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However, don't be daunted by the mass of features and functions on board - Panasonic's clever user interface makes everything very easy to use. The onscreen menus and status displays look great without emphasising style over simplicity, while the remote control features some simple but effective touches, such as different coloured playback controls, large lettering and a dedicated Recording Mode button.
To test its ease of use, we created a DVD-R full of 10-minute episodes of a kid's TV show stored on a Sky HD box. It proved extremely easy to edit and transfer the footage and the resulting disc menu looks great - the only problem we encountered were some slightly inaccurate edits but on the whole the process demonstrated the unit's unbeatable simplicity and versatility.
What's more, the quality of live Freeview broadcasts is very impressive, with the 1080p upscaling and onboard noise reduction working together to great effect. The flawless encoding in the XP recording mode ensures that recordings look identical to the live source, capturing strong colours and fine detail without any problems at all. We used horse racing on Channel 4 to check the quality of fast-moving images, and despite a touch of dot noise, the resulting pictures look generally smooth.
SP mode also turns out some good results, though the horse racing revealed some noticeably jagged diagonal lines, softer detail reproduction and increased levels of shimmering noise around objects, but it's well within acceptable limits. LP mode uses the same resolution as XP and SP, and as a result the detail level remains fundamentally high, though the greater level of compression creates a lot of block noise that gives the perception of a softer picture. EP mode recordings look like YouTube clips, with lots of block noise and blurry detail, but it's no worse than you'd expect from a low-bitrate mode.
A run-through of Se7en on DVD reveals that the EX768 has some serious chops with shop-bought discs as well as home recordings. Opening shots of Somerset's bedroom demonstrate its excellent detail reproduction, rendering the textures of his suit and bedclothes with ease, while the lack of block noise during the frequent dark scenes gives the picture an overall smoothness that stands up to scrutiny on a large screen TV. Solid black level and natural colours round off a very impressive video performance. The EX768 also makes a decent CD player, offering clean and well-balanced music reproduction but stops short of audiophile refinement.
The absence of features like DivX playback, USB/DV inputs and jukebox functionality, coupled with the smaller hard-disk capacity, makes Panasonic's DMR-768 a much less exciting proposition than the pricier DMR-EX78. Whether or not this matters depends on how much you need such embellishments, but even without them the EX768 remains a reliable, easy to use and versatile Freeview recorder that does all the basics brilliantly. And if the lack of these features means more people can afford to experience Panasonic's incredible machines for themselves then we're all for it.
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