Once you’re absorbed its initially overwhelming feature list, the Panasonic DMR-BWT720 is generally easy to use. A series of Easy Setting wizards tunes channels and sets the basics at first boot-up. The unit doesn’t feel sluggish when you’re roaming around the menus and everything is arranged onscreen with pleasing simplicity. The menus are a little workmanlike, lacking the snazzy futuristic feel of the LGs and Samsungs of this world, but the welcoming colours and easy-to-read fonts get the job done.
We’re mostly impressed by the new-look EPG, which scraps last year’s awful interface for look that’s pretty and practical. Gone is the ghastly advertising space, making way for a large eight-channel programme grid with live TV in the top corner and colour coded options along the bottom. You can filter by category, page up and down and view a synopsis by hitting the information key. If you don’t like it, an alternative Rovi guide is be found within Viera Connect, which has a funkier feel with thumbnails embedded into the grid, but it’s dreadfully slow to operate.
Rovi guide looks snazzy, but is slow to operate
Recording TV is this machine’s core function, and thankfully it’s easy to do. Highlight the programme in the EPG, hit OK and a screen asks if you want to record it once or as a series. After that, another confirmation screen shows all the details (which can be edited before committing). It feels slightly long-winded but at least it’s thorough. You can also set the timer manually by punching in the start/stop times yourself.
Elsewhere, the Direct Navigator and Functions screens pose few problems – the former listing your recordings with programme names, details and a moving thumbnail, the latter using a simple list on the left showing all the unit’s functions. We had no trouble whatsoever moving media between drives or burning shows to Blu-ray thanks to the helpful onscreen dialogue boxes and the slickness with which it carries out every task.
The supplied remote is one of Panasonic’s typically user-friendly efforts, all big rubber buttons and capital letter labelling. The playback controls and direction pad are perfectly placed, with the rest dotted around as conveniently as possible. It’s naturally more cluttered than Panasonic’s Blu-ray player remotes, but absorbs the extra buttons nicely.
But here’s the brilliant bit. Download the DIGA Player app on your iPad or Android tablet and you can beam live TV from one of the unit’s Freeview tuners over your home network, which is a great way of solving squabbles over what to watch. You can even stream recordings from the unit’s HDD or a connected USB HDD.
It’s incredibly easy to use – the main menu shows a list of all the channels from the Freeview EPG, simply tap one to view it. Not only can you control what you watch on the mobile device but also the main TV picture. There are drawbacks – you can only watch and record one channel on the recorder while watching on a mobile device; you can’t use the feature at all while recording two channels or using network functions; and hi-def channels are shown in SD on the device, but this is a small price to pay for such funky functionality.
We can’t fault the Panasonic DMR-BWT720’s picture performance. Live high-definition channels look fabulous, and by extension so do recordings because the unit captures the streams in their original quality. The gorgeous detail and explosive colours of crowd shots during Euro 2012 coverage shine from the screen, while dramas like Silk on BBC One HD are displayed with blistering sharpness and cinematic lustre.
We converted a couple HD recordings into the more efficient modes and it’s surprisingly how little clarity is lost when doing so. It’s almost impossible to discern the drop in quality in HG and HX, and only a light dusting of extra noise is visible in HE and HL. Even HM mode doesn’t let the side down, looking sharp and solid, with hardly any break up or mosquito noise on fast movement. Obviously you get a huge drop in quality when converting to the SD modes, but the pictures remain watchable.
Regular SD channels (and recordings) look fine, lacking the outright clarity and stability of HD images due to their extra noise, but none of this could spoil our enjoyment. Web videos have that inevitable fuzz but again the quality is fine.
To see the DMR-BWT720 at its very best, load up a Blu-ray disc. The deck renders 1080p images with incredible detail clarity and beautiful-looking colours, but there’s an added depth and definitiveness that even some dedicated players struggle to achieve. With 3D discs, the images look every bit as deep and absorbing as the DMP-BDT320 dedicatd Blu-ray player– clean and poised, with well-defined objects and an overall fluidity that’s makes them impossible to dislike.
DLNA streaming and USB playback are also a hit, locating our content first time and playing it back without any glitches, although it’s hard to wade through a large music library to find an individual song.
The Panasonic DMR-BWT720 might just be the ultimate digital recorder. You can watch and record Freeview HD onto the huge hard disk, edit, compress and copy programmes to Blu-ray or DVD, move them to an external hard-disk drive and even watch them on your iPad.
This range of recording functionality would be incredible on its own, but throw 3D Blu-ray playback, DLNA streaming, Viera Connect, USB/SD card multimedia support, Wi-Fi and hard-disk media playback into the mix and we really are dealing with a formidable machine. Yes the onscreen design isn’t always dynamic and it’s hardly cheap, but no-one could argue that you don’t get your money’s worth.