March 10, 2003

A letter to Ken

U.S. List Price: $1,040
U.S. Street Price: $824
by Panasonic USA

Review by Larry Silverberg

Hi Ken,

As you know, I have ordered my new Powermac G4 and I have a big need to start burning dvd's here in my home video studio. But, reading your review of iDVD3 and all the problems being reported with it, I started to think about alternative ways to produce dvd's for my video business. I began looking into the concept of owning a stand alone dvd recorder deck. This idea appealed to me for two major reasons: 1) I do not need fancy titles or authoring and 2) I do not like the idea of having my computer tied up as it burns dvd's.

When I saw a post on your forum from a videographer named Anne who owns the Panasonic DMR-T3040, I began investigating. As it turns out, Anne lives nearby and I ended up speaking with her on the phone at length about the deck and its operation. Anne was very kind to help me - another of the great gifts of your web site and the generous community of people who participate on your forum!

Well Ken, I took the leap and last week, I purchased my 3040 from B&H for just over $800.00. I have been burning some dvd's and doing some testing and I must tell you that I couldn't be happier! What a great deck and what awesome results I am getting on these dvd's. Since I know you are interested in this whole issue, let me give you some of the specific details of my dvd journey thus far.

First I should remind you that I am currently on my old G4 and still using Final Cut Pro 2 in OS9.2.2. This will be an important ingredient later in my story. As you know, I am a "professional" videographer, as I am getting paid to produce video for clients - but it is not my main thing, just a passion that became a small business.

Two years ago, after producing an educational video to go along with one of my published books on acting technique, I suddenly had a bunch of great video gear and I had trained myself to edit on Final Cut Pro. I then produced a small documentary for my daughter's school that was very successful and suddenly, I had a number of requests to do video for people! Since then, I have done weddings, bar mitzvahs, performances, documentaries and other video productions.

Recently, I have been getting more and more requests for dvd's. And in the market here, I am able to charge a very good fee for making a dvd for clients. For instance, my wedding clients pay me $229.00 for the first dvd and $159.00 for copies of the same dvd. Before owning the 3040, I was sending these dvd orders to be burned by an outside company. Now, owning the 3040, when I do performances (plays, dance recitals, etc...), I get $79.00 for each dvd. These kinds of performance videos generate a lot of orders for dvds of the shows. Making multiple copies of the same dvd made me long for a way to easily burn a lot of copies of the same dvd without using my computer.

So, now to the Panasonic DMR-T3040!

Well, Fed Ex brought it to my front door and rang my buzzer. Ok, Ok; I'll skip to the important details. You don't have to yell!

These past two years, since producing my first video production, I had my G4 hooked up via firewire to my mini-dv editing deck, the Panasonic DV-1000. (By the way, the DV-1000 is one beautiful little deck from Panasonic. It has been flawless with FCP!) When I ordered the 3040, I also ordered a little firewire A/B Switch Box, $59.95 from Sign Video. (They are the folks who make the XLR PRO, which I use on my GL1 Camcorder. They make very high quality gear. And the A/B firewire switcher is another nicely made product.)

So, I hooked up a 6 pin to 6 pin firewire cable from the G4 to the switcher and then one 6 pin to 4 pin firewire cable from the switcher to my DV-1000 deck and one 6 pin to 4 pin firewire cable from the switcher to the new 3040 dvd recorder. This way, I don't have to unplug cables every time I need to use either one of the decks. I just push the A / B button on the switcher. Very handy!

The 3040 has all kinds of inputs and outputs. Enough for every purpose. On the front, lower left corner, there is a flap that opens and inside is your firewire input as well as an S-VHS and RCA audio line in. On the back, you get two more sets of S-VHS and RCA audio lines in, two sets of S-VHS and RCA lines out, a digital audio out as well as a component video out.

When I first powered up the 3040, I did the initial set up like we all have done a thousand times with our decks, you know, date, time, etc... and I set the input selector to "DV" This was all very easy. I then went to my shelf and took an Apple dvd-r to try my first burn. I have been using the Apple 2x dvd-r's which I buy directly from Apple for three dollars per disk, you can see how profitable making dvd's can be with this machine.

I really wasn't sure if FCP would recognize the 3040 and I wasn't sure if I would be able to record directly from the computer to the deck. I thought I might have to route it another way as I knew that the 3040 really wasn't designed to work directly with a computer. But, I thought I should try coming directly from my G4 and FCP into the 3040 first and see what happens.


When I launched FCP, it recognized that the computer was hooked up to a deck and my program in FCP opened right up just as it has always done with my DV-1000 mini-dv deck. I was very excited because this meant that I could record onto the 3040 directly from FCP either in the "print to tape" mode or directly from the timeline!

For my first dvd burn, I chose a 60-minute program I have saved on my computer. Then I set up "print to tape" with color bars, a few seconds of black and some black at the end of the program.

Next, choosing the speed to burn the dvd.

The 3040 has four recording modes, Panasonic calls them:

XP (High Quality) puts up to one hour on a dvd-r
SP (Normal) puts up to two hours on a dvd-r
LP (Long Play) puts up to four hours on a dvd-r
EP (Extra Long Play) puts up to six hours on a dvd-r

Because Anne had mentioned that SP (two hour) mode was just as good to her eye as XP, I used SP. I did this also because many of my programs are close to two hours long and I was very interested to see what the two-hour mode would look like on the dvd. On another note, Anne had heard that in XP some people were having trouble playing the burned dvd on some dvd players - where as, SP mode burned discs were playing on almost every player.

Internal 40 gig Hard Drive

One thing I have not even mentioned yet is a very big deal. The Panasonic 3040 has a built in 40 gig hard drive. And let me tell you, this is a very important and exciting part of the machine. With the internal hard drive, you can record your programs onto the drive and then burn your dvd-r's directly from the drive inside the deck itself! (Panasonic calls this "Dubbing" in the manual) And capacity? At SP speed, this 40 gig drive will hold seventeen hours of DV! I will tell you more about the hard drive in a while.

Ready to Burn

First, I made sure to set the deck to the dvd drive (as opposed to the decks internal hard drive) as I was going to burn directly onto the dvd-r. Next, I pressed the "record mode" button on the remote and set the deck to SP speed. (By the way, the remote is not the best in the world but once you get used to it, it does the job) I loaded my dvd-r into the deck and then turned my attention back to FCP. With the "print to tape" all set in FCP, I pressed the "record" button on the 3040's remote and clicked "ok" on the "print to tape" box in FCP.

When the program concluded, I hit the "stop" on the 3040 remote. The 3040 then took a few seconds to finish "writing" the program to the disc.

On to Titles...

With the program now residing on the dvd-r, I pressed the "functions" button on the remote and then navigated to the "disc setting" command which took me to a screen, which gave me three options: "Enter Title", "DVD-R Menu Screen" and "Finalize."

First I went to "Enter Title." Here, I had a screen that had a chart of letters, numbers and symbols from which I used the remote to choose and create a title for my program. This would be the Main Title of the dvd. After I created a title, I "set" it and went back to the disc setting screen.

Now I went to the "DVD-R Menu Screen" where I could choose from one of nine different backgrounds. These are the backgrounds that display when you play your completed dvd on a dvd player. These backgrounds are simply designed and you get your choice of a few different colors. Nothing very artistic, and clearly nothing like the new themes in iDVD3, but nice enough to present to a client.

Last but NOT LEAST, I went back to the disc setting screen and chose "Finalize" This is a significant step! If you do not finalize your dvd-r it will not play on any dvd player other then the 3040. YOU MUST FINALIZE! This is a painless process. Simply choose "finalize disc" and in four to eight minutes, the disc is ready to go!

I quickly took the disc up to my daughter's room; she has a new dvd player hooked up to my old Sony XBR 20-inch monitor. (Her room is very popular for "movie nights" with her girlfriends!) I popped in the dvd and up came my chosen background with the name of my project. I hit play and WOW, MY FIRST DVD! And I will tell you; the quality was simply stunning. Both audio and video, perfect! Obviously, I was very excited.

At this same first viewing, I also noticed something about doing titles. The title I gave the dvd did come up on the top of the menu screen. This was very nice. But, the program I recorded was then listed under that title and it had the title of "DV... The Time it was recorded" and the "Date it was recorded" I wondered how I could give my program it's own title besides the title I had given the whole dvd.

Well, shall I look at the manual again?

This is when I want to introduce a new character in my saga. Michael Cronan over at Panasonic Broadcast has been very helpful to me in using the 3040. I was fortunate to be able to talk directly with Michael on the phone because the 3040 has one of the most confusing manuals I have ever read! (As soon as I mentioned the 3040 manual to Michael, he literally laughed out loud.)

Michael showed me how I have to go into a portion of the deck called the "direct navigator" which is where I could edit the program title or if I have a number of programs or chapters of the same program, I could give them all their own titles which then get listed in the main menu.

Since I mention chapters, don't get this confused with the kinds of chapters you can do going from FCP to iDVD or DVD SP. To create chapters on this deck, you simply record a program and hit stop on the 3040. Each time you record a new program, it will appear as a new chapter on the menu. So in working with this deck, let's say you have edited a wedding and you want to have three chapters, "The Pre-Ceremony" "The Ceremony" and "The Party" The best way to create these chapters would be to put some black in between the sections inside FCP. Then, record each section separately onto the 3040, which will create three distinct chapters on the dvd-r. Then you can title each chapter so that it will show up in the navigation menu on the completed dvd.

This can also be done the same way on the 3040's own hard drive. And, once you have the programs recorded and titled inside the hard drive, it stays there! Then you can record all of your dvd copies of your full program directly from the 3040 hard drive and you don't have to go back into FCP at all! This is simply a most exquisite feature and incredibly valuable in terms of time and efficiency.

And this in fact was my second burning test. I recorded a few programs to the 3040 hard drive and then "dubbed" over to a dvd-r. Quality? PERFECT!!

The 3040, G4, OS9, OS10 and FCP, very important note...

In my lengthy talk with Michael Cronan at Panasonic I told him my FCP experience with the 3040. He immediately said, "You're running OS9.2.2, right?" "Yes" I said and there was a big uh-oh in my mind. Then Michael went on to tell me it was "a fluke." In fact, the 3040 was never designed to work with a computer but some how, in OS9.2.2, it was recognized and worked perfectly as had been my experience.

But wait I said, I am getting my new G4 and it won't boot into OS9! Well as it turns out, Michael has tried it in all versions of OS10 except for 10.2.4 and the deck is not recognized. He is supposed to be trying 10.2.4 this week and he is going to call me and let me know the results. Somehow, something changed in OS X in relation to the way this deck interacts with the computer.

Okay, Michael and I started looking at options.

The good news is...

There are some very good options!

First, I can record onto dv tape and then go from my dv deck into the 3040.

Next, Michael told me something very interesting. He said that recording via S-VHS was just as good quality wise -to most eyes - as going via firewire. Hmmm... I thought, If this is true, it gives me a very simple solution. That solution is what I have been doing all along to make VHS dubs of my FCP programs. I do it this way:

I come out of the G4 via firewire into my Panasonic DV-1000, From the DV-1000 I go into my JVC S-VHS deck via an S-VHS cable. In this way, the program is coming right from my G4 and running through the dv deck and into the S-VHS deck. My dubs have always looked very good recording them this way. Well, I could do the same with the 3040. I could go from the G4 via firewire into my DV-1000 and then out of the DV-1000 into the 3040 via S-VHS Cable.

And this is what I tried last night.

The results? Fantastic! I really couldn't tell the difference. Well, I did have a slight inkling that the version I burned directly from the computer to the 3040 via firewire looked a little better - but I wondered, "Is it only because I know which was recorded via firewire and which was recorded via S-VHS?"

So, finally, if 10.2.4 on my new G4 works with the 3040 directly through my G4 and firewire, then that's the route I will take. If not, I am pleased to have an option in which I can still record directly from my computer, through the dv deck, and produce a dvd that will look just as good (and I will not have to do the extra step of recording the program to a dv tape.)

Well Ken, my first tests showed that the 3040 produces DVDs that played on all seven desktop units available to me. However, I have been not able to play these DVDs on my Mac G4, OS 9.2.2. We need to test further (OS X). That's my report for now.

Larry Silverberg

copyright © Larry Silverberg 2003


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