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Panasonic DMR-EX79 DVD / HDD Recorder - Panasonic DMR-EX79
The bottom part of the fascia drops down to reveal a few playback controls, DV, S-video and AV inputs and a USB port that lets you play back DivX, MP3, WMA and JPEG files (the DMR-EX89 additionally sports an SD card slot). The USB port also provides a way of transferring MP3, WMA, JPEG and MPEG-2 files onto the hard disk, although it's disappointing to discover that you can't transfer DivX, and the port doesn't support PCs or external hard-drives.
If you can't be bothered to rip tracks on your PC and transfer them via USB, then the deck will also rip them directly from CD into LPCM and tag them using info from the built-in Gracenote database. When you load a CD it asks if you want to play or copy it, which makes the process easy enough, but the lengthy ripping time makes it a tedious job.
On the rear panel is a typically comprehensive array of sockets, including an HDMI v1.3 output (which supports Deep Colour and Viera Link CEC), component, S-video, composite video and analogue stereo outputs. These are joined by two RGB-capable SCART sockets that can be used to record from an external digital TV box and loop the signal through to your TV.
It's also worth remembering that the EX79 is also a fully-fledged DVD player, and can upscale movies to 1080p, as well as pipe Dolby Digital/DTS 5.1-channel soundtracks to an AV receiver using the optical digital audio output.
Elsewhere there's a plethora of other convenient features, including Pause Live TV, Chasing Playback and simultaneous record and playback. When making recordings there are four presets - XP, SP, LP and EP - and when changing modes a useful menu pops up to show you how much time is left in each one. The Flexible Recording mode can be used to fit a recording into a given space.
Editing is similarly comprehensive, with the deck letting you rename, trim or divide recordings and fiddle about with chapter points, plus you can assemble chapter playlists on DVD-RAM, DVD-RW and the hard disk. Recordings can also be backed-up on disc at high-speed. The manual makes the wealth of editing features seem complex, but after some hands-on time it's actually quite self-explanatory.
Much of this is down to the superb user interface, which improves on the previous generation and operates with pleasing responsiveness. It uses bright, welcoming colours and the layout of the 'Functions' setup menu is intuitive. All of the onscreen banners are clear and legible, particularly the Freeview 'now and next' info box that provides a programme synopsis and other key info, but it's a shame you can't browse other channels on the fly - for that you have to enter the full EPG.