We tried out the DMR-BW780 in the Exeter region, picking up the signal from the Stockland Hill transmitter, which only started broadcasting Freeview HD this week. Zipping straight to BBC HD, the picture quality is predictably stunning, with programmes like Waterloo Road, Roger & Val, and Rock and Chips looking virtually life-like. Despite having seen HD in action countless times across various platforms, we’re still taken aback by the crispness and depth of decent HD images like these – lord only knows how HD newcomers will react.
We also checked out a variety of programmes on Channel 4 HD and ITV 1 HD and the picture quality is equally stunning. It’s hard to believe that pictures this good can be fed down a common (or garden) TV aerial. Standard definition images are excellent too, with few signs of block noise or picture break up.
Because the BW780 captures the broadcast data stream, hi-def, hard-disk recordings look identical to the live broadcast. We also converted some BBC HD footage into HW (the lowest-quality HD mode, which allows you to record up to 35 hours of hi-def on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc) then copied it onto a Blu-ray disc, and it proved virtually impossible to tell the difference, aside from some minuscule traces of softness in one or two areas of the picture.
As a Blu-ray player there’s more of the same clean, precise digital quality you get from Panasonic’s dedicated Blu-ray players, thanks in part to the inclusion of PHL Reference Chroma Processor Plus. It doesn’t load discs like Terminator Salvation with any degree of urgency, but neither do Panasonic’s regular players. DVDs are upscaled to 1080p with aplomb by P4HD processing.
Finally, we had a tinker with the deck’s multimedia functions, and were highly impressed. You can play DivX HD, MP3 and JPEG from a USB stick, copy music and pictures to the hard disk from USB or disc, and copy photos from SD card to the HDD. A DivX HD trailer for Madagascar looked incredibly crisp and vibrant and plays back without a glitch, while MP3 files sounded pleasingly dynamic. You can even copy tracks from CD onto the hard disk, and the built-in Gracenote database tags the tracks for you - superb!
The DMR-BW780 comes very close to our idea of the perfect recorder – a twin-tuner Freeview HD deck with Blu-ray recording and playback, backed up by a simply staggering array of other features. In terms of picture quality, ease of use and functionality it’s second to none, and a few operational niggles don’t rain on the parade.
Its price tag is the only sticking point – you’ll need fairly deep pockets if you want to own one of these, which ironically puts it beyond the reach of the mass audience Freeview HD is aiming to attract. But that doesn’t alter the fact that in its own right, the DMR-BW780 is a phenomenal piece of kit.