The dense 132-page operating manual is testament to the DMR-BWT800’s complexity, and we have to admit to being a little daunted by the sheer volume of features we had to wade through. It’s a multi-faceted machine that’ll take a while to master, but we should be grateful for Panasonic’s desire to push the boat out.
We’re also grateful that the DMR-BWT800 comes with one of Panasonic’s usual foolproof remotes. It’s button heavy, but they’re arranged in a way that leaves no room for confusion. The labelling is clear and direct, certain keys are coloured differently to stand out and they’re all nicely sized. There are buttons that allow you to jump straight to Skype or Viera Cast, while the crucial EPG, Function Menu and Direct Navigator buttons are conveniently arranged around the menu controls.
This ‘ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach is fine for the remote, but it’s a shame Panasonic hasn’t spruced up the onscreen menus. We were expecting them to mirror the ultra-simple layout and one-touch navigation system of Panasonic’s new players, but the displays are the same as last year’s Blu-ray recorders. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker as there’s still much to like about this deck’s GUI but there are certain foibles that need to be ironed out.
Our biggest grievance is the disjointed nature of the menu structure. For example, to access the Setup menu you have to access the Functions Menu, then ‘Others’, then ‘Setup’, which feels long-winded. To access the picture and sound modes, it’s ‘Options’, ‘Playback Menu’ then ‘Playback Settings’ – the latter being the only option, which makes it even more superfluous. It’s a shame as the Functions menu and other screens are otherwise agreeable, boasting a bright, welcoming colour palette and HD graphics.
Another disappointment is that Panasonic didn’t go back to the drawing board with the EPG – it’s terribly cluttered, the blame for which lies squarely at the feet of the empty grey advertisement block taking up loads of space. It means the seven-channel programme grid is squashed up, and you can’t read any of the programme names. Thankfully there’s an easier-to-read single channel view, but that involves yet another button press. Setting something to record from the EPG also involves visiting two separate confirmation menus, which again seems long-winded. Thankfully the guide is responsive and the colour-coded controls are useful, but this EPG seriously needs a rethink next year.
The Direct Navigator menu, where all programmes and other media content are stored, is better. Items are listed with lots of information alongside a moving thumbnail. You can filter by genre or unwatched titles. Hit the Option button, select Edit and you get a wealth of editing options, including partial delete, which is a great way of freeing up hard-disk space or tidying up recordings before copying to Blu-ray. You can also divide the title, change the thumbnail and convert into a lower-quality recording mode from here – the clear, intuitive displays make these functions easy to use. You can switch between the various connected sources by hitting the Drive Select button or going through the Functions or Options menus.
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The displays for media streaming, USB, SD and disc playback are fairly basic but effective. They’re straight lists with colour-coded options along the bottom that make it easy to copy files to the HDD and other media. Streaming music and videos from a laptop is a smoother process than expected, although inevitably there’s a slight delay when moving from one menu to the next or loading a file. The network connection is easy to setup though thanks to the onscreen wizard.
The DMR-BWT800’s dialogue boxes are uniformly helpful and written in plain English. One of these appear when you make one-touch recordings, offering a range of recording options – let Guide Link set the stop time, record for a set time or continuously record.
The Freeview information banner is nicely presented too, using icons to indicate HD content, the audio format and other details. You can browse any channel but it will only show you now and next info for each one.