Panasonic’s standalone Blu-ray players were treated to a fresh new GUI this year, but the recorders stick with last year’s. That’s not a disaster, as the onscreen design is easy on the eye and generally co-operative, but certain areas feel disjointed and long-winded – for instance accessing the setup menu from the main Functions menu requires a couple of extra button presses than we feel is necessary, and when setting series link you’re shown two conformation screens before you’re done.
And we’ve said it before, but Panasonic’s cluttered EPG needs a serious overhaul for next year. An empty advertisement box hogs space that could have been used to expand the seven-channel programme grid – instead the boxes are cramped and you can’t read the names properly. You can switch to a portrait single channel view, but it’s yet more fiddling about. The onscreen Freeview banners offer up more annoyance – you can only view now and next information for each channel, denying you the chance to browse the entire schedules without entering the full EPG. There’s decent info about each programme though, including a synopsis if you hit the ‘i’ button.
Thankfully, the deck is more helpful in other areas, using clear, informative dialogue boxes to resolve conflicts and make adjustments. And the other menus are easy to work with and attractive, particularly the Direct Navigator, which presents your recorded programmes in a list with a moving thumbnail and all the information you could need (including the number of Blu-ray copies you can make), plus finding the editing menu is a breeze.
We didn’t have any trouble setting up the network functionality – Panasonic kindly provided us with a Wi-Fi dongle and it worked well, hooking up to our network instantly and streaming a variety of files without any glitches to speak of. And although we criticised its content, Viera Cast is actually a joy to use thanks to the pretty layout and responsiveness of the interface. YouTube videos streamed smoothly and only stopped to buffer occasionally.
You get the same remote as the DMR-BWT800, which means more chunky, multicoloured buttons with excellent labelling. There are buttons providing instant access to Viera Cast and Skype, plus a cluster of keys at the top that control TVs using the codes supplied in the manual.