- Review Price: £241.79
The Panasonic DMR-EX768 was the best-selling DVD recorder of 2008, which is hardly surprising given how impressed we were by its generous features, ease of use and affordability. And it’s a good bet that its replacement, the DMR-EX769, will enjoy a similar level of success because like its predecessor it brings the benefits of Panasonic’s higher-end models (DMR-EX89 and EX79) to a more affordable price point.
Of course, the lower price means you have to make a few sacrifices. This model is equipped with just a 160GB hard-disk compared with the EX89’s 400GB and the EX79’s 250GB drives, which means you can only fit 35 hours of programmes onto the hard-disk in the top-quality XP recording preset (or 279 hours in the lowest-quality EP mode). This should suffice for casual TV viewers, but hardcore couch potatoes who don’t keep their hard-disk admin in order might fill it up fast.
Among the other missing features is the USB port found on the EX79 and EX89, as well as the SD card slot found on the EX89. That leaves DVD and CD as the only means of playing back MP3 and JPEG files, which might not be a deal-breaker but is undoubtedly less convenient. Also gone is the ability to copy MP3 and JPEG files onto the hard-disk, plus it lacks of DivX support and CD ripping onto the hard-disk, which means this model is better suited to those who care more about straight-up DVD/HDD recording than getting a central multimedia hub.
But, in terms of recording features, the EX769 is a pretty impressive machine. As expected there’s only one Freeview tuner on board but it comes with the complete range of Freeview+ features, including series recording (with a feature that groups a series into a single folder in the recording list, just like the new Sky+ HD EPG), split recording and Guide Link, which keeps track of the start and stop times controlled by the broadcaster.
The deck also records and plays back every type of recordable DVD format, although you can only copy onto dual-layer discs and not record directly. There’s a range of recording presets, XP, SP, LP and EP (SP and LP offer up to 70 and 140 hours on the hard-disk respectively) as well as the useful Flexible Recording mode. Once recordings have been made there’s a vast array of editing features to play with , allowing you to delete, rename, divide or remove part of a recording, as well as edit chapter markers within a recording using a very accessible interface.
If you don’t have the patience to set manual chapter points, then the unit will do the hard work for you. Auto Scene Chapter detects gaps in the sound of a programme, usually at the start and end of a programme or the adverts, and sets markers accordingly. It works extremely well, accurately finding the start of programmes most of the time although it occasionally sticks one in a random place. Alternatively the unit can set markers at five minute intervals, and once the chapters are in place you can create playlists and watch them in any order you like.
Despite being Panasonic’s entry-level DVD/HDD combi, it’s an incredibly versatile machine with far too many other features to cover in full. But among the remaining highlights are pause live TV, Chasing Playback (for HDD and RAM discs) and high-speed copying from HDD to DVD and vice versa. It’s also a fully functioning DVD player, which offers HD upscaling, bitstream output for Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks and all the trickplay modes you’d find on a standalone DVD deck.
In fact, with its slimline dimensions and sleek black finish, the EX769 looks more like a DVD player than a recorder. Most of the front panel is taken up by a transparent strip, inside which you’ll find an LED display panel showing the currently selected channel number, the drive being used and the elapsed time during playback in large and easy to read digits. If that doesn’t suffice there’s a more detailed onscreen ‘Status’ display.
The lower half of the fascia is a flap that conceals S-video, composite and stereo audio inputs, but there’s no DV input for camcorder dubbing, no CAM slot and as mentioned no USB port or SD card slots. Around the back is a healthier array of sockets, including an HDMI output (that lets you watch TV and DVDs in 1080p) plus component, S-video, composite, stereo audio and optical digital audio outputs. There are two RGB-enabled Scart sockets (one in, one out), and the input’s EXT Link function starts the unit recording when it detects a signal from a timer-equipped external TV receiver, though there’s no infra-red set-top box control.
Some comment contributors pointed out that the EX79 onscreen design looks ugly and while we concede that it lacks the pizzazz and sophistication of GUIs from the likes of LG and Sony, it’s important to note that the basic nature of Panasonic’s interface actually makes it easier to use. Its pleasing pastel colour palette and clear, unfussy layout is a real bonus when you want to find options quickly, while the large text will go down well among those with less than 20/20 vision.
The superb Direct Navigator menu is where you’ll find all your recordings, and its intuitive layout makes it easy to follow even without the manual’s assistance. Recordings are displayed with a moving thumbnail, the channel and date, plus a green flag that indicates if it’s a new recording. Once a new recording has played through to the end it returns to the Direct Navigator and doesn’t move to the next recording, but on subsequent viewings it plays all the viewed recordings in one go. Hit the Option button and you’ll find the editing functions, along with a mode that searches for other episodes of the selected recording elsewhere in the EPG.
The 7-day Guide Plus EPG is tightly packed into the screen, largely due to the massive advert plastered down the left-hand side (which sadly can’t be removed), but it’s still easy to navigate. It uses a straightforward programme grid that can be switched to a single channel portrait view if you prefer, plus you can search for programmes by genre or using the Free Word Search function’s virtual keyboard. It’s a shame live TV doesn’t play while you browse, but otherwise it’s a decent EPG. While watching Freeview you can call up a simple-but-effective onscreen banner, which gives you the basic details and synopsis for the current and subsequent programmes.
On the whole the unit is slick and responsive. The ergonomic remote is close to perfection, using the now customary large buttons and foolproof labelling. The buttons are laid out in such an intuitive way that we only needed to look at it for the rarely-used functions. The unit features Power Save and Quick Start standby modes, and in the former it takes longer to boot up and shuts down the Scart loopthrough, while the latter uses a lot more power (13W compared with 0.9W) but starts up in a few seconds.
Although the EX769 doesn’t offer direct bitstream video recording to the hard-disk like Panasonic’s new Blu-ray recorders, it still produces excellent recorded picture quality in XP mode. Edges are sharp as a scalpel with no colour bleed to sully the clarity, while the strength and purity of its colour reproduction gives the image instantly gratifying warmth and richness, which looks great with daytime TV’s brightly-lit studios and eye catching graphics. This model lacks the Chroma Processor found on the EX89, but even without it the captured colours look stunning.
You get more of the same in SP mode, with the slightly lower bitrate introducing a smidgeon of extra mosquito noise around edges. But the real revelation is LP mode, which retains a high amount of detail and only a slight increase in noise, making this a great option for archiving lots of content on a single DVD disc. EP mode’s soft, juddery pictures are no good for archiving but okay for watching once if disc space is tight.
The EX769 also makes a top-notch DVD player, replaying our Men In Black disc with fantastic sharpness and strong, realistic colours. Will Smith’s black suit looks satisfyingly solid with lots of shading visible within it, while the combination of crisp 1080p upscaling and Panasonic’s Adaptive HD Enhancer makes the picture look effortlessly sharp, which helps when conveying the intricate textures of the movie’s alien effects.
If you want a solid, dependable DVD/HDD recorder that places the emphasis on TV viewing and recording duties over flashy multimedia trickery, then the EX769 is a great option. It’s bursting with indispensible recording and editing functionality, and although you don’t get USB ports and SD card slots, the rest of the connections are generous. Recordings look superb too, but perhaps the deck’s biggest virtue is its wonderfully simple user interface, which makes up for in simplicity what it lacks in glamour. If we’re being picky, perhaps that price tag should have been even lower considering how many of the EX79’s features and connections have been stripped out, but despite that the EX769 certainly won’t leave you feeling short-changed.
Score in detail