anything on top of it since its the lightest and newest of all the components i have.
* Although the user manual states that you have to connect this directly to the TV and not to a VCR because of copy protections in VCRs, it works fine when connected to a 1997 Panasonic VCR.
* Remote control does not intefere with other Panasonic VCRs (1997 and 2003 models give or take)
* Remote control is overall good, the menus are good, but a couple of spots could have been more streamlined
* Included: 1 Panasonic DVD-RAM, red/white/yellow cable, RF cable, 2 Panasonic AA batteries for the remote
* Noise Reduction is available for Line-In inputs only
First Impressions - Operations
* The manual states that you can Create, Erase and Delete chapters. I did not notice the "shorten title" feature but I did not read the manual cover to cover. Even without this feature, you can remove commercials by placing them in a chapter and deleting the chapter.
* Pressing PLAY will play the last recording (nice feature!)
* You can position the info bar when pressing DISPLAY at five different but overlapping spots on the screen (LOL feature)
* Fast forward and slow motion appear to be more responsive (using DVD-RAM) than the Comcast PVR
* During playback of finalized DVD-R you cannot watch TV channels or line-in sources. I guess it's a visual reminder you have a non-recordable disk in the drive. But this could be annoying if you were watching a DVD while monitoring the TV. Of course there are plenty of workarounds for this, but still...
* Pressing TIME SLIP with -R or -RW in the drive opens up a window with a silly message. This could have been handled in a simpler and more elegant fashion.
* So far recorded about 60 discs, mostly -R and +R, with a handful of -RW and one DVD-RAM (multiple times and experiments). No coasters yet, only "lost" 20 minutes of disk space (see Possible Bugs #2)
* Formated brand new TDK 2x DVD-RW in about 1 minute
* Finalized Fuji 8x DVD-R with 12 min left in LP mode in about 4 minutes
* Recording is almost instanteneous (within 5 seconds) of pressing record, not only on -RAM but also on -R and -RW. Most of my recordings start with the paused screen of the PVR because I didn't think the recording would start so fast.
* Time to start recording on blank discs as well as Commercial Skip and Time Slip is faster on -R discs than +R discs. This was observed using the same Fuji +/- tri-color discs.
* There are many things I would like to test, but I can't test them all at once.
* At the default settings I noticed that the reds were redder (darker Input is defaulted). When changing to lighter the colors more or less match those of the PVR. Only options are Darker and Lighter. Output Component gets a 3rd option Normal (which is default)
* It does not pickup the title automatically using the Panasonic TV tuner. The recordings title is the channel number and timestamp.
* Setup: composite-video (red/white/yellow), DVD-RAM disk, 8-hr mode, default recording settings (noise reduction = off, input/output = darker)
* I recorded a few minutes of a basketball game off the PVR (Comcast Motorola DCT xxxx) from a digital channel (ESPN Classic). This was a fast game: 1983 NCAA Final NC State - Houston (Olajuwon, Drexler, etc).
* I was expecting to see a block party but instead it was quite watchable. Of the five minutes or so that I watched there was only one instance of noticable pixelization when a player made a fast elliptical drive to the basket starting from the corner. It looked like the (unusual) move surprised the cameraman as it was the combination that perhaps results in that. I probably wouldn't use the 8hr mode to save games I'd like to watch again - but I would use it use it to fill up a disk that may have some space left.
* On playback I didn't notice any significant difference with MPEG-DNR at On or Off, but I didn't examine this thoroughly.
* Same settings at in Test #1 but the game this time was recorded on the Comcast PVR from NBA TV (digital cable channel). This was a european basketball game. The court was lighter (both in lighting and in the floor) than game #1. Also this was a 2005 game so that could also explain the slight difference. This was not bad either, but it was slightly worse than #1. Still not bad!
* Same settings as above but this time the source was a VCR (red/white/yellow), and a 2005 game recorded in the 6 hour mode on a Maxell tape. This was worse than #1 and #2, and it reminded me of recordings using my ATI TV card (purchased in 2000). It was better than the ATI card, but the players were definately digital. I would not record a game with this setup at the 8hr mode
* ES20 settings: 4-hour LP mode, Fuji 8x DVD-R, S-video input
* Source: Comcast PVR, three concerts recorded on the PVR, two from Showtime and one from INHD (In Demand HD channel but shows as letterbox)
* Editing: I was able to change the title and add a still of my choice as the thumbnail. No other editing choices were available (other than erase title)
* The disc finalized in 4 minutes. The disk was almost full with 12 minutes left in LP mode
* The chapters were created as expected at 5 minute intervals during Finalization. Machine asked twice if I was sure before Finalizing.
* I didn't notice any significant problems. The sound was fine and in-sync but I'm using entry-level pieces. There were some indications of picture compression on the two non-INHD concerts, but these were night/indoor concerts and had lots of lights/smoke/etc so it isn't easy to figure out.
* The INHD concert seemed to have better quality but that could be because it was at a venue with better lighting and without flashing lights and other visual effects. (INHD concert was Norah Jones and the handsome band)
* Not being able to see how much time is left per title during Playback is -annoying-. Even my ancient and silly Apex does that.
* Next step: Try playback in the ancient Apex DVD player which is allegeldy having problems with DVD-R playback. (I forgot which website I saw that)
Test #5 - Heat check
* After torturing this poor thing all day with recordings, different modes and different inputs I didnt notice any significant increase in temperature. It was cool to the touch on the outside from all sides, slightly warm (not hot) on the right side, and the DVD-R disk was slightly warm after about 6 hours of writing, finalizing and playback on this disk and about 9 hours of total operation. The device has a fan on the back and grills on the right side (fan side) for ventilation. I have not heard any fan noise but it is never totally quiet so I can't really tell. [CORRECTED thanks to GenChan].
Test #6 - Cosmos
* I recorded a couple of episodes of Carl Sagan's classic "Cosmos" that the Science channel is now showing edited with new modern-era graphics. Since I am mostly interested in the audio, I recorded this in the 6 hour mode (two DVDs will fit all 13 episodes). I noticed that the new shiny computer graphics are some losing their edge when recorded in the 6 hour mode, but it's not a big deal for me. I didn't notice any visible differences for the materials recorded in 1980 - mostly Carl Sagan walking around and talking non-stop
Source: Comcast PVR recorded basketball game from CSTV (digital channel)
Settings: FR mode equivalent of 5:30 on a single disc. Input Level = lighter. Noise reduction = Off
* This is probably one of the most challenging games for a DVD-recorder: 1989 Arkansas-UNLV - two fast-paced run-and-gun teams. The court had high contrast areas specifically in the paint and the sideline "banner ads", with visible jaggies along the high contrast lines. There was also digitization on some players moving very fast (2-3 second coast-to-coast drives) but it was not detracting or annoying. The five-speed slow motion worked great, more effective than any VCR for breaking down plays in slow motion. There was some smoothing/compression as expected. I was able to detect Larry Johnson even when the jersey number was obstructed. I couldn't tell whether playback MPEG-DNR made an impact or not.
***** For those of you who like to test DVD recorders on a regular basis, you may want to keep this game around as a benchmark - very few games are faster than this.
Test #8 XP vs SP vs LP vs FR (5h) vs EP (6h)
Source: Comcast PVR recording of a BBC America sitcom
* EP was not good. The faces were smoothed out as if the actors were wearing an invisible semi-foggy mask
* FR (5 hour mode) was a nice improvement over EP. Probably okay if just watching it once and then deleting
* LP (4 hour mode) was quite watchable and re-watchable. Not bad for archiving.
* XP and SP were better than LP, but the improvement from 6h to 4h was bigger than 4h to SP/XP. I was standing next to the TV, but I couldn't really tell the difference on my setup between the PVR source, XP and SP. Keep in mind my entry-level setup may be masking details, differences and problems.
Source: grainy/noisy 6-hr VHS tape containing South Park episodes recorded 1998-99 or so
Settings: FR mode (4:45 setting), Line-In NR = On, Input = Darker
* Results: The recording seemed to be cleaner than the source and very watchable despite the double compression.
Test #10 - updated
Playback in Apex AD600A:
DVD+R: 2 out of 2 finalized Fuji 8x DVD+Rs played without problem.
DVD-R: None of the discs played but this recorder does not play DVD-Rs unless downloaded firmware are uploaded. (was not expecting them to play).
Test #11: music video
Source: Comcast PVR music video from digital channel
Settings: LP mode, LineIN NR = off
* Results: This was a busy and colorful rock video. Overall I was satisfied with both the video and the audio of the recording.
Test #12: Commercial Deletion test
This was relatively easy to do.
1) Start by playing back the segment you want to edit
2) Press "Create Chapter" to mark the beginning and end of each section you want to isolate. You can also press PAUSE and then Create Chapter for more precision.
3) After you finish playing/fast-forwarding and creating new chapters, you press the Navigator button. Before the Navigator shows up, the ES20 does some processign on the chapter markers and displays "please wait" on the screen for a few seconds
4) [EDITED] In Navigator, you can select the title, and then use the arrow keys to highlight the chapter(s) you want to delete and press Erase. And the chapter is gone! If you want to delete more than one chapter at a time, just mark each chapter with the PAUSE button. This adds a check-mark in the thumbnail. I did not test crossing page boundaries.
Test #13: Concert
Source: Comcast PVR: Usher concert from Showtime
Settings: LP mode, LineIn NR = ON, Input = Lighter
This was a very fast paced concert with both the performers and the cameras moving around. The air was also busy with smoke, and lights and background stuff. There was visible blocking in the background, especially top left of the picture. I wanted to test with LineIn NR = Off after I saw the macroblocking but I had already deleted the source. It will probably broadcast again so I can test it then. To be continued...
FR recording mode
* Panasonic's FR mode is great when you are putting one block of material on the tape (errrr disc!) in a single session.
* When you want to record two or more things at two or more different times, and you want a non-standard duration spread equally among the recordings, FR requires you to do some math in your head and also be around to press the STOP button when the show ends in order to force your desired rate. A feature such as Pioneer's MN is more convinient in this instance
Media tested so far
* Fuji 8x DVD+R (Made in Taiwan) tri-color 30pk (3x10)
* Fuji 8x DVD+R silver 25pk (made in taiwan)
* Philips 8x DVD+R 25pk
* Staples 8x DVD+R 50pk
* TDK 8x DVD+R - 25pk
* Fuji 8x DVD-R (Made in Taiwan) tri-color 30pk (3x10)
* TDK 16x/8x DVD-R (made in taiwan) - disk says 16x, box says 8x - 25pk
* Verbatim 16x DVD-R (30pk)
* Sony 8x DVD-R (Made in Japan) 50pk
* Office Depot 4x DVD-RW 25pk (made in taiwan)
* Sony 2x DVD-RW 25pk (made in .tw)
* TDK 2x DVD-RW 5pk in tall slim cases (Made in Taiwan)
* Panasonic 3x DVD-RAM (5pk and one included with Es20)
Personal Media Recommendation
Of all the brands I have used, the only one I have reservations is the Philips +R mentioned above. I am happy with the rest.
Let me preface this by saying that I have rarely noticed macroblocking on this device even when using FR modes up to 4hr:40min and even using 6hr VHS sources. However in this particular instance almost the whole screen became a macroblock party! The source was a comedy from BBC America (Absolutely Fabulous) recorded on a Comcast PVR and from there to the ES20 in LP mode. The scene that created the macroblock party was inside a bookstore, with rapid people and camera action while panning through shelves and shelves of books. This was the episode with Whoopi Goldberg as a guest star. To be fair to this device, I did not test the source to see if the macroblocking was actually in the source, and not introduced by the ES20. If this episode re-airs, I will make sure to re-test this and update this section. This is a probably a good test for macroblocking! I deleted the source before I could test the same with SP or XP or check to see if the macroblocking was in the source.
* When you put an unformatted (brand new) DVD-RW in the drive it displays "Err" on the LED screen. This does not mean there's an error per say, just that the disc is unformatted. (States so in the manual). Not a very user friendly way to handle this for sure.
* You have to press Yes/Start three times (!) to format a brand new DVD-RW
* Two previous annoyances have not been fixed: when changing recording mode it is only shown on the front LED panel (but if you press STATUS twice it will dipslay the mode on the TV). The other annoyance is Time Remaining of the Title. It does tell the time remaining on the disk but not of the title.
* Display and Status buttons are placed in a row just above the row with the REC and ERASE buttons. This can be a bit awkward - trying to press STATUS without looking at the remote and you may end up pressing ERASE (it does ask for confirmation though)
1) Recorded 30s on a brand new Fuji 8x DVD+R. Then realized I didn't have the right settings so I quickly stopped the recording and pressed Erase - I may have fat-fingered a couple of other keys along the way. The machine froze and the only way to re-activate it was to unplug/plug from the mains. Once rebooted, everything was fine, and I was able to fill up that DVD+R and finalize it. It was a strange crash but no damage done, media or programming was not lost.
1) The first FR mode DVD-RW that I burned had a surprise. The EP mode was at 6 hours. I created a timer recording for 3:03 FR on a blank disc. To my surprise the recording was at 3:03 hours but at the 8-hour EP mode. Playback clearly shows that the recording was done at FR. I am not sure what happened. I have not been able to reproduce it since. To be continued...
2) I started with a Fuji DVD+R and recorded two one hour episodes in 3hr FR mode (manually mimicking the equivalent of Pioneer's MN mode). Then I started recording a 3rd 1hr episode in FR mode to fill up the disc. After 38 minutes recorded, the recorder simply stopped recording. Trying to record any further said "disc full". However the device showed about 30 minutes left (LP) which was what I expected. I wasn't able to record anything else, but the disc finalized successfully and I was able to play it both on the recorder and my ancient Apex player.
3) Recorder froze during finalization of a disc. After unfreezing, I was able to finalize the disc successfully and play it. No harm.
4) Sometimes after you finish a recording on a non-RAM disc, you cannot use Time Slip or CM Skip during playback of what you just recorded. Furthermore, some of the functions typically available when you press DISPLAY button are gray'ed out. This is clearly a bug, but with a very easy workaround: Either open/close the tray or turn the machine ON/OFF. This is not a problem when waking up from a Timer or OTR recording, since the machine has already been turned off/on on its own.
5) FR recording using the Timer/Scheduler seems to have a mind of its own as to what recording quality to use. Unlike the "live" FR mode used when the machine is turned on, the Timer FR mode does not always fill up the disc, even if there is no other program is in the Timer/Scheduler. This seems to be a bug rather than a feature.
6) This is a very minor thing, but when you eject a DVD with a name, and then insert a DVD without a name, and you go in "Disk Management", the name of the previous DVD flashes on the screen for fractions of a second before it is blanked. This is probably cached somewhere in the ES20. Not a problem from a practical stand-point :-)
7) I noticed a couple of times some silliness with the Timer's FR mode when using Verbatim -R and another brand of +R which I forgot: I set up an FR recording with the Timer of something like 3hrs 20mins FR in the Timer/Scheduler. When the recording starts, the display shows that there are over 1 million hours (!!!) left. I wish the disk held that many hours :-) The show is recorded at a low quality (I'm guessing 6hr or 8hr EP). This is one more reason why I do not trust the Timer's FR mode, and wish they had a mode similar to Pioneer's MN32, where duration of the recording and quality of the recording are independent!
* It would be nice if Panasonic offered DVD-RW(VR) as well. I know they are pushing the RAM format, but it would make their dvd recorders more appealing to a bigger audience.
* Allow CM Skip and Time Slip with finalized DVDs as well
* Additional FR mode that works like Pioneer's MN32 mode.
* Ability to PAUSE a live FR mode recording. This is a MUST!!! This feature was available in the ES10 according to ES10 users. This should be added with a firmware update and Panasonic should issue a formal apology for removing it :-)
* I can try and answer any questions, but please keep in mind I don't have the ability to burn discs on the PC and upload sample movies/stills. I could capture stills with my ancient ATI TV card (from 2000) but its low quality would mask the DVD output.
Granted VCD playback ranks about as low as "ability to brew coffee" as far as DVD Recorder features/priorities are concerned. But since I "ran into" an old VCD (of JPEGs) I created on the computer a couple of years ago, I decided to test it out on the ES20. It played back without any problems at all, with the Skip buttons moving one image forward/backward. There is no zoom button/feature on the ES20, so can't zoom the pictures. My ancient Apex dvd player was struggling at times with this VCD.
1) When you press STOP when playing a commercial DVD (DVD-Video) or finalized DVD+R/-R, you get the blue screensaver background picture instead of the tuner/input picture. I accidentally discovered that if you press STOP once more, the "screensaver" disappears and you get the picture from the tuner or input channels. Panasonic calls it "screensaver" in the manual, even though it is just a background picture.
2) This I discovered after reading the user manual for the S29 dvd player. If you press and hold the up/down arrows during TimeSlip, the time moves in increments of 10 instead of increments of 1, so you can easily get to just about any point in the disc very quickly.
3) Getting the FIRMWARE VERSION. This I discovered by mistake. You can find out your firmware version easily:
a) Press SETUP on the remote
b) Use the arrow keys on the remote to go to the menu option "Display"
c) Press the DISPLAY button on the remote control
d) Your firmware version appears for a few seconds on the screen!
My firmware version is 00000103.
Other users of Panasonic recorders have tried this (see other threads, eg EH50 thread), with or without firmware updates and they get the same version. So perhaps this is a general version number, not a detailed version number., or perhaps it does not get updated with firmware updates.
Buried deep inside the Manual
1) The device wakes up at 4am (!) every day to perform scheduled maintenance according to the fineprint in the user manual. If there are any recordings planned around that time, the maintenance is not performed.
2) Frame by Frame advance while PAUSED: The ES20 manual is not as clear on how to go frame-by-frame when you PAUSE. I thought it didnt' have the feature because I couldn't find the button shown in the user manual on the remote control. After reading the manual of the Panasonic S29 dvd player, it became clear: You can use the left/right cursor keys to advance frame by frame while PAUSED. The S29 manual has a nice picture of the cursor keys so it's easy to figure it out - I looked closely at the remote, and indeed there are two tiny marks to the side of the left/right cursor keys. What confused me originally was that I was looking for a button with that sign, but the sign was actually to the side of the cursor keys. This is more of a user error but if it got me confused, it will probably confuse a couple of other people too :-)
Features I did not test
* DV input and DV recording
* Digital audio
* Playing or using/editing DVDs created by other DVD recorders
* DVD+RW or DVD-RW(VR) playback
* playing Playlists (the ES20 cannot create Playlists)
* mp3 playback
* JPEG playback (although I did play a VCD with JPEGs)
* Recording Pay Per View, OnDemand for pay (Free OnDemand records with no problems).
Playback Feature Comparison between ES20 and S29
Since a number of people want to use their DVD recorder as their primary DVD player, I am providing a simple comparsion between the ES20 and the S29 (Panasonic DVD player at $70 or less).
Playback Advantages of the ES20
* can play unfinalized DVD+R, -R, -RW(Video) recorded with the ES20
* MPEG-NoiseReduction (ON/OFF)
* can jump to a chapter by pressing the chapter number during playback
* PIP window when using unfinalized DVDs
Playback Advantages of the S29
* can use TimeSlip and CM Skip on finalized DVDs and commercial DVDs (DVD-Video)
* TimeSearch: can enter the exact time you want to jump to by entering the numbers (eg 3h:25 min)
* Can see how much time is remaining per title by pressing remote buttons (but not per chapter)
* Variable playback speed with sound: 0.6x to 1.4x on all kinds of DVDs (ES20 only does 1.3x on DVD-RAM)
* Zoom (center portion of the screen only)
* Five preset Picture Modes (vs 2 of the ES20)
* Quick Replay (takes you back 8-15 seconds depending on DVD/recording)
* AV Enchancer (On/Off)
* Easy access to Playback features with dedicated Remote Control buttons (zoom, speed, subtitle, picture mode, quick replay, AV enchancer, Angle, etc )
* 5 bookmarks per DVD during a session (bookmarks lost if you open tray or turn OFF)
* A-B repeat, Random playback, Program playback
* Note: some of the playback features above do not work on +R discs
* Updated Media List, Playback Feature comparison with S29 DVD player
* Added "Features I did not test"
* Added "Possible Bug #6" - Disk Name Flashbacks, and #7
* Added "Buried in the Manual #2"
* Added "Undocumented Features" and "Buried in the Manual" #1
* Added "Possible Bug #5"
* Added VCD playback
* Updated Media list
* Added Wishlist, Performance, Possible Bugs #2, #3, #4
* Added "Macroblocking Party"
* Added "Crash Log"
* Added Test #12, #13
* Added "Possible Bugs", "Annoyances", "Media tests so far", Tests #9, #10, #11
* Added Performance, FR recording, and Tests #6, #7, #8
* Added Tests #4, #5
Updates are shown in reverse chronological order.
It will make it easier for people who already read it to find the new stuff.
For new readers, everything is in one place above.
* Why I choose the ES20 over the many other models?
* recording from 6hr VHS tape thru composite with and without In-Line NR
* page-by-page comparisson of the ES10 PDF and ES20 printed manual (both US editions)