Panasonic DMR-BWT800

Panasonic's latest Freeview HD/Blu-ray recorder combi adds 3D playback and recording to the package with mixed results

IN THE age of the PVR and video on demand the idea of an optical disc recorder seems almost quaint. And yet Panasonic continues to address a clear (albeit not exactly overwhelming) need for such devices because the DMR- BWT800 and its cheaper stable mate, the DMR-BWT700, are the third generation of these ultimate archiving machines.

Panasonic promises to welcome Freesat back to the fold on its next generation of flagship recorders, which will take advantage of the platform’s next-generation G2 specification.

Until then, at the DMR-BWT800’s heart is a 500GB (the BWT700 has a 320GB HDD) twin-tuner Freeview HD+ PVR with a recordable Blu-ray/ DVD drive. The major change to last year’s models is that 3D playback and recording have been added, making it possible to transfer 3D HD broadcasts (limited on Freeview thus far) from the hard disc on to Blu-ray.

Absent compared with previous models is a FireWire socket but there is a camcorder-friendly SD card slot and the BWT800 (uniquely) has two HDMIs. One of these can be used to pipe hi-res surround sound formats to legacy home cinema amps with non v1.4 HDMIs that are incompatible with 3D video. Audio features high on the sales sheet with a Digital Tube Sound mode that simulates the ‘warm’ characteristics of tube amplifiers while a Pure Sound Mode reduces fan noise and vibrations caused by the hard disc’s rotary motion when playing optical media. You can also rip CDs to the hard drive, aided by Gracenote’s album and title naming facility.

Supplementary sweeteners include built-in WiFi, DLNA networking and a front-mounted USB input. The presence of Panasonic’s internet video service Viera Cast should be the icing on the networking cake, but it leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth as it offers a rather meagre selection of portals including Skype, YouTube and Acetrax but eschews really useful on-demand stuff such as BBC iPlayer and ITV Player.

With 11 recording modes that let you squeeze every last drop out of your recording media, the BWT800‘s major selling point is its unrivalled ability to shoehorn in anything between 13 hours and 84 hours on to a dual-layer Blu-ray, plus a hard disc capable of storing 129 hours of broadcast-quality HD recordings.

BBC HD recordings can be copied on to Blu-ray multiple times, while ITV and Channel 4 shows can only be copied once (you can make unlimited standard-definition copies). By default TV recordings are recorded in DR (direct record) mode using the same bitrate (approx 8Mb/s for HD, 4Mb/s for SD) as the original but in order to copy a Freeview HD recording to Blu-ray you must convert it from DR to one of the five high-quality modes.

If the intention is to archive a recorded show it pays to convert it during the original recording. The difference in quality is negligible but you save time and power as the conversion process is done in real time and monopolises the box. So a 90-minute movie takes 90 minutes to convert during which time you can’t even view pics from the tuner.

Given the complexity of the BWT800’s specification, setting up and operating are generally straightforward, albeit evocative of using an early Windows PC. The crowded remote control is logically arranged with the Direct Navigator button providing quick access to recordings where icons tell you how many Blu-ray copies can be made.

Editing options abound. You can rename, lock, divide, partly delete, change the thumbnail trailer and perform a file conversion. The dated-looking menu system could do with a bit of a refresh, but it remains sensibly structured.

The biggest functional faux pas is the cheap-as-chips GuidePlus EPG that loses aural and visual contact with the broadcast and subjects you to placeholders for wallpaper adverts where useful schedule information could be displayed. At least the EPG helpfully suggests that you select the HD version of a recording if you choose the standard-definition channel.

As a recorder the PVR is excellent, creating flawless copies of the original broadcasts in DR mode and the BWT800’s built-in 1080p scaler does an excellent job with standard- definition fodder.

Copying to Blu-ray is a rather labour-intensive process involving lining up the recordings, selecting the file mode and finalising a disc. Burning a disc prevents any other activity from taking place but lower bitrate transfers can speed up the process such that the HM mode takes just one minute to copy a one-hour show. On a 40in LED screen, the quality of HM mode is a match for the original DR.

As a Blu-ray player the BWT800 is excellent, benefiting from the latest playback processing, but while 2D and 3D discs look superb the 2D-to-3D conversion is of dubious value (watching converted TV recordings is, in our opinion, a waste of time) and soon becomes tiring – visually and mentally.

USB media playback is fine (though video file format support is limited), but networking isn’t great. There’s a clunky folder structure, folders are hard to browse and JPEGs are slow to load. We couldn’t get it to act as a DLNA media server even though we could see files displayed ■ Adrian Justins

Verdict

The DMT-BWT800 certainly has its weaknesses, such as poorly implemented multimedia features and 2D-to-3D conversion. But, lamentable EPG and dated- looking menu system aside, this PVR is unmatched as a Freeview+ HD recorder. It’s more versatile, and has more recording options and boasts more editing features than any other PVR. Its target audience will probably forgive its failings, for it does make it relatively simple to create your own Blu-ray archive from HD broadcasts and AVCHD camcorder footage – something that no other manufacturer offers.

PLUS
■ Versatile Freeview+ PVR
■ Blu-ray recording quality
■ DVD and Blu-ray playback
■ Straightforward to use
MINUS
■ No Freesat tuners
■ Poor GuidePlus EPG
■ Multi-media problems
■ Over-specified

Build
★★★★★★★★
Setup
★★★★★★★★
Searching
★★★★★★★★★
Navigation
★★★★★★★
Performance
★★★★★★★★★
Features
★★★★★★★★★
Value
★★★★★★★

What Satellite & Digital TV rating
76%


FEATURES
Hard disc size: 500GB
Freeview+ HD: Yes
CI slot: No
EPG: 7-day
Upscaling: Yes (1080p)
BBC iPlayer: No
USB media playback: MP3, JPEG, MPO, DivX, MKV
Media streaming:
Yes Scart: 2
HDMI: 2
Audio out: Optical S/PDIF, coaxial S/PDIF, analogue
Ethernet: Yes
 

Originally published in Issue 304.