The DMR-BS850 is one of the most talked about and eagerly anticipated home cinema products of recent times, and we're thrilled to have finally got our hands on a sample. For a bit of background to this groundbreaking product check Riyad's news story, but in short it's the UK's very first Blu-ray recorder, which also comes equipped with a 500GB hard-disk drive, twin Freesat tuners and a vast array of other features which we'll attempt to cover in this review.
But, if you're looking at that mega-bucks price tag and wondering how on earth Panasonic can justify it, it's worth remembering that the DMR-BS850 does so much more than record programmes onto Blu-ray and hard-disk. It's also a fully-fledged multimedia hub and a high-spec Blu-ray player to boot, plus there are more recording, editing and TV viewing options than any other recorder - and if that isn't worth a grand of your hard-earned, then we don't know what is.
We've been moaning about the lack of twin TV tuners inside combi recorders like this for some time, so we're pleased that the DMR-BS850 has broken that particular duck. It means that you can watch one Freesat channel and record another, or record two programmes simultaneously while watching something from the hard-disk or Blu-ray. But of course the biggest bonus of having Freesat tuners on-board is that you can watch and record subscription-free HD programmes and archive them onto Blu-ray discs, copy-protection permitting (more on that later). The choice is currently limited to BBC HD and ITV HD, but the hi-def roster will no doubt grow in the not-too-distant future.
The unit itself is not dissimilar to Panasonic's standalone players, the DMP-BD60 and BD80, with its mirrored fascia and slim-line dimensions. It's not the most glamorous or daring design ever to grace a living room, but it's quietly stylish and the build quality lives up to its price tag. The disc tray is situated on the left hand side, while the other half of the fascia drops down to uncover an SD card slot and USB port, plus DV, S-video, composite and stereo audio inputs.
The easy-to-read display panel on the front uses large digits for the main section, with a variety of icons on either side, but sadly it doesn't display the name of the current channel, just the number. To the right are two indicators, one for each tuner, which light up red when recording is in progress.
Rear connections are generous. You'll find HDMI, component, S-video and composite video outputs; coaxial, optical and analogue stereo audio outputs; a second set of S-video/composite/analogue stereo inputs; two RGB-capable SCART sockets; and an Ethernet port.
Like the BD60 and BD80, this socket not only lets you take access BD Live content, but also brings online videos and photos from YouTube and Google Picasa into your living room through the Viera Cast internet portal. Even more excitingly, it means the unit is ready to receive the BBC iPlayer when it arrives on the Freesat platform. It's only a shame that you can't stream multimedia files over a network using this connection as you can with the latest Samsung players, but considering how much else it can do we can't complain too vociferously.