"Excellent despite quirky interface"4.0 starson by tacollier
Pros: Versatility and video quality
Cons: Quirky user interface and missing functionality
Summary: I bought mine at Circuit City during the July 4th "$50 rebate + $25 off" period, so it wasn't a bad deal at $425 plus tax.
Overall, I've been VERY happy with the device. I got it primarily to transfer VHS tapes to DVD and it's going to be VERY good for that. I also am impressed by the LP quality - 4 hours on a single layer DVD and VERY watchable. I haven't yet experienced any of the DVD compatibility issues others have reported and have used DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RAM (comes with one disc), and DVD+RW with good results in all cases so far.
The TV Guide took a little effort to get setup and working properly, but works well. I agree that it's not nearly as good as the Tivo guide, but it works. One amazing omission to me is that you can't list all the upcoming shows on a specific channel vertically and have to scroll to the right MANY keystokes to go very far into the future. You can get around this to some extent using the keyword search functionality.
I've captured from VHS and from my DV camcorder and it did just fine there. DVD authoring and title editing is very basic in functionality and I don't think it's very intuitive, but produces reasonably good results once you figure it out.
I can copy 4 hours of LP video to a DVD in about 25 minutes. One hour of highest quality "XP" video in about 15 minutes (when high-speed recording is turned on).
Keeping in mind that I LIKE this device and I do recommend it, here are a few things I find "quirky" or missing. (Some of these could be that I just haven't figured them out yet.)
1. I can't get it to copy an mpeg2 file from the SD card as advertised. I created the mpeg2 file on the computer and copied it to the SD card. I think it's looking for a specific Panasonic-only directory structure and/or file extension. Panasonic tech support has been zero help up to now - several days after asking for help with this (on-line). Also, you can't copy a video title from the HDD to the SD card as an mpeg2 file.
2. You can't make multiple identical copies without re-entering things like disc names and re-selecting all the titles for the disc again. There are "playlists", but they just group all titles into a single title. You can save "phrases" in the title editor and that helps, but even though it lets you enter a long phrase, it cuts it off at a set number of characters. Also, when the titles you enter appear on the DVD menu, there is no word-wrap, so it cuts a word at the end of the first line in the middle of the word and puts the rest at the beginning of the second line.
3. As far as I can see, you can't just use the VCR like a normal VCR where you program a show to record on a certain channel to record at a certain time. You HAVE to record to the hard drive first, then copy that to the tape. (One thing BETTER than the version of Tivo I have, is that you can at least select all the shows to put on tape at once, versus one at a time on my Tivo.)
4. The device has to be "off" to get updates from the TV Guide channel. It will still record scheduled shows while "off", but you have to remember to turn it off when you're not using it for the updates to occur.
5. I haven't found a way to arrange the titles on a DVD being recorded in the order I want. You can sort the list you are choosing them from in several ways (date, etc.), but you can't move them around on the menu to the order you might prefer. You don't actually SEE then menu until the disc is finalized, and it just builds the menu in the order in which the titles were listed on the source list (all titles).
6. While you can copy still photos from one type of media to another, as far as I can tell, you can't actually record something like a "slideshow" (with x number of seconds per slide and transitions, etc.) of photos from, say, the hard drive to the DVD or VHS. Still photos on a CD-R or CD-RW can't be copied to the hard drive. It seems to me that the practical benefit of the whole still photo functionality here is basically being able to view still photos.
7. You have to remember to create "top level menus" for DVD+RW discs before ejecting them. (They are automatically created during finalization for write-once media). Once created, you can't view the actual menu for a DVD+RW disc on this device (although you can see and select the titles via the "Navigator" screen).
8. You toggle thru the 4 "modes" (HDD, DVD, SD, and VHS) in the same order every time you need to change and there is a slight delay every time you stop at SD (even if you don't have an SD card in the slot). Mode switch seems a little faster with the switch on the unit itself than with the remote.
9. While the unit has VCR+, that functionality doesn't appear to be available if you are using the TV Guide functionality.
10. The volume (audio) seems very low on programs from TV (cable) compared to titles captured from VHS or DV input, so I find I have to raise and lower the volume on the TV frequently to maintain a "normal" listening level.Updated
Regarding my items 3 and 5 previously listed, another user pointed out that if you use the "Advanced Copy" funtion, you can indeed select titles in the order in which you want them to appear on the menu. Also, this list is remembered in case you want to make more than one copy. On the word-wrap issue, I've learned that when building the title, the "preview" box does accurately reflect what appears on the menu, so I can add spaces between words to control where the line breaks occur.