Back in 2007 I found myself attending the CEATEC show in Tokyo. At that show Panasonic launched a trio of Blu-ray recorders, none of which would see the light of day in the UK. The reason for the lack of Blu-ray recorders over here was simple - there was no high definition content to record. Things are a little different now, with the launch of the Freesat HD service last year we finally have HD broadcast content that's not tied up with Sky's understandably tight copy protection.
Panasonic was at the forefront of the Freesat HD launch, being the only manufacturer offering TVs with integrated Freesat tuners, but none of those TVs had recording capabilities. In fact, up until now, Humax was the only player offering a Freesat PVR. But that state of affairs changed this week when Panasonic announced three new Freesat PVR boxes, two of which include Blu-ray recording and playback functionality.
The DMR-BS850 and DMR-BS750 both sport Blu-ray recording, along with 500GB and 250GB hard disks respectively. The DMR-XS350 has a 200GB hard disk, but only DVD recording capabilities. All three units come equipped with twin Freesat HD tuners, thus allowing the user to record two HD programmes while watching a third from the hard disk.
The two Blu-ray units will be able to archive high definition content to Blu-ray discs, while the DMR-XS350 is only able to archive to its DVD recorder in standard definition. All broadcast recordings are written to the hard drive as a pure bitstream, so the recording is not being decoded at any point and playback from the HDD will be exactly as it would be if you watched the original broadcast.
Of course whether you can archive content to Blu-ray will depend on the broadcaster, but the BBC is planning to allow a single copy of all its HD broadcasts, which will mean that if you wanted to hang onto something without it taking up space on your hard drive, you could simply offload it to Blu-ray in all its high definition, digital glory.
The DMR-BS850 also shares many of the features of Panasonic's high-end Blu-ray players, which means it should be as accomplished at playing back pre-recorded discs as it is at viewing and recording broadcast content.
You'll even be able to rip your CDs to the internal hard disk, while the inclusion of the Gracenote database means that all your tracks will be automatically tagged with the correct information.
Anyone who has a high definition camcorder will be glad to know that both the BS850 and BS750 will happily import your footage and transfer it to Blu-ray for safe keeping, saving you the trouble of using a computer - assuming you don't want to properly edit your home movies of course.
There's also an Ethernet port for full Blu-ray profile 2.0 compliance, while the Viera Cast feature will let you access the likes of YouTube and Picasa as well. You also get both USB and SD card slots for viewing still images and video - both DivX and AVCHD video streams are supported.
As is always the case with cutting edge technology, these units don't come cheap. The DMR-BS850 will set you back £999, while the DMR-BS750 is marginally cheaper at £899. It is worth remembering that you're getting a fully featured Blu-ray player, a twin tuner high definition PVR and a Blu-ray recorder all rolled into one though. The DVD based DMR-XS350 comes in at £699, but it's really the Blu-ray recorders that are the highlight of this line up.
Should you be getting your credit card out? Well it depends on a number of factors. Do you already have a Sky HD box? Do you think that there's enough content on Freesat to warrant the cost? Do you think you're likely to want to archive your HD content to Blu-ray? But if you like to live at the cutting edge of technology none of those questions will matter.
We'll be getting review samples of these recorders very soon, so if you want the full lowdown on how they perform check back for Danny's full report.