The sheer number of features on board means that the DMR-EX77 isn’t the easiest recorder to master, as the horrendously complex 100-page manual demonstrates. But Panasonic has done everything it can to ease the learning process – the remote is superb, featuring sensibly laid-out and clearly-defined buttons, plus the deck is generally slick and responsive. In fact, the entire user interface is a complete joy to navigate, using a logical structure and a welcoming colour scheme.
Panasonic recorders always deliver exceptional recorded picture quality, but the DMR-EX77 takes it to a new level, helped in no small part by the HDMI output and highly competent upscaling technology.
Recordings made from the built-in digital tuner in XP mode look identical to the live broadcast and boast phenomenal clarity. Brightly-lit studio-based channels such as BBC News 24 or Sky News show off the deck’s pristine encoding quality to the full; colour saturation is consistently high, particularly the aggressive reds used in captions and graphics, and the lack of bleed means that edge definition is crisp. Detail levels are also very impressive – individual strands of hair and clothing textures are visible.
Displaying static or slow-moving news pictures is one thing, but faster material is more tricky. Thankfully, the EX77 still delivers the goods as an XP recording of the busy Sky Sports News channel demonstrates. Scrolling text is smoothly presented, while footage of rugby and football matches are displayed with minimal block noise around the running players.
Moving down to SP mode, the drop in quality is very slight. Switching between XP and SP recordings you can detect a touch of extra dotty noise fluttering around the edges of moving objects but essentially it’s the same, with the added benefit of a longer recording time than XP (70 hours on the hard-disk compared to 36 in XP).
In LP mode the drop in quality is a lot more pronounced due to the increased amount of compression noise, which compromises the razor-sharp clarity seen in XP and SP. But images remain watchable, even with quick-moving rugby coverage on Sky Sports News, looking as good if not better than LP modes on rival recorders – and that’s the bottom line.
EP pictures are undeniably soft and noisy, so it’s best reserved for undemanding material, but with a maximum hard-disk recording time 284 hours or 8 hours on a single-sided DVD it could come in useful.
Upscaled DVD pictures look fantastic, whether it’s 720p, 1080i or 1080p. The King Kong disc is presented with a sharpness and vibrancy that some dedicated DVD players struggle to muster. Detail-heavy shots are pin-sharp, colour reproduction is fiery and the lack of noise is testament to some excellent internal picture processing.
With a vast amount of features, extensive editing modes, excellent recording quality and top-notch upscaling, the DMR-EX77 sets a new benchmark for DVD/HDD recorders. It’s the kind of flexible, all-encompassing unit that by rights should cost a lot more, but its surprisingly reasonable price tag makes it all the more irresistible. Panasonic, we salute you.
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