If you're trying to cut down on clutter under your TV and want to combine the functions of a Blu-ray player and Freeview HD PVR into a single box, the Panasonic DMR-PWT520 will do the trick. It's essentially the big brother of the DMR-PWT420 that we looked at recently. This model only costs around £30 more, but adds Wi-Fi support and a bigger 1TB hard drive.
The Panasonic DMR-PWT520 looks pretty much identical to all of Panasonic's other hard disc recorders, including last year's models, as the company basically uses the same chassis across all its range and just changes the innards to match the specification of the unit.
It has to be said that the design is more functional than flash. The all-black body looks pretty understated, although Panasonic has used a glossy coating on the front to make it look a bit snazzier. The Blu-ray tray is hidden behind a flip-down flap that automatically opens and closes when you eject or load a disc. This flap also has a semi transparent window on the front, so you can see the small six-character LED display through it when it's closed. Behind the flap there's a front mounted USB port and SD card slot to let you play back your own digital media.
There's also another USB port on the rear, which is handy if you want to leave an external drive permanently attached to the unit. As you'd expect, the rear also houses the HDMI port along with the RF input that feeds both of the units Freeview HD tuners. There's also an RF output so you can loop though the aerial feed back to your TV.
For audio, Panasonic provides both an optical digital out as well as a pair of stereo phono connectors. On the network front there's an Ethernet socket provided, but unlike some of the cheaper models in the range, this one has Wi-Fi, which most people will find a more convenient option for connecting to the internet and their own home network. Unlike Panasonic's previous generation of recorders, there's no composite or Scart output ports on this model, which may be an issue for you if you have an ancient TV.
Given that this is a twin tuner model, you'd expect to have pretty comprehensive PVR features and thankful that's most definitely the case. You can watch one channel while recording another or record two channels at the same time. It also supports chase play so if you get in from the shops and EastEnders is still recording you can start watching it from the beginning instead of having to wait for the recoding to finish. When two channels are being recorded you can flick between them, but unlike some other PVRs, such as the Humax twin tuner range, you can't watch a third channel that's on the same multiplexes as the ones being recorded. However, in reality we don't expect many people would really use this features much anyway.
It has been a while coming, but Panasonic has finally gotten around to redesigning the EPG that it's using on its PVRs. The new one found on this model is a massive improvement. The older web-style advert placeholders have been removed and a new video thumbnail window has been added. The result is a much cleaner and tidier looking EPG that's easier to navigate.
Setting up recordings are also thankfully very straightforward as all you've really have to do is select the program in the EPG and tap the OK button to create a timer. If the show is part of a series you're immediately given the option to choose either to record a single episode or have the recorder catch all of the episodes in the series. You can adjust the start and end times of a recording too, to pad it out in case you think it's likely to start early or finish late – handy for sports that might over run – although you might be better off missing out the end if its an over running England match.
This model has a sizeable 1TB hard drive, so even if you only ever record HD shows you'll still get around 229 hours of recording from it, or if you just fill it with standard definition recordings that figure jumps to around 518 hours - enough for even hardened telly addicts.