Despite including twin Freesat tuners inside the DMR-BS850, Panasonic (like every other DVD/HDD manufacturer, to be fair) still hasn't realised that users want the same thing inside their Freeview recorders, and as such the EX89 only sports a single digital tuner. The limitations of this shouldn't be understated - not being able to record one channel and watch another or record two programmes simultaneously is crippling with so many decent TV shows on Freeview every day. The counter argument is that most people can also use the Freeview tuner inside their TV, but who wants to keep switching between the two? Besides, you also lose out on functions like pause/rewind TV, which as most PVR users will tell you are indispensible.
But otherwise you get a superb array of features for Freeview recording. Being a Freeview+ model, it offers Series/Split Recording and Guide Link, which keeps abreast of programme start and stop times so timer recordings aren't affected by overrunning programmes. It's joined by standard features like subtitles, Audio Description (both of which can be recorded) and now/next banners, but there are no channel or favourite lists.
That means programmes have to be selected from the 7-day Guide Plus EPG, which populates quickly and is easy to navigate thanks to the clear onscreen instructions, but there are flaws - the programme grid is uncomfortably squashed to accommodate a space-eating advert on the left, plus you can't keep up with live TV while you're browsing.
On a more positive note the EPG's Free Word Search is very useful, as it allows you to punch in the name of the programme you're looking for using a virtual keyboard, and then lists all the appearances of that programme in the EPG by date and time. You can even store words in the Name List to save you entering them every time. Also pleasing is that series recording functionality is a lot easier to use than the LG RHT497H we reviewed recently - select a programme from the EPG and it jumps to a separate screen that offers a choice of 'Single Timer Rec' and 'Series Timer Rec'. Simple.
The features just keep on coming. The deck records and plays back DVD-RAM, -RW, +RW and dual-layer -R/+R, and allows you to copy onto them at high speed; it features a pause/rewind live TV mode (with its very own snazzy onscreen logo); there's a Flexible Recording mode alongside the four other presets (XP, SP, LP and EP) which fits a recording accurately into a given space; and there's a vast array of editing tools that let you chop, split and rename recordings, as well as re-order chapters into a new playlist.
But the most appealing feature for anyone who hates adverts is the Auto Scene Chapter, which 'listens' for long breaks in the audio and drops in a chapter point accordingly - that way you can jump right past the adverts to the next part of the programme simply by hitting the Chapter Skip key. It was remarkably accurate during our tests with a recording of This Morning on ITV1, finding the right spot every time.