Last year Panasonic brought the first Blu-ray recorders with built-in Freesat HD tuners to the UK market, and it’s beaten everyone to the punch again in 2010 with the equivalent Freeview HD models. The DMR-BW780 allows you to pick up razor-sharp HD programmes on BBC HD, ITV1 HD and Channel 4 HD through your rooftop aerial, record them onto the 250GB hard disk and then burn them onto a Blu-ray disc for prosperity.
There are two Freeview HD tuners on board, allowing you to watch one channel and record another simultaneously - a rarity among combi recorders. And because the BW780 records the broadcast bitstream onto the hard-disk without decoding it first, you’re guaranteed the crispest recordings possible. You can then copy them to Blu-ray (or DVD, but not in HD) in their original quality or downgrade them using the built-in H.264 encoder - and such is the quality and efficiency of the MPEG4 compression you can hardly tell the difference. There are five modes to choose from.
However, you can’t just make copies of high-def content willy-nilly. The broadcasters have put in place a system of flags that limit the number of times their programmes can be copied. It’s to safeguard future sales of high-value content on Blu-ray, as well as an attempt to curb piracy.
But Blu-ray burning is just the start of this recorder’s talents. Thanks to the Ethernet port on the back, you can download BD Live content, access a variety of web applications through the Viera Cast portal (including YouTube and Bloomberg) and even access recordings, AVCHD and JPEG files from this machine on other networked Panasonic devices.
In fact, the DMR-BW780 makes a decent digital media hub all round. Not only can you play DivX HD, MP3 and JPEG from USB sticks, but you can also copy MP3 and JPEGs onto the hard disk, turning it into a digital jukebox. It’ll even rip CDs internally and tag them using the built-in Gracenote database.
All this and we haven’t even mentioned the vast array of editing features, Freeview+ functionality (including Series Link), pause/rewind live TV and generous socketry selection, which includes an HDMI output, two RGB-capable Scarts and optical/coaxial digital audio outputs. The front panel boasts an SD card slot, USB port and DV input.
The unit is a joy to use, with one exception. We love the classy, colourful main menu, the digital TV displays and the ingeniously simple remote, but the EPG is hindered by a big grey box that squashes up the programme grid.
The deck glosses over this minor misstep with top-notch performance. Pictures from the three HD channels look as good as they do on Sky HD or Freesat HD - mesmerisingly sharp, with dazzling colours, deep blacks, and noise-free edges.
Particularly stunning are nature documentaries on BBC HD, which are bursting with texture and painted in such convincing colours that you’ll want to dive into the screen. It’s exactly the same when you record them too.
Don’t forget that the DMR-BW780 is also a very talented Profile 2.0 Blu-ray player, equipped with Panasonic’s PHL Reference Chroma Processor Plus to make colours look as accurate as possible.
The DMR-BW780 is not only an amazing recorder, offering loads of features and superb pictures from Freeview and Blu-ray, but it’s also a terrific digital media hub.
It’s a lot more versatile than any of the forthcoming Freeview HD PVRs and the ability to pipe recordings to other players around the house is a nice addition to the feature set.
But there’s no getting away from that sky-high price tag, which will limit this deck’s appeal to affluent enthusiasts, and to be honest if you don’t need built-in Blu-ray recording you might as well save yourself some money and buy a cheaper PVR, or go for Panasonic’s DMR-BW380, which features HDD/DVD recording instead.