The 500GB HDD holds up to 129 hours of HD material in its DR mode, or 258 hours of SD programmes. Any time you record from the Freeview tuner, whether it’s an HD or SD channel, the deck uses the DR mode, which makes a near-perfect digital copy of the programme direct from the broadcast bitstream. Recordings can be compressed into lower quality afterwards to save space on the hard-disk, which can be a time-consuming process but thankfully it’s carried out when the unit is in standby. It’s particularly useful for making Blu-ray copies, as it allows you to squeeze more content onto a disc.
There are nine modes for converting recordings – five designed to squeeze hi-def content without greatly compromising picture quality (HG, HX, HE, HL, HM) and the other four are designed with SD in mind (the familiar XP, SP, LP and EP modes). Recordings can also be copied to Blu-ray disc or DVD (RAM, -RW/-R, RW/ R DL) and you can convert them while copying, but you can’t record directly onto a disc. The deck can squeeze up to 13 hours of DR-quality HD recordings to a dual-layer Blu-ray disc, or 35 hours if you convert to HM mode.
Copy protection applies with some high-definition broadcasts, which allow you to make only one copy on Blu-ray. The relevant copy protection status is clearly indicated in the Direct Navigator menu by an icon. When converting copy protected programmes into lower quality, the original is deleted to stop you making further copies.
The inclusion of two DVB-T2 tuners makes it possible to record one channel while watching another, or even record two channels simultaneously (two red lights on the front panel indicate when recordings are in process) although when doing so you can only flick between the channels that are being recorded, plus all the network features are disabled when recording anything.
The DMR-BWT800 is equipped with built-in Wi-Fi, which means you can connect to a wireless router without a dongle or Ethernet cable in sight. The deck is DLNA certified and can access multimedia content stored on Windows 7 PCs. As an added bonus, you can stream recordings from the DMR-BWT800 using other network-enabled Panasonic players around the house. We tried streaming a variety of files from a laptop and successfully played SD WMV and AVI files, MP3, WAV, JPEG, AVCHD, DivX, MP3 and WMA, but it wouldn’t play hi-def AVI files.
The DMR-BWT800 also features Viera Cast, which would have been cause for celebration a couple of years ago but with the shiny new Viera Connect system now found inside Panasonic’s new TV range, this old-school portal no longer cuts the mustard. YouTube, Twitter, Picasa and Acetrax are the only sites of interest, and the lack of BBC iPlayer is most disappointing (it’s found on Connect). Compare that with the smorgasbord of sites served up by Sony’s BRAVIA Internet Video and it’s not on the same level. Still, the user interface is beautifully presented and operates smoothly.
And of course the addition of Skype this year adds a little excitement to the Viera Cast offering. We’re big fans of this feature on Panasonic’s other decks and here it’s just as enjoyable to use. The interface is slick and simple, allowing you to make calls with minimal fuss, while features like automatic answering messages and message recording to SD card add to its appeal. The only downside is the cost of the TY-CC10W camera/microphone – at £130 it’s quite an outlay.
On the 3D front you get all the same features as the DMP-BDT310, including 2D to 3D conversion, which not only works with 2D Blu-ray discs but also with Freeview programmes recorded onto the hard-disk. There’s also a range of 3D effect adjustments, including the take-it-or-leave-it Screen Frame feature that puts a border around the screen in a bid to make the picture more comfortable to watch.
The BWT800 will also play multimedia content from USB devices. The list of supported formats includes DivX, MKV, AVCHD, JPEG, MPO and MP3, and from SD/SDHC/SDXC cards it supports AVCHD, JPEG and MPO. You can also copy music, photos and video (AVCHD or SD captured on camcorders) onto the hard-disk, creating a local media library. If you’re hooked up to the web and you load an audio CD, the DMR-BWT800 consults the online Gracenote database and names the songs for you – handy if you want to copy them to the hard-disk.
Aside from the second HDMI output, what sets this model apart from the DMR-BWT700 is the inclusion of Digital Tube Sound, which aims to replicate the warmth of a vacuum tube amp, and Pure Sound, which switches off video circuitry for cleaner music playback. Common to both models is a range of picture and sound settings, including five picture presets, HD optimizer, Chroma Process, Detail Clarity, Super Resolution, Re-master and Dialogue Enhancer.
Finally the DMR-BWT800 boasts all the tricks found on the best dedicated PVRs, such as Guide Link (where programme start and stop times are controlled by the broadcasters), Series Timer Recording, Split Programme and recommended programme recording, all accessed using clear, informative onscreen prompts. You can also pause and rewind live TV.