After years of eager anticipation, Freeview HD is finally here. Like Freesat HD, it provides a way of getting high-definition TV without paying a penny in subscription fees, but the ability to get it through a rooftop aerial is the crucial factor that will push high-definition closer to mass-market ubiquity. Like most new technologies, there are obstacles to overcome – you have to fork out for new equipment and at present only a few areas of the country can receive it – but once kit prices drop and the whole country is covered, Freeview HD is almost guaranteed to be a huge hit.
John has checked out several TVs with built-in Freeview HD tuners (the Sony Bravia KDL-40EX503 for instance) and Humax’s HD FOX-T2 receiver is already in the shops (look out for our review soon) but Panasonic’s DMR-BW780 is among the first Freeview HD recorders to go on sale in the UK. Instead of coming out with a straight-up hard-disk PVR a la Humax and Toshiba, Panasonic has continued in the vein of last year’s Freesat recorders and thrown in everything but the kitchen sink.
That means it’ll record SD and HD programmes onto its 250GB hard disk and then copy them onto Blu-ray or DVD, in addition to storing digital media content and providing access to the internet through the Viera Cast portal. And did we mention that it’s also a fully-fledged Profile 2.0 Blu-ray player with DLNA-networking to boot? It is.
This extensive functionality obviously makes the BW780 a lot more expensive than most of the other Freeview HD recorders coming out in the run up to the World Cup, but on the plus side it’s slightly cheaper than its predecessor (the Freesat HD equipped DMR-BS750), and it’s worth remembering that as well as all these new-fangled features, you also get the same array of recording and editing tools found on Panasonic’s regular Freeview HDD combis.
Aesthetically the unit looks like the rest of Panasonic’s recorder range; a slim black deck with an obligatory blue light and a couple of tinted flaps covering the disc tray, connections and buttons. Front panel connections include a DV input, SD card slot and USB port – for the deck’s generous multimedia support – as well as composite and stereo audio inputs. A row of buttons allows for up-close playback control.
The rear panel sports all the essentials. Of greatest importance is the HDMI output, as it’s the only way you’ll get to see those glorious hi-def pictures from Freeview HD and Blu-ray discs. Two Scart sockets allow you to input and output images in RGB, S-video or composite (useful if you want to back up recordings from an external recorder on a high-capacity Blu-ray disc) and there’s a composite video output for good measure. Audio sockets include optical and coaxial digital audio outputs and analogue stereo phonos, but don’t forget that digital audio can also be piped to your amp or TV over the HDMI connection, including HD audio bit-streams from Blu-ray discs.
You’ll also find an RF aerial input and loop-through sockets, as well as an Ethernet port that allows you to use the BW780 as part of a home network. When connected, you can access recordings, AVCHD videos and JPEG photos stored on this device on other DLNA-enabled Panasonic machines, such as the DMP-BD85 Blu-ray player. That’s really useful if you’re lucky enough to have Panasonic Blu-ray decks in different rooms around the house, but to take advantage of it your network connection has to be encrypted. Sadly we didn’t have a DMP-BD85 to hand to check this out, but at Panasonic’s recent press preview at Air Studios the feature looked terrific. The Ethernet port also allows you to access Viera Cast (more on that later).