Digital recorders with video upscaling are nothing new, but this hard-disk/DVD combi recorder from Panasonic is one of the first to offer 1080p upscaling, which is a real bonus if you’re fortunate enough to own a 1080p display. The beauty of upscaling recorders is that you can not only boost pre-recorded DVDs to full hi-def resolution, but also your TV recordings.
And just like previous generations of Panasonic’s HDD/DVD combi, this new model is positively packed with features – so many in fact, that we could bore you to death with them, but we wouldn’t do that. First up, it’s fitted with a 160GB hard-disk, which offers up to 284 hours of recording time (in the lowest-quality EP setting) and remarkably, it records onto any disc format you throw at it, including DVD-RAM, +RW, -RW, -R and +R. You can also use DVD+R Dual Layer and DVD-R Double Layer discs but only for copying from the hard-disk. The unit also plays pretty much any disc type except for DVD-Audio, which is reserved for the step-up DMR-EX87.
Our test sample is styled in black, giving it a plain, understated look – a far cry from the jazzier design of previous generations. But if you prefer your kit a little more flashy, then it’s also available in silver.
We’re pleased to report that the DMR-EX77 is equipped with a digital tuner, making it a safe choice with the digital switchover looming. That means you can watch and record Freeview TV and radio channels without the need to hook up an external set-top box. On the down side, it only sports one digital tuner, which means you can’t watch one channel while recording another. And there’s no back-up analogue tuner, so be sure to check Freeview reception in your area before buying.
The DVB functionality is beautifully integrated. The all-important EPG is attractive, informative and well laid out, using a Sky-mimicking grid structure (though you can change it from landscape to portrait) that makes good use of the colour-coded keys on the remote. But even more remarkable is the speed of digital text, which displays new pages almost instantaneously.
On the down side, the product is not Freeview Playback branded, so there’s no Series Recording feature (the Freeview equivalent of Sky’s Series Link, which records all the programmes in a series automatically), which is supported by the Sony RDR-HXD860. You can set the DMR-EX77 to record at the same time every day or week, but it won’t adjust to reflect schedule changes.