Dual-function fun

Panasonic’s combination PVR and disc-spinner is slick and convenient, reckons Steve May, but a larger HDD would be welcome

You might think that a Blu-ray player with a Freeview HD recorder shoehorned into its case would suffer from clicks and thrums, or that co-habitation would add unflattering pounds.

But neither is true; Panasonic’s home entertainment combi looks the part, being just as slim as other lightweight Panasonic Blu-ray decks, and behaves much like any other hard-drive recorder on the shelves. The unit is well equipped. Rear connections include a single HDMI, digital optical and stereo phono outputs, Ethernet, USB and RF loopthough. A front fascia flap hides an additional USB and SD card reader. There’s also integrated wi-fi.

The DMR-PWT500 records to a 320GB hard drive, enough for around 80hrs of hi-def and 150hrs of SD. This is meagre by current standards; Panasonic’s key rivals offer 500GB of storage, which I’d regard as a minimum now for any hi-def PVR. But at least the thing is quiet.

Recording-wise, you can ‘tape’ programmes during live broadcasts or plan them from the EPG. The brand, unfortunately, continues to use the ROVI-sourced programme guide, also seen on its TVs, which is distinguished only by its awfulness.The deck can timeshift two channels simultaneously and will let you start viewing recordings before they’ve finished.

Recording quality is excellent. While Freeview’s lower bitrate channels inevitably underwhelm, HD content from the BBC, ITV and C4, are as good as original transmissions. Your recordings can be chaptered, divided or partially deleted. You can also change the thumbnails if you don’t like those auto-generated.

Euro bias

Naturally, there’s net connectivity on hand in the form of the brand’s VIERA Cast content portal. But it’s not particularly rewarding if you’re a Brit. There’s currently no BBC iPlayer, instead you get YouTube, Daily Motion and a host of European services, which feel odd when accessed via a UK Freeview TV box.

As a Blu-ray player, the DMR-PWT500 does the business. It’s 3D disc-compatible and benefits from the image processing smarts that permeate Panasonic’s player line from the top down. However, it’s probably worth stressing that this is not a recorder; you can’t burn any timeshifted telly onto blank BDs.

Disc loading speeds are in line with its peers. Java-heavy discs can take around a minute to start-up, while lightweight authoring jobs hit their menus in half that time.

Superior pictures

Both flat and three-dimensional Blu-rays look predictably spectacular. Images are crisp and noise free. When playing a 3D platter, a number of other picture embellishments become available. You can alter the sense of depth in the image as well as obscure swathes of the screen with the brand’s unashamedly odd Picture Frame function. There’s also the option to depth convert regular discs into faux 3D.

You’ll have no problems integrating the DMR-PWT500 into a home cinema system. The deck is compatible with all the requisite audio formats, including Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD MA, MPEG, HE-AAC and LPCM. But you’ll need an HDMI v1.4 AV receiver if you want to route 3D video to your display and decode lossless multichannel audio.

But the machine is not just about discs and timeshifting. It will also act as a media server to other DLNA media players, just by turning on the Server function from the main menu. Sadly, I had mixed results with this feature. Some networked DLNA media players could see but not read the Panasonic’s contents, while others could stream SD recordings but not HD ones. So network integration is not quite as seamless as you might hope. Multimedia playback is similarly shonky. The USB reader will unspool both AVIs and MKVs, but across a network the deck only seems interested in AVCHD.

There is provision for some file management. You can copy content from USB (be it MP3s, still images, MPEG video or AVCHD) to the hard drive. This jukeboxing works particularly well if you want to park your MPO snaps on a device designed to display/slideshow them. While the deck will move MP3s to the HDD, it won’t rip CDs. Multi-tasking isn’t a strong point, either. You can’t access USB drives or scour your network for entertainment when the PVR section is recording.

Space saving

While this Panasonic isn’t quite the finished article (its media streaming definitely needs some work) it’s still a good bet if you’re trying to save space under your TV or in an equipment rack. Both its PVR recording talents and Blu-ray disc playback can be considered above average and the overall convenience factor is high.


HCC VERDICT

Panasonic DMR-PWT500
Price:
£350 Approx

Highs: Compact; excellent Blu-ray pictures, good Freeview HD recording  
Lows: Limited file support across a LAN; limited UK portal content; daft 3D picture processing; small HDD

Performance: 4/5
Design: 4/5
Features: 4/5
Overall: 4/5


Specifications

3D: yes
Upscaling: yes to 1080p
Multiregion: no Region B BD/R2 DVD
SACD/DVD-A: no/no
Dolby True HD/DTS HD decoding: yes/yes 
Profile 2.0: yes
HDD:  yes 320GB 
Tuners: yes Freeview HD x 2  
HDMI: yes v1.4a  
Digital audio: yes optical digital audio
Component: no
Dimensions: 430 (w) x 59(h) x 249(d)mm  Weight: 2.5kg
Features: Viera Cast net portal; DLNA media server and streamer; USB media player; SD card reader (file support AVI, MKV, DivX, MP3, AVCHD); 8-day EPG;
Live Pause; media transfer