A comprehensive range of connections awaits on the rear, including an HDMI 1.3 port, component, S-video, composite and optical digital audio outputs. Two SCART sockets are supplied, one of which pipes RGB, S-video and composite signals to your TV while the other allows you to input the same video types from external sources. Unlike the latest Philips combis, the EX88 doesn’t offer set-top box control using an infrared transmitter, but it does feature a slave mode that starts recording when it detects an incoming signal – you need to programme the timer on your set-top box, if it has one.
There are many other features to talk about, but one of the highlights is internal audio ripping, which allows you to slip a CD into the tray and transfer tracks to the hard-disk in LPCM at 384kbps. The best part is that you don’t have to laboriously key in the artist, title and album names – it’s all done automatically by the built-in Gracenote database (which can be updated via USB to include the very latest song information).
The onboard digital tuner isn’t accompanied by an analogue one, so this is no good for those living in patchy reception areas. The unit’s digital functionality is excellent, throwing in the full range of Freeview Playback features, including series/split recording and Guide Link, which keeps track of schedule changes to make sure you don’t miss anything. There’s also a 7-day Guide Plus EPG, digital text and subtitles, plus some extremely useful on-screen displays giving details about the current programme and what’s up next.
Other features include HDMI upscaling to 1080p, 1080i and 720p, Viera Link (which lets you control certain aspects of the recorder using a compatible Panasonic TV remote), Deep Colour support and a range of editing tricks that let you chop and trim your recordings to perfection, as well as rearrange scenes into a new sequence. Once you’ve finished editing, you can copy recordings or playlists to DVD at high speed (75x copying is possible, but it all depends on the disc speed and the original recording mode).
The EX88 is exceptionally easy to use, thanks largely to the remote’s spot-on button layout. Friendly menus with large text and a tasteful colour palette make every function simple to find, likewise the Direct Navigator (where your recordings are stored) uses moving thumbnails to great effect. Even the EPG is a work of genius, using a clear programme ‘grid’ that allows for hassle-free schedule surfing. Superb.
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