The E50S includes VCR Plus, but the recorder's inability to control a cable or satellite box limits its real-world usefulness for TV recording. The front and back panels each have two A/V inputs with S-Video. Also on the rear are an RF input and output for cable or an antenna (just like on a VCR), a pair of A/V outs with S-Video, a progressive-scan component-video output, and an optical digital output. The only missing items are a FireWire input, which is available on the E60S, and a component-video input. Philips's DVDR75 and DVDR80 have both connections but cost more. As expected, the E50S delivered video quality superior to VHS's. Even in the four-hour EP mode, recordings looked stable and had well-saturated colors, although blocky MPEG noise tinged the images. The two-hour SP mode nearly eliminated that problem in the backgrounds, and the one-hour mode's smooth picture was almost indistinguishable from the original, even on our large Samsung HLN617W reference set.
A serious difference in resolution separates the SP and EP modes: SP measured 450 lines, while EP came in at barely 230. You should avoid the six-hour LP mode; it was significantly softer than EP, tended to introduce stutter in pans, and managed barely 200 lines of resolution.
In our side-by-side comparison of the E50S and Philips's DVDR75, we played the Monsters Inc. DVD via S-Video. Overall, the Panasonic in its one- and two-hour modes won by a very slight margin. The Philips introduced more MPEG blocks but also looked a tiny bit sharper, especially in the background and the walls of Sully and Mike's apartment. In the four-hour mode, the Philips edged out the Panasonic by a blue hair: Sully's coat was noticeably more detailed compared with the E50S's oversmooth rendition. The Philips delivered an impressive 275 lines of resolution in EP.
At one point, we tried a somewhat scuffed DVD-R blank. The player went into Recover mode and spit out the unusable disc. Progressive-scan DVD playback was fine, although we did see some jagged edges in 30-frame-per-second video-based material.
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