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The Panasonic DMR-EX768 was the best-selling DVD recorder of 2008, which is hardly surprising given how impressed we were by its generous features, ease of use and affordability. And it's a good bet that its replacement, the DMR-EX769, will enjoy a similar level of success because like its predecessor it brings the benefits of Panasonic's higher-end models (DMR-EX89 and EX79) to a more affordable price point.
Of course, the lower price means you have to make a few sacrifices. This model is equipped with just a 160GB hard-disk compared with the EX89's 400GB and the EX79's 250GB drives, which means you can only fit 35 hours of programmes onto the hard-disk in the top-quality XP recording preset (or 279 hours in the lowest-quality EP mode). This should suffice for casual TV viewers, but hardcore couch potatoes who don't keep their hard-disk admin in order might fill it up fast.
Among the other missing features is the USB port found on the EX79 and EX89, as well as the SD card slot found on the EX89. That leaves DVD and CD as the only means of playing back MP3 and JPEG files, which might not be a deal-breaker but is undoubtedly less convenient. Also gone is the ability to copy MP3 and JPEG files onto the hard-disk, plus it lacks of DivX support and CD ripping onto the hard-disk, which means this model is better suited to those who care more about straight-up DVD/HDD recording than getting a central multimedia hub.
But, in terms of recording features, the EX769 is a pretty impressive machine. As expected there's only one Freeview tuner on board but it comes with the complete range of Freeview+ features, including series recording (with a feature that groups a series into a single folder in the recording list, just like the new Sky+ HD EPG), split recording and Guide Link, which keeps track of the start and stop times controlled by the broadcaster.
The deck also records and plays back every type of recordable DVD format, although you can only copy onto dual-layer discs and not record directly. There's a range of recording presets, XP, SP, LP and EP (SP and LP offer up to 70 and 140 hours on the hard-disk respectively) as well as the useful Flexible Recording mode. Once recordings have been made there's a vast array of editing features to play with , allowing you to delete, rename, divide or remove part of a recording, as well as edit chapter markers within a recording using a very accessible interface.
If you don't have the patience to set manual chapter points, then the unit will do the hard work for you. Auto Scene Chapter detects gaps in the sound of a programme, usually at the start and end of a programme or the adverts, and sets markers accordingly. It works extremely well, accurately finding the start of programmes most of the time although it occasionally sticks one in a random place. Alternatively the unit can set markers at five minute intervals, and once the chapters are in place you can create playlists and watch them in any order you like.
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