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Panasonic DMR-E100H 1 year of living together

Discussion in 'Blu-ray & DVD Players & Recorders' started by tincanebits, Nov 4, 2004.

  1. tincanebits


    Products Owned:
    Products Wanted:
    Comments on my Panasonic DMR-E100H

    I have been the owner of a DMR-E100H Panasonic Video Recorder for about a year. It is a remarkable machine that goes a long way toward what I would consider an ideal feature set in this category. First and foremost there is no subscription necessary, and consequently no is one looking over your shoulder, collecting marketing data or (potentially) telling you what you should or shouldn’t be watching on your TV.
    At some level I already knew but was once again amazed to rediscover that commercials take up between 30 and 40 percent of the time in most non-subscription broadcasts (When in the US, You are known as the “American Consumer” in part because it is your patriotic duty to consume). Even with the cool little remote button that skips segments in 60 second blocks my finger got tired halfway through trimming them out of some movies. But hey, this is as easy as it is likely to get until some sort of artificial intelligence figures out how to accurately distinguish ads from content ( I predict such a thing in the near future and then after a while a little back and forth contest between advertisers and such software).
    The DMR-E100H (Panasonic probably has some logic in this model designation but it is opaque to me) is adept at easily making a high quality audio/video recording content from any TV oriented video source (antenna, cable, satellite, VCR output, video camera, and probably even from your computer if it has one of those fancy video cards – although I’ve not tried that as yet) editing it in most any simple straightforward way – even re-assembling it in some heretofore unknown pattern, and then writing it to a standard DVD for play on most any DVD player (I tried the DVD Disks I recorded in several (admittedly newer models) and they all worked flawlessly).
    It will allow you to watch a currently being broadcasted program commercial free (if you are willing to start a bit late) and you can leave the machine paused but still doing its recording thing in the background and then return at any point in any program or event (think sports), while in the meantime you’ve built yourself a Dagwood Sandwich in the kitchen as well as made sure little Susie was fast asleep in addition to hitting the restroom on this one break alone.
    Obviously it will also play any current commercial DVD disk and given the plethora of sound options & connections seems to be a realistic basis for a completely satisfactory home theater experience (I’ve not gone that far as yet).

    Anyway, since there is no place I know of for input direct to Panasonic on such matters, I’ve chosen to put this here so that they can see it if they wish, and my fellow users or prospective purchasers can agree, embellish, or disagree. Feel free. I guess I hope it might give Panasonic other manufacturers something to think about. I cheerfully acknowledge that some of this stuff is really picky and some of the rest is technically challenging and maybe even impossible. Still, here it is, such as it is.
    1. Hardware
    a. System Unit
    i. Hard Disk
    1. After living with my 100h for a while, I did have had a similar episode to some others reported elsewhere where the unit seemed to lose track of where it was and what available space was left on the HD at one point when the HD was about 3/4ths full and I had been doing a lot of trimming (editing). I immediately stopped & cancelled all pending recording schedules, copied all the content I really wanted to DVD-R & RAM disks, reformatted, and have been using it again for a few months without further problems (I’ve since done three simple maintenance formats, as described above since, but they were not initiated by any observed problem, just a “it has been a while” nag plus the observation that my total time devoted to recorded programs plus my unused space do not come close to the total capacity of the machine when newly re-formatted). So, it is obvious that the user needs to periodically completely move off all content to RAM disks (if you are going to put back in after) or DVD-R disks (one way only), erase all programs and then reformat the hard drive in order to re-claim all the available space and return the unit to full health & functionality. (I’d say maybe as often as somewhere between once a week or month to once every six months, depending on use levels and the tendency to fill up the HD with extensively trimmed programs). Panasonic doesn’t talk about this enough in the user’s manual. Actually (assuming a UNIX base for this software), something like a user initiated fsck or even a (Windoze like) de-fragment (messages and all) could be very helpful to the savvy user. By the way, & realizing all the things it might mean to potential would be hackers, so at least cognizant of the “political” issues; I’ll wouldn’t be too surprised if it would be simple at a technical level for Panasonic to arrange to execute code on these units directly from CDs or DVDs mounted in the tray, and wouldn’t that be a cool way to add future functionality?
    2. The Hard Disk capacities are getting larger in the latest models but will likely never be big enough, particularly as we move toward higher quality audio/video signals and recording (HD for example). One way of helping with this is to make the Hard Disks user removable and replaceable. The HD disks themselves are quite close to commodity items even now. Such an option could simplify control too. Say you wanted to limit access of your children to certain selected recorded material. You just keep it on a different physical HD and there would be no possibility of undesirable access unless that disk is in place (not that the present program locking mechanisms aren’t workable) An additional significant commercial possibility is buying or renting content on a pre-loaded hard disk – say, for example, all of TCM’s Humprey Bogart movies all at once, or something else along the lines of Mark Cuban’s ideas: http://www.blogmaverick.com/entry/7706137582525561/ It might also be worthwhile to make the DVD reader/writer removable and put bios/firmware support in future machines for hardware that would enable blue-ray or other similarly evolving DVD standards.
    ii. DVD player/recorder –some kudos are deserved here – I’ve used the unit to make maybe 200 or so DVD-R & DVDRAM disks using 5 different brands (whatever is on special) & using all the various features & disk recording times & options available in the system, but mostly using the 12x super speedy dubbing option on disks labeled as 4x (about 260 minutes of LP recording on one 4.7G disk in 18 minutes). Out of that number I’ve made maybe 4 or 5 trash disks (& one of those was induced by a 15 minute power failure). This is an unexpectedly outstanding performance!
    iii. Front Display – I think it is good, although I don’t use it much because I really can’t read the text or counter very well from where I usually sit (but, don’t really want to since it would take a brighter display and bigger fonts – which I definitely don’t want - distraction.). About all I routinely use it for is the red light is on when recording and flashes when it is about to start, or when I’m up close making sure it is completely shut down before I insert an SD memory chip.
    iv. Connections
    1. Mostly good, well thought out and labeled on the unit itself, but perhaps some additional discussion would be appropriate in the user manual of all the options and advantages/disadvantages and suitable cabling required of same, plus enhanced sample diagrams. I’d imagine the newer HD units will be even more daunting. I still am trying to figure out the optimum way to transfer old VCR tape material to the HD (& which interlacing mode is possible let alone the best). In fact, trying to figure this out is what led me to the various discussion groups in the first place.
    2. It would be nice to be able to access the unit from a (wireless or long corded USB) PC keyboard for simple text entry (presently awkward at best). Also, & a much bigger deal, wouldn’t it be cool to be able to use a program on a PC to drive most functionality, maybe even remotely (& potentially very securely) over TCP/IP (substituting for an IP connection to the unit itself) - & maybe even use the DVD recorder (possibly even the HD as well) as an external drive by an ordinary PC (although this last seems potentially to run into the typically paranoid concerns of content owners).
    v. Memory Card slots – This unit is capable of treating removable memory cards of a few currently available types as sources/destinations for recorded video &/or still pictures (JPEG & TIFF). It seems to me that that the unit supports far too few of these standards and is way too picky about the formats of stuff created on other equipment, especially in view of cheap USB memory card readers available for PCs that are much more universal & adaptable.
    vi. Misc. Hardware comments and suggestions
    1. Remote…. A detached IR sender/receiver with a 4 or 5 foot cable and Velcro patch might enable those of us who intuitively point the remote at the TV to put the main unit in a safer, more stable location. Mine is presently precariously balanced on top of the TV and I’d just as soon move it since I’ve had several near tipping disasters already but when I tried the next best stable location a lot closer to the floor, the remote lost a lot of sensitivity (I also actually tried using a small mirror set up as a relay to bounce IR signals off of & that proved better but still mostly unworkable). I believe that both IR send/receive capability is essential, since, as you’ll note throughout this discussion, I think there are a multitude of reasons to build IR send capability into this unit.
    2. Firmware/software/functional features
    a. Recording
    i. My biggest issue is the lack of coordinated control between this unit and my satellite receiver. I sometimes miss something because I get a detail wrong by having to enter each item I want to record twice, once in the Sat receiver and once again in my recorder. Even my old VCRS were all able to do this. Also, the Dish Network frequently does not tell the completely accurate truth about when a program is scheduled to be complete – It is my observation that they routinely round DOWN to the nearest 5 or even maybe sometimes even 10 minutes at the end so that sometimes when a program really ends at 10:04 am it is officially listed as ending at 10:00 in the program guide, causing me to accidentally miss the final few minutes. The automatic early start to all scheduled recording has caused the corollary problem to be non-existent so far.
    b. Editing
    i. The warning that “split items cannot be recombined” is not really true. Just make a play list with the various segments, and then go from there.
    ii. A “skip to end” command within the shorten segment procedure would allow much more quickly making sure you’ve got all the ending stuff you want ( & no more) without having to fast forward all the way. Maybe it is already here somewhere, but I’ve not found it.
    iii. Splitting driven by a directly entered time parameter (30, 60 minutes etc.) could be a nice feature.
    iv. Access to (perhaps) some of the same logic used in the “dubbing-make it fit” process could be used here too. What I have in mind is a method that would reduce the play time of recorded material after all other trimmings have been completed – one possible technique might be (for example) the removal of every 10th video frame, or every frame with less than a expressly stated measured amount of luminance (among other things, the fade-outs associated with trimming commercials- at least when I do it).
    c. Dubbing
    i. A user selectable (ON or OFF) audible bell signal could be helpful at the end of dubbing, recording or other similar activity (since this tends to be when I’m in the kitchen washing the dishes).
    d. Playing
    i. Maybe my favorite thing about this unit is a simple feature that might be easy to overlook when thinking about purchasing one of these. It is the silent but exponentially increasing speed of the fast forward button all the way up to 100X. I use it constantly, and always with a smile that vividly remembers all the noisy VCRs I’ve ever owned that even sounding like race cars, never got anywhere near this fast or legible when whizzing by.
    e. Menu Screens and Setup
    i. The program list display screen should dispense with day of week a recording was made (date& time is good enough) and instead use that list real estate to display recording time (plus a column total at bottom) without having to access the properties item (which is inconveniently unavailable if other activity is currently underway).
    ii. Additional (perhaps even user definable) program parameters might be good such as (1) genre, (2) rating, or (3) grouping id – And, it could be a useful to be able to sort the list by any parameter, retaining the sequentially assigned program number for basic access purposes.
    iii. I don’t think very good use is made of the typical list or menu screen real estate. With all the unused space in the margins and the maybe too large fonts & icons, too much scrolling is necessary to navigate. Please use the space better. Also do some research about the frequency of use of commands in the lists & menus. They are not presently very consistent – also it might be a good idea to put the most dangerous ones (erase program, for example) farthest away from the default cursor location when a particular menu is first displayed (which, when programming such things, I’ve always preferred to place in the middle of a list not at one end or the other).
    iv. A very small status screen optionally displayed in a user chosen corner of the TV when a program is being played with program #,elapsed/total time, record date, title, etc.
    f. Proposed Possible enhancements
    i. Put the owners manual on the Hard Drive as a PDF (with search + zoom in & out) and make the remote with (player piano) LED buttons that could be controlled from the main unit in tutorial fashion making the process of learning the fairly advanced & complex capability easier to master by leading the new user through the processes step by step in named macros.
    ii. Something closer to true scripting would be nice. For example, in addition to recording, dubbing could be placed in the scheduled activity list, or when setting up the repeating recording of a scheduled program, that the program already recorded and filling that slot be renamed and kept, instead of erased (all of the Friends episodes that are shown daily when I’m gone on vacation for two weeks by using the repeating program function).
    iii. Make it an option to load the hard drive (from a CD or DVD) with a subscription movie database (text content similar to one of bricklike video books – i.e. title, director, actor names, genre, plot detail, review, MPAA rating, run time, etc. ). Then provide a way to do a keyword search of the content as well as a way to link that content with any selected recorded program and stored with program even when written out to a DVD and erased off the HD. Could even include similar options for long-running episodic programs with major re-run exposure such as MASH, Sex&City, Raymond, Sopranos, etc.
    iv. In a related topic to the previous item, perhaps it would be possible to query the video source for detailed information as a program begins and store that image as a snapshot jpeg associated with the program. For example, a simple IR command from my Satellite Receiver Remote results in a brief display of the title of the program, its length, and a brief synopsis or description of the plot. If my 100h could duplicate that IR command sequence on a schedule at the exact beginning of a program recording, that information would automagically be pre-pended to all scheduled recordings. I believe that most Cable services operate similarly (but probably with differing IR commands).
    v. Since things are stored digitally, it seems almost possible that the unit itself could be programmed to determine when duplicate material is being recorded. For example, when some programs from my satellite service are listed, there is often only generic information about the content in the on-line program guide. Consequently, I’m quite often in the situation of recording stuff while I’m away and then immediately erasing it when I return and see that what I recorded is already in my archive. A wasted effort and maybe there is something else there that I would have liked to record if I’d known what I thought I was most interested in was in fact a duplicate (perhaps true scripting could even facilitate an unattended switch to the other desirable program as part of some type of content testing and priority – but, this is probably getting a little too complicated).
    vi. I like the option of almost usable sound sampling when fast forwarding at the lowest speed setting above play. That gets me wondering what it would take to provide accelerated viewing at 2x or 3x with almost normal sounding but more realistic advanced audio sampling for things like recorded lectures and the like (some existing stand alone voice recorders I’ve heard have had the capability to do this for many years).
    vii. It is an irritation that the unit seems capable of some quite useful levels of multitasking (watching one program already on the HD or in the Disk Recorder while recording another to the HD from a broadcast, for example), but not others such as editing programs or even viewing program parameters while recording or dubbing. I’ve read the speculations that use mostly circumstantial evidence to suggest that the unit uses another separate off disk data storage location keep track of basic HD disk use data (Track 0 stuff) ,but that seems to counter-intuitive in the face of the above. I’ve never owned a Tivo so I have no direct experience but anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that some Tivo units(the DirecTV ones) are capable of recording from two separate video streams simultaneously (with two input sources of course). As far as I know that is achieved with a single HD and controller circuit. Interesting.
    viii. Particularly in the face of larger hard disks capable of storing hundreds of hours of default image quality programs (even potentially removable, so maybe it could expand into the thousands), and as recordings to DVD-R or Ram Disks stack up, it could be a potentially useful optional addition to provide a built in simple database of programs and parameters that could be queried to determine where a specific recording is located (by assigned Disk ID or number) and automatically help maintain that database.
    ix. If some of these internal database or resource proposals were ever adopted, it would be useful to provide a way to print selected predefined reports. Perhaps a printer port or even just a way to save a document to a memory card in one of the slots that then could be taken to a PC for printing.

    Thanks for your time

    - Cheers,

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