It's all very well having a freesat receiver, but until now if you wanted to record something you'd have to use the only freesat recorder on the market, the Humax Foxsat-HDR. Now, don't get us wrong, the Humax is excellent, but we do like a bit of choice. Panasonic seems to agree with us too -- and to prove it has launched a pair of Blu-ray freesat recorders. The DMR-BS750, which we're looking at here, also has a built-in 250GB hard drive and a gaggle of other superb features. Its bigger brother, the BS850, is identical save for a 500GB hard drive.
There is one minor issue with this potentially excellent piece of hardware: the price. At £900 it's a very expensive addition to your home cinema setup (the BS850 will set you back a cool £1,000). We're not in the habit of ruling things out solely because they cost a great deal of money though -- so the question is, does it earn its keep?
To look at the DMR-BS750, you'd never know it was a Blu-ray recorder, let alone a twin-tuner freesat recorder. It's the same size as any other Blu-ray player and it has Panasonic's trademark stylish exterior. There aren't very many buttons on the front of the machine at all -- a power and eject control provide the only tactile finger-joy here.
On the right-hand side however, you'll find a little drop-flap, which conceals a few inputs, sockets and some basic deck controls. Among the sockets are an SD card slot, a FireWire connector and a USB socket. You'll also find the usual camcorder inputs, consisting of three RCA jacks for composite video and stereo audio and there's an S-Video input too. The disc tray is hidden behind another flap, on the right-hand side of the machine, which keeps the whole front looking delightfully symmetrical.
At the back of the machine, there's a further selection of inputs and outputs. Audio is handled by one optical and one coaxial digital output. There's also an RCA stereo output for people who don't have access to an AV receiver or soundbar. Video outputs include composite, S-Video and component jacks. There's an HDMI socket for HD video, of course, and this is what we'd advise you use.
Everything is controlled by a simple remote. Panasonic doesn't mess around with its controllers and the one provided with the 750 is very sturdy and feels pleasant enough to hold. The buttons are well laid-out, and large enough for us to operate. We'd question some of the labelling on keys, which doesn't always make it clear what result pressing a particular button might yield.
The Panasonic DMR-BS750 has an incredible number of features. To do them all justice, we need to run through them in a logical way.
The BS750 has two freesat tuners, enabling you to record one channel while watching another. Alternatively, you can watch a recording from the built-in 250GB hard drive or something on Blu-ray and record two separate channels. This functionality relies on two satellite inputs -- so if you only have one feed from your dish, you can only record and watch the same channel.
As you would expect, the BS750 is a fully featured Blu-ray player as well as using the format to record. It's profile 2.0-compliant, which means it can access online content via BD Live and play movies with picture-in-picture options.
With the ability to access USB keys and SD cards, you can watch video, look at photos or enjoy music from portable storage devices.
There's much more too -- for example, the BS750 can also play DivX video content, rip CDs to its hard drive and even look up what music it's ripping from an included CD database. It's really quite the box of tricks.
Panasonic has also included its much-vaunted VieraCast system too. If you haven't heard its boasting, we should explain: VieraCast is a content portal for online photo and video services. It's still in its early stages at the moment, but you can watch YouTube videos and see photos stored on Google's online Picasa photo-hosting service. It's actually a very interesting, likeable feature and we look forward to the addition of more video. It's also thought that at some point Panasonic will do a deal with the BBC to get iPlayer on the service. If that can happen we'll be thrilled to bits, and first in line to buy one.