Behind its bland fascia, Panasonic's PVR packs a mass of useful features - and a 1TB HDD
This business-like box is as much about the Panasonic Smart Viera ecosystem as it is about time-shifting X-Factor – and that’s a good thing. For those wanting a connected TV experience without having to trade in their older TV, it’s a great solution.
Admittedly there’s precious little design flair evident. The DMR-HW220 could just as easily be a Blu-ray player as a PVR. Indeed, it even sports a pull-down fascia flap, which here reveals nothing more than a USB port and SD card reader. Rear-panel connections comprise a single HDMI output, digital optical audio, stereo phonos and Ethernet. For those without a switch or Powerline adapter, Wi-Fi is built-in.
The DMR-HW220 packs a massive 1TB hard drive, enough for 259 hours of HD. It also features twin tuners and can record from both simultaneously; you can also start playback before a recording has finished.
The user interface is less intimidating, elegantly balancing the copious configuration options with some graphical flourishes. The EPG includes a live TV window. If that’s not to your taste you can fire up an alternative metadata-enhanced EPG provided by database gurus ROVI from the brand’s online portal, but we found it just too slow use.
Panasonic’s other online offerings are more compelling. There’s a wide range of IPTV services available, including BBC iPlayer, Netflix, DailyMotion, Fetch TV, Acetrax and YouTube (the low-res YouTube iteration employed here is a little dusty compared to what’s available from rivals). There are also social media apps for Facebook and Twitter, photo sharing via Picasa, UStream and fully integrated Skype (optional Skypecam required). However, you can’t access any of these network services when the PVR is busy recording, which rather takes the edge off its versatility.
On the plus side, this is the only digital TV recorder in our group to offer multimedia file playback from USB and devices across the network. The DMR-HW220, which acts both as a DLNA client and renderer, offers excellent support from USB, with MKV, AVI, MOV and other codecs all accessible. Unfortunately, MKV files are unsupported over a network.
If you pop the box on the same network as another Panasonic recorder, you can stream recordings (both SD and HD) via one another, as if it is accessing the local hard drive. The recorder will also do double duty as a media jukebox; JPEGs and MP3s can be copied/archived to the hard drive where they can be stored and played back. You can also archive TV material from the HDD to USB, should that 1TB drive not be enough for you.
The deck’s picture performance is excellent. Hi-def recordings mirror transmission quality, and the unit's upscaling of SD fare is equally fine. While the HW220 can’t add extra picture clarity to SD channels, there’s no jarring collapse in density when you flit around the programme listing.
This PVR is also sympathetic to 3DTV owners, allowing AVCHD 3D home movies to be enjoyed along with stereophonic MPO format digital still pictures. There’s also the provision to render 2D programmes into faux 3D, although 3DTV owners will doubtless already have that capability.
Add in its ability to deliver multichannel PCM over HDMI and you're left with a highly entertaining, feature-packed PVR. While it may lack some catch-up services, it compensates with access to Panasonic’s Smart TV portal and media-playing prowess.
Price: £250 Approx
Highs: 1TB hard drive; Smart Viera online content portal; multimedia file playback; surround sound support
Lows: You can’t take the box online if it's recording; cluttered remote; UI a little slow; SD iteration of YouTube
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