The EX83 is equipped with a Freeview tuner, bringing you a wealth of subscription-free TV and radio channels, and the inclusion of features like series recording earn it a Freeview+ badge. Essentially it’s a PVR with a DVD recorder thrown in, but with one disappointing difference – there’s only one tuner on board, which prevents you from recording one channel and watching another. This has always been one of the biggest drawbacks of buying a DVD/HDD combi and why proper twin-tuner PVRs have always seemed like the better option.
Of course, the other issue with the Freeview tuner is that you won’t be able to get Freeview HD channels when they start broadcasting in your region. This isn’t a criticism, but it’s worth bearing in mind if you’re likely to be tempted by free terrestrial hi-def at some point in the near future.
One of the things we’ve always loved about Panasonic’s HDD recorders is their willingness to go the extra mile when it comes to digital media playback. The EX83 continues the trend, not only allowing you to play music, DivX video and photos from USB sticks and discs, but also to copy MP3, WMA and JPEG files to the hard disk and create a content library in your living room.
Accessing these files is simple – enter the Direct Navigator menu and switch between recordings, music and photos using the colour coded keys on the remote, and files are presented in straightforward lists (with thumbnails for JPEGs). You can even view photo slideshows while your music plays in the background. On the downside, DivX can’t be transferred to the HDD, and you can only play JPEG and MPEG-2 camcorder clips from SD/SDHC cards.
Another cool feature is CD ripping, with a built-in Gracenote database to save you laboriously keying in the info for every single track. Pop a CD in the tray, hit ‘Copy Music’ and the entire CD is copied in high-quality LPCM. The problem is that the Gracenote data is stored on the unit itself, so the very latest albums aren’t listed, which means you may have to periodically download the latest data from the Panasonic website (using a USB stick, as there’s no network port) - at least updating is possible, though.
When it comes to recording and editing features, this is one powerful system. You can chop recordings into pieces, sort them into new playlists and watch them back seamlessly. The easy-to-use Partial Delete feature is useful for hacking out adverts, but you can save yourself the hassle with the automatic chapter creation mode, which inserts markers when it detects gaps in the audio, more often than not allowing you to skip right over ad breaks.
You can also rename titles and shuffle chapters, plus there’s a wealth of features for managing still pictures and music on the hard disk. Full recordings or playlists can be copied to disc at high speed – the page in the manual that describes the various high-speed copying permutations would baffle Will Hunting, but it’s a self-explanatory process onscreen. There’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before, but to be honest we’re hard pressed to think of anything else that could be added.