Panasonic's latest Blu-ray recorders aspire to be more than just archiving time-shifters. By integrating PVR duties with Blu-ray recording, 3D support, media-streaming capability and Web connectivity, they're striving to become do-it-all entertainment hubs. But, to be able to pull that off, a device really needs to do everything well. The DMR-BWT700 very nearly succeeds.
The DMR-BWT700 is one of two ambitious new Freeview HD recorders from Panasonic -- the other is the higher-end DMR-BWT800. While the DMR-BWT700 has a 320GB hard drive, the DMR-BWT800 offers a more capacious 500GB. The latter also has integrated Wi-Fi, twin HDMI outputs and advanced audio-processing modes. Both can be controlled by a free iOS app for Apple's mobile devices.
The DMR-BWT700 costs around £500.
Panasonic's first-generation Blu-ray recorders were far from intuitive. Only Panasonic engineers could truly understand how they worked, and they used terminology no-one else employed. Matters have improved, but the DMR-BWT700 still has a level of operational complexity that few normal mortals will relish.
Still, as a twin-tuner Freeview HD PVR, the DMR-BWT700 works much like any other. There are options for manual padding when recording from the electronic programme guide, and linked recordings are grouped together in the deck's 'direct navigator' screen.
As a Blu-ray player, the unit also passes muster. Its images are effortlessly crisp, and its multi-channel audio is predictably entertaining. Unfortunately, disc-loading times are sluggish. Lou Reed's Berlin goes from tray to menu screen in 39 seconds, while the remastered Goldfinger takes 1 minute and 7 seconds to produce the 007 logo.
The DMR-BWT700 is fully compatible with 3D Blu-rays and can convert 2D TV programmes and discs to faux 3D. Until 3D disc availability improves, this gimmicky feature will probably get a fair amount of use.
Rollicking good recordings
All recordings from the Freeview HD tuner to the hard disk are made in 'DR mode'. These are indistinguishable from the original transmissions and can look terrific.
The 320GB drive may seem rather stingy, but you can store around 80 hours of DR hi-def content, running to 154 hours with standard-definition material. Should you want to move material to Blu-ray disc, or reduce its footprint on your drive, you can re-encode it using a variety of variable bit-rate modes. The deck also offers simple editing tools that allow recordings to be cut and trimmed before preservation on disc.
The DMR-BWT700 is automatically recognised by Panasonic's 2011 TVs as a media-content source when they share the same network. This is great. You can look into the recorder and stream anything recorded on it directly to the TV without having to manually turn the DMR-BWT700 on.
But the recorder isn't a convincing media streamer in its own right. There's currently a big divide between the brand's TV and Blu-ray products in this regard. While the former offer excellent media-streaming capability, with extensive file support, the latter bumble around the network like characters from The IT Crowd.
When pointed at a network-attached storage drive, our DMR-BWT700 could only manage to stream AVCHD video content. MP3s play, but without album art or full metadata. If you have stacks of AVI and MKV content that you want to watch, you'll need to load them via USB or burn them to disc. File playback from USB is accomplished.
The DMR-BWT700 also fancies itself as a music jukebox and will rip CDs. Once a disc is loaded, it uses a built-in Gracenote database to find album and artist data. The playback presentation is rather pedestrian, however, with no album art on show to liven things up.
The Panasonic DMR-BWT700 overflows with functionality. But this sophistication is paired with a displeasing level of complexity. You will definitely have to refer to the manual.
Persevere, though, and you'll be rewarded with a high level of performance. From Freeview HD archiving to 3D Blu-ray playback, there's little that this box can't do. We particularly liked the addition of Skype to the Viera Cast online portal, and the recording options can be considered best-in-class.
Edited by Charles Kloet