While the graphical user interface can be a little daunting at first, we got the hang of it after a while. If you have a DVD with several programs on it, you'll most likely want to access them through the Direct Navigator. This brings up a series of thumbnail images corresponding to the programs on your disc. From here, you'll either select an image to view, or bring up the submenu for other options, such as editing or setting chapter stops. The other important menu is the function menu, which you'll want to access for settings related to VHS-to-DVD copying, and vice versa.
Unlike the step-up DMR-EH75H, the DMR-ES45V does not have the TV Guide EPG. This makes sense, since the DMR-ES45V lacks a hard drive and is less likely to be used as a DVR. However, it would still be nice to be able to schedule recordings from an electronic program guide, especially since the flexible DVD-RAM format can be used almost like a mini hard drive--more on this below. The DMR-ES45V does have onscreen scheduling capability, which means you have to tell it the time and channel you want to record--but once you've used an EPG, it's hard to go back to VCR-style recording. The Panasonic DMR-ES45V allows you to record to numerous types of recordable DVDs, including DVD-RAM, as well as to VHS. DVD-RAM is especially useful in that it is capable of chasing playback, which means you can watch programs from the beginning while still in the process of recording. In fact, DVD-RAM can take it even a step further--you can record something on DVD-RAM while watching another previously recorded program on the same DVD-RAM disc. It's pretty neat and effectively gives you something like mini-hard-drive functionality from the DVD-recorder--we could easily see someone using it as a DVR if they don't plan on recording a lot. You're also able to edit titles on DVD-RAM if, for instance, you want to cut out the commercials--see the tips and tricks section for a note on this. However, one thing the Panasonic DMR-ES45V doesn't do that DVR fans will definitely miss is constantly record live TV, which means you can't pause and rewind live TV. Of course, you could always start recording something to DVD-RAM and get essentially the same functionality, but few people will want to do that every time they watch TV--plus you'd have to remember to delete your recordings afterwards.
For DVD recording, the unit offers four recording modes that all have trade-offs in recording quality vs. capacity. Only 1 hour of highest-quality XP mode video fits onto one single-layer DVD; SP is 2 hours, LP is 4; and EP either 6 or 8 (the 6-hour mode gives better audio quality). Dual-layer discs have slightly less space than you might imagine: 1.75 hour for XP; 3.5 hours for SP; 7 hours for LP; and 14.25 hours for EP mode.
Luckily, if you have a program that doesn't nicely fit into one of those time frames, the DMR-ES45V has one of our favorite features: flexible recording. Selecting this option allows you to completely fill a DVD with your program, maximizing the video quality. This is particularly useful if, for instance, you have a two-hour-long movie and you want to use a dual layer disc--instead of having to drop down to SP, you can maximize the quality using flexible recording. You will have to tell the recorder exactly how long you want it to record, so this isn't the best option for programs of variable length, such as a football game.