Panasonic DMR-E85H Jumping into Digital
with Both Feet
By Jim Bray
If you havent yet bought a DVD player and are looking for
something that not only plays the digital disks but which can also replace your
VCR, you might want to look at this unit from Panasonic.
The DMR-E85H is a DVD recorder and player and a hard disk-based
PVR all in one and as such it offers a powerful combination of features and
flexibility. For example, you can not only record TV shows to the hard disk (or
a recordable DVD, for that matter), you can also hook in your VHS or beta VCR
and dump all your tapes onto the DMRs hard drive, edit them somewhat and
then burn them onto a DVD to complete your conversion from tape to disc.
This not only lets you get rid of those big videocassettes that
have been taking up space on your shelves for so many years, it lets you donate
your obsolete VCR to someone who could use such as device as well!
Pretty neat, eh? And all for $599.95 US, list.
Panasonics DMR-E85H is a handsome and very light unit. The
front panel includes connections for a camcorder (for even more dubbing
flexibility) as well as the basic operation buttons and a display screen that
shows such info as timer recording status, transferring progress, recording
mode and the like.
The back includes an abundance of connections. For inputs you can
choose from two S-Video plugs as well as RF and 2 sets of composite
audio/video. Outputs include component video, which is what we used to connect
the DMR to our reference home theater, two sets of S-Video and composite
audio/video, and an RF output for those still going through life without A/V
jacks on their TV.
Oh, yeah. Theres also an optical digital audio output for
sending 5.1 signals to your receiver/processor, and you can hook in the
included IR blaster to make the DMR control a VCR or satellite receiver.
In all, its about as much connection flexibility as
youd need as long as you dont want to hook in HD signals or connect
a Firewire-equipped device.
We get our TV signals from satellite, including HD, which actually
caused a problem during our usage test since the DMR doesnt download the
programming guide from our Canadian satellite service. And of course the DMR
isnt HD-compliant, so we fed it the receivers SD output via
composite audio and video connectors.
Why wouldnt they make it HD compliant in this day and age?
Beats me, though it would undoubtedly make the unit a tad more expensive to
purchase and cut down on the recording time available.
Maybe next year.
The DMR-E85Hs hard drive is a substantial 120GB, which means
you can record up to 213 hours on it, in EP mode. This is probably more than
youd ever need unless youre a video pack rat though you
should also remember the tradeoff between recording time and picture quality
the longer the recording time the worse the picture quality.
Oh yeah, and the DMR-E85H is also a progressive scan DVD
audio/video player, which is the way it should be.
Anyway, once you have the thing hooked up and the batteries in the
remote control its show time! And what a show! Heres a partial list
of some of the things you can do with the DMR-E85H:
Record to the
rewritable DVD-RAM and/or the write once DVD-R.
Dub VHS, PVR,
TV, or camcorder materials to DVD or, God forbid, back to VHS. You cant
pirate copy protected programming, though, but thats a standard
feature in the industry and not a specific shortcoming of the
High speed dubbing from the hard drive to the DVD, even while
viewing and recording to the HDD while dubbing.
Recording. This means that, if youre recording a program to DVD but
its too long to on the disc, the DMR will automatically change over to
recording onto the hard drive. Theres also a feature that seeks out blank
space on the disc to prevent you from accidentally recording over
Time Slip recording that lets you view the parts of
your program/movie youve already recorded even before it's finished
recording the rest. This is nice when, for example, you get home half an hour
into a program youre recording because, unlike with a VCR, you dont
have to wait for the recording to end; you can start watching the beginning
right away while the DMR records to the end.
Simultaneous Record & Play
lets you record a program onto a disc while watching a program previously
Rating and password protection to keep the kids (or sensitive
people) from viewing stuff you dont want them to.
CD-R and CD-RW
Hookup and configuration are pretty straightforward; onscreen
menus are clear and logical for the most part and give you a wide variety of
options. I found this aspect of the unit easier than its actual use, thanks
mostly to the fact that the abundant buttons on the remote can be confusing and
the unit itself isnt the quickest on the uptake: fire it up and you have
a wait a few seconds for it to come to life as it apparently looks itself over
and the hard drive gets up to speed.
It wasnt a big deal, though, and it doesnt take long
to get used to the ins and outs of the controls.
Included among the adjustments are picture controls such as
brightness, color, gamma etc. We found this very handy since wed recently
had our reference TV ISF calibrated and found the Panasonics output a tad
dark afterward, as it was set "out of the box". Thanks to the picture
adjustments we fixed that problem quickly and without fuss.
We also found that in use the overall picture of the DMR-E85H was
just fine, thank you. Naturally, the GIGO rule (Garbage in, garbage
out) is in effect here, so the end picture is related to the quality of the
picture being input or recorded, as well as to the recording speed.
One feature thats kind of cool is the Direct Navigator,
accessed easily from the remote. This brings up small windows displaying all
the programs youve recorded, with dates, times, channels etc. - and you
can use the cursor control buttons to access any of them quickly and easily.
You also get a built in TVGuide that looks like it would be nifty
and easy to use, but as mentioned it wouldnt work with our Canadian
satellite TV service, so I cant comment on it other than mention the fact
that its there. The picture nearby illustrates the feature.
The built in editing features can come in handy when youre
archiving stuff you recorded. You can cut out commercials, rearrange the order
of scenes (ideal when transferring home movies), and you can add your own menus
As a DVD player, the DMR-E5H is very good. I used it mostly as a
progressive scan unit (its switchable between progressive and interlaced)
and found its picture quality to be as good as one would expect from a
mainstream DVD player. It wasnt quite up to our reference player (which
is a DVD Audio/Video player only, but much higher end), but it seems just fine
for its market segment. You can set it to output to either 4x3 or 16x9
TVs as well, which is standard DVD player stuff.
Audio was also very good, though I think its a bit of a
misnomer to say the unit plays DVD-Audio discs. It does, but there are no 5.1
channel analog outputs to take the true DVD-A signal to the receiver/processor
and that leads me to believe that you can only play the Dolby Digital or dts
5.1 tracks of a DVD-A or dts audio disc.
Complaints? A couple, but nothing major. First up, and this may
seem minor, but it really bugged me when playing (or, more accurately,
finishing up with) DVDs: theres no EJECT button on the remote
And I didnt think the manual would go down in history as the
most clearly written and illustrated in electronics history though on
that count it joins a long line of such books that range from slightly unclear
That said, the unit itself is pretty easy to figure out without
cracking the menu, so that helps.
In all, however, I found the Panasinc DMR-E85H to be a good
performer that works pretty much as advertised. If you've been looking for a
PVR you can also use as a DVD player/recorder, this may not be a bad place to
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