If you don't have a PVR yet, you won't have discovered the pure joy that comes with pausing and rewinding live TV or even skipping adverts by delaying a programme by 15 minutes.Of course, the biggest selling point of a PVR is recording your favourite shows at the touch of a button.
Panasonic has a great track record with these devices -- we've reviewed other models in the DMR range and always been impressed with them. The EX88 brings a new range of features including a DVD recorder and a truly massive 400GB hard drive, so is it a good choice? The Panasonic DMR-EX88 is available now for around £350 online.
There's not a massive amount we can criticise about the EX88's styling. It's quite a sturdy-looking device, it's not at all ugly, and it will fit in well if your existing AV equipment is black.
The sensible design carries over to the remote control. It's small, but without having stupidly tiny buttons. The controls are sturdy and have a positive, responsive feel.
The front of the machine is reasonably clutter-free. The disc tray is concealed under a large flap, which is designed to make the EX88 look a little sleeker. On the right-hand side there's a display which gives you the time and other operational information. Beneath the display you'll find another flap. This one conceals a DV port, an SD card socket and a USB connector, as well as S-Video and composite inputs.
The real business obviously happens around the back of the machine. There you'll find an aerial input and output. There's the usual single HDMI output, as well as component, Scart, S-Video and composite outputs. No matter what TV you've got, you can connect this machine to it.
The Panasonic DMR-EX88 is full of features, but it is missing one thing, in our opinion, and that's a second TV tuner. You can't record one channel and watch another, so it's likely to suit people with a TV that has a built-in Freeview tuner. That's really the only shortcoming of any note, however.
The EX88 can play DivX and Xvid -- a brilliant addition. We've also fallen in love with the ability to play MP3s, JPGs and video files from a USB device. We've always felt this was something missing from products such as this.
The 400GB hard drive is a real boon too. Sure, it's unlikely anyone will need to record as many hours of video as this enables you to -- over 700 at low quality -- but it's comforting to know you can save a few movies to watch later and pretty much every episode of Big Brother too, if you were so inclined.
We also rather like the Panasonic's cross-product integration. Although this will be pointless if you don't have all Panasonic hardware, if you're someone who likes to stay with one brand your digital camera will work with this machine, and your Viera remote control will manage the whole thing via the HDMI CEC system.
We really ejoyed the picture quality of the EX88. A large portion of what you get out will depend on the incoming broadcast signal, however, and it's fair to say that Freeview's sometimes less than perfect.
Using the EX88 is nice and easy, for the most part. Setting a timer is a simple matter of going into the programme guide and selecting the show you want to record. After you've done this you can adjust where the machine will record to, either DVD or the built-in hard disc. You also select the recording quality at this stage.
We would strongly advise staying clear of the lower-quality record modes. We recorded Family Guy from BBC Three in EP mode, and the quality was pretty horrific. Stick to SP or XP for the best results.
Playing back pre-recorded DVDs was no disappointment either. The quality of the output was everything we would expect from an upscaling DVD player. Our much-loved copy of X-Men had all the colour and detail we'd expect from a high-end machine such as this.
Audio quality too was great. The best results will be had if you hook the player up to an external surround-sound system or other external speaker system, but our Philips TV positively sang with the sound of mutants kicking several bells out of each other.
The EX88 is a good machine -- we liked the picture quality a great deal. It's pretty flexible and serves as both a Freeview tuner, recorder, DVD upscaler and even a limited DivX/Xvid player. It's a little on the pricey side at around £350, but for what you get, it should replace a few boxes under your TV.
There isn't much we'd suggest that beats this machine, purely because it does everything. There are better upscaling DVD players and more versatile Freeview recorders, but there isn't much that does it all. Ultimately, we think the Panasonic DMR-EX88 is a very good choice and we can't see anyone being disappointed with it.
Edited by Nick Hide