Panasonic recorders are the Volvos of the DVD world. Solid and reliable, they don't usually innovate, nor are they cheap, but they can always be depended on for quality. The company has been producing DVD and hard drive combos for a long time, and it has also produced an excellent integrated Freeview hard drive recorder. The ES20D is the company's first DVD recorder and digital tuner combo unit, offering higher quality picture recordings and convenient scheduling from the electronic programme guide.
The ES20D ultimately struggles from lacking a hard drive, as DVD capacity isn't big enough to hold all the programmes that would be missed during a two-week holiday. However, if you can live without this, the integration of Freeview and DVD recording has never been this sophisticated. Panasonic has included support for the DVD-RAM format, which means you can edit recordings and timeslip, and it also records to DVD-R and DVD+R formats for when you want to use cheaper discs. It's a much more elegant approach than having two separate boxes, although the lack of features means it should be classed as a budget recorder.
Panasonic's DVD recorder is as uninspiring as they come, but it boasts clean lines and an appealing silver finish. The box is light as there's not much packed inside, and it's no taller than your average standalone DVD player. There are plenty of logos scattered across the front (with 'DVB' being the European name for 'Freeview') and a fold-down panel for front connectivity. All major inputs and outputs are located on the rear, and the chilling empty planes of the front panel are emphasised by the lack of card slots and DV inputs (but more on this later).
One set of composite and S-Video inputs are included on the front, meaning they can be easily accessed while remaining hidden away in everyday use. These will most likely be used for connecting a camcorder, but there's no reason why you can't connect something like a games console if your TV doesn't have front AV inputs. The lack of DV input for camcorders is a disappointment though -- using the S-Video input results in a loss of quality and is slightly more fiddly than DV. It's just one consequence of the budget price tag -- another is the lack of an SD card slot.
Things are much better around the back of the recorder. Component video outputs send a high-quality, progressive-scan signal to a flat-screen display or projector, which makes this worth the upgrade for those with DVD players that only have RGB Scart outputs. The ES20D still has an RGB Scart output, so if you have a CRT TV then you can use this instead of component video, plus the recorder has an RGB Scart input for high-quality recording from another device.
There's not much else that you'd want to record from, as the Freeview tuner is inside the box, aside from perhaps backing up your video tapes to DVD. Bear in mind that commercial recordings are copy protected though, and will not be recorded by the Panasonic. Finally, there's an optical audio output for sending Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks to a surround-sound amplifier.
One of the reasons why Panasonic DVD recorders are recommended is the company's remote control design, which makes recording and editing a breeze. Cutting recordings with an IR remote can be a painful exercise, but Panasonic's simple menu system means you can remove the and breaks with ease, as well as set up chapter breaks.