Trusty Panasonic doesn't disappoint when it comes to personal video recorders. Whatever concerns you might have about their price or features, you know one thing: you're getting a solid, easy-to-use machine that will last you a long time.
The Panasonic DMR-XW380 is an interesting proposition. It's a Freeview HD recorder that has a 250GB hard drive and DVD writer. Unlike Panasonic's other Freeview HD offering, this doesn't record HD content to Blu-ray, but it also hits the market at a greatly reduced price. So, is it worth the £400 Panasonic is asking? Let's delve deeper and find out.
Couldn't pick it out of a Panasonic line-up
Panasonic's HDD/DVD/Blu-ray PVRs are all very similar looking. If we pulled the stickers off a set of them and put them in a row, we bet you wouldn't be able to tell one from the other. But, when you've got a design that works, why mess about with it?
Panasonic's PVRs all fit well into existing home entertainment set-ups, and there are no nasty surprises. A single HDMI output can be found at the back of the machine, which allows Freeview HD signals to make their way to your TV uninterrupted, and for the player to send upscaled DVD video to your set as well.
Let's save the planet
Panasonic is big on its eco ideas, and with that in mind, it's created a machine in the XW380 that's environmentally responsible. After you've set it up and tuned it in to all the available channels, it will ask you if you want to engage the eco-friendly mode. There are a few options here: either have the machine automatically switch itself to low-power mode, or have it save energy overnight when you're not using it. Of course, there's also the option to leave it to chew through electricity even when no one is using it.
Quick-start mode, as Panasonic calls it, means the device starts quickly, but the downside is it constantly uses 8W of power. That's quite a significant amount, so we'd encourage you to use the power save mode, which will drop consumption to below 1W.
It's only recently Panasonic started putting two tuners in its PVRs. We've moaned about its single-minded attitude before, and we're very pleased to see it taking note. As with most PVRs, the XW380 can now record one channel while you watch another. This is useful for those who use the PVR as their main means of receiving Freeview HD, and it's a very welcome feature.
A slightly confusing EPG
The Panasonic electronic programme guide is, for the most part, quite usable. It does waste a fair amount of space with the advert bar that sits on the left of the screen. In this review, we only ever saw a Panasonic logo displayed in this ad space, but in the past, the company that operates Panasonic's EPG software has shown adverts in this area, which is annoying.
Setting the PVR to record is easy. It involves selecting the programme you want to save, pressing the 'ok' button and then confirming the recording. Oddly, the Panasonic then offers you the chance to alter the start and end time, or simply accept the time suggested by the EPG. It's not a problem, but we think it might confuse some people.
High-definition channels look great on the Panasonic. There's the opportunity to keep recordings at the quality in which they were broadcast, or use the Panasonic compression system to save space. Space-saving does come at the cost of picture quality, though, so we'd recommend you avoid it unless you're desperate.
For straight viewing of Freeview, we found the quality to be decent, but not exceptional. HD channels looked better by a long way, but we've seen set-top boxes do a better job with Freeview images.
Recording to DVD
Freeview programmes can be recorded to DVD without any modification, but to save an HD show to DVD you will need to convert it to one of Panasonic's space-saving formats. This means you'll lose the benefit of high definition, and, while the quality is still very good, it's really not the point of HD.
If you want to record HD to disc, it is possible with Panasonic's Blu-ray range of recorders, which we've looked at in the past and liked a great deal -- with the caveat they cost a small fortune.
Not enough hard drive space
For an HD recorder, 250GB is simply too stingy. Panasonic estimates the XW380 can hold 63 hours of HD video. It's quite amazing how quickly you'll go through that, though, and anyone with Sky+HD can tell you it doesn't take long before the hard drive is clogged -- especially if you series-link a large number of shows.
For this kind of money, even with a DVD writer built in, we think a 500GB hard drive is more appropriate. The real selling point of this machine is not that it has the option to save recordings to DVD, as we're quite certain only a tiny percentage of people will do that, but its value as a Freeview HD PVR. Since it's impossible to record HD to a DVD (Panasonic is bowing to pressure from broadcasters and rights-holders here, because it's technically possible to put AVCHD onto a DVD), the only option is to store HD video on the hard drive, and 250GB means you won't be able to store much at all.
At £400, the Panasonic DMR-XW380 is £100 more than a 500GB Freeview HD PVR will cost you. What you're getting for your hundred quid is the ability to put recordings onto DVD, and, of course, playback retail DVDs. If you're in the market for a DVD player anyway, or desperately want to record stuff to disc, this machine is probably worth considering. We do think it's a little expensive, though, and its HDD storage capacity is too limited.
Edited by Emma Bayly