- Review Price: £232.00
The DMR-EX768 is another model from Panasonic’s latest line-up of digital recorders, which in our opinion is the company’s strongest ever. We recently tested the DMR-EX78 and were hit for six by its combination of convenient features, magnificent picture quality and ease of use, and the DMR-EX768 seemingly offers more of the same but at a lower price.
As Panasonic’s entry-level DVD/HDD recorder, it lacks several features found on the DMR-EX78 (which is about £70 more expensive) such as a USB port, internal CD ripping and the Gracenote database, all of which rules out using the EX768 as a virtual jukebox. Its hard-disk drive is 160GB as opposed to the EX78’s 250GB and it lacks the SD card slot found on the 400GB DMR-EX88, but still includes a vast array of features that make TV timeshifting and archiving a hassle-free process.
Of greatest interest is the deck’s extensive digital TV functionality. The built-in digital tuner offers the full Freeview channel line-up, which can be recorded directly onto the hard-disk or DVD. You can browse the TV schedules up to seven days in advance using the Guide Plus EPG, which lets you set timer recordings at the touch of a button. But the best thing about Panasonic’s latest recorders is that they’re all Freeview Playback compatible and therefore support series recording and split recording. And thanks to Guide Link, the start and stop times of timer recordings are controlled by the signal sent from the broadcaster, so you’ll never miss your favourite programmes even if the schedule changes.
Interestingly there’s no analogue tuner on board, a timely reminder of the impending analogue switchoff, but it does mean that you won’t get any channels if you live in an area not covered by a terrestrial digital signal.
The 279-hour maximum recording time offered by the 160GB hard-disk should suffice for casual TV viewers, particularly those that prefer to delete programmes after watching them. But serious couch potatoes and hoarders might want to consider the 250GB EX78 or 400GB EX88, as that 279-hour recording time is only possible in the lowest-quality EP mode – it shrinks to 140 hours in LP mode, 70 hours in SP mode and 35 hours in the top-quality XP. You can also record onto any type of recordable DVD – the maximum recording time is 14 hours and 20 minutes if you’re copying onto a DVD-R (DL) or DVD+R (DL) disc, but for all other types of single-sided, single layer disc (DVD-RW/-R, DVD+RW/+R and DVD-RAM) the maximum is eight hours. But to save worrying about which of the four recording modes to use, Panasonic’s trusty Flexible Recording mode automatically fits a programme into the available space.
Integrating the unit into your system should be a doddle thanks to the generous selection of sockets on the rear panel. There’s an HDMI 1.3 output that supports Deep Colour (although there’s no content to test it with) and delivers upscaled video to 1080p, 1080i or 720p to your hi-def TV. It’s also compatible with Viera Link, which enables you to control the unit using the remote from a Panasonic Viera TV, making it possible to turn the unit on or off, pause live TV and record the programme you’re currently watching.
The rest of the rear panel is the same as the DMR-EX78, sporting two SCARTs (one input and one output, both RGB capable), component, composite and S-video outputs, plus optical digital and analogue stereo audio outputs. When connecting a timer-equipped external TV receiver to the SCART input, you can programme the EX768 to start recording when it detects an incoming signal, but it can’t control the set-top box automatically. The optical output allows you to pipe Dolby Digital and DTS bitstreams to your receiver and enjoy full-on 5.1-channel sound.
The front panel not only lacks the SD card and USB ports found on the higher-end models but also the FireWire input, which may make DV camcorder owners look elsewhere, but you will find S-video, composite and stereo audio inputs.
After you’ve made a recording onto the hard-disk, it’s stored in the Direct Navigator, a superbly laid out menu with moving thumbnails. From here you can edit titles by renaming them (using a virtual keyboard), change the thumbnail, divide a title, create your own chapters or partially delete a section using a slick and intuitive interface.
More advanced editing is facilitated by the Playlist feature, which is surprisingly easy to use thanks to the clear onscreen layout. This makes it possible to grab clips from any recording and stitch them together into a seamless sequence – handy for making montages of home movies or favourite scenes from TV shows. The original recordings are not affected, so you can edit to your heart’s content without fear of deleting anything. Both original recordings and playlists can be copied from the hard-disk to DVD (or vice versa) at high speed and even downgraded to a lower quality to free up space. The look of your finalised disc can even be customised using a range of different coloured backgrounds, which appear when loaded into a different player.
Elsewhere, other features include MP3 and JPEG playback, but sadly not DivX or WMA, plus some basic picture and sound tweaks and an option to encode XP mode recordings with LPCM audio instead of regular Dolby Digital. And as ever, the hard-disk lets you pause live TV, chase playback and simultaneously play and record.
However, don’t be daunted by the mass of features and functions on board – Panasonic’s clever user interface makes everything very easy to use. The onscreen menus and status displays look great without emphasising style over simplicity, while the remote control features some simple but effective touches, such as different coloured playback controls, large lettering and a dedicated Recording Mode button.
To test its ease of use, we created a DVD-R full of 10-minute episodes of a kid’s TV show stored on a Sky HD box. It proved extremely easy to edit and transfer the footage and the resulting disc menu looks great – the only problem we encountered were some slightly inaccurate edits but on the whole the process demonstrated the unit’s unbeatable simplicity and versatility.
What’s more, the quality of live Freeview broadcasts is very impressive, with the 1080p upscaling and onboard noise reduction working together to great effect. The flawless encoding in the XP recording mode ensures that recordings look identical to the live source, capturing strong colours and fine detail without any problems at all. We used horse racing on Channel 4 to check the quality of fast-moving images, and despite a touch of dot noise, the resulting pictures look generally smooth.
SP mode also turns out some good results, though the horse racing revealed some noticeably jagged diagonal lines, softer detail reproduction and increased levels of shimmering noise around objects, but it’s well within acceptable limits. LP mode uses the same resolution as XP and SP, and as a result the detail level remains fundamentally high, though the greater level of compression creates a lot of block noise that gives the perception of a softer picture. EP mode recordings look like YouTube clips, with lots of block noise and blurry detail, but it’s no worse than you’d expect from a low-bitrate mode.
A run-through of ”Se7en” on DVD reveals that the EX768 has some serious chops with shop-bought discs as well as home recordings. Opening shots of Somerset’s bedroom demonstrate its excellent detail reproduction, rendering the textures of his suit and bedclothes with ease, while the lack of block noise during the frequent dark scenes gives the picture an overall smoothness that stands up to scrutiny on a large screen TV. Solid black level and natural colours round off a very impressive video performance. The EX768 also makes a decent CD player, offering clean and well-balanced music reproduction but stops short of audiophile refinement.
The absence of features like DivX playback, USB/DV inputs and jukebox functionality, coupled with the smaller hard-disk capacity, makes Panasonic’s DMR-768 a much less exciting proposition than the pricier DMR-EX78. Whether or not this matters depends on how much you need such embellishments, but even without them the EX768 remains a reliable, easy to use and versatile Freeview recorder that does all the basics brilliantly. And if the lack of these features means more people can afford to experience Panasonic’s incredible machines for themselves then we’re all for it.
Score in detail
Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think - send your emails to the Editor.