Sensibly Panasonic has fitted two DVB-T2 tuners inside the DMR-BW780, which makes it possible to record one channel and watch another, or record two channels simultaneously while watching a previous recording. The lack of twin tuners is something that bugs us about regular Freeview HDD/DVD recorders so it’s encouraging to see Panasonic addressing the problem here. We tried using the deck with two recordings in progress and pleasingly it doesn’t lock up or stop you accessing the EPG or Direct Navigator (although the setup menu and Viera Cast are off limits).
Freeview HD programmes can only be recorded onto the hard disk, not straight onto Blu-ray. And when recording an SD or HD programme onto the hard disk, you can only record in the Direct Recording (DR) mode. This makes a direct digital copy of the AV bit-stream onto the hard disk. That way you get no degradation in picture quality, which is important for getting the full impact of hi-def programmes.
You can however convert these DR recordings to lower quality modes to free up space on the hard disk, which takes less time and uses less space when to copying them onto Blu-ray. There are five H.264 compression modes to choose from – HG (high quality), HX (normal quality), HE (long play), HL (longer play) and HM (extended play) – as well as Panasonic’s usual bunch of standard-definition recording modes (XP, SP, LP and EP). You can also copy HD programmes onto any DVD format but they have to be converted into one of the four SD modes.
As is the case with Panasonic’s Freesat recorders, copy protection is an issue when recording Freeview HD programmes. Depending on the wishes of the broadcaster, programmes on the three available hi-def channels (BBC HD, ITV 1 HD and Channel 4 HD) can be flagged, limiting the number of times that they can be copied onto a Blu-ray disc. If present, the flag icon is displayed in the Direct Navigator menu next to the HD programme. Most of the programmes on ITV 1 HD and Channel 4 HD are ‘copy once’, and although most BBC HD content can be copied onto Blu-ray as many times as you like, it’s likely to apply copy restrictions to ‘high-value’ content that it may want to sell on Blu-ray, for example. However, there are no restrictions on copying standard-definition material.
As for Viera Cast, it offers YouTube, Bloomberg, Google Picasa, a weather forecast and Tagesschau, the German news service. Panasonic has also made its interface much easier to navigate than previously. After browsing a variety of clips in YouTube, the software feels faster and less clunky than other networked Panasonic players – clips load up almost instantly, plus in search mode the mobile phone-style text entry method makes life much easier.
General operation is sound. You get the same remote that comes with Panasonic’s other recorders, and it’s still one of the best zappers around thanks to its large buttons, intelligent layout and no-nonsense labelling.
Accessing some menus causes the screen to black out for a few seconds, which gets a little annoying (as does the slight pause when changing channels) but digital text and subtitles pop up quickly and channel tuning is finished in a flash. This kicks in when you first turn the box on, and we have to admit to getting a bit excited when the three HD channels popped up on the list.