Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.The S in the name tells you the color is silver; the same recorder is also available in black as the DMR-E50K. The unit looks like an extrathick regular DVD player with a skinny, black belt bisecting its face and a big, unattractive DVD Recording logo on the drawer. The central, animated display is well organized, especially the recording information: one glance at the cool-looking spinning-disc icon gives you the status.
Access to the E50S's many functions is provided by a series of boring, complicated menus that beginners will find hard to understand. Unfortunately, the manual is dense and doesn't do a very good job of explaining the options.
Unlike the step-up DMR-E60S, the E50S has the same clunky, plastic remote that came with earlier Panasonic recorders. The control's principal downfall is a slide-down hatch that inconveniently conceals a slew of useful buttons, such as Open/Close. Very little space separates the keys, and the three menu buttons look too alike. But once we were accustomed to the layout, we appreciated the ability to access functions without resorting to the menu. This entry-level deck comes with a 64-page manual and can present quite a learning curve. Thanks to the DVD-RAM format, the E50S gives you some of the functionality of a hard-disk recorder. While a recording is in progress, you can watch it from the beginning or play back something else. Basic editing, such as shortening segments and dividing one program into two, is also available. That said, you're better off performing advanced video editing on a PC.
Each disc you burn bears a relatively unattractive, unalterable main menu. The four recording modes give you one- to six-hour discs; the picture quality decreases as the length increases. There's also a convenient flexible recording mode that lets you fill the remainder of a disc with a certain amount of video--say, 2 hours, 35 minutes.
Although DVD-RAM isn't compatible with as many machines as the other two rewritable DVD formats, Panasonic says more manufacturers, such as Samsung and Hitachi, will produce DVD-RAM-capable players in the future. You can also record on write-once DVD-Rs. They're highly compatible and less expensive than DVD-RAMs, which cost $5 to $8 per disc.