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Panasonic's DVD/HDD recorders get better every year, and we're hoping the company can continue this trend with its latest model, the DMR-EX79. It replaces last year's brilliant DMR-EX78, adding a few new tweaks and features that make it easier than ever to record and watch your favourite programmes - and as is the norm these days it also acts as a central hub for your digital media library.
The DMR-EX79 forms part of a three-strong range, which also includes the top-end 400GB DMR-EX89 and 160GB DMR-EX769. Just like the DMR-EX78, this model is equipped with a 250GB hard-disk drive (up to 441 hours of recordings) and can record onto and play back any type of DVD, including DVD-RAM. Dual-layer DVD-R and DVD+R are supported but you can only copy recordings from the hard disk, while DVD+RW/+R recordings can only be made in 4:3 aspect ratio.
But frustratingly none of this year's models feature twin Freeview tuners, which is the only thing preventing DVD/HDD combis from emulating the runaway success of PVRs like Sky+. It means that you can't watch one channel and record another, which for most people is pretty high on the list of things you'd want to do with a digital recorder. Sigh.
Still, it partially makes up for it with the inclusion of Freeview+, which lets you record an entire series automatically and record programmes that are split into two parts. The DMR-EX78 also combines these features with some other nifty tools that make it easy to find programmes within the Guide Plus EPG - Free Word Search and Navi Link Search let you punch in the programme you're looking for using a virtual keyboard, then it lists all of the relevant broadcasts over the coming week.
Another of the EX79's smart new features is Auto Scene Chapter, which adds chapter points at the start of a scene as it records by 'listening' to the sound of the programme and detecting significant changes or gaps. Using the chapter skip key you can jump right to the next part when the adverts appear. We tried it out with a recording of Brothers and Sisters on Channel 4 and the function is astonishingly accurate, placing markers at the end of each ad break. Panasonic isn't the first to introduce such a feature but anyone who hates adverts will be pleased to find it included on these new models.
Aesthetically the EX79 doesn't mark a radical departure from last year's models, and although its black finish looks perfectly pleasant, it'll hardly set your living room alight. That said, it is remarkably slim by normal DVD/HDD standards, a result of Panasonic reducing the number of internal components. Also new is an advanced control system that activates the fan only when the unit gets too hot, leading to quieter operation during playback.