Panasonic DMR-BWT735EB 3D Blu-ray Freeview HD Recorder Review

AVForums checks the many faces of Panasonic's impressive combi package

by hodg100
Home AV Review

5

Highly Recommended
Panasonic DMR-BWT735EB 3D Blu-ray Freeview HD Recorder Review
SRP: £499.00

Introduction

These multi-faceted devices must be doing decent business for the manufacturers as we are seeing regular product updates from the established players and more companies jumping in to the market with their own versions. Hot off the production line, we have the Panasonic DMR-BWT735 which is not only an internet connected, 3D capable Blu-ray player with built-in dual tuner Freeview HD Personal Video Recorder (PVR) functionality but it’s also the one for those that like to archive programming to disc, courtesy of its ability to record on to optical media – namely Blu-ray and DVD discs. If that sounds to you like a lot to check out, then you’d be right so let’s dispense with the pre-amble and get down to business.

Styling, Build & Connectivity

Panasonic has been treading a familiar path with their Blu-ray player and recorder designs for a number of years now so the sight of a predominantly silver-effect machine coming out of the box was slightly unusual. That said, the BWT735 retains the same familiar design of the formerly all-black boxes. The front panel features the Panasonic logo, to the centre, with the Blu-ray and Freeview HD logos either side. Slightly offset to the right, the digital display gives information on a host of things including playback time elapsed/remaining, channel tuned, and drive in use but, if it all gets too much for you, it can either be dimmed or switched off entirely.

Panasonic DMR-BWT735EB

The rear of the unit hosts a number of inputs/outputs owing to the multi-purpose nature of the BWT735. There’s a single HDMI output; a LAN connection; Optical, stereo and Coaxial audio outs, a Scart socket; a composite video out with accompanying jacks, a USB input that can accommodate the optional Skype Camera/Mic plus a RF in and out for receiving Freeview HD and looping through to the aerial input of your TV.

Panasonic DMR-BWT735EB

The remote control is home to an wealth of buttons and might take you a while to get used to; again this is the nature of the beast bearing in mind all the functionalities available and not really a criticism. The unit is actually pretty well thought out and most of the important features are easily accessed at the centre. A big plus, for us, are the 10 and 60 second skip buttons that make advert breaks a breeze to whizz through.

Menus and Setup

The Function Menu is split in to 6 areas – Playback Contents, TV Guide, Timer Recording, Copy, Network and Others. The Playback menu takes one to a choice of Video, Photo and Music and from there it’s possible to select the destination from where your selection is replayed from your choice of source. The TV Guide is exactly what you were expecting and the Timer Recording takes you to your schedule of planned recording events and allows you to edit recordings – usually to add time at the end. One can also initiate manual recordings from there although it’s probably just easier to set something from the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) and edit.

The Network Menu allows you to check your current connectivity status and also, from here, you can instruct the DMR-PWT735EB as either a DLNA Client or Media Renderer. There’s also the new remote recording from phones, PCs and tablets function taken care of in here but that’s not quite ready for primetime yet. It’s not possible to set up your network connection in this area, which is odd, that’s taken care of in the Setup Menus accessed by selecting Others from the Main Menu. We have to say the GUI of the Panasonic Menus can be a bit off-putting and feels a little outdated and we’d encourage them looking at some streamlining here. On the plus side, at least it’s possible to go direct to your recordings library from a single press on the remote control; that is, if you haven’t got a disc inserted when, instead, hitting the DIRECT NAVIGATOR button will start the disc playing. We’d have preferred to have both options available at all times, however.

Panasonic DMR-BWT735EB
Panasonic DMR-BWT735EB

The Setup Menu accessed from the Others sub-menu is far more comprehensive in its available choices and, again, there are probably too many options that could have been consolidated within more over-arching menus. It’s also not possible to enter Setup whilst a recording is in operation; whilst we understand some of the options in there could potentially cause system instability when altered during a recording, it would be nice to access to those that wouldn’t. There are also separate and distinct menus there for Tuning, Disc Management, Picture, Sound, Display, Connection, Network and, another, Others. We’re not going to bore you by listing every item, just try and guide through the most crucial.

The Sound Menu is fairly sparse with options only for Dynamic Range Compression (leave off unless absolutely needed), Audio Delay and Downmix, with the latter offering options for either stereo or surround sound encoded. The Digital Audio Output Option provides a choice PCM Down Conversion where audio with a sampling frequency of 96 kHz are converted to 48 kHz, if you’re outputting to amplification that doesn’t support the higher frequency. There’s also the option to send Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby True HD as PCM or Bitstreamed and the same choices for DTS/DTS-HD and MPEG; plus you can send HE-AAC as either PCM or as a Dolby Digital Bitstream.

Panasonic DMR-BWT735EB

The critical picture affecting options aren’t found in Picture, nor Display, but in Connection which doesn’t seem right. In here there's the 3D settings, allowing the choice of outputting as Full HD 3D or as Side-by-Side (SBS) as well as the ability to switch on or off the 3D Health Warning message being displayed when as 3D signal is detected. From here we can also set our TV aspect ratio - choose 16:9 full for pixel mapping of 1080 sources to your 1080p display. In the HDMI Connection sub-menu we choose our video output resolution – more on which later and determine whether to send 24p as 24p or not (an almost no brainer, if your TV supports it). There’s a Deep Colour setting too which choices of Off or Automatic, the safest bet is off.

We can also determine whether, or not, to send audio through HDMI as well as the parameters for 7.1 audio reformatting that is probably best left to auto if you’re not running a 7.1 system. There’s also another set of selections only available through the Options button on the remote, including Super Resolution and Detail Clarity that are sharpening type processing and Chroma Process, which delivers chroma upsampling instead of letting the display handle it. By default the player is set to Advanced so it’s fortunate Panasonic’s video processing chips make a very good job of it. There are also an unnecessary set of Picture Mode options that’s best left at Normal to avoid excessive tampering with the video signal.

Features

The INTERNET button on the remote isn’t exactly the most prominent which doesn’t really give full credit to the amount of content available through the DMR-BWT735. The DIGA branded platform is essentially the same as the VIERA Connect platform found in the TVs but there’s no Web Browser included, presumably as it hasn’t got the processing power necessary to run it.

There are a good number of applications, however, including the BBC iPlayer, Twitter and Facebook. In addition you get Netflix, YouTube, Acetrax, Dailymotion, Euronews, Picasa and new additions like the ShoutCast and Aupeo radio apps. As mentioned earlier, Netflix has even managed to negotiate themselves a dedicated button on the remote control. Another addition is the slimmed down VIERA Connect Market, where you can download additional apps and games, although there is no payment feature.

Panasonic DMR-BWT735EB
Panasonic DMR-BWT735EB

As well as being able to access your home network, and any media server on it, the Panasonic can also act as DLNA renderer in its own right. It’s great to see that Panasonic has redesigned the DLNA Media Player and it now scans your hard drive for media and categorises as per Windows Media Player. We’ve been frustrated in the last couple of years that the Panasonic player’s were unable to burrow done a file system without crashing so this a huge improvement. The DLNA serving capabilities are great too and with our Windows 7 laptop we are able to access the contents of the hard drive - including all the recordings made from the Freeview tuner - once they’d been added to the Windows Media Player Library. We also had a couple of Smart TVs around the house capable of playing back the contents. It’s a very nice function, indeed, and opens up a whole new set of possibilities for watching around the home.

The DIGA Player app for Android and iOS is a bit of a mixed bag, at present. It gives the promise of being able to view both the contents of the hard drive and live Freeview broadcasting but we found the Android version to be completely unstable, crashing almost as routine and unable to stream back video when it wasn’t falling over. The iOS version is better but isn’t currently sending the audio stream so it’s OK for watching something like snooker (which we did) but useless for anything where the dialogue is necessary. We’d fully expect Panasonic to be on the case in issuing updates very soon and we’ll feed this information back to them too. At the end of May (2013), they will also be adding the option of being able to set recordings when you’re out of the house via the app or from a PC, hopefully we’ll get chance to try that out soon.

Update: We've been notified by Panasonic a new Diga app compatible with the BWT735EB will be released 15/05/2013 which should clear up all the issues on both iOS and Android

Freeview HD+ PVR

The DMR-BWT735EB is a ‘full fat’ PVR and is able to utilise both of its tuners for simultaneous recording; and you can watch a recording/Blu-ray etc whilst the unit is recording, for that matter, which allows for plenty of flexibility. We would like to have seen a little more user control in how to handle recording clashes and back-to-back recordings but that’s a minor criticism and something, if implemented, likely to cause confusion to less savvy owners anyhow. Pausing live TV can seem a little sluggish to respond, too, and it’s easy to get caught in the trap of unnecessary multiple presses of the button. A rather annoying limitation is that the BWT735 won’t allow you to pause the action of a channel you’re recording when both tuners are being used to record. Instead you are required to go in to the Direct Navigator, hit Play and then you’re able to pause. A nice feature is that the BWT735 box notify you if a High Definition version of the programme you are trying to record is available, if you try and record the SD Version.

Panasonic DMR-BWT735EB
Panasonic DMR-BWT735EB

The BWT735 is capable of series link - in a couple of presses - as well as one-touch recording that will record the currently viewed channel until its scheduled ending. It is also possible to ‘chase play’ on a presently recording item, i.e. you can watch from the beginning before the programme has ended but another behaviour we’d like to see remedied is that when pressing the GUIDE button, during playback of a recording, you are thrown out in to ‘live TV’ on exit. It’s easy enough to resume a recording from the last viewed point but still a nuisance as we like the ability to be able to set recordings, even when viewing one. Probably our favourite little extras came in a couple of ‘time slip’ features accessed from the remote control. As well as the -10 second/+60 second buttons, there’s also the ability to skip back or forwards, in minute intervals, by setting your desired parameter using the TIME SLIP button; so, for instance, if you wanted to get to the 2nd half of a recorded football match, you would enter 45 minutes (+ whatever difference between programme start time and Kick-Off) and the box will take you there. It works very well and means you can easily kiss goodbye to adverts if the majority of your viewing is time shifted.

3D and HD Playback

In all of our testing, so far, we’ve yet to come across a 3D player that was incapable of doing its job with 3D material and the DMR-BWT735 is no exception. That is to say we experienced the exact same sense of depth and dimensionality to images with no crosstalk, or any other kind of artefact, being introduced. Some of our current testing materials include The Hobbit, Dredd and Madagascar 3 which all established the BWT735 as a perfectly capable 3D player in real world scenarios. Switching to some patterns and we tested that the signal being sent was full resolution with a display we knew capable of resolving it and, again, there were no issues. So we can confidently state, it’s as good as any other player we’ve tested for 3D playback.

Similarly, when we compare players outputting two dimensional 1080p images form Blu-ray, provided both the display and spinners are set up properly, there’s virtually no difference in the pictures they produce. With the test equipment available to us it’s possible to compare in great detail the relative outputs and, if there’s no undefeatable image manipulation going on, one player will look like another. From disc based tests, the performance with 1080i signals was perfectly good. Deinterlacing was clean with barely anything in the way of jaggies with rotating bars patterns and the cadence detection for film shot, progressive material was excellent and it’s good to see the inadvertent activation of the Progressive Mode when watching video content from the tuners has been rectified.

Standard Definition Playback

The handling of standard definition content is very excellent. Scaling is fantastic, film cadence detection is rock solid and deinterlacing exemplary. We have to admit that we try and limit our standard definition intake to an absolute minimum now and, despite its undoubted abilities, the DMR-BWT735 can’t make some of the criminally compressed Freeview channels look better but a decent quality DVD can look very good, indeed.

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Flawless Blu-ray for both 2D and 3D
  • Extremely Solid Freeview PVR functionality
  • Ability to stream Freeview recordings around the house
  • Lots of good VoD Services
  • Very good with SD Sources
  • Media player now works much better over DLNA

Cons

  • Some limitations with PVR implementation
  • Menu system is bloated and over-complicated
  • Mobile Apps aren't working properly at the moment

Panasonic DMR-BWT735EB 3D Blu-ray Freeview HD Recorder Review

Panasonic’s current fascination with producing AV gear in a predominantly silver effect continues apace with the DMR-BWT735 but that’s about the only design concession they’ve made as it follows a very familiar form factor to their Blu-ray products of years gone by. It feels solid and weighty and should have enough connections to keep the average household happy with single HDMI and Scart connections for audio and video and stereo, coax and S/PDIF as dedicated audio outputs. The remote control is a bit busy but that’s to be expected with so much functionality crammed in and you’ll soon become familiar with the layout although the Internet Button really should be a bit more prominent. Pressing said button will take you in to Panasonic’s online portal that’s full of Video on Demand services and sundry games and ‘lifestyle’ apps, there’s even a dedicated button for the growing throngs of Netflix subscribers. There’s also a new app for iOS and Android which seems to be having teething issues but we'd expect fixes will be forthcoming, sooner rather than later.

The BWT735 is a hugely capable dual tuner PVR with almost all the bells and whistles one would expect, including Series Links and the notification when HD sources are available but there’s still a touch of clunkiness to the operations. For instance, it’s not possible to pause the action of a channel you’re recording without accessing it from the Direct navigator interface and you can’t set a recording whilst watching another without being chucked out in to ‘live’ TV but the Panasonic is very solid and dependable in its recording duties. Likewise, the BWT735 is an excellent disc player and handles both 2D and 3D Blu-ray in impressive fashion, provided you don’t go messing with the unnecessary picture controls hidden in a menu only accessible when pressing the options button on the remote. Handling of standard def signals is also superb which is good news from both a broadcast and DVD point of view.

It’s very difficult to find anything to significantly criticise in the Panasonic DMR-BWT735’s overall performance. It does just what it says on the box – and that’s an awful lot! Highly Recommended.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Picture Quality

.
9

Sound Quality

.
9

Features

.
.
8

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
.
.
5

Build Quality

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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