Panasonic’s latest brainy box has so many functions we’re not quite sure what to call it. Back in the 1980s my Dad refused to buy a new TV, a VHS recorder, computer or any games systems, believing that there would soon be one device for the lounge that did everything. It never happened, but fast forward 25 years and Panasonic has come up with something about as close as possible to all-in-one nirvana for the high-def - and even 3D - age.
The BWT700 is packed with features that could help you slim-down your AV rack. Inside are two Freeview HD tuners, a 320GB hard disk drive and a Blu-ray drive. The former has all the “+” features you could ever want, including pause/rewind/record live TV (and in high-def, no less), while the latter spins DVD, 2D and 3D Blu-ray discs, and CD (music can even be ripped to the hard disk with track listing info intact). It’s only that middle feature we have reservations about, especially since it promises to record in high-def - surely 1TB is the number to aim for (such a HDD would achieve about 250 hours of HD rather than the paltry 80 hours possible on this deck). 2D to 3D conversion is also on the menu.
The rear is strapped with a single HDMI two digital audio outs, optical and coaxial - a rare thing in itself. Other hardware includes two USB ports - one on the front behind a flap - stereo audio outputs, Composite video and not one, but two Scarts.
Getting on a network using Ethernet LAN, we managed to stream some video files and check-out Panasonic’s Viera Cast online platform. Sadly, this machine doesn’t host the newer Viera Connect interface, so BBC iPlayer is missing. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Eurosport news and Acetrax movies are all present, as is Skype for those interested in investing £129 on a Panasonic-made camera/microphone.
Despite the online dimension, an iPhone app dreamed-up by Panasonic for its latest Blu-ray players doesn’t work here, which is a shame. Considering this deck’s myriad complex functions, the streamlining that designing an app requires might have been time well spent. Although programmes recorded from Freeview HD (or video imported from a camcorder) are recorded in their natural state, the BWT700 offers five compression options to either free-up more space on the HDD, or for archiving as much as possible to a blank Blu-ray (BD-R/BD-RE) disc. The trouble isn’t the many choices available, and nor do we mind that fact that recordings take an hour or so to be converted, but rather the way they are presented.
A successful product is all about the interface and that’s pretty much the only place where the BWT700 doesn’t come up trumps. Being impossible to compare to anything else on the market makes us look on the BWT700 very kindly, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it is only suited to an owner that is not only active in HD recording and archiving, but who’s also intensely interested. For the rest of us, these features could be a bit overwhelming and, frankly, not needed. That impression is pushed by a user interface that, at times, seems like four separate devices in one, and the remote control isn’t much help; it doesn’t even have a shortcut to the library of recordings.
Another issue is the HDD’s small size, which means that regular compressions of existing files might be a necessary evil in the interests of good HD housekeeping. If that could be a rather depressing way to spend an evening, the BWT700’s actual performance is a fabulous reason to stay in and draw the curtains.
There’s a 3D Effect controller among the user interface, though out of the box we found there was little need to adjust the depth or “leap” of the effects while watching a 3D Blu-ray disc.
The native 3D image is believable and free from any crosstalk or ghosting (we judged it on a pin-sharp Panasonic 3DTV), though that can’t be said about the machine’s 2D-3D conversion. It behaves OK with all three sources it can cope with - Freeview, Blu-ray and DVD - but we were not convinced for more than a few seconds at a time. Some shots work brilliantly (the panicking crowds of Na‘vi) while others are just ruined (incidental shots featuring actors crossing the screen, or still shots with few actors and little action). Upscaling of DVD, meanwhile, is exceptional - as is its Freeview HD performance, despite a lacklustre electronic programme guide.
Adept with all dimensions of Blu-ray and Freeview HD, and exceptionally kind to DVD, the BWT700 is a superb chunk of home cinema heaven, but its occasionally clumsy and complex user interface mars its extensive archiving and storage skills.