As the cost of DVD recorders continues to fall, big-name brands have had to lower their prices to fend off competition from so-called 'supermarket specials' imported from the Far East.
The ES15 is Panasonic's most affordable disc recorder to date, which like similar models from Philips and Pioneer can be bought for less than £150. At this price there's always going to be a few compromises -- no hard drive recording options, an analogue only tuner and compromised connectivity. But, as an entry-level upgrade to your imminently obsolete VCR, it's ideal.
Multi-format compatibility means you can record and playback using practically any disc format, while the informative menu system and intuitive remote make operation simple. High-quality recordings are impressively faithful to the original and the ES15 also performs admirably as a standalone DVD player, especially if your display can accept progressive scan video.
For a budget recorder, the ES15 appears more substantially constructed than you might expect. It's still a little lightweight, and the ordinary design is uninspiring, but at least build quality is a cut above similarly priced models.
The bevelled front panel is simple with only a few basic controls, which have been arranged at an angle for easier access from above the unit. A stiff panel at the centre opens to reveal a set of equally accessible, basic AV connections, including a previously ignored DV input that provides a direct digital link for higher quality images from camcorders.
The remaining connections have been spaciously set across the rear panel where cut-price compromises are more apparent. There are two Scart terminals but only the AV1 output is RGB-enabled for high quality performance. You can use the accompanying standard Scart (AV2) to input external devices like a digital TV receiver, but picture quality is slighted and recordings suffer as a result.
There are also component video inputs, which support progressive scan signals to produce smoother, flicker-free DVD images, provided you have a display with corresponding connections. Audio ability is supplemented by a pair of typical stereo analogue outputs and a digital optical output. The digital audio output can be used to carry multi-channel sound formats, like Dolby Digital and DTS, to a home cinema receiver for surround sound set ups.
Panasonic's remotes always place functionality above flair, so while the outsized controls appear ungainly they're well arranged, responsive and intelligently designed to navigate through various recording, playback and editing functions. There are also useful short-cut controls for vital functions like VideoPlus and Time Slip.
Panasonic's DMR-ES15 is a truly universal recorder that will accept software discs in practically every format. You can record and playback a variety of formats including DVD-RAM, DVD-/+R, DVD-/+RW and even the latest dual-layer discs that double your recording time.
Not only does this make shopping for software easier, but it also gives you extra versatility with recordings. You can use Panasonic's preferred DVD-RAM to make edited and time slip recordings, -/+RW for temporary or portable recordings and -/+R discs for permanent copies. The list of playback formats is equally inclusive, stretching from standard DVD and CDs to encoded discs and even DVD-Audio, although playback is restricted to two channels only.