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Friday, February 06, 2004

Panasonic DVD Recorder, the Mac & Open Shiiva - Excellent Karma! (REVISED)

A couple days ago, I wrote a long review about the Canopus ADVC-100 in bringing in and converting video files from analog to digital files on the Mac This covers the DVD Recorder and Open Shiiva portion on the Mac. The Panasonic DMR-E80H has an 80 GB Hard Drive (HDD) - Progressive Scan. It has (1) Component & Digital Audio Out; (2) Composite (RCA) inputs; (2) Composite (RCA) outputs; and (2) S-Video in and outs. There are plenty of the other specs - you can check it out at the Panasonic site. It records on: The HARD DRIVE, DVD-R (4.7 GB only) and DVD-RAM (both 4.7 & 9.4 GB). It plays back: DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, DVD-RAM, DVD-R, Video CD (VCD), CD, CD-R, CD-RW (including Mp3's). No S-VCD. Setting it could not be easier. Plug it in as you would any VCR in your AV setup. HARD DRIVE RECORDING There are FOUR settings - XP, SP, LP & EP. Your approximate recording times are: 17, 34, 68 & 106 Hours. Only the EP is not really worth your while unless you don't mind lots of artifice, pixelation and blockiness. I suspect it's only included so they can say 100+ Hours recording. If you're viewing it on a 10-year old TV, it might be fine but then why would you spend $500 on a progressive scan DVD recorder? The LP speed is fine for most viewing. As with any MPEG compression, if you stand next to the set during very dark scenes, you can see some pixelation. RECORDING Just like a VCR - time-shift record or just press RECORD. You can enter in a TITLE at that point or at any point later. It's obviously not that quick as you have to navigate like those old arcade video games to "type" but again, you can enter the title in at any time. And of course, unlike blank videotapes, you can easily jump to your playlist and see just what it is. VIEWING Let's say you've taped two programs so far (we'll just call them A and B). You have many choices. You can view A or B without doing anything else. You can view A or B while recording a new program - C. And yes, you can even be viewing a DVD-R or retail DVD while recording "C." You can also start viewing ("rewind to") the beginning of the program while it's recording. You can view anything else stored on the HDD while it's recording now and you can view DVD's while the HDD is recording. Nice. Much nicer than a VCR. The FORWARD & REVIEW functions are great - you can go from 2x to 100x. Very, very nice! You get frame shots as it's going along. The look sharp and crisp and you know exactly what you're looking at and where. One of the very few, very minor annoyances about the Panasonic is that if you know you're going to walk away from something you're watching, you can hit MEMORIZE POSITION but the feature to retrieve your memorize position is not very intuative. But it's a pretty minor thing because of the 2x to 100x fast forward/reverse - by the time you remember how to retrieve your position, it's easier just to fast forward. (You of course, can hit PAUSE and it does have a STOP function like most DVD players. As long as the power is still up, you will return to your last 'stopped' position so it's not a deal breaker - just could ever slightly better). EDITING Besides ERASE (of course), you can also choose EDIT SEGMENT or DIVIDE SEGMENT. Keep in mind you're editing with a remote control so your controls are obviously not as easy as computer-based but it's not too bad. DIVIDE SEGMENT is useful for eliminating the front & back of a recording - like a movie off of HBO or if you taped for a 3-hour block and you want to divide and re-label each individual show. Once you've selected DIVIDE SEGMENT, it brings it up in a smaller window. Just forward/play to the point where you want to split. Select DIVIDE. It asks you just to be sure it's what you want to do. YES and it takes about 10 seconds to DIVIDE it (you cannot rejoin them). Then ERASE the first segment. Then fast-forward to the end and DIVIDE again. This is one its few, minor flaws - unless I'm missing it, you cannot just jump to the end - you have to fast forward - though at 100X, it really only takes about a few moments to get there. EDIT SEGMENT lets you ERASE segments in the middle of a recording - perfect for eliminating commercials in between a show. There is also a FRAME FORWARD and FRAME BACK function so you can spend time and eliminate all the commercials cleanly. Of course, you can also record footage such as a home movie and edit on the machine but you'd be braver and much more nimble working a remote control than me. DUBBING If you're anything like me who can easily tape 20 hours a week, you will fill up that HDD pretty quickly. But what's great is then you can dub then over to DVD-R (or DVD-RAM) - it does not record onto DVD-RW. You can fit 1/2/4 or 6 hours onto a DVD-R or DVD-RAM (depending on the speed you chose to record it onto the HDD). You can fit twice as much on a double-sided 9.4 GB DVD-RAM at all the speeds listed. With DVD-R's at less than a $1 each in volume, it's a nice space & cost savings over videotapes (At shop4tech.com or meritline.com, you get them as low as $.50 each) plus additional Mac benefits - as you can read later on. Once you have recorded it onto HDD, just select DUBBING and DUB from HDD to DVD. Select the titles you want to transfer over. TWO more great things - ONE, you don't have to do it all at once. I'm mostly using the SP/LP mode with DVD-R's so I can fit 2 or 4 hours. You can dub over in multi-sessions. You cannot erase anything you've dubbed over to a DVD-R but what's nice is that you do not need to wait until you have 2 or 4 hours to fill before dubbing it over and erasing it from your HDD. 2ND GREAT THING - you can select HIGH SPEED DUBBING - takes about an hour to dub/move over 4-hours of video (LP mode). Excellent! You can also select real-time dubbing but I'm not sure why. Since it's digital, you're not losing anything. Once you've reached/decided to "close the book" on that DVD-R. Then select FINALIZE so regular DVD players can read it (presuming it can read DVD-R's). You can even select from 8 different menus templates. They're really just different colors background with the titles of the movies/shows so it's not much but it's something. You can also burn them onto DVD-RAM. When the HDD was only 40GB or less and DVD-R's were $3-$5 each, it probably made more sense to burn movies/shows on DVD-RAM (which are about $15-$40) each but with DVD-R's at $.50, it probably isn't as useful but you do get a FREE DVD-RAM disc one with your machine so you can decide for yourself what you prefer. Supposedly you can re-use (erase and re-record) it up to 10,000 times. THE MAC COMES INTO THE PICTURE WATCHING If you want to tape shows/movies off the air to watch on your Mac, this is a great way to go. Once you've FINALIZED the disc, any DVD player can read it and off you go. Better yet, if you have the room, you can simply drag the VOB files off onto your Mac. VLC (one of the all time great Mac programs) will play VOB's fine. This is also useful if you have a machine without a DVD drive but if it's on a network where you can transfer it over. VLC does not need a DVD drive. While a screen shot is going to be grainer than the actual playback, you can get a rough idea of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT taped from FOX at the LP mode. You can resize it to full screen. It's not factory glass-pressed DVD-Video quality but it's not bad for $.12 (25% of a $.50 DVD-R). But if just playback is not all you want - you can use OPEN SHIIVA or DIVA to convert it to QT. The :30 minute ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT file was 495 MB as a VOB file. It was converted to an Mp4 file by OPEN SHIIVA - 337 MB. Here's a screenshot of the Open Shiiva Mp4 - You can then IMPORT into iMovie or FCE/FCP. At some point, I may get this from Heuris - but I haven't determined from them if it's just giving me the functionality of Open Shiiva at $150 dollars or not. Since I have the Canopus ADVC-100, being able to edit a VOB is not a huge priority but if you get an answer or you're using the Heuris ConnexIT for QT - let me know if it's worth it. BTW, I did not removed the commercials so it's a full :30 minutes. A typical 90-minute movie is about 1.6 GB. To mount DVD-RAM discs on the Mac, you will need $24.95 and this from Software Architects. COST Open Shiiva and DiVA are FREE! The Panasonic lists at $699 - Amazon has it for $519, yes - we're an affiliate: Panasonic DMR-E80H. There is also a 120 HD model but it costs much more (list $1,100. It also has a card slot if viewing photographs on your TV is useful). For most people, the 80 GB HDD is more than enough and with DVD-R's dropping rapidly in price, even I still have 35 hours left on the thing. It's easy and it works great. I already have two :-) There was a recent review of the Gateway DVD Recorder which is cheaper but apparently does NOT let you view one HDD recorded program while recording a new one - so be careful what you're getting. The review alludes to the fact that the major Japanese brands (Panasonic, Pioneer & Toshiba) all let's you have the full functionality I've talked about - so be sure and get ALL the features you'll want and need. Thanks for pointing out my typos - I think I got most of them. Good luck!


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