The DMR-EX769 brings together a range of features that modern lifestyles often demand. It not only gives you all the advantages of Freeview+, but also rolls a DVD recorder into the same box. But is this jack of all trades and master of none?
The EX769 is a standard 43cm wide and 26cm deep, although you'll have to allow a little extra space for the large fan on the back and any cables you attach. The design is instantly recognisable as Panasonic and mirrors the design across their range, including their Blu-ray recorders released this year.
The front features a large LCD display - a hive of information - and the large bay door the houses the DVD player/writer. There is also a drop down flap on the front concealing AV/S-Video connections.
Around the back is the mainstay of connections where you'll find the HDMI, Component, Composite, S-Video, and dual Scart. There is also an optical connection to carry your audio stream over to an amplifier, and of course the aerial connection.
It features a single Freeview tuner which is a little behind the times as you'll only be able to watch what you are recording, or something else previously recorded or on DVD - you won't be able to record one channel and watch another unlike many other PVRs.
The DVD player/recorder supports a huge number of formats for recording and playback (a complete list of which is available on Panasonic's website). DVD playback looks great on larger HDTVs, with the EX769 giving a good showing for itself over HDMI thanks to the 1080p upscaling.
But most people will be interested in the EX769 because of the more advanced features it offers. The first of which is Freeview+, which enables functions that Sky+ viewers have had for a while, like pausing live TV and recording. Inside the device is a 160GB hard drive, which might seem comparatively small alongside rivals offering 250 and even 500GB. However, the DVD writer does mean that you can archive programmes to DVD.
The make the most of your 160GBs, you do get various options to scale the quality, from the maximum of XP which will give you 35 hours, to the minimum EP, which gives you over 200 hours, which takes some time to explore until you find a happy medium.
The problem we found, however, was in overall control. The remote goes some way to clamp down on some of the confusion by giving you dedicated buttons for things like Drive Select, so you can choose between the HDD and DVD, but it does mean the remote is a little more cluttered than some.
However, the main controls are split between the Guide, Function Menu and Direct Navigator, which are centred around a four-way controller. These major controls are easy to find in the dark thanks to their placement.
Guide is effectively the EPG, which is rather basic and lacks the sort of crisp sheen that is now becoming more common where you see the HD tag. On a larger display is can look a little blocky and it is frustrating that about a quarter of the EPG on-screen is given over to advertising.
We'd rather have a window allowing you to browse the EPG and watch the channel you are on - or at least hear the audio - neither of which you can do here. You can search the EPG too, which might appeal to those who don't fancy browsing through all the channels.
Enter a programme and you get the option view or record, including a series link option. You can view series information too and it seems to work fairly well. Although you can't watch and record different channels, you can watch what is currently being recorded, so if you've set the timer, but then make it to the TV, you can simply hit play and start watching it back whilst the recording continues.
Nice touches include automatic chaptering, which means that when you are watching a programme back, you can skip the adverts almost perfectly, making playback an absolute pleasure.
Playback both from DVD and HDD recordings can be accessed through the Direct Navigator, which basically pulls up a menu so you can watch your recordings. You get a short preview playback of the recorded programmes too, which is also a nice touch. If you have a standard DVD disc, this will take you back to the disc menu.
There is a resume playback that makes life simple, because you might be watching a bit of CSI, drift off to do something else and then return to it - simply hitting play starts things rolling from where you left off, which we like.
The Function menu gives you available options, so you can easily copy something to DVD through this menu, or dive out into your recording schedule. The Function menu is also the hub for the advanced recording options, like setting up a selection of programmes to burn to DVD.
Given these three different routes, with cross over between them, it is possible to get a little lost until you know the system. We'd have liked to see a little more polish given to the visuals, but the functions are all pretty slick.
It is also a quiet runner and we found it rarely needed to deploy the fan on the rear to cool itself down - or not that we noticed. DVD playback isn't quite as quiet as we'd like, with an audible purr coming from the drive.
There is a power saver option for standby although this makes startup and shutdown rather long. In fact, you are probably better off sticking to normal mode, because the startup is so slow in power saver mode, you are likely to leave it on instead…
The EX769 excels in DVD playback and in pure simplicity for HDD and DVD recording. Some aspects, perhaps, don't quite measure the options presented by rivals: a glorious high-definition menu structure, or a USB or SD card slot to playback or record digital media, as offered on Panasonic's higher models.
Overall, the EX769 is a great option as a recorder. The lack of twin tuners will annoy some, but if you are only looking for a recorder (and plan to use the tuner in your TV) then this may be less of an issue.