In the past, we've chastised Panasonic's personal video recorders for two reasons: their price and their lack of twin tuners. With the DMR-BW880, the company has fixed one of these issues. Can you guess which one?
Well done. At £800, the DMR-BW880 certainly isn't the sort of machine we could describe as a bargain. It does, however, have twin Freeview HD tuners, for which Panasonic should be applauded, as well as a 500GB hard drive and a Blu-ray drive.
Freeview, Blu-ray, DVD bonanza
The DMR-BW880 is one of the first Freeview HD recorders we've seen. Its twin, high-definition tuners are able to record two channels at once, or you can watch one channel while recording another. Alternatively, you can record two shows at the same time, while watching something via either the hard drive or Blu-ray player. You can record to the hard drive, a DVD or a Blu-ray disc.
The machine offers a number of modes that increase the length of time you can record for. Unfortunately, they'll also reduce the quality of the finished recording. Panasonic's modes are very good, and will do a decent job of saving space on your hard drive, but we still don't think using them is a good idea. Frankly, Freeview looks rubbish enough at the best of times, without the further reduction in quality that results from more compression.
As is usually the case with Panasonic products, the compact DMR-BW880 is very well designed. It's not especially exciting to look at, but it's going to sit under your TV, not on the cover of Vogue magazine, so its appearance isn't exactly a deal-breaker.
On the front, there are a few simple controls, such as power and eject buttons. There's also a display that tells you how many of the machine's Freeview HD tuners are busy recording. There's also a clock that will tell you how far into a programme you are. The display is handy, if rather basic and dated.
Set-up is a breeze
To get the DMR-BW880 up and running, all you need to do is plug it into the aerial socket, give it some mains juice and turn it on. It will automatically tune itself in less than 5 minutes, and then you'll be ready to get on with watching Blu-rays, recording Freeview programmes and doing other awesome things.
The DMR-BW880 has some power-saving options that you might also want to pay attention to. You'll be asked about these as you're setting the machine up. Basically, the DMR-BW880 will switch itself off after making recordings or copying files, should you wish it to. You can also make it remain in standby mode until a certain time, at which point it will enter a power-saving mode. It's good to see these features, as they can really help to reduce your electricity bill.
Ample storage space
With a 500GB hard drive, the DMR-BW880 offers a decent amount of storage, and you can also archive your favourite recordings to either DVD or Blu-ray discs. The DMR-BW880 certainly offers more storage than the majority of Sky+HD boxes, which have 500GB hard drives but only make half of that space available to the user.
Using Blu-ray discs for archiving purposes is expensive, with 25GB discs still costing around £2.50 each. It's quite likely that many people will refrain from using this format, and, given that copy protection puts restrictions on what you're able to do with recorded discs, we think the machine's really best used for archiving content such as home movies, or possibly your music library.
Superb picture quality
As a Blu-ray player, the DMR-BW880 is speedy, offering no lag when navigating menus, as well as reasonable load times. We also love its picture quality. It's certainly a very capable Blu-ray playback device.
The machine's performance with Freeview HD material is impressive too, capturing the detail we know to be present in the hi-def channels from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. Standard-definition Freeview content also looks acceptable.
Overall, we like Panasonic's electronic programme guide. It's rather basic, but selecting a programme to record consists merely of finding it in the eight-day EPG and pressing 'OK'. Then you'll be given the opportunity to record the whole series or just an individual episode. There's also the option to tweak the recording start time too.
During the channel-selection process, you can also choose which kind of storage medium video will be recorded to. We found it easiest to record everything to the hard drive, and then copy content to Blu-ray discs later on.
Viera Cast makes another appearance
Panasonic now includes its Viera Cast online platform on virtually all of its TVs and Blu-ray players. This feature has plenty of potential, but it has yet to fully reach it. For example, while Panasonic's online offering lets you watch Dailymotion and YouTube videos, Sony and Samsung's portals will let you use catch-up TV services from the likes of the BBC and Five, as well as stream movies from LoveFilm. We hope Viera Cast catches up soon, but it's been like this for a very long time now.
The Panasonic DMR-BW880 is excellent, but very expensive. If you can pick one up for cheap, we'd recommend buying it. If you can't, you might like to wait a while before purchasing one, to see if the price drops at all. If you do decide to buy this machine, we promise you'll love it.
Edited by Charles Kloet