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Despite being Panasonic's entry-level DVD/HDD combi, it's an incredibly versatile machine with far too many other features to cover in full. But among the remaining highlights are pause live TV, Chasing Playback (for HDD and RAM discs) and high-speed copying from HDD to DVD and vice versa. It's also a fully functioning DVD player, which offers HD upscaling, bitstream output for Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks and all the trickplay modes you'd find on a standalone DVD deck.
In fact, with its slimline dimensions and sleek black finish, the EX769 looks more like a DVD player than a recorder. Most of the front panel is taken up by a transparent strip, inside which you'll find an LED display panel showing the currently selected channel number, the drive being used and the elapsed time during playback in large and easy to read digits. If that doesn't suffice there's a more detailed onscreen ‘Status' display.
The lower half of the fascia is a flap that conceals S-video, composite and stereo audio inputs, but there's no DV input for camcorder dubbing, no CAM slot and as mentioned no USB port or SD card slots. Around the back is a healthier array of sockets, including an HDMI output (that lets you watch TV and DVDs in 1080p) plus component, S-video, composite, stereo audio and optical digital audio outputs. There are two RGB-enabled Scart sockets (one in, one out), and the input's EXT Link function starts the unit recording when it detects a signal from a timer-equipped external TV receiver, though there's no infra-red set-top box control.
Some comment contributors pointed out that the EX79 onscreen design looks ugly and while we concede that it lacks the pizzazz and sophistication of GUIs from the likes of LG and Sony, it's important to note that the basic nature of Panasonic's interface actually makes it easier to use. Its pleasing pastel colour palette and clear, unfussy layout is a real bonus when you want to find options quickly, while the large text will go down well among those with less than 20/20 vision.
The superb Direct Navigator menu is where you'll find all your recordings, and its intuitive layout makes it easy to follow even without the manual's assistance. Recordings are displayed with a moving thumbnail, the channel and date, plus a green flag that indicates if it's a new recording. Once a new recording has played through to the end it returns to the Direct Navigator and doesn't move to the next recording, but on subsequent viewings it plays all the viewed recordings in one go. Hit the Option button and you'll find the editing functions, along with a mode that searches for other episodes of the selected recording elsewhere in the EPG.
The 7-day Guide Plus EPG is tightly packed into the screen, largely due to the massive advert plastered down the left-hand side (which sadly can't be removed), but it's still easy to navigate. It uses a straightforward programme grid that can be switched to a single channel portrait view if you prefer, plus you can search for programmes by genre or using the Free Word Search function's virtual keyboard. It's a shame live TV doesn't play while you browse, but otherwise it's a decent EPG. While watching Freeview you can call up a simple-but-effective onscreen banner, which gives you the basic details and synopsis for the current and subsequent programmes.