Panasonic's DVD recorders are famed for their support for most disc formats, and now it has added DVD+R to the roster, only recording to DVD+RW remains. It's quite a contrast from the company's plasma division, which has been lambasted for non-HD compatible panels for some time.
Add in the world's most brilliant recording system and the EH50 is the first choice for anyone looking for a mid-range, branded DVD recorder. The only problem is that it arrives at a transitional time, and without digital video outputs or an integrated Freeview tuner, you should wait for an updated model for better value.
Panasonic's DVD recorders are workmanlike in their design -- they don't offer any flourishes, but they'll fit in with any standard AV setup that consists of different branded goods. The front panel breaks tradition slightly -- there's an SD card slot where the DVD tray usually is. A panel flips down so you can slot the card inside, and if you want to tuck the card away, you can flip the panel back into the up position. This allows you to read photos from the card, so if you use a camera that takes SD cards (such as one of Panasonic's own), then you'll be able to view a slideshow straight from the camera.
The DVD tray is relegated to the left side of the front panel, concealed under the same black plastic as the LCD screen is on the right. It's a nice touch, and one that helps alleviate the impact of the huge tray sitting underneath. As Panasonic is one of the main proprietors of the DVD-RAM format, its player will accommodate a DVD-RAM disc in a caddy, which has a rectangular form factor with a fancy groove-marked disc inside. It also take standard DVD discs, and in fact the player offers playback from all discs including DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW and DVD-RAM.
Connectivity on the rear is excellent. There are RGB Scart inputs and outputs, so if you have a normal CRT TV, you can enjoy good picture quality going in and coming out of the recorder. If your TV is more modern, you can upgrade to the component outputs, which are fully progressive-scan compatible for a solid, colourful picture. And then there's an optical digital audio output, so you can send a Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS soundtrack to your AV amp or receiver.
If you already have a DVD recorder, you might have spotted one rather obvious omission from this list: the FireWire input (or i.Link, as Panasonic calls it). Nearly every other recorder on the market offers this input so you can connect your camcorder digitally and make DVDs to show your friends. Panasonic's recorder, despite selling for a £100 premium over the glut of sub-£200 recorders currently on the market, doesn't offer this, instead opting for S-video and composite inputs under a panel on the front.
If every manufacturer copied Panasonic's remote control design, however, the world would be a much better place. The biggest new addition to the classic design is a jog dial that you can use to quickly zip through menus, which you'll need once you start filling up that hard drive.