The success of Freesat has been eclipsed somewhat by the introduction of Freeview HD, but that doesn’t alter the fact that there are some cracking Freesat products on the market for those who prefer to (or are forced to) receive their TV signals via satellite. Panasonic is still the only company making Freesat recorders with built-in hard disk, Blu-ray and DVD recording, and the DMR-BS880 is the latest addition to this unique product niche.
The DMR-BS880 is not to be confused with the DMR-BW880, which is the same but comes with Freeview HD tuners (we've reviewed the less capacious DMR-BW780). It’s an update of 2009’s much-lauded DMR-BS850, and this new version comes with a similar set of talents to its predecessor but with some added features to spice things up a bit.
The basic functionality is the same as the BS850. The built-in hard disk is a mammoth 500GB, which should be enough to hold plenty of space-hungry HD recordings (up to 76 hours of them in best quality, to be precise), while the twin Freesat tuners on board enable you to simultaneously watch one channel and record another, or record two channels at once if you so desire. You can record HD or SD programmes onto the hard disk and then burn them onto Blu-ray or DVD to give to friends or keep for prosperity. When doing so, you can use a range of recording modes to efficiently squeeze recordings into a given disc space or compress hard-disk recordings to make more room.
The unit’s design is virtually identical to Panasonic’s latest Blu-ray players, with a swanky black finish, a bright, legible display panel and a silver stripe running along the bottom of the fascia. It’s a great look; a lot more glamorous than Panasonic’s regular combi recorders. The right hand side drops down to reveal a busy array of sockets and buttons, including a USB port, SD card slot, DV input, composite video input and analogue stereo input, while the disc tray lurks behind a flap on the left.
Loads more inputs and outputs are found on the rear, including an HDMI output for piping hi-def and upscaled SD pictures to your TV, an Ethernet port, coaxial and optical digital audio outputs, composite video output and analogue stereo output. Panasonic has dropped the increasingly outdated component video outputs found on the BS850, but keeps the two RGB-enabled SCART outputs – one input for feeding signals from external devices and one output.
The USB port and SD card slot on the front play a key role in the deck’s multimedia functionality. Connect a USB storage device and you can play MP3, DivX, JPEG, MPEG-2 (SD-Video) and AVCHD files, or transfer any of them (except DivX) onto the hard-disk. Alternatively, you can bypass the HDD and transfer AVCHD or JPEGs directly onto blank Blu-rays, or transfer SD-Video and JPEG onto DVD-RAM. From SD, SDHC and SDXC, you can play JPEG, AVCHD and MPEG-2 SD Video or transfer them to the hard disk.
As for TV recordings, everything you record from Freesat is captured in its original quality on the hard disk using the 'DR' recording mode. It takes the digital bitstream so there’s no degradation in picture quality. There is, however, the small matter of copy protection to deal with when burning HD programmes onto Blu-ray, and once again you’ll find a system of flags in place whereby broadcasters can limit the amount of times you can copy certain high-definition recordings. These flags are clearly indicated in the Direct Navigator menu.