The recession is lingering and the demand for HD has never been higher. The perfect time, then for folk paying the likes of Sky and Virgin every month to ditch their expensive monthly subscription deals and save money by buying an all-new Freeview+HD recorder. There is, however, one small problem with Panasonic's XW380: it's not going to save you much money.
As such, we're not entirely sure who's going to migrate from pay-TV to the XW380, which is a shame because it's one highly skilled machine. As well as recording to a 250GB HDD from its two Freeview+HD tuners - as many as a Sky+ box, but one less than a Virgin Media V+ box - the XW380 can perform a host of other tasks its subscription-only competitors can only dream of.
Its trump card is that it can also export any recordings straight to a DVD, though the prospect of downscaling an HD programme to work on a DVD does seem a shame. If that annoys, consider stretching your budget (a lot) further by buying one of Panasonic's Blu-ray recorders, the £750 BW780 (with 250GB HDD) or £800 BW880 (with 500GB HDD and out at the end of June).
But there's more. As well as pause live TV for 2 hours, a DR File Conversion option allows any recordings you've made to be cleverly compressed, either to take up less space on the hard disk or on a DVD.
Its multimedia talents also extend to the transferring onto the hard disk of JPEG and MP3 files, while a CD ripped to the HDD is treated to full track listing information, direct from the online Gracenote database. Meanwhile, AVCHD files - high-def footage from a camcorder (Panasonic or other) - can also be stored on the hard disk. DivX files can't be stored on the hard disk, though they can be played directly from a USB stick/drive or an SD card.
Around the rear is an optical port (the XW380 can produce a Dolby Digital soundtrack from Freeview broadcasts), a couple of Scarts (avoid if you want HD), some Composite video outputs (ditto), HDMI, Ethernet (for Viera Cast and DNLA networking), RF in and out, and stereo audio outputs. A front panel slips down to reveal a slot that can accept SD/SDXC/SDHC cards, a USB 2.0 slot, a mini DV link for camcorders, a Composite video input and a set of stereo audio ins; the XW380 doesn't leave much to chance.
There are also some nifty picture options. Central to the overall picture quality on the XW380 is its Chroma Processor, which is designed to boost sharpness and detail, and smooth away artefacts from fast-moving video on both HDD and DVD recordings.
It works a treat. Pictures from all sources are studded with subtle colours, fine detailing and some stability and smoothness that most Freeview HD receivers don't offer. Kudos goes to Panasonic for its up-rezzing skills particularly: DVD and low-quality recordings are highly watchable, even on a 50-inch TV. It's also good to know that the DVD-RAM format can be handled which is good news if you're upgrading from a previous generation of Panasonic Digi recorder.
As an aside, it's important to note that this first wave of Freeview+HD recorders carries with it inflated prices. Issued last summer, Panasonic's almost identical BS750 has a twin Freesat HD tuners and a 250GB HDD and adds a Blu-ray recorder for a shade less than this DVD model.
If Freeview HD recording and all round digital know-how is your aim, there's nothing quite like the XW380. It's a veritable one-stop solution for a home cinema, albeit one that hasn't embraced Blu-ray - and it comes at a high price.