Panasonic's recorder is one of the more advanced on the market when it comes to Freeview, because it has two tuners. This means it is constantly buffering two channels onto the hard drive, just in case you want to rewind either of them. The system designates these two channels Live 1 and Live 2, and you have to flick between them using the remote. It is slightly confusing at first, but once you get used to switching, it begins to make sense. You can also adjust the length of the live TV buffer from 15 to 60 minutes.
The electronic programme guide is impressive, surpassing everything else designed for Freeview with the exception of Microsoft's Windows Media Center interface. Apart from looking great and loading very quickly, the system allows you to set up to four favourites lists (or Profiles as Panasonic calls them) so you and three other members of the family can cut out the redundant channels. A great touch is that you can sort programmes by category, including Entertainment, News, Movies and Sport. It's great to have context-sensitive programme sorting available on the fly, as opposed to the age-old method of channel surfing.
Considering the cost of the unit, you could reasonably expect more storage than an 80GB hard drive. At retail, such a drive would cost no more than £40, so Panasonic will be buying them wholesale for much less. Such complaints aside, this disk will offer a maximum of 46 hours storage -- something that the TUCTH100 helpfully informed us in its menu system.
If you're a regular recorder, the Direct Navigator button on the remote control will likely become your new best friend. With it, you can call up an impressive amount of detail about the contents of the hard drive. It gives you a small thumbnail from the programme, and if this doesn't help jog your memory, it also stores the original broadcast information, including synopsis.
The real attraction of the TUCTH100 are its features -- Freeview boxes hit a cut-off point in terms of performance a while ago. The picture was always stable from the off -- Panasonic's box tuned in to the channels within 2 minutes and didn't falter from then on. The box itself can display the strength of your signal, but even with the 70 per cent quality provided by our portable aerial, we saw no artefacting during testing.
Picture quality was also very good. We've no doubt that Panasonic is utilising decent components inside the box, but there's very little perceivable difference from box to box these days. With dual tuners, the box is able to offer Picture in Picture, so you can check the football scores while you're watching a film, for example. If you're using a flat screen, then performance will be down to the individual display's picture-processing quality. Audio was good, but no better than Sagem's similarly specified box.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide