The EX89's multimedia credentials are impeccable, enabling you to play back DivX, MP3, WMA and JPEG from a USB stick, DVD-R, DVD-R DL or CD-R/-RW disc. You can copy any of them except DivX onto the hard-disk, creating a convenient content library that can be played back through your home cinema system. After plugging in a USB stick the deck brings up a very useful list showing all the things you can do, and copying speed is lightning quick. The CD ripping feature is another welcome feature, which creates LPCM files on the hard disk and tags them using the pre-installed Gracenote database (which you can update manually with web downloads via USB).
Some TrustedReviews readers have been critical of Panasonic's 'ugly' menu design, and although we concede that it's not the most sophisticated you'll ever see, its clear, logical sequence and no-nonsense layout certainly makes life easy when getting stuck into the deck's more complicated features. The beauty is that you don't have to spend ages thinking about how to do anything - it's instant and intuitive, plus helpful onscreen guides are always on hand to assist.
The Direct Navigator menu is a great example of this approach, using a grid of moving thumbnails and listing the programme name and date clearly underneath. Hitting the Option key brings up a list of all the available functions, while the red, green and yellow buttons let you move between video, pictures and music. The Functions, music playback and editing screens are equally logical, and their clever layout - combined with the deck's innate responsiveness and thoughtfully laid out remote - makes it one of the most agreeable DVD/HDD decks we've encountered.
Recording and playback performance is in line with the EX79, which means exceptionally crisp and vivid recordings from the Freeview tuner in XP and SP modes. There are higher levels of mosquito noise, block noise and motion artefacts in LP but they don't make the picture unwatchable - in fact from a typical viewing distance on a 42in TV, you don't really notice them. EP is the only mode that would make you think twice about using it due to the soft, jittery pictures, but it's still one of the better examples of low-bitrate recording we've seen and is fine for programmes without lots of fast movement.
The EX89 is also a terrific DVD player, upscaling movies to 1080p without any obvious artefacts. Colours are potent yet accurate; detail is reproduced with pleasing clarity, and the solid blacks and wide contrast range give the image the sort of rich, filmic look that you'd expect from a standalone DVD player.
The EX89 is another top-quality addition to the Panasonic recorder line-up, offering a typically generous range of features, a slick, straightforward operating system and solid performance across the board. On the downside, there's only one tuner on board and it's a little pricey, so if you don't really need the SD card slot and 400GB capacity then it might be worth saving a few quid and seeking out the cheaper but equally impressive DMR-EX79.