I just bought a Panasonic DMR-EZ17 DVD Recorder/ATSC Receiver. My idea was that I would replace my Panasonic DST52 STB, VHS VCR, and DVD player all at once. My setup is all of these devices T'd through a switching RF modulator box into my 27" Panasonic CRT TV. The HDTV sources (DST52 or EZ17) are being run in 480i 4x3 mode.
Some initial observations:
When you turn it on it shows "hello", and when you turn it off it shows "bye" in the LED display.
Turn-on time is very quick, and it jumps right to TV tuner mode, even if there is a DVD with recordings loaded.
Picture quality on my analog TV is slightly worse
with the EZ17 compared with my Panasonic DST52. It is not aweful, but it is a little fuzzier, just enough for me to notice. Also, the EZ17 seems to have a poor quality image compression process, because fine details such as hair have a noticeable "blur-out" effect when the camera or subject moves. To describe it in detail, if a high-detail image is not moving in frame, it looks pretty good, but if it moves a little, it gets fuzzier, as if it is out of focus; then when it stops moving, it sharpens again. This is rather annoying, even on a 480i 4x3 CRT. The DST52, on the other hand, has very good rendering. This effect is particularly noticeable in dark scenes with highlights ("Lost" scene in dark jungle, for example).
The EZ17 does not have HDMI outputs. Outputs are S-Video, Composite, and Component. RF is passed through, to use RF as an output you will need a modulator.
The EZ17 does not come with many HD viewing features. There is no on screen program guide, only the name of the current program and the name of the next program which will be shown. There is no "zoom" button to change from letterbox to zoomed mode. There is no "back" button to jump back to the last channel you were watching. The tuning controls are as primitive as on my VHS VCR.
The HD tuner on the EZ17 seems pretty good, it has no problems with any of my local OTA HD stations, and seems to lock on quickly. Drop-outs seem less, so far, than with the DST52.
On the DVD side, the EZ17 can record to dual layer DVD's for double the capacity, and can write to DVD-RAM with some extra recording features. It functions fine as a DVD player. It has lots of slots for timer recordings. The disc browsing interface is nice, with a thumbnail picture of each video shown, which plays a short sample if you select the thumbnail.
So far, I am on the fence on this one. I am not sure if I can stand the tuning artifacts, and the stripped down tuner features enough to replace the DST52, but I could easily replace the DVD player and VHS with this unit and be happy. In the long run, I'll get a real HDTV one day, with a built in ATSC tuner, and won't need an STB.