- Review Price: £372.99
The DMR-EX89 is the step-up version of Panasonic’s impressive DMR-EX79 DVD/HDD recorder and features a couple of upgrades for a £100 premium. Like all of Panasonic’s Freeview combis, the EX89 leaves absolutely no stone unturned when it comes to recording functionality, but it’s so much more than a mere TV timeshifter – its ability to handle a wide range of disc types and digital formats makes it an all-singing, all-dancing entertainment centre too.
The main difference between this and the EX79 is hard-disk capacity. The EX89 offers a 400GB HDD as opposed to the EX79’s 250GB, giving you a maximum recording time of 712 hours – if you record everything in the lowest-quality EP mode that is. In the top-quality XP mode, you get 89 hours and SP offers 178 hours, which should still be enough to cater for most people’s recording habits.
The other difference is that the EX89 adds an SD card slot to the front panel, which is great news if you own peripherals like SD video camcorders and digital cameras and want to view your masterpieces on the living room telly. The slot also accepts SDHC cards with capacities from 4GB to 32GB and supports JPEG and SD video (MPEG-2). Both can be copied to the hard-disk.
Otherwise the two models are identical in terms of features and design. The EX89 is a tasteful if unremarkable-looking unit, with a black finish that blends in surreptitiously with other AV gear and compact bodywork that’s a million miles away from the chunky Panasonic recorders of old. A flap on the front conceals a whole host of goodies, including that SD card slot, a USB port and a DV input for fast, high-quality camcorder dubbing. The S-video, composite and stereo audio inputs let you copy from external analogue gadgets, and there’s a row of five buttons (up/down, play, record and stop).
The rear panel is teeming with connections. The HDMI socket sends 1080p, 1080i, 720p and 576p pictures to your TV digitally, or you can opt for the analogue outs – component, S-video or composite. The two SCARTs enable you to input and output RGB, S-video and composite video signals, plus the input can be used in conjunction with a timer-equipped digital TV box. On the audio side there are analogue stereo and optical digital outputs.
Despite including twin Freesat tuners inside the DMR-BS850, Panasonic (like every other DVD/HDD manufacturer, to be fair) still hasn’t realised that users want the same thing inside their Freeview recorders, and as such the EX89 only sports a single digital tuner. The limitations of this shouldn’t be understated – not being able to record one channel and watch another or record two programmes simultaneously is crippling with so many decent TV shows on Freeview every day. The counter argument is that most people can also use the Freeview tuner inside their TV, but who wants to keep switching between the two? Besides, you also lose out on functions like pause/rewind TV, which as most PVR users will tell you are indispensible.
But otherwise you get a superb array of features for Freeview recording. Being a Freeview+ model, it offers Series/Split Recording and Guide Link, which keeps abreast of programme start and stop times so timer recordings aren’t affected by overrunning programmes. It’s joined by standard features like subtitles, Audio Description (both of which can be recorded) and now/next banners, but there are no channel or favourite lists.
That means programmes have to be selected from the 7-day Guide Plus EPG, which populates quickly and is easy to navigate thanks to the clear onscreen instructions, but there are flaws – the programme grid is uncomfortably squashed to accommodate a space-eating advert on the left, plus you can’t keep up with live TV while you’re browsing.
On a more positive note the EPG’s Free Word Search is very useful, as it allows you to punch in the name of the programme you’re looking for using a virtual keyboard, and then lists all the appearances of that programme in the EPG by date and time. You can even store words in the Name List to save you entering them every time. Also pleasing is that series recording functionality is a lot easier to use than the LG RHT497H we reviewed recently – select a programme from the EPG and it jumps to a separate screen that offers a choice of ‘Single Timer Rec’ and ‘Series Timer Rec’. Simple.
The features just keep on coming. The deck records and plays back DVD-RAM, -RW, +RW and dual-layer -R/+R, and allows you to copy onto them at high speed; it features a pause/rewind live TV mode (with its very own snazzy onscreen logo); there’s a Flexible Recording mode alongside the four other presets (XP, SP, LP and EP) which fits a recording accurately into a given space; and there’s a vast array of editing tools that let you chop, split and rename recordings, as well as re-order chapters into a new playlist.
But the most appealing feature for anyone who hates adverts is the Auto Scene Chapter, which ‘listens’ for long breaks in the audio and drops in a chapter point accordingly – that way you can jump right past the adverts to the next part of the programme simply by hitting the Chapter Skip key. It was remarkably accurate during our tests with a recording of ”This Morning” on ITV1, finding the right spot every time.
The EX89’s multimedia credentials are impeccable, enabling you to play back DivX, MP3, WMA and JPEG from a USB stick, DVD-R, DVD-R DL or CD-R/-RW disc. You can copy any of them except DivX onto the hard-disk, creating a convenient content library that can be played back through your home cinema system. After plugging in a USB stick the deck brings up a very useful list showing all the things you can do, and copying speed is lightning quick. The CD ripping feature is another welcome feature, which creates LPCM files on the hard disk and tags them using the pre-installed Gracenote database (which you can update manually with web downloads via USB).
Some TrustedReviews readers have been critical of Panasonic’s ‘ugly’ menu design, and although we concede that it’s not the most sophisticated you’ll ever see, its clear, logical sequence and no-nonsense layout certainly makes life easy when getting stuck into the deck’s more complicated features. The beauty is that you don’t have to spend ages thinking about how to do anything – it’s instant and intuitive, plus helpful onscreen guides are always on hand to assist.
The Direct Navigator menu is a great example of this approach, using a grid of moving thumbnails and listing the programme name and date clearly underneath. Hitting the Option key brings up a list of all the available functions, while the red, green and yellow buttons let you move between video, pictures and music. The Functions, music playback and editing screens are equally logical, and their clever layout – combined with the deck’s innate responsiveness and thoughtfully laid out remote – makes it one of the most agreeable DVD/HDD decks we’ve encountered.
Recording and playback performance is in line with the EX79, which means exceptionally crisp and vivid recordings from the Freeview tuner in XP and SP modes. There are higher levels of mosquito noise, block noise and motion artefacts in LP but they don’t make the picture unwatchable – in fact from a typical viewing distance on a 42in TV, you don’t really notice them. EP is the only mode that would make you think twice about using it due to the soft, jittery pictures, but it’s still one of the better examples of low-bitrate recording we’ve seen and is fine for programmes without lots of fast movement.
The EX89 is also a terrific DVD player, upscaling movies to 1080p without any obvious artefacts. Colours are potent yet accurate; detail is reproduced with pleasing clarity, and the solid blacks and wide contrast range give the image the sort of rich, filmic look that you’d expect from a standalone DVD player.
The EX89 is another top-quality addition to the Panasonic recorder line-up, offering a typically generous range of features, a slick, straightforward operating system and solid performance across the board. On the downside, there’s only one tuner on board and it’s a little pricey, so if you don’t really need the SD card slot and 400GB capacity then it might be worth saving a few quid and seeking out the cheaper but equally impressive DMR-EX79.
Score in detail
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