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.
With two card slots, rows of logos and buttons, a drawer, and a display, the E100H certainly looks the part of a full-featured recording powerhouse. A mirrored strip makes up the bottom half of the face and lends the E100H some sophistication. The big, animated screen does a good job of organizing information, but thoughtful design ended there.
The main way to access the E100's many functions is through a long series of bland, complex menus. We spent a good deal of time reading the dense, 67-page manual, and we still had to consult it afterward. Less-experienced users shouldn't have much trouble with basic recording, but advanced operations will require some study.
The E100's remote is an improvement over the clunker included with the DMR-HS2, this product's predecessor, but we would have appreciated more distinction between the buttons and a bit less crowding. On the plus side, once we'd gotten used to the layout, we had little problem accessing many of the functions.
The E100H is as close to a universal recorder as set-top devices get. It can record audio and video to DVD-RAMs, DVD-Rs, the hard drive, and (in MPEG-4) flash memory cards. Although DVD-RAM is the least compatible of the three rewritable DVD types, a variety of manufacturers are beginning to put out more RAM-capable players. Write-once DVD-R is the most compatible recordable DVD format available.
The E100H is the only deck that can transfer MPEG-4 video to memory cards. This ability makes the slots more than just a convenient way to display digital photos. For example, a 512MB card can hold 2 hours, 40 minutes of second-best-quality video (see the Performance section for more), so you can record a movie and watch it on your PDA. One slot accommodates an SD card, while the other accepts any PC Card adapter compatible with SD, CompactFlash, Smart Media, Memory Stick, xD-Picture Card, or Microdrive.
Another major feature of the E100H is dubbing from HDD to DVD and vice versa. It's quicker than with previous models, faster than real time when you use 2X and 4X DVD-Rs. A relatively simple editing interface lets you shorten segments on the hard disk before you transfer them to DVD--handy for eliminating commercials. Naturally, you can't dub copy-protected discs.
The hard disk and DVD-RAM also let you record one program while playing back another; watch an in-progress recording from the beginning; and pause, rewind, and fast-forward live television. The E100H includes VCR Plus to help you schedule TV recordings, but the machine cannot control a cable or satellite box. The TiVo and other hard-disk recorders, such as the upcoming, similarly priced Pioneer DVR-810H, are better for TV.
All the A/V inputs (one up front, two around back) and outputs (a pair at the rear) have S-Video. Just like a VCR, the E100H has an RF in and out for cable or antenna. Rounding out the backside are two outputs: a progressive-scan component-video connection and an optical digital jack. A FireWire input completes the front panel. The only missing link is a component-video in.
A few other features bear mentioning: two-channel DVD-Audio playback, MP3 playback, JPEG viewing and dubbing to hard disk or another memory card (but not DVD), and a choice of nine DVD menu styles.
As with the step-down DMR-E60, we got excellent video quality when we used the XP and SP modes, which can fit one hour and two hours, respectively, on a DVD. Colors were well saturated, the image was very stable--a big improvement over S-VHS--and SP resolution measured an impressive 450 lines. That dipped to 230 lines in the four-hour EP mode. The six-hour LP mode looked significantly softer than EP, introduced stutter in pans, and managed barely 200 lines of resolution.
The hard disk uses the same four recording-quality modes, but 120GB give you the luxury of setting everything to SP; you'll still get 52 hours of footage. During dubbing, you can reduce the quality to squeeze more material onto a DVD. We especially like the flexible recording mode: you specify an exact amount of time (2 hours, 33 minutes, for example), and the E100H will fill one disc without wasting any space.
Using the SD media's Fine or Super Fine mode, dubbing a four-minute MPEG-4 video to a card took a mere 20 seconds. On the screen of a Toshiba E750, the results were about as watchable as a small downloadable movie trailer. The soundtrack played back on a desktop PC but, unfortunately, not on the Pocket PC.
Photo viewing and copying worked as advertised, although we were unable to see our TIFF test files. Progressive-scan DVD playback was fine except for some jagged edges in video-based material.