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Panasonic DMR-BS850 Freesat Blu-ray & HDD Recorder

Summary

Our Score

10/10

Review Price free/subscription

Unlike Panasonic's DVD/HDD recorders, which allow direct-to-disc recording, the DMR-BS850 records everything onto the hard-disk first then lets you copy them onto Blu-ray or DVD. All Freesat recordings are made in DR mode, which stores the bitstream - including extra data like subtitles and audio descriptions - directly on the hard disk in its original quality without any decoding taking place, which is another first for a combi recorder. This means recordings look exactly the same as the broadcast, which is particularly important when it comes to hi-def material.

Copy protection is obviously a key issue when dubbing hi-def content onto Blu-ray and your freedom to do so depends on the wishes of the broadcaster, who can insert flags that limit the number of times their programme can be copied. ‘Copy Once' programmes let you to make one copy on Blu-ray, while ‘No Copy' programmes don't let you make any.

Most of BBC HD's programmes are currently flagged as Copy Once (although they might become Copy Free later this year) but ITV HD's sporadic HD broadcasts can't be copied at the moment. The status of each programme is indicated by a small icon on the Direct Navigator screen, which shows the number of copies you have left. Not being able to freely burn everything into Blu-ray will no doubt be a turn off for some people, particularly with so little hi-def content on Freesat in the first place.

When copying onto Blu-ray, you can copy recordings in their original quality or compress them at a lower bitrate using the built-in MPEG-4 H.264 encoder, which means they take up less space. You can choose from several recording modes (HG, HX, HE and HL), which range from 12Mbps down to 4Mbps and offer between 4 and 12 hours of recording time on a 25GB Blu-ray disc.

This same procedure can also be applied to hard-disk recordings in order to free up space. Within the editing menu is a ‘DR Mode Conversion' option, which compresses the file while the unit is in standby and then deletes the original DR file afterwards if it's flagged as ‘Copy Once'.

Recordings are stored in the Direct Navigator screen, which looks slightly different to Panasonic's DVD/HDD combis. It displays recordings in a list with a single moving thumbnail for the selected title, rather than showing thumbnails for all titles. Delving further into this menu, there are loads of other editing and copying options. You can delete part of a programme, divide and rename titles, change the thumbnail and muck about with chapter points, all of which are easy to use thanks to the excellent on-screen layout.

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Mike B

May 17, 2009, 3:01 pm

No mention is made as to the omission of media server and PC/Mac connectivity utilising the ethernet port. At the current price it is the one one feature (on top of the already long list) I would have expected. Without this the unit needs to be pitched at a price point more like £700, given you could make a dual tuner media centre PC with Blu-ray burner for similar money.

Orinj

May 17, 2009, 3:38 pm

This is certainly a technical tour de force (for now) and there's no doubt it's great to see an additional FreeSat recorder despite the excellent Humax HDR being available for over six months. My only reservation is in the Panasonic user interface which TR seems to love but after my comments on their EX78 and EX79 DVD Recorders, is not as good as it should be.





What is the on screen information like when viewing a disc/programme? Also, the screen shots appear to be in the wrong aspect ratio or at least the images are squashed as people's faces look stretched. Is this the TV, Recorder or something else?

Mike

May 17, 2009, 5:09 pm

It certainly seems to be a grand machine and though it's hard to objectively criticise the price of this one without having one to try out, i would intially say it does sound extremely expensive! Granted, when DVD and VCR recorders first hit our markets they were of a similar price, and i've little doubt that even in these 'credit crunch' times, they'll always be your first adopters who are willing to pay what i would describe as 'silly' money for these machines.Don't get me wrong, i'm very pleased to see the market steering this way, especially with Freesat and i sincerely hope it continues and progresses ( if only because i'm a staunch Sky subscription avoider on price & principle). However, if the market is going to succeed this way, in my opinion broadcasters definately need to allow at least 'record to disk once' tags on their HD broadcasts and more manufacturers need to follow suit with this sort of gadgetry if only to provide decent competition and force market prices down.That's of course aside from the fact that Freesat needs to adopt a lot more HD channels!I don't see Sony ( pioneers of the Blue Ray system) announcing a similar machine to the UK market yet!! My conclusion - bring these machines to a more sensible price, i.e. around £500 bearing in mind the Humax PVR is available for around £260, albeit online, and maybe more people would be tempted to go out and purchase?

Helios2009

May 17, 2009, 5:56 pm

I wonder if you can plug in an external hard drive via USB and transfer files out to it.


Any chance of a pic of the rear ? Is the manual available yet ?


Great review btw !

SRS

May 17, 2009, 7:01 pm

It's a shame this Panasonic uses the same plasticky remote control shipped with their £300 HDD machines; for a flagship product, priced at a premium I'd expect better.





On the plus side, the guide seems to have dispensed with the tacky adverts that take 1/3 of screen real estate on the older models (hint to marketers: adverts that force a reduction of functionality irritate people. Irritated people don't buy your products).





The UI still looks very 1990s - but that's true of every HDD recorder I've seen.

PS3½

May 18, 2009, 1:32 pm

Looks like a spectacular machine,just a pity about the price. But I guess come Christmas this may have dropped a couple of hundred quid or so(I hope). The lowest (HL) recording mode looks particularly spectacular, and this above all appears to have impressed all of those who have had a demo of the machine. I've been compressing 'raw' BBCHD files recorded on the Mac with Handbrake (x264 codec) at 4.5mb for a while now with very good results. But the encoding usually takes a good few hours for an hour's worth, so something as quick as the BS750 / 850 would be very welcome. Get the price down Panasonic!

Orinj

May 18, 2009, 7:53 pm

Another thing, do people still archive recordings to disc any more? What's the point when hard drives are so much more capacious and accessible. I can understand the occassional copy to lend a programme to a friend who missed it but there's not much benefit otherwise. Besides, how much do blank Blu Ray discs cost?

Danny P

May 19, 2009, 3:57 pm

A few things:





@ Mike B: Regarding media server/Ethernet connectivity, I did say: "It's only a shame that you can't stream multimedia files over a network using {the Ethernet} connection as you can with the latest Samsung players..."





@ Orinj: I took screen grabs of every conceivable menu and still you want more! ;) The squashed images are nothing to do with the Panny, it's to do the program I used to take the screen grabs. As for the GUI, I concede that it's very basic-looking but that's what I love about it - it's wonderfully straightforward and intuitive. The same goes for the remote, but I take SRS's point that better build quality would have been nice on a product this expensive.





@ Helios2009: You can't copy files to an external USB device not even a USB stick. Didn't have time to take a rear shot, sorry!

Helios2009

May 20, 2009, 3:31 am

Danny P: many thanks for the great review and prompt replies. Just need the PDF of the manual now !

iain 1

June 1, 2009, 5:38 pm

Excellent review, very helpfull.





I wonder if the fact that it can convert DTS HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD in to PCM format means I can send these soundtracks over the optical digital out to an older style amp (without HDMI)? Would this would mean no need to upgrade an amp for the new Hi-Def audio formats?





If not, then the omission of analogue audio outputs is a real downside.

Vic

June 7, 2009, 4:43 pm

Even though the price is bound to fall with time, I'm getting on a bit so will probably rush out and buy one as soon as they become available. Before I do that, however, I need to check it will do what I want, which is to transfer the content of my HD tapes, made on a Sony FX1 camcorder, to Blu-Ray discs. The Sony standard is I think 1080i whereas the Panasonic spec. mentions only 1080p - is this problem and should I perhaps wait for Sony to come up with a similar machine?

bfdredrock

June 9, 2009, 6:24 pm

I understand the Panasonic Blu-Ray recorder DMR-BS850 has a DV connection on the front for camcorder connection. I have a canon Hi def (1080i)cam with hdv/dv out. Will the panasonic record in hi def to hard drive from its front dv connection? no mention was made in the above excellent,extensive and in depth review about the recording of hi def home movies etc from an external cam. can someone let me know? many thanks!

bob 13

July 24, 2009, 2:46 pm

Operations manual in PDF format now available from Panasonic website - essential reading to find out what it really does. Excellent idea for manufacturers to put their manuals on the website - saves having to get a shop assistant to drag one out from the box.

bob 13

July 24, 2009, 5:37 pm

Having quickly read the manual it seems clear that the "editing" functions are like earlier Panasonic DVD HDD recorders very basic indeed, limited to deletion of sections (perfect for removal of commercial breaks however). It is unable to alter the sequence of material within a "Title" also audio and video edit points are permanently tied together and audio edits leaving a hole (1 second? of silence) at edit points. OK for removing unwanted sections in a camcorder recording but not to edit it in the normal sense. Perhaps Panasonic could incorporate basic non-linear editing suitable for domestic use - titling perhaps also - on a subsequent model - at another 10-20% on the price it would be worth it. For some reason manufacturers of consumer HD camcorders have washed their hands of selling basic HD editors leaving purchasers to fend for themselves rather than as in earlier days being one stop shops.

Mel P

July 27, 2009, 1:15 am

I have one of these and it seems great - but cannot seem to copy Mpeg (***.mpg) files from a USB stick to the HDD? Am I missung something?


Thanks.

Damian

July 29, 2009, 2:53 am

Hello all,





I am a bit naive about the DMR-BS850...





1) How do I get freesat from the DMR-BS850?


2) Do I simply link it to a satellite then I can I watch FREESAT?


3) Should I already have FREESAT before buying the DMR-BS850?

Tripod

August 17, 2009, 4:34 pm

I've had one for about a month now and I'm quite disappointed. It is really slow switching from EPG to HDD index to channel selected. A quick view of the HDD index takes you about a minute to get you back to what you were watching live before.





The Setup menu is buried beneath about 4 layers of options which was a little tiresome if you need to change anything.





The words "Radio Channel" burn the centre of your plasma screen when a satellite radio channel is selected even with screen saver set to "ON". Who thought of that one! I spoke to Panny and they say this can't be swithced off and if I don't want screen burn to turn down the brightness on my TV everytime I want to listen to radio. Really user friendly stuff. This sounds like a lab testing feature which has not been removed from consumer models. I'm not sure if they can do something about this with a software update.





If you record consecutive programs you are stuck with those 2 channels for the few minutes either side of when the second program starts recording. This is quite annoying if you are watching the cricket but your wife is recording Corrie and Eastenders! This may not be unique to this Panny though as I've only had a single tuner PVR before. I still manage to get round this by using the TV's third tuner but had hoped not to have to do this anymore.





There is no EPG search function. The Humax PVR let's you search for program name (and actor, director, I think) and it will find all programs in the next week or so. The Panny has a basic filter (e.g. sport, movies) but even that doesn't work very well. I assume this is because the broadcasters don't send out the required tabs.





Skipping through commercial breaks is also quite laborious. You either have to "manual skip" x 5 to get through 5 minutes and then FF or rewind to the point you want. Or simply fast forward. Chapter skip does not seem to work. Again not sure if that is the Panny or the broadcasters. My previous Sony was much more slick although with about a 50% success rate depedning on the channel recorded.





On the plus side, it let's you archive recordings into folders on the HDD which help uncluter the index.

Laupsavea

September 5, 2009, 12:46 am

Generally I like this unit. When it displays stuff on the screen, it looks really good - and bear in mind that is what you will spend the majority of your time doing.





Sadly, the software interface feels like it was programmed in the way the physical unit has probably been built - made up of different technologies bolted together. The interface is, indeed, clumsy and slow and could take a leaf out of the more intuitive TIVO or even the childishly simple SKY interface. It surprises me that large companies do so much work to get an amazing box of electronics to market and then spoil it by slapping on a really poor interface (and a very poor manual - which, by the way, you should download before you buy it to ensure it does what you think it should because as some of these reviews indicate it fails to do some things you would have thought were no brainers).





Setting up is really simple - well done to Panasonic for getting that bit right. I was really relieved to find out I could just unscrew my twin satellite feeds from that awful SKY box and screwed them into this unit. Be aware though that the box comes with no SCART nor HDMI leads. It also doesnt even have one free blank disc either so you should pre-order some of those too (I would add that Panasonic do offer you a couple of free discs but instead of putting them in the box, they get you to jump through hoops by sending off a large SAE in another large envelope with a photocopy of your receipt to a company who will send you them - I suspect this is in order to get your address and personal data so they can market to you later - poor, poor show Panasonic)





Lastly, I would mention a possible inherent fault that has meant be swapping my unit over only to find my new unit has the same problem. When I switch to Viera Cast (The Internet Module that allows certain widgets e.g. YouTube to access the net) I lose all sound so I can watch a YouTube Video but its silent. Although there are only three widgets available (excluding weather and share prices) - YouTube, Picasa and Tagesschau (a German Streaming News Channel), oddly I only get sound when I switch to Tagesschau but it switches off again as soon as I try and watch a YouTube video. This bug was denied by the Panasonic Helpline but acknowledged by Panasonic when my local dealer spoke to "their support". They have tried to blame my Virgin Media ISP but, as bad as Virgin Media is, I don't think they have a racist firewall that only lets through German IP traffic but not English. Also the system pings as you switch between menus are not dictated by IP traffic and they go silent as well. I will put up with this - but you may not want to - so beware!





So to sum up, great technology, great picture - crudely bolted together and rushed to market which might give you a few nasty surprises unless you checkit out thoroughly first.

Paddy Byrne

December 5, 2009, 8:16 pm

I have this kit and on the whole it performs superbly....however. When I use it with the Net to access Youtube it appears to perform badly. The peformance of the downloads is poor. Even at a speed of 6 plus megabits the picture regularly pauses. When I run Broadband speed test it is low down at 1. When I turn the panasonic off it goes back to 6-7 megabits, I am getting no joy but clearly the machine flloods my Lan.

MIROSLAV.K

December 13, 2009, 1:04 am

THIS TWIN TUNER IS DVB-S, DVB-S2 OR DVB-CI OR DVB-T ?? If I want to use the FREESAT Services, I need only a satellite dish, or another satellite receiver whit dvb-sat tuner?

Mervyn

December 31, 2009, 3:21 pm

I was extremely disappointed to find that only Panasonic Camcorders can transfer HD content to the machine to make Blu-Ray discs. I like others was expecting to be able to do this and nothing in the spec says you can't. It was only when i rang Panasonic that i was told. Very short-sighted!!

Anthony Ace

May 11, 2010, 6:40 pm

With regard to the review written by Mervyn (above), I purchased a DMR-DS850 last year from Multiregionmagic.co.uk.


I have no problems copying HD content from my Sony HDD Camcorder onto the HDD using the USB port, then to recordable Blu-ray discs.


In addition to this, multiregionmagic provide DMR-BS750 & DMR-BS850 recorders with either or both Blu-ray & DVD region free capabilities (for an additional cost)


These really are superb machines and produce wonderfull HD images on Blu-ray discs copied from my Sony camcorder!

Bal 1

December 15, 2010, 2:54 pm

I've had this box for almost 2 and half years now, and I agree with the positive and negative comments made by the other reviewers.





My biggest gripe is the lack of an archiving feature, something which the Foxsat HDR has, however I had a bit of a breakthrough this week and have found a way to get HD recordings off the box and onto an NTFS formated USB device.





The procedure is as follows:








1. By a BD-RE disc, preferably Panasonic(I've only tried with a Panasonic disc)


2. Edit the HD recording using the partial delete feature to cut out the ads(Obviously not required for BBC1 HD, BBC HD!)


3. Burn the recording to the BD-RE disc in the original format.


4. Download and install Any DVD HD from Slysoft onto a PC/laptop with a BD-ROM drive(I use an external BD-ROM drive (Optiarc, branded as Devideon on my 4 year old Sony VAIO SZ1 running Windows 7 Ultra), and purchase a license key, around 󌍢(You will need to do this otherwise the encyption will not be removed).


5. AnyDVD HD removes the AAC encryption from the disc and in File Explorer on the PC, the .m2ts file can be copied to any NTFS formatted USB drive.





I play the .m2ts files through the Western Digital Media Player which is connected to my HDTV via HDMI. This device can take two USB devices and play amost any video format including .m2ts files.

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