There’s no doubt, that at its full suggested retail price, the BTW800 could be regarded as something of an expensive unit; at just under £850 prospective purchasers could comfortably equip themselves with a dedicated PVR, 3D Blu-ray player and media streamer but we guess that’s kind of missing the point of the convenience and space-saving properties of a one box solution. Can the DMR-BTW800 tick all - or at least enough – of the boxes to justify its existence on the market or will it prove to be a jack of all trades and master of none with only a niche appeal? We’ll be putting the Panasonic through our usual array of video testing whilst using it as our everyday Blu-ray player and PVR so it will be put under plenty of stress! Let’s see how it holds up…
The rear of the unit hosts quite a number of inputs/outputs owing to the multi-purpose nature of the BWT800. Of most interest to owners of non 3D capable AV receivers will be the dual HDMI output making it possible to still enjoy the HD audio formats as well as 3D Blu-ray. There’s a LAN connection; Optical and Coaxial audio outs, two Scart sockets; a composite video out with accompanying stereo jacks, a USB style input for 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.
The remote control is home to an absolute wealth of buttons and takes 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, as such. 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.
As the BWT800 does so much, its menus are almost inevitably somewhat sprawling and it will take some time for new owners to become accustomed but we found them to be relatively well laid out and we were fairly au fait within a couple of weeks use. Many of the items are shared between the drives (Optical/HDD) and SD/USB inputs so we’d advise keeping a careful eye on the GUI to ensure the correct source is in use at the time. At the bottom of the main Function Menu there’s a Drive Select item, so it’s easy to switch between sources and when a USB drive or SD card is inserted, a pop up menu will appear specific to the device allowing viewing/copying of files.
The Function Menu is split in to 6 further sub-menus - Playback Contents, TV Guide, Timer Recording, Copy, Network and Others. Dependent on which drive is in use, Playback Contents will either spin up your optical disc or take you in to the archive of recordings on the hard drive. For USB, the user can select to play video, view photos, play or copy MP3 music files or copy photos to it and it’s similar for SD card with the ability to playback Photo and Video although there’s no support for MP3 from SD.
Unsurprisingly, selecting TV Guide from the Function Menu brings up the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) and it’s yet another disappointing affair from Panasonic with valuable screen real estate taken up with pointless ‘Diga’ logos and both video and audio cut completely whilst viewing. We can forgive this more easily with the Panasonic TVs but since this is a PVR, a well presented EPG should be a pre-requisite as part of the bread and butter of the machine. In actual fact, the higher-end TVs GUI is actually more attractive although the 7 channel/2 hour view is common across the ranges. There’s also the counter-intuitive annoyance that highlighting a programme and hitting the record button doesn’t actually set it to record. Really Panasonic, come on! We’ll deal with the functionalities of the PVR later in the review but we just had to get that off our chests here. The Timer Recording item behaves as expected, also, with the ability to set manual timings, rather than from the EPG, but we never really had need for it, especially since it’s easy enough to adjust recording start/end times from the EPG based interface, particularly useful for live events that are likely to run over prescribed finish times.
The Copy sub-menu allows for transfer of video from HDD to optical disc, or even vice versa, provided the video stored on disc is compatible with any of the various copy modes employed on the BWT800. There really are a wealth of options for compression present but being fans of quality over quantity, we would always retain the uncompressed Direct Record (DR) mode although if space is a concern, the higher quality (HG for Hi-Def/XP for Standard Def) provide a very decent alternative. All other copy modes were too much of a compromise, in our view. Bringing up the Network sub-menu allows the choice between Home Network (DLNA) and Internet Content, with the former showing any media servers present on your network and the latter takes you to Panasonic’s Viera Cast internet portal. We’ll go in to a little more detail on Viera Cast later.
If you thought that was a lot of functions, already, you aint seen nothing yet as the last item, Others, contains a further huge amount of options. We won’t cover everything here - there really is too much for the confines of a review (bear in mind the instruction manual is 131, A4 pages long) - but we’ll attempt to go over all the picture quality affecting options. Deep breath.
From the Setup sub-menu there there are 8 further items – Tuning; HDD/Disc; Picture; Sound; Display; Connection; Network and Others. The HDD/Disc menu has settings for Playback/Recording and HDD Management. Under the Playback settings users can access parental lock systems for Blu-ray and DVD, Soundtrack, Menu and Subtitle language preference options; there's also the option of making 3D video playback to automatic or set before play - meaning you will need to choose each time a 3D Blu-ray is in the tray. Under the Recording settings, owners can select whether to engage a buffer for the REWIND LIVE TV function; the Aspect Ratio for Recording; whether or not to enable Chapter Creation; the recording format for DVD; the speed at which content will be copied to Blu-ray/DVD and the length of recording time in EP mode. The HDD management item allows for the deletion of all files, or just photos, and the formatting of the drive in case of troubles. Thankfully we never needed to use it!
The Picture menu has options for displaying paused content in fields or frames; enabling seamless playback will mean items in playlists will run back to back and there's an option for converting NTSC content to PAL60. The Sound menu has options for Dynamic Range Compression; PCM Down Conversion for 96kHz audio material; Downmix allows you to choose how you would like multi-channel audio to be dealt with as stereo - either as straight stereo or surround encoded and there's an option for setting Audio Delay. Under the Digital Audio Output area you can choose to send your Dolby/DTS/MPEG audio as Bitstream or PCM - Note: setting BD-Video Secondary audio to 'On' and sending your HD audio bitstreamed will result in them being sent as plain old Dolby Digital and DTS. The Display menu deals with the front panel, on-screen messages, screen saver and on-screen languages as well as the option to have the LED indicating sub HDMI output on or off.
From the Connection options 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 a 3D signal is detected. There are further 3D options available through the OPTION button, on the remote, whilst 3D (or converted 2D) material is being displayed including an option to control the depth perception, for those struggling to enjoy comfortable viewing. From here we can also set our TV aspect ratio - choose 16:9 full for pixel mapping of 1080 sources to your 1080p display. We are also able to set output for the AV1 RGB Scart terminal to RGB/S Video or Video and we can also determine the video input signal of the AV2 terminal.
In the HDMI Connection area we can select to either send just audio or both audio and video through the HDMI sub port; choose our video output (Auto/1080p/1080i/720p/576p or 480p); determine whether to send 24p as 24p (no brainer) and also in this area we can enable HDMI CEC, labelled Viera Link by Panasonic, and determine whether to send audio over HDMI as well as setting Deep Colour to Off or Automatic, the safest bet is off. When in optical drive mode, users can select whether to have 7.1ch Audio Reformatting which will output any surround audio as 7.1 with Automatic chosen or Off will output anything sub 7.1 in its original format unless it’s DTS or DTS-HD that’s 7.1 in either configuration.
Freeview HD PVR
Unlike Samsung’s near equivalent BD-D8500M that Steve reviewed recently BWT800 is what we’d regard as a ‘proper’ PVR in that it can utilise both tuners for simultaneous recording; and you can watch a recording/Blu-ray etc whilst the unit is recording, for that matter, which allows for a lot more flexibility. We would like to have seen a little more latitude 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 pause button but we’d expect most will get used to the hiatus reasonably quickly.
The BWT800 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, 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.
Owners of 3D TVs feeling short of content will perhaps delight in the fact that recorded Freeview can be put through Panasonic’s 2D to 3D conversion process and we have to say their efforts are no worse than any other we’ve seen, i.e. it doesn’t really work for the vast majority of content but we know some find more merit in it than we do.
Overall, we would have no problems with having the BWT800 as our everyday Freeview PVR and that’s saying something. Sure, it has its niggles – they all have – but the good far outweighs the bad and it passed the most important test of all, stability. In its few weeks of residence here, 12 series links and 25 single recordings were made without any hitches and we can’t say fairer than that!
The copying fun doesn’t stop there either, music can be copied from USB or CD/DVD to the hard drive and then played back through the Direct Navigator and the BWT 800 utilises the Gracenote database for Album/Artist Info when a CD is inserted. Photographs can be imported through the same media, plus SD card, and can also be copied to just about everything (Blu-ray/CD/DVD/USB/HDD/SD). As well as supporting .jpg photo’s, the BWT800 is also capable of playing back 3D .mpo snaps, too. The BWT800 is also one of an increasingly rare breed that can record RGB, via Scart, from an external source, from a Sky Box for example. The industry is set on doing away with analogue outputs by the end of 2012 so if this kind of functionality is important to you, grab it whilst you can.
As well as being able to access your home network, and any media server on it, the Panasonic can also act as DLNA server in its own right. We were disappointed that the 800 features a similar bug to the BDT-310 we reviewed, in that when accessing our own media servers it couldn’t go deep enough in to the folder structure to make it of much use and it would have required moving our media files up several levels to make it viable. We were much more enthused by the DLNA serving capabilities, however, 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. It’s a very nice function, indeed, and opens up a whole new set of possibilities for watching around the home.
Update: We heard back from Panasonic and the good news is that the BWT800 will have an update for Viera Connect available from 31st October 2011 that will include everything but the pay services on the Marketplace. BBC iPlayer wont be in the initial roll-out, either, but will follow shortly, once it has gone through the appropriate approval process. Great news, we think, that will vastly improve the internet experience and feature set.
Disc Load Times
- One box convenience
- Excellent 2D and 3D Blu-ray and DVD playback
- Solid PVR functionality
- Unique Blu-ray recording and archving features
- Ability to stream Freeview recordings to PC
- Dual HDMI output
- HD tuner
- Some counter-intuitive PVR behaviour
- Viera Cast is a let down
- DLNA Client doesn't really work
Panasonic DMR-BWT800 3D Blu-ray Recorder PVR Review
The BWT800 is not free of niggles; we would like to see a little more flexibility and logic applied to the PVR behaviour and the Viera Cast service is already showing its age but Panasonic have done a very good job in making what is a fairly complicated piece of kit very useable. With online prices already some £300 under MSRP, you could even ignore the copying, external recording and archiving abilities and concentrate on just the HD PVR and 3D functions, and still consider it good value. We don’t mind admitting to some scepticism on the merits of an all-in-one solution, prior to receiving the sample, but this particular box has given cause for re-evaluation. It just works.
Our Review Ethos
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