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Panasonic has been making the best digital recorders in the business for several years, and looks set to continue its fine track record with a brand new range of DVD/HDD combis. Among these new recorders is the DMR-EX78, which is equipped with a 250GB hard-disk drive and the ability to record onto every recordable DVD format going. It's joined in the DVD/HDD line-up by the 400GB DMR-EX88 (which costs around £100 more) and the 160GB DMR-EX768, plus there's a VHS-equipped model (the DMR-EX98V).
The latest range offers more features than ever before, but most significantly the DMR-EX78 is one of the first Freeview Playback compatible DVD/HDD combis. Until now this has been only found on hard-disk only PVRs, so it's pleasing to finally see it appearing on other types of digital recorder - and a few other companies are following suit. Basically, the badge guarantees that a product offers a complete range of Freeview recording features, including series and split recording plus onscreen alerts that suggest an alternative broadcast time if there's a schedule clash.
But the DMR-EX78 is so much more than a digital TV recorder. Its ability to store music on the hard-disk turns it into a virtual jukebox, and you can even rip CDs internally in LPCM at 384kbps. The on-board Gracenote database retrieves information about the loaded CD from a list of around 350,000 albums and displays the artist, title and album information automatically. The database can be updated to include the very latest albums by downloading data from the Panasonic website and transferring it via the USB port, which can also be used to transfer MP3s and JPEG photo files onto the hard-disk and vice versa. You can also play DivX files from a USB device or disc (including VOD), but you can't transfer them to the hard-disk.
The hard-disk can hold up to 441 hours of TV programmes from the built-in digital tuner, but the amount of available time reduces in the higher quality recording modes. There are four recording presets - XP gets you the best picture quality, offering a maximum of 55 hours on the hard-disk or nearly two-hours on a double-layer DVD-R or DVD+R disc. The other modes are SP (110 hours HDD, 3 hours 35 mins on DVD), LP (221 hours HDD, 7 hours on DVD) and EP (441 hours HDD, over 14 hours on DVD). Additionally, there's a Flexible Recording mode that fits a recording exactly into the remaining space on a disc. The unit can record directly onto DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD-R and DVD+R discs, plus you can copy hard-disk recordings onto dual-layer DVD+R and DVD-R discs.