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Panasonic Showstopper with ReplayTV  Print E-mail
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Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Saturday, 01 July 2000

VCRs suck. They just do. I understand there are situations when you need them. I’ve got one in my rack to watch vintage Philadelphia Flyers hockey games, but that is about it. As the publisher of a 70,000 readers-per-month audio-video publication, I am not so proud to admit that it takes me all sorts of effort to make my Mitsubishi VCR record from DSS through my AV preamp. It’s not impossible to do but, in my world, I don’t have the time and/or the patience to bother with it.

Panasonic Showstopper featuring ReplayTV technology ($499) is the digital replacement to the VCR. Simply, the Panasonic Showstopper uses a hard disc system to record compressed television signals for future viewing. It can be configured into your television and/or home theater system in a number of ways. I hooked my Panasonic ShowStopper between my Sony B3 DSS receiver and my Proceed AVP AV preamp. Another popular way to hook up a more television-oriented system is to direct your cable line and DSS straight into your ShowStopper, with outputs directed to your TV and/or your receiver, as well as to your VCR if you wish to archive shows.

Setup and Installation
Installation of the Panasonic ShowStopper has its ups and downs. This is not a plug and play component. You must have the ShowStopper plugged into a phone line for setup and really keep it hooked up all the time. This is because the unit needs to dial into its host in order to get updated channel listings and programming, as well as software updates, etc. The phone line issue initially proved to be a problem for me, as I had the ShowStopper setup in my bedroom, along with a DSS receiver that didn’t have a phone line connected to it. If I had had my DSS receiver hooked up the way DirecTV recommends, I would have been able to share the phone line with the DSS receiver for 20 minutes in the middle of the night to download the next batch of channels. My original solution was to hook the ShowStopper up to my phone line manually and download the channel information as you do in the set-up. Ultimately, when my system was installed in my custom cabinet and rack-mounted with Middle Atlantic rack components, I was able to keep my ShowStopper constantly hooked up to a phone line. This resulted use of the ShowStopper more for long-term programming than as an alternate VCR.

By all rights, anyone who is wise enough to understand why they’d want a Panasonic ShowStopper ought to be able to install one. The process is not terribly complicated, but it is time-consuming. You’ll first need to connect to a phone line. You then need to make sure your ShowStopper communicates with your DSS receiver or cable box with either a serial port or an IR emitter. The serial port is a far superior connection; it’s what I used. Unfortunately, not all DSS receivers have this connection option. You’ll need to decide how you want to have your ShowStopper configured and then hook it up that way. For most theater systems with AV preamps or receivers, you’ll want to have the ShowStopper hooked up between your DSS and your AV preamp or receiver. You can loop your cable line directly into your ShowStopper if you wish. You can also output directly into a VCR. However, I found assigning the VCR as a recording option from my Proceed AVP was much more functional. The overall download and set-up time for me was about 90 minutes. I wasn’t cursing or struggling with handfuls of cables and or parts. In fact, the process went very smoothly. It just took time. The package of parts and cables was excellent, with Panasonic providing everything you’d need, from a serial cable to a phone splitter. The set-up menus ask relevant and easy-to-answer questions that make the process very intuitive.

Using The Panasonic ShowStopper
Once your unit is hooked up and ready to go, recording a TV show is extremely easy. You first select the Channel Guide button and your TV menu will pop up on the screen. Depending on how you surf channels, you may enter in directly the number of the channel you’d like to watch or you can scroll to the desired location. Using the arrows on the remote, you can move ahead in time to find the program you’d like to record. When you find the desired show listing, all you do is press the record button. The ShowStopper allows you to select the quality of recording and if you’d like it to record the show more than once. After you answer these few questions, you are ready to go.

Once the program is recorded and/or is starting to record, you can watch it from your ShowStopper. This brings us to a major advantage of the ShowStopper, which is its ability to use multiple speed fast-forward to skip through commercials and/or unwanted sections of programming. You can do this while you are still recording the program. One word of advice: you don’t want to change channels while you are recording, because the ShowStopper doesn’t have two tuners. Your channel changes will therefore override what you are recording. I found this out the hard way when attempting to record an NHL playoff game this past spring. I set up my ShowStopper to record ESPN2 and then switched the channel for some ‘80s jams while I got ready to go out. When I got home, I found that I had recorded three hours of ‘80s music instead of my game. Luckily, the game turned out to be the second longest in NHL history with four overtimes, featuring a win by my Philadelphia Flyers, so I wasn’t so upset about my foolishness.

Another tip on using your ShowStopper: if you are recording sports, be sure to record an hour or so past the scheduled end of an event. You can very easily delete a program from the Channel Guide menu, but there is nothing you can do to tell the ShowStopper to intuitively follow a game into overtime, so be sure to manually add extra time for recordings of live and other events of unpredictable length.

The quality of the recording is adjustable on the ShowStopper, which allows you more recording space on the hard disk. I tried some of the more compressed options, but nearly always used the highest quality recording setting, since I never really filled up the total recording space on the hard drive. I have made it a habit to delete a program after I am done watching it. If you really enjoy a program, you can save it for as long as you’d like or you could archive it on VHS. Friends of mine record ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘The Three Stooges’ every day, and archiving episodes so that they can have the entire series on tape. Obviously, the hard drive isn’t big enough for that much recording, but it can accommodate sufficient programming for you to have more than enough TV stored up to stay at home for an entire weekend of nothing but your favorite shows.

Other trick features of the Panasonic ShowStopper include being able to use an on-screen keypad to type in keyword searches for topics. For example, you could type in "Cameron Diaz" or "Philadelphia Flyers" and your ShowStopper will search the menu information about all of the programming you have downloaded and record the programs that include mention of your search terms. I didn’t really get into using this feature, but people who have report that it works pretty well. Imperfections in this function are due to possible inaccuracies of show descriptions in the menus and the ways in which search terms are worded.

The Downside
The phone line issue was a pain for me, but is unlikely to be an issue for you if you have a DSS hooked up with a phone line.

The recording quality is pretty good on the highest setting. However, if you run your ShowStopper in series between your DSS and your AV preamp or receiver, you may find that your audio sounds compressed – which will be due to the fact that it really is compressed. You could avoid the problem by hooking up a dedicated input on your AV preamp or receiver for your DSS, preferably a digital input if your DSS receiver has a digital output, to send your 5.1 Dolby Digital DSS feeds straight into your receiver. Your ShowStopper cannot record in 5.1. The DSS therefore sends it an analog feed, which is fine.

If you have to use the IR emitters, it can be tricky to make them work with 100 percent effectiveness on your gear. My entire system is hooked up with emitters, but I found the ones that came with the ShowStopper to be the hardest to make stick. I ended up switching them out. I obtained the best results by using a serial cable, which I also have hooked up for communication between my DSS and my ShowStopper. This provides a perfect connection.

While this is not a complaint – it’s more wishful thinking about future product abilities - it would be really cool to be able to have access to your ShowStopper by e-mail or through a website. This way, you could arrange to record all of your desired shows and/or add on an extra program if you desire, all while on your lunch break at work.

Conclusion
The only reason why I own a VCR is to archive shows from my ShowStopper and for the rare hockey fight tape. ReplayTV technology in the Panasonic ShowStopper is an excellent example of digital technology used to improve your lifestyle. I watch very little TV and when I do have time to fire up the old CRT projector, I want something cool to watch. With the Panasonic ShowStopper, I have the power to have the best that DirecTV has to offer, any time I want it. Priced at $499 and with no programming fees, the Panasonic ShowStopper is a breakthrough product and an excellent value. Expect it to be a strong contender for AudioRevolution.com’s Video Product of the Year. It is that good.
Manufacturer Panasonic
Model Showstopper with ReplayTV
Reviewer





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