Panasonic is the only company with Blu-ray recorders on the market, making it the go-to brand for people who want to record HD TV content onto high-capacity Blu-ray platters. But, does the DMR-BWT700's 3D recording capability make it a good investment over a PVR?
On the outside the DMR-BWT700 is a great-looking machine. It's built into a satisfyingly sturdy case, while the flap covering the entire front panel makes it sleek and uncluttered, and it's glammed up further by a graduated silver strip at the bottom. Under the flap you'll find a USB port, SD/SDXC/SDHC card slot and play/stop buttons. The display panel is easy to read and there are lights that indicate which tuners are being recorded.
The rear panel is adorned with a useful array of sockets, but it lacks the second HDMI output found on the BWT800. That's potentially bad news for owners of AV receivers that can't handle 3D signals via HDMI, as you can't pipe 3D pictures and HD audio separately - you'll have to settle for regular Dolby Digital or DTS from the coaxial digital audio output. Joining the single HDMI are an Ethernet port, RF in/out, composite, optical digital audio and analogue stereo outputs.
|Panasonic's standalone Blu-ray players were treated to a fresh new GUI this year, but the recorders stick with last year's. That's not a disaster, as the onscreen design is easy on the eye and generally co-operative, but certain areas feel disjointed and long-winded - for instance accessing the setup menu from the main Functions menu requires a couple of extra button presses than we feel is necessary, and when setting series link you're shown two conformation screens before you're done.|
And we've said it before, but Panasonic's cluttered EPG needs a serious overhaul for next year. An empty advertisement box hogs space that could have been used to expand the seven-channel programme grid - instead the boxes are cramped and you can't read the names properly. You can switch to a portrait single channel view, but it's yet more fiddling about. The onscreen Freeview banners offer up more annoyance - you can only view now and next information for each channel, denying you the chance to browse the entire schedules without entering the full EPG. There's decent info about each programme though, including a synopsis if you hit the 'i' button.
Thankfully, the deck is more helpful in other areas, using clear, informative dialogue boxes to resolve conflicts and make adjustments. And the other menus are easy to work with and attractive, particularly the Direct Navigator, which presents your recorded programmes in a list with a moving thumbnail and all the information you could need (including the number of Blu-ray copies you can make), plus finding the editing menu is a breeze.
We didn't have any trouble setting up the network functionality - Panasonic kindly provided us with a Wi-Fi dongle and it worked well, hooking up to our network instantly and streaming a variety of files without any glitches to speak of. And although we criticised its content, Viera Cast is actually a joy to use thanks to the pretty layout and responsiveness of the interface. YouTube videos streamed smoothly and only stopped to buffer occasionally.
You get the same remote as the DMR-BWT800, which means more chunky, multicoloured buttons with excellent labelling. There are buttons providing instant access to Viera Cast and Skype, plus a cluster of keys at the top that control TVs using the codes supplied in the manual.
|The DMR-BWT700's Blu-ray playback is just as masterful as Panasonic's standalone players when it comes to producing hi-def pictures. Dazzling detail clarity and effulgent colours are the order of the day, resulting in a picture that smacks you round the chops with its sheer sharpness, depth and solidity. |
The same can be said for 3D pictures, with Panasonic's proprietary picture tech preserving the subtle detail on the disc and reproducing the layering and picture depth without any major artefacts or glitches. If the image doesn't suit, simply fiddle with the depth and screen type settings, but leave the screen frame feature well alone.
There are absolutely no complaints with the BWT700's recording quality. DR recordings unsurprisingly look exactly the same as the live broadcasts, while compressed recordings in HG down to HM maintain a distinct hi-def look despite the lower bitrates used. We captured and compressed tennis from Wimbledon and it replayed the action smoothly without much shimmery noise, and kept track of the ball with pin-sharp precision. We didn't think much of the 2D programmes converted to 3D, but with 3D Freeview channels not coming for a while (if at all) you might be tempted to give it a go.
Sonically, the DMR-BWT700 is never going to satisfy audiophile tastes with so much crammed into this busy unit, but CD playback is pleasant enough even without the enjoyable Digital Tube Sound modes found on the DMR-BWT800.
With a more miserly hard-disk capacity, optional Wi-Fi and a single HDMI output, the DMR-BWT700 doesn't have quite the same formidable feature set its bigger brother, but at around half the price it's not an unreasonable trade-off. It's not the most user-friendly Panasonic product we've encountered though - disjointed menus and a terrible EPG are the main culprits - and we'd like to have seen Viera Connect instead of Cast. But there are still loads of features on board, the highlights being DLNA, 3D and Skype, and when combined with comprehensive recording and editing functionality and superb Blu-ray playback it's still a mightily impressive product.
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