Recording a programme from this EPG couldn’t be easier – simply highlight it and hit OK. Another screen then asks if you’d like to record the single programme or the entire series. If you’ve selected a programme that’s being simulcast in HD, the deck then asks which one you’d like to record. Make your selection and a further screen appears that allows you to check all the details. It’s all rather long-winded, but at least it ensures that you record the right programme. The Guide Link feature tracks the start and end times of each programme to account for schedule changes.
The Direct Navigator screen, where your recordings are stored, is also well laid out. It’s not flashy or ostentatious, just a simple list with large legible text and big blocks of colour, which should help HDD newcomers find recordings quickly and easily. They’re labelled with the programme name, date, time and channel, and a small box plays the highlighted recording.
The rest of the unit’s GUI (including the central Function menu, setup screens and Freesat info banners) follows in the same vein – simple but effective. For a flavour of what they look like, take a gander at our review of the BS850 as this deck’s GUI is similar (apart from the Blu-ray related stuff, of course). The remote is identical too, and boasts Panasonic’s usual intuitive layout and large, colour-coded buttons.
The XS350 certainly has inner beauty, but the outside ain’t bad either. It uses the familiar black fascia with flashes of silver here and there, and all the electronics are packed into a substantial, weighty frame. On the front is a display panel that’s easy to read from the other side of the room and a pair of red lights that indicate when each tuner is recording.
Underneath a flap that spans the width of the front panel is an array of AV inputs – S-video, composite and stereo audio – as well as more glamorous sockets like an SD card slot, USB port and DV input. The SD card slot and USB port allow you to play back or load up a variety of digital formats onto the hard disk, turning it into a media library that resides in your living room and not on your PC. You can even use the deck to rip CDs as LPCM, and the built-in, updateable Gracenote database tags your tracks automatically.
Like the BS850, the deck will play back DivX, MP3 and JPEG from USB, CD or DVD but you can’t copy DivX onto the hard disk. You can, however, transfer MPEG-2 video or AVCHD shot on a Panasonic camcorder to the hard disk from SD card, as well as JPEG photos. All-in-all, this is a terrific one-stop shop for your digital content.
Incredibly, the features don’t stop there. The XS350 is equipped with Viera Cast, allowing you to watch YouTube videos and Google Picasa photos on your TV through the Ethernet port on the back panel. You can also pause live TV and access a handy range of editing functions, while the HDMI v1.3 socket feeds upscaled DVD images to your TV and supports Viera Link. Other connections include two Scarts (one in, one out, both RGB-capable), component output, S-video/composite/analogue stereo input/output and optical/coaxial digital audio outputs.