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Panasonic DMR-PWT420 - Blu-ray Playback, and Smart TV Features
As you would expect the Panasonic DMR-PWT420 supports 3D playback as well as standard Blu-ray discs. The network port enables BD-Live compatibility too, so with Live-enabled discs you can access and download extra content and store it on the PWT420's internal memory. It's not the fastest Blu-ray player in the world, though. It took one minute and 16 seconds to go from closing the disc drawer to showing the menu screen on X-Men Origins (a BD Live title, but the controls are responsive once a disc is playing and it played 3D Blu-rays without any problems.)
Unlike some other models we've used, it doesn't have a 2D-to-3D conversion feature. However, we've always found these to be of pretty limited value, as they never produce very watchable results, so it's perhaps not much of a loss.
Naturally, Panasonic DMR-PWT420 includes Panasonic's Viera Connect Smart TV platform. However, this seems to be a slightly cut-down version of what's now available on its 2012 TVs. It lacks Skype support and doesn't include some services, such as the Social Networking app and Eurosport News app. The line up is still reasonable, as there are Twitter and Facebook apps along with some movie services such as AceTrax (which is now owned by Sky) and Viewster. Of course, BBC iPlayer is also included, but Panasonic seems to be placing special emphasis on the Netflix app, as there's a dedicated button on the remote for it, so you can launch it directly without having to go into the main Viera Connect interface.
The DMR-PWT420 supports playback of digital media files either locally from a drive connected to one of the recorder's USB ports or over a network from a PC or NAS drive. Format support is good when it working with local content – it played MKV, DivX and Xvid video files without any problems. However, it's rubbish when you're working over a network as none of these formats are support for streaming. Instead it's limited to just Mpeg2, Mpeg4 and AVCHD files. On the plus side the recorder can act as it's own DNLA server and this lets you share programs and movies you've recorded from TV with other devices on your network as long a they support the right formats. It worked with a Panasonic Smart TV, but didn’t work properly with our PS3 – some files played, but the audio didn't work.
Picture quality was first rate, though, both for recording and for Blu-ray playback. Pictures fed out of the HDMI port are very crisp and clean with fine detail nicely rendered. Colours are also punchy and contrast is excellent. It also does a decent job of upscaling standard definition broadcasts to HD, although a little bit of picture noise does creep in here and there when it's working with SD channels.
This recorder uses Panasonic's older menu system rather than the new, cross-bar style one found on its latest Blu-ray players. This is a shame as the menu system is the recorder's weakest part because it's just not very intuitive or friendly to use. The menus look drab and boring and some of the menu options almost seem deliberately obtuse. For example, there are three different menus in which you can adjust various picture options, which is two too many in our view.
Also, the recorder can be a little bit sluggish when switching between the PVR, Blu-ray and Smart TV features, and some of the Smart Apps also aren’t as responsive as they are on some competitors' products.
On the whole the DMR-PWT420 does a good job of combining PVR and Blu-ray playback features into a single box. The recording features work reliably and it has good picture quality. However, its media streaming support is poor and its menu system is overly complicated to use.
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