From the very start the DMR-HW220 proves to be a friendly, helpful and cooperative PVR. It tunes in channels automatically when you first boot up, then runs through the network setup modes using a series of self-explanatory screens.
The onscreen menus haven’t been upgraded to the flashy new design of Panasonic’s latest Blu-ray players, but presentation is still clear and engaging, with excellent use of bright colours, large text and cute icons. Some of it looks a little old now – particularly the Functions and Direct Navigator menus with their chunky yellow blocks on blue backgrounds – but who cares when it’s this easy to use?
The Direct Navigator menu displays recorded programmes in a list with moving thumbnails to the left. Tabs running across the top filter the recordings into genres (Movie, Drama etc) and one tab lists copied AVCHD files. You can switch to music or photos using the red button.
The EPG has had a long overdue revamp, and is all the better for it. Gone is the annoying grey block (hurrah!), which means the large eight-channel programme grid stretches across the entire screen. The layout is beautifully crisp and colourful, with colour-coded options across the bottom. Live TV plays in a small box in the top left corner, and to view programme synopses simply hit the ‘i’ button. The Rovi guide’s layout (below) is slightly more impressive (it places programme thumbnails in the grid, for instance) but sadly it’s a lot more sluggish to navigate and there’s no live TV box, making the built-in EPG the better option.
Setting recordings from the EPG is easy – just select the programme and hit OK. It takes you to a confirmation screen asking if you want to view or record it, either as a single programme or as an entire series. For recording, you’re taken to a second confirmation screen, which seems a little long-winded but at least you can check all the details thoroughly.
To make recording even easier, Guide Link tracks changes to start and stop times, and it’ll automatically record split programmes. Another nice touch is the onscreen programme banner which saves you the trouble of visiting the EPG, allowing you to browse channels using the direction pad – although you can only view ‘now and next’ info. Also worth noting is that when two recordings are in progress, you can switch between the two channels being recorded, and you can view the EPG too (you can’t on the Samsung BD-E8500).
The remote is classic Panasonic – none of this touch pad malarkey seen on the Blu-ray player remotes. The chunky buttons, foolproof layout and clear labelling make it blissfully easy to use, although the amount of buttons crammed onto it make it feel a little cluttered. As ever, the direction pad is ideally placed under the thumb, with Direct Navigator, Guide and Function menu keys helpfully fanned out above it.
Not only is the DMR-HW220 easy to use, but it also performs brilliantly. The Freeview tuners provide great looking pictures, with solid chunks of colour, sharply resolved detail and clean edges. The HD channels obviously show the HW220 at its best, making even dreary daytime guff like The Renovation Game on Channel 4HD and Dickinson’s Real Deal on ITV1HD worth watching. Most pleasing is the lack of picture noise, which allows the extra high-def resolution to shine through the screen unhindered.
Standard definition channels are consistently watchable, with only slight hints of block and mosquito noise. It’s worse on some channels thank others – ITV2 looks feathery, while regular BBC One is more solid – but that’s down to broadcast bitrates.
The DMR-HW220 holds up its end of the bargain though. The on-board 1080p upscaling is clearly doing a terrific job, as detail looks crisp, edges lack jaggies and movement appears smooth. Recordings look identical to the live broadcast too, so there’s no quality sacrifice involved when timeshifting. Unlike the more advanced Blu-ray recorders there are no recording modes to change the quality, making everything nice and simple.
There are no complaints with sound quality either – we streamed a batch of MP3s and spun a couple of CDs and the results were enjoyable through our sound system, making this a decent digital jukebox.
Viera Connect’s video streaming sites like BBC iPlayer work smoothly, offering impressive HD picture quality to boot, while digital text loads up in a flash, putting our cumbersome Sky HD box to shame. We also tried converting some 2D content to 3D and it worked fairly well but we imagine it won’t be long before the novelty factor wears off.
With a superb range of features, slick recording functionality and a massive 1TB hard-disk, the DMR-HW220 is an excellent PVR. Panasonic has righted all the wrongs of previous models – including, crucially, the EPG, which is now much easier to use – while the inclusion of built-in Wi-Fi, DLNA and Viera Connect extend your entertainment options well beyond the confines of Freeview. Viera Connect lacks the fun factor and extensive content of Samsung’s Smart Hub, but in every other respect it’s more than a match for its Korean counterpart – and at £260 it's cheaper too.