Eva, you certainly aren't alone in being "not terribly technical" - if you were, the subscription PVR wouldn't be the most popular tech toy since the VCR!
People in general can have unexpected reactions to video gear: I am constantly amazed by the accountants, photographers, doctors, etc who work every day with high technology or complex software, yet are completely flummoxed by DVD recorders and how to use them with cable/satellite. Its almost like there's a genetic predisposition in humans for subscription PVRs, and once they were invented and offered, that was the end of the line for every other type of mass-market video recorder.
I do understand why you felt compelled to overpay for your EZ48V: you had a Panasonic before that you liked, you were disappointed with the Toshiba that replaced it, and when you tried to buy a newer Panasonic DVD/VHS you found they'd been discontinued and all that were left available were from scammers charging $699 and up for a new one. But the price was way too much: they were giving them away on eBay for under $200 two years ago when they were still in production and had a terrible reputation. Like everything else on eBay, the moment an item is discontinued, it sells out even if it was previously considered a bit of a flop, and then the remaining stock gets listed endlessly at 300% over retail in hopes some desperate soul will actually pay that amount.
This is where its really unfortunate that you don't have someone local to help you with this stuff. The EZ48V was roughly worth its original retail of $299, but for the additional $400 you overpaid you could have put together a much more flexible system with better, more convenient features. Having all your eggs in one recorder basket is limiting and risky, but at least the EZ48V should last a few years (being the best of the final big-name DVD/VHS machines).
Given your justification for the purchase price was to get a "new" Panasonic VCR, its clear you need ongoing VHS support for your EP tapes. The last brand-new Panasonic VHS VCRs sold for about $69 back in 2006, and that is the VCR design built into the EZ48V. I'm not denigrating the EZ48V, but trying to make the point that its current price isn't due to some magical VCR section: sellers are asking $800 for it because there is a small but fanatical pool of buyers who would literally go out of their minds if they could not have a Panasonic DVD/VHS combo deck. You are not one of that group, you had other reasons, but you got sucked into the inflated price nonetheless. The same thing happened with various other makes and models of recorder, esp in 2007 when nearly every DVD/HDD recorder was discontinued. I had my own bout of insanity then, when I snapped up SIX Pioneer recorders from eBay dealers in Canada. A lot of us here stockpiled or overpaid for our preferred recorders when we heard there would be no more.
Anyway, you can kind of make up for your overpayment on the EZ48V if you keep a sharp eye on Craigs List and eBay for one of the good used Panasonic VCRs I mentioned: these are dirt cheap, and even better than the VCR in the EZ48V. Between the EZ48V and a couple of spare Panasonic VCRs, you should be covered to play your EP tapes for many years to come. But the time to buy a good used spare VCRs is now: don't wait. While its true used VCRs will be around forever, because millions were sold, good ones will become increasingly harder to find as people are now beginning to throw them in the trash rather than make the effort of selling them for $20.
As far as future recording goes, you have several options. All are a compromise one way or another, either in money or convenience. All will require you to put on your study cap and try to learn some tech tricks (or find someone cool to help you that isn't the useless "Geek Squad"). The first option would be to stop where you are, with the EZ48V, a couple of spare VCRs to play your old tapes, and your existing non-PVR ComCast box. New TV shows or movies you want to keep permanently should be recorded on DVD-R (non-erasable) discs. This is the preferred media for the EZ48V. When each disc is full, you would tell the EZ48V to "finalize" it, which creates a menu and makes the DVD compatible with all other DVD players, computers, etc. DVD-R cannot be erased or edited, so you would need to be careful how you set up your timer recordings to fit the shows nicely. You could use DVD+RW instead, this gives more editing/erasing flexibility and is compatible with other players with no need to "finalize." But +RW is more expensive, and not as archival for long-term library storage. DVD-RW is similar, but needs to be "finalized" for compatibility which can cause some glitches with other players. DVD-RAM is the easiest, most VCR-like disc to use, but also the most expensive, and RAM discs will only play in Panasonic recorders or other players that are compatible with RAM (a lot less now than there used to be: BluRay players have taken over the living room, and they don't do RAM).
To get around the "can't record" restrictions you've been getting when trying to make DVDs from ComCast, you will need a protection filter or TBC connected between the decoder box video output and the EZ48V video input. The two most commonly used by members here are the Grex
and the AVT-8710.
Yes, it is another expense, but there is no other way to get around the stupid record restrict signal some cable systems are embedding. These filter boxes don't require you to do anything but connect them: they just stay on all the time.
Not going beyond the EZ48V would be the cheapest option, but also the most limiting and inconvenient. Recording directly onto DVDs is a hassle, because they really only have good quality in the SP (2-hour) recording mode. Sometimes you can get away with LP (4-hour), but it isn't recommended for anything but sports events. This limits your ability to record multiple shows in one night, or when away from home. It also makes it much more difficult to have separate DVDs devoted to separate TV shows, etc. For this reason, you may want to consider "Option 2," getting the ComCast PVR. With the cable PVR, you are freed from the confines of the EZ48V DVD capacity: the cable PVR can hold at least 40 hours of highest-quality recordings, and it can easily record several shows per night on different channels, even shows that run at the same time on opposing channels. You never have to worry about having blanks discs handy, or if you have space left on a disc. The shows that you like to watch but not keep can just be erased from the PVR by pushing the delete button. The only time you would use the EZ48V to make a DVD is when you want
a DVD, and collecting shows on dedicaated DVDs is much easier using the cable PVR and EZ48V as a team. For example, since the ComCast PVR can store many shows on its hard drive, you can just wait until you have 4 half-hour or 2 one-hour episodes on the PVR, then copy them all at once to a DVD with the EZ48v.
"Option 3" is a compromise between the previous two systems. Instead of signing up for the ComCast PVR, which admittedly becomes an ongoing expense, buy the Magnavox MDR533 DVD/HDD recorder from WalMart web store for $228. This recorder has been the default recommendation for TV recording since 2007: for the price, there is nothing else comparable. If we could have read your mind, most of us would have told you to buy the Magnavox plus a nice used Panasonic VCR, totaling less than $300, instead of the EZ48V. But you can wait awhile, save your pennies, and still buy the Magnavox to give yourself the additional benefits. The Magnavox would become your primary recorder, connected to your existing ComCast decoder box. Instead of making DVDs or tapes, you would record everything to the Magnavox hard drive, much like a ComCast PVR works. The Magnavox gives you the convenience of discless recording with 50-100 hours storage capacity, but without the monthly charge. The drawback compared to ComCast PVR is lack of integration: you would need to set timers on both the ComCast box and the Magnavox, just as you do with the EZ48V, and the Magnavox cannot record two channels at the same time. You do gain one very nice advantage with the Magnavox: speed of making DVDs. Since the Magnavox has built-in DVD burner, anything you recorded on its PVR can be copied internally, at high speed (16 mins to burn a DVD-R). So you don't have to sit thru shows twice, like you'd sometimes need to when recording from ComCast PVR to the EZ48V. If you eventually buy a Magnavox, you can dedicate the EZ48V to playing VHS or making DVD copies of VHS.
I'm sure all this is very confusing for you to process, but I figured laying it all out in one post would make a good reference point when you're ready to plunge ahead. If you print it out, you can show it to any new geek friends you make, and they will have a starting point to help you set things up. Best of luck to you, Eva: take things slow and you'll be surprised how much of this stuff you'll be able to learn. It was hard for me, too, in the beginning: it took a long time for me to understand why I was frustrated with DVD recording until I discovered the DVD/HDD machines (then took me awhile longer to comprehend the DVD/HDD functions). One of the ironies of our digital era is that it isn't necessarily easier than analog: many things are much more complicated. There are incredible benefits to digital video once you figure it out, but it definitely yanks us 'non-GenX-ers' out of our comfort zone until we catch up.Edited by CitiBear - 11/30/12 at 11:55am