The Panasonic DMR-BWT720 is an HDD and Blu-ray recorder, 3D Blu-ray player, Freeview HD receiver and network streamer rolled into one, and in each area there’s a stupendous array of features at your disposal. Starting with Freeview, the inclusion of dual Freeview tuners means you can record two channels simultaneously – something that shouldn’t be taken for granted, as Samsung’s BD-D8500 reminded us. When recording two channels you can only flick between the two channels being recorded, but you can copy to Blu-ray or access the EPG.
There’s an eight-day EPG, with onscreen banners showing now and next programme information, alongside a suite of automatic recording tricks including Guide Plus (which tracks start and stop times to account for shifting schedules), Series Timer Recording and Split Programme (which records both parts of a programme separated by another).
After recordings have been made they’re found in the Direct Navigator menu. Here, you can delete parts that you don’t want, split them in two, add your own chapters or remove them and alter the details. If you highlight a recording and hit the blue button on the remote, you can copy it to disc or external USB HDD. The latter is a particularly neat feature, as it means that hard-disk space is never really an issue – you can simply dump everything and start anew.
You can also compress an original high-definition DR mode recording to make it smaller and therefore take up less space on the HDD. There are five HD modes to choose from – HG (high-quality), HX (normal quality), HE (long play), HL (longer play) and HM (extended play). Each of these downgrades the quality slightly but maintains the hi-def resolution, with the amount of maximum recording time increasing as you move down the list. The only downside is that it’s not a quick process, and performs the conversion while the unit is in standby.
With such a large hard-disk capacity and external HDD copying, you’re not exactly struggling for space, so these conversion modes are most useful for compressing stuff that you want to save on Blu-ray. If you’re copying to DVD, there are four modes for shrinking recordings down to standard-definition (XP, SP, LP and EP), which are also used when recording from external devices via Scart.
You can also copy programmes directly from an external USB onto Blu-ray, and a high-speed copy function is available when copying between HDD, disc and USB HDD – provided you’re not converting it at the same time, in which case it will be carried out at normal speed.
One thing to bear in mind when transferring hi-def TV shows to Blu-ray is that you can only make one copy. This is indicated in the Direct Navigator menu but a little ‘1’ icon, which changes to ‘0’ when it’s been copied.
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Like Panasonic’s Blu-ray decks, the DMR-BWT720 supports a wide range of multimedia formats from USB and networked PCs. Officially it’ll play DivX HD, AVCHD, MP4, MOV, JPEG, MP3, FLAC and PCM, but we were also able to play WMV and XviD. MKV isn’t supported over a network but is from USB devices. Media support from SD/SDHC/SDXC card includes AVCHD, JPEG, MP4, MPO and SD Video (MPEG-2).
You can stream TV recordings stored on this unit’s HDD from other networked Panasonic devices, plus smartphones and tablets can also be used to access media from a server through the BWT720. But if you’re not au fait with all this streaming stuff you can copy music, photos and video onto the hard-disk and create a sort of media jukebox. It rips audio CDs into the MP3 format, and calls up album details from the online Gracenote database.
But the entertainment options don’t stop there. You’ll also find Viera Connect’s array of internet apps, which includes BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Acetrax, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and other services spread across three pages – with more to add from the Viera Connect Market. As we’ve said before, this web portal lacks the slickness and content of its peers but provides a pleasing selection.
Rounding up the other features we find a Timeshift function for pausing and rewinding live TV, a range of picture presets and tweaks (including a bunch specifically for achieving the most comfortable 3D pictures), a few sound modes and all the regular Blu-ray playback tricks like HD audio decoding and BD Live.