* Prices may differ from that shown
First of all let me explain that I am no expert in home entertainment systems so this review won't be full of technical jargon and obscure details. What I will do is explain my experience of using this unit, what I like and dislike, what's good and bad and what could be improved.
Like most modern appliances this unit probably does many things that I am not aware of but what I would want to know, and hopefully you do to, is does it do the job you want? Is it easy to use? And does it look good? Quick answer - Yes, Yes and Yes.
Does it do the job?
You want a DVD recorder to do two things: play DVDs and record from the TV. From my experience this unit does both things very well.
DVD Play back - On loading a disc the unit will switch to DVD playback mode and start very quickly. It does all the things you would expect and picture/sound quality is excellent. Mind you a £40 machine will do this as well.
Recording - This is why you are looking at this unit so I'll try and give you more detail. Recording can be done in two ways, to DVD disc or to hard drive (HDD). Recording to DVD is straightforward once you have a disc installed. As with old VHS systems, unless you are very organised chances are you will have a pre-recorded DVD, or no DVD at all, in the machine at any time so you have to hunt around for a blank disc. The clincher for this machine is the hard drive. With 80GB available storage you should be able to store up to 140 odd hours of TV on the lowest setting. There are four quality settings to choose from. I use the second best, which is virtually indistinguishable from best quality and this allows up to 40 hours to be stored. At this setting the quality of picture/sound playback is superb and easily matches broadcast standard.
Recording is a one button operation. Assuming the machine is switched on and the right channel is selected just push the Rec button on the remote or the unit itself and recording starts within a second. The beauty of this function is that you can pause live TV (as they say) and 'time slip'. This means you can start watching a saved program while it's still recording, you can also record a program and watch a previously recorded show or DVD. Until you've used this feature you won't realise just how cool and liberating this is.
The unit supports multiple disc formats and as you would expect utilises Videoplus+.
Is it easy to use?
There are a number of things you will want to do with this machine and they are all simplicity itself. Panasonic have been doing this a long time and they have got most things right. There aren't many controls on the unit itself, so most things will be done via the remote control handset.
Installation: Very straightforward, it really is plug and play. Once all cables and power are connected an auto setup runs to find available channels and you're ready to go in about fifteen minutes. Unless, like me, you like to drag these things out to look 'busy' and 'clever'.
Recording: Turn it on, choose where to record to (disc or HDD), select the channel and press record. Job done. The timer function is easy to find and use and once set will not stop you viewing a stored show or DVD. Recorded programs can be edited to remove unwanted parts. Recordings to HDD will not be divided into chapters but these can added later if wanted. This is important if you plan to transfer to disc at any time.
Playing a DVD: A disc will start playing automatically once it has been loaded, all the functions you'd expect to see are here.
Playing a stored program: Stored programmes are accessible from the navigation screen, this is one button away on the handset. Each recording appears as a thumbnail on this screen and can be selected using the scroll wheel on the handset, once selected it will start playing a preview. Press Play or OK to start playback. The unit will also pick up the name of the program and display that as well.
The handset: The handset is a good size and well laid out. Most functions that you want are one button away and the scroll wheel makes fast forward etc very simple.
Does it look good?
Fashions for these appliances, like all things, change over time, but the design and materials used here are very contemporary and go well with other modern equipment.
Other points: There is a slot for SD card in the unit so that you can view digital pictures and so on. I found this a bit cumbersome and seldom use it. You can transfer shows from the HDD to disc, the process is straightforward but slow. A useful function is the 'best fit' option where the unit will adjust the quality or the recording to make best use of the available space on the disc.
Positives: Ease of use, quick response time, picture quality, ability to time slip. Having a hard drive is, I think, a huge advantage over disc only units and genuinely challenges Sky+.
Negatives: The manual is not very easy to follow and this probably explains why I have not used many of the advanced functions.