All bases covered?
What is the BWT850?We’ve got to know the Panasonic line-up of Freeview recorders extremely well in 2016. In one form or another, this is our fourth of the year and the DMR-BWT850 is the top-of-the-line device so, we guess, we’ve saved the best until last. This isn’t just a Freeview Play enabled personal video recorder (PVR), of course, this box will also play Blu-ray and DVD discs, local and networked media and has access to a number of apps, primarily for streaming. What sets the BWT850EB apart from the rest is its ability to record to disc so it’s potentially the archivers dream ticket. At the time of publishing (August 2016), the DMR-BWT850 is widely available for £449.00 so it’s expensive if you’re not going to use the archiving facilities, in which case you would probably want to take a look at either the PWT655 or PWT550 which are functionally the same, bar the disc recording capability.
Design, Connections & ControlThere’s nothing at all fancy about the design of the BWT850, it’s a plain and simple, archetypal black box measuring 430 x 59 x 210mm (WxHxD) so it’s not large either. The casing is mostly metal, other than a tinted plastic facia which is actually a flap that drops automatically when the Open/Close button is pressed but it can it be manually done when you want to access the USB and SD Card storage. The disc mechanism is of the tray loading type and there’s a visual display panel to the right of it. One thing we must say about this particular sample is that it wasn’t very quiet during use, with a noticeable hum audible from a few feet away. Whether that’s peculiar to this particular unit we couldn’t be sure but having tested all the rest of the Panasonic PVR family, we would say it’s unusual as they were much quieter.
Aside from the connected storage options the remaining connections are placed at the rear and include RF-in and out for your aerial and taking the signal to other devices (probably your TV), respectively. There are also HDMI and LAN ports – there’s built-in WiFi too - another USB input and a coaxial digital audio output. Like the box design, the remote control is functional rather than attractive looking and it has no shortage of buttons to learn the location of - this is just the nature of the beast, given all the functionalities available and not a criticism, as such. The controller is actually quite well thought out and most of the important features are easily accessed at the centre. Big pluses, for us, are the 10 and 60 second skip buttons that make advert breaks a cinch to whizz through and the dedicated Netflix launcher.
Features & AppsThere’s a good set of apps in Panasonic‘s app store – aka the Diga Marketplace - including both Amazon Instant Video and Netflix but they are limited to a 60Hz video signal output. In a perfect world, it would dynamically adjust according to the frame rate of the content being played to ensure best playback and it’s something the Samsung players and recorders are capable of. The Freeview Play catch-up apps – iPlayer, ITV Hub, Demand 5 & All 4 - are all there now, following a software update to version 1.12 and the seven-day scroll-back Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) was more fluent than we found in the other players/recorders we tested recently. That could have been the result of the update, it’s difficult to say but we still find it a fairly cumbersome way to access the content.
After having struggled (read failed) to get TV Anywhere working with the previous 2016 Panasonic recorders, colour us shocked that it worked first time with the BWT850. TV Anywhere is a feature to allow you to set and access recordings anywhere you have an internet connection. You need to download the Panasonic Media Centre app to your phone or tablet, create an account and then register the device but it’s pretty much plain sailing following that. You can play the recordings on your mobile device or swipe to have them play on the recorder and you can even create playlists to save a little time sifting through recordings. The video quality is reasonable on a small screen but HD is compressed to less than SD quality @ 360 or even 180p although that’s understandable for when watching outside of the home. It would have been nice to have the option of higher quality, however, for viewing on your home network but you can just use the BWT850 as a DLNA serving device when you’re in and that doesn’t restrict the quality.
Freeview PVR PerformanceThe Panasonic DMR-PWT850EB is a perfectly serviceable Freeview personal video recorder with some good features but also some drawbacks. It is, of course, capable of creating series links in a couple of button presses. The PWT850 can also do one-touch recordings to record the currently selected channel until its scheduled end or for a nominated time, if you wish, which is useful if it’s a live event that could overrun. You can also use the 850 to ‘chase play’ on a presently recording channel, i.e. you can watch the programme from the beginning before it has ended. We tested the player with a number of recording events and it performed with total reliability, so you should be able to leave it alone with confidence.
The BWT850EB is better able to deal with timer clashes than pre-2016 Panasonic PVRs. Now, if you attempt to schedule more than two concurrent events, you will be flashed a warning screen giving you the opportunity to alter or delete one of the overlapping timers. It’s not got to the point where the software will offer you alternative broadcasts of the same show – like some PVRs do – but at least the warnings are in place. It also would be good if the software would warn you when you’ve set up a standard definition recording and an HD alternative exists, although the information is displayed at the top of the programme guide by the text ‘SD>HD’, that's not especially clear and certainly not fool-proof.
As we said when discussing the remote control, the DMR-BWT850 has some nice ‘time slip’ features. You get minus 10 second and plus 60 second buttons and a dedicated TIME SLIP button, allowing you to enter user defined segments of time to move around, in increments of one minute up to the total duration of the programme; for instance, you might have recorded a music festival but know that the band you want to watch didn’t start for an hour in to the programme, so just press the TIME SLIP button and enter 60 to jump straight to it.
There are some limitations with the 850EB, largely owing to its multi-functional nature. Pressing the GUIDE button during playback of a recording will see you dumped back in to ‘live TV’ on exit. Sure, it’s not difficult to resume playback at the last viewed point but we do still want unfettered access to the guide at all times. Another drawback is that you can’t easily pause a channel that’s being recorded without entering the Video Menu to watch it as a recording and pausing Live TV, feels decidedly sluggish and it’s easy to get caught in the trap of unnecessary multiple presses of the pause button but we’d expect most will get used to the hiatus reasonably quickly.
Blu-ray/DVD PerformanceThis is essentially a flagship disc spinner from Panasonic featuring their latest scaling and colour processing techniques and our testing saw it pass with flying colours for both high and standard definition content. Colours remain true, provided you don’t mess with the Picture Type from Normal in the Option menu, and scaling all the way up to Ultra HD resolutions is genuinely impressive. When scaling to Ultra HD, we’d suggest you compare the relative scaling performance of the player with that of your TV but it was of a very good standard. This Panasonic is also capable of 3D Blu-ray playback and it did so as faultlessly as it handled 2D content.
Display of interlaced content always provide more of a challenge to players and it’s here that we often see what a video processing engine is made of. Setting the player to 1080i and loading up both edge and source adaptive deinterlacing tests from the Spears and Munsil and the HQV discs revealed the Panasonic DMR-BWT850 was a more than capable performer. The player fared very well in edge adaptive deinterlacing where fine details were largely retained under movement with just the merest hint of jaggies. Of course a lot of that is academic if you have a 1080p display and set the BWT850 to output accordingly.
The DMR-BWT850 displayed due care and attention with SD content, faithfully reproducing all detail without incurring any of the ringing or artefacting you sometimes see. Deinterlacing tests revealed just the slightest amount of jaggedness under movement but generally directional filtering was plenty good enough and our DVDs looked as good as possible thanks to strong scaling.
- Near peerless archiving capability
- Solid PVR performance
- Perfect Blu-ray replay
- Great processing for SD
- All major UK catch-up services present
- TV Anywhere finally working
- Supplied unit was noisy
- TV Anywhere limited to 360p
- Expensive if you don't need the disc facilities
Panasonic DMR-BWT850EB PVR/Blu-ray Player Combi Review
Should I buy one?Before deciding on whether, or not, you should avail yourself of the multiple capabilities of the Panasonic DMR-BWT850, you first need to ask yourself the question – do I plan to keep, or later archive, the recordings made from the Freeview HD tuner on disc? If that answer is in the negative, move on to something else as really this box is overkill – and expensive – for your needs. On the other hand, if that is one of your requirements, the BWT850 is probably the leading contender on the market.
The build quality is decent, although the supplied review sample had an annoyingly audible hard drive but we wouldn’t necessarily think that was typical, as the other Panasonic recorders we’ve tested didn’t share the same noisiness. Connectivity options are what you’d expect including an aerial terminal, HDMI and both USB and SD ports for media playback and the supplied remote is large and functional. The BWT850 performs its duties as Freeview recorder with reliability and relatively few niggles, although there’s one or two things we’d like to see tweaked. As a disc player it’s even better with faultless Blu-ray playback and excellent handling of DVDs.
The inclusion of all the major catch-up apps and both the Amazon and Netflix services is another bonus and the fact the TV Anywhere service – allowing you to watch the contents of the hard drive anywhere you have an internet connection – now seems to have been fixed at the back-end all adds to the appeal; we would prefer a higher quality option for the video output of TV Anywhere, however, to accommodate those with decent upload speeds and strong network connections but at least it now works. The Panasonic DMR-PWT850EB is a very complete solution that comes with our Recommendation – just make sure it’s not more than you actually need.
Ease of Use Menus/GUI7
Picture Quality HD9
Picture Quality SD8
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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