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.