The Panasonic DMR-PWT520 comes with the company's Viera Connect smart TV platform. Unlike the PWT420, this does include Skype, however to make use of it you need to shell out extra for the optional camera accessory. This is rather pricey at around £150. Other services that you can access include BBC iPlayer, Netflix, AceTrax and Viewster. There are also apps for Twitter and Facebook as well as news and information services such as Euronews, AP and Accuweather. The remote has dedicated buttons to directly launch the Skype and Netflix apps without having to enter the main Viera Connect menu, which is handy.
The line up of services is good, although it's disappointing that it does included LoveFilm alongside Netflix. Also, the Viera Connect interface can feels a bit sluggish to use and the apps take a while to launch. It's worth noting that you can’t use the intent features when a recording is in progress either. So you can’t record something on TV while watching a movie via Netflix, for example.
Digital media playback
The Panasonic DMR-PWT520 can also act as a digital media player allowing you to play files either locally from USB hard drives or memory keys, optical discs and SD cards, or alternatively to stream content from a DLNA server. Format support for playing files locally is pretty good. It worked with WMV, MP4 , Divx and MKV files we tried via USB. However, when it comes to streaming across a network it only seemed to work with MP4 files, which is annoying, especially as many other recorders now support streaming for formats like MKV. This is an area that Panasonic definitely needs to improve.
Cleverly, though, the recorder can act as its own DLNA server so you can share recording stored on its hard drive with other Panasonic TVs and DLNA media streamers. It works well with Panasonic's own TVs, but we found only some recordings were playable via a Sony PlayStation 3, so it certainly won’t work with all DLNA media devices.
On the Blu-ray side, the player is 3D compatible so it supports the latest 3D discs, as well as standard Blu-rays. It doesn't have 2D-to-3D conversion, though, unlike some competing models. However, we've never really been that convinced by the results that these systems produce. BD-live is supported, so if you connect the player to the internet you can access extra downloadable content and store it on the recorder's onboard memory. Disc load speeds are pretty average though. With the X-Men Origins BD-live disc it took one minute and 13 seconds to pull in the disc and get to the main menu screen.
Nevertheless, picture quality is excellent both for recordings and Blu-ray playback. Colours look warm and natural and it delivers pleasing levels of contrast and smooth motion. It's also good at teasing out finer detail in more tricky material, and even standard definition broadcasts are quite nicely upscaled to HD without adding in lots of extra picture noise in the process.
Where the recorder is found a bit wanting is in its user interface. The presentation is very dull compared to models from LG and Samsung, and navigation is needlessly complicated. There are multiple ways to change the various picture options, for example, and you'll have to delve into the manual to work out how to set up some of its networking features.
The Panasonic DMR-PWT520 is a featured packed device that does a good job of combining Freeview PVR functionality and 3D blu-ray playback in a single device. It works reliably and offers great picture quality. Its support for internet service is quite good too. However, streaming media support lags behind the competition and its menu system looks dull and can be a tad confusing to use.