Panasonic DMR-BWT800 3D Blu-ray Recorder PVR Review

AVForums gets to explore the vast amount of possibilities in Panasonic's BTW800

by hodg100
Home AV Review

8

Highly Recommended
Panasonic DMR-BWT800 3D Blu-ray Recorder PVR Review
SRP: £850.00

Introduction

The Panasonic DMR-BTW800 is something of a box of tricks in that it’s a multi-purpose device encompassing a Freeview HD PVR that can record to either hard drive or optical disc, a 3D Blu-ray player, a platform for Panasonic’s internet services and it can also act as a limited media player. Its recording flexibility actually makes it an almost unique product in the UK as, along with its stable-mate, the BTW700, it’s the only box capable of recording Freeview to Blu-ray and it also allows for archiving of both programming and home movies/photo to both DVD and Blu-ray disc too. If that weren’t enough, there’s built in Wi-Fi, 2D to 3D conversion and the possibility of Skype video calling on-board as well.

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…

Styling/Build/Connectivity

Anybody familiar with Panasonics 2010 Flagship 3D Blu-ray player, the DMP-BDT300, will instantly know where the BTW800 inherits its looks from with the same black, metallic chassis fronted by a plastic front panel that flips down to expose the disc tray mechanism, a USB and SD Card slot and stop/play buttons. The panel automatically comes down when the open/close button is pressed on the unit allowing easy loading of discs; there’s no equivalent button on the remote control but we’ve never really seen much point in them anyhow – if you’re already next to the player to put in a disc then it’s hardly any great effort to press a button whilst you’re there! The front panel features the Panasonic logo, to the centre, with the Blu-ray and Freeview HD logos either side and has a frosted, bronze effect stripe running along the bottom. 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. We find the overall styling to be quite pleasing and fairly worthy of its flagship standing.

Panasonic DMR-BWT800

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.

Panasonic DMR-BWT800

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.

Setup/Menus

Upon setting up the Panasonic DMR-BWT800 for the first time, a speedy channel scan and tune was performed and we were soon presented with all the services available through the Freeview HD platform. We were then asked to enable, or not, power save in standby and then invited to configure a network connection and whether or not we wanted to enable the DLNA server functions. All in all, it was painless and quick and we were up and running in around 5 minutes.

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.

Panasonic DMR-BWT800
Panasonic DMR-BWT800

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.

Panasonic DMR-BWT800

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!

Panasonic DMR-BWT800

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

Despite the slightly counter-intuitive logic employed in setting a programme to record from the EPG – add the fact that hitting Record on a highlighted programme doesn’t and pressing OK takes you in to a View/Record dialogue box rather than straight to view – we actually found the BWT800 to perform very solidly and capably as a Freeview PVR. In fact the presentation and some of the logic employed in the EPG is probably our only major criticism.

Panasonic DMR-BWT800
Panasonic DMR-BWT800

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.

Panasonic DMR-BWT800
Panasonic DMR-BWT800

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!

Other Features

Whilst the combined PVR and Blu-ray playback features are the undoubted main attraction of the BWT800, many will be drawn to it for its unique archiving and recording from external source abilities; unique in the fact Panasonic recorders are the only ones to feature copying HD (or SD, for that matter) material to Blu-ray disc, it’s probably a good point to mention that a lot of HD broadcasts are limited to a one time copy, to prevent piracy and so as not to infringe on any distribution rights of the broadcaster. As we stated earlier, we preferred to keep our HD material uncompressed but the best of the H.264 compression is very creditable indeed. Owners of HD camcorders that record to the AVC HD format will also be pleased to note that they can hook up and archive their movies to HDD or even direct to Blu-ray disc.

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.

Panasonic DMR-BWT800
Panasonic DMR-BWT800
One thing that was a disappointment came in the fact that the internet services on offer are of last years, VIERA Cast, vintage rather than the cloud based Viera Connect variety that feature on the latest TVs. Last year’s Viera Cast enabled TVs and this year’s Blu-ray players have received a (limited) update to Connect so we’re wondering why the BWT800 hasn’t yet received similar treatment as promised at IFA. (We’ve contacted Panasonic for clarification on this and will update when we have the answer). Viera Cast really does seem like a muted affair when compared to rival offerings (and Viera Connect) but there are Twitter, YouTube and acetrax widgets for some gentle diversion. Let’s hope Panasonic issue an update for this box of tricks soon! Note; Whilst we’ve been referring to the service as Viera Cast, it’s branded DIGA on the player, for reasons we’re not entirely sure, but it is accessed using the Viera Cast button of the remote control.

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.

3D Playback

Much like the DMP-BDT310 Blu-ray player that we've already covered, the BWT800 does a very capable job with 3D Blu-ray with no noticeable artefacting or induced [tip=crosstalk]crosstalk[/tip] on our familiar reference material, through a number of different 3D displays we’ve had in for testing recently. It’s actually pretty unthinkable that any player would fail here so we weren’t at all surprised with the results. We were also able to spin our entire collection without any issues or need for firmware updates.

1080p Playback

We obviously see more than our fair share of calibrated displays here at AVForums and we have the resources to check the BWT800’s video signal output against that of a HDMI signal generator. We’re pleased to note the player wasn’t doing anything untoward with colour reproduction or greyscale and only a few minor tweaks were required to optimise the calibrations on a number of screens. Panasonic’s proprietary Uniphier processing chip also does an excellent job of ‘reconstructing’ the full chromatic information from both Blu-ray and DVD discs and sending to display. With the BWT800 set at 1080p, detection of the most common PAL (2:2) and NTSC (2:3) cadences was handled well but less used ones weren't picked up on. It’s nice to see a Panasonic device handling at least the most important cadences correctly. Readers will be unsurprised to learn that Blu-ray 24p material was displayed without let or hindrance.

1080i Playback

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-BWT800 was a more than capable performer. The player seemed to fare very well in edge adaptive deinterlacing but less so in its cadence detection duties. Fine details were largely retained under movement with just the merest hint of jaggies but the player failed to lock on to the PAL 2:2 film cadence. The most common NTSC cadence, 2:3, was handled much better so prospective owners with large amounts of US DVD's needn't worry, provided they’d opted for the multi-region version. Of course a lot of that is academic if you have a 1080p display and set the BWT800 to output accordingly.

480i/576i Playback

With our standard definition test material, the BWT800 showed due care and attention, faithfully reproducing all detail without incurring any over the top ringing or artefacting. Deinterlacing tests revealed just the slightest amount of jaggedness under movement but generally directional filtering was plenty good enough and our DVDs (yes we still have some) were looking fine and dandy on our calibrated display(s). Scaling may not be quite as sharp as some of the other manufacturers efforts but that has the added benefit of hiding some of the compression artefacts on the lesser transfers. In short, we expect owners with large collections of DVDs to have no troubles with the 800’s performance here.

Disc Load Times

We threw a number of Blu-rays (both 2D and 3D) and DVDs at the BWT800 and we are pleased to report it’s a very snappy performer, with Blu-ray, showing copyright warnings in typically less than 30 seconds and another 10-15 seconds for the menus to appear. Load times with Blu-ray are at the mercy of the amount of BD-Live content involved with the title but, if you’ve no interest in that type of thing (and we sympathise), then you’ll be pleased to know BD-Live can be disabled in the Setup menu. DVD’s loaded so quickly that if you have problems with the speed, we’d advise your seeking advice on treatments for OCD!

Energy Consumption

In standby, the BWT800 consumed around 10w and when acting as tuner/PVR, average consumption rose to 22w. When utilised as 2D Blu-ray player we measured an average of 24w and in 3D mode, or 2D>3D conversion mode, we noticed a very small jump to 25.5w. Considering all the on-board features, we consider these reasonable numbers.

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • 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

Provided you can utilise all, or least most, of the myriad functionalities afforded by the Panasonic DMR-BWT800 then we have no hesitation in bestowing Panasonic’s multi-purpose unit with our coveted Highly Recommended badge. Quite simply, it performs extremely well in all facets with excellent DVD/(3D)Blu-ray playback; rock solid Freeview HD recording and superb - and in some respects - unique copying and archiving attributes. Throw in recording from external sources, Skype and Internet functions with competent media serving, that allows contents of the HDD to be streamed to a Windows 7 PC, and you have a very compelling proposition indeed.

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.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Picture Quality

.
9

Sound Quality

.
9

Features

.
.
.
7

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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