Panasonic DMR-PWT-420EB 3D Blu-ray Freeview HD Recorder Combi Review

Panasonic presents their all-in-one video solution

by hodg100
Home AV Review

3

Recommended
Panasonic DMR-PWT-420EB 3D Blu-ray Freeview HD Recorder Combi Review
SRP: £361.00

Introduction

The DMR-PWT420EB from Panasonic is the third product of its type we’ve looked at these last few months following on from the almost equally excellent Samsung BD-E8500 and the LG HR925 offerings. When we say ‘of its type’, the type in question is a fully featured dual tuner Freeview HD+ Personal Video Recorder (PVR) that incorporates a Blu-ray drive capable of playing back both 2D and 3D titles as well as those old DVD’s. Or is that the other way around? That’s not to mention the built-in ‘smart’ features including access to internet portals, Video on Demand (VoD) services, apps and media streaming and playback possibilities. On paper, feature-sets and spec sheets between the three devices are near identical and with each available for considerably less than £300, online, they are all a potential bargain for those seeking the space-saving convenience a combi unit provides. Let’s see how Panasonic’s PWT420 stacks up…

Styling/Build/Connectivity

Followers of Panasonic AV products will not be aghast at the sight of a DMR-PWT420EB as it pretty much follows the same formula of what went before, design wise. It’s a simple ‘black box’ unit with a tray loading disc mechanism that reveals itself from behind a flap when called upon. Said flap is partially transparent to reveal the visual display panel and is adorned with the manufacturer brand logo as well as those for Freeview+ HD, Blu-ray disc and Diga – Panasonic’s nickname for their DVD equipped products. If the review unit was our own we would have whipped off the stickers for ‘ HDD 500GB’ and ‘Twin Tuner’ but we can understand why Panasonic chooses to prominently display those specifications as, otherwise, it just looks like a plain old Blu-ray player. After some problems with slot-loading players recently, the DMR-PWT420’s more traditional and mechanical approach is reassuring and it carried out its duties without too much in the way of unwanted noise; as did the built-in fan. Build quality feels extremely solid with the bulk of the chassis engineered from metal.

Panasonic DMR-PWT420EB

Connections on the back panel are fairly limited with a single HDMI port, the aerial antennae terminal with an RF loop-thru, a LAN connection and a USB input, which is probably the best place to stick the optional dongle for Wi-Fi access. There’s a USB port on the front along with an AD Card slot, too, but you wouldn’t necessarily want something protruding, on a permanent basis, on aesthetic grounds. There also dedicated audio outputs in S/PDIF optical and stereo jacks as well as detachable ‘figure-of-eight’ power cord. Again, anyone familiar with Panasonic Blu-ray or DVD remote controls may get a sense of déjà vu with the included handset in the box of the PWT420 as it follows their tried and tested design. It’s a little smaller than your average TV remote but about as weighty and manages to accommodate the many function buttons necessary for such a device without making them feel crammed in. Netflix users will be pleased to see a dedicated button on the remote and advert haters will be as equally chuffed at the 10 and 60 second skip buttons that can be used when playing back contents from the hard drive or in ‘timelapse’ mode. Since we fall in to the intersection of that somewhat obscure Venn Diagram, we rather liked it.

Menus and Setup

The Panasonic GUI’s are a bit of mixed bag, in terms of presentation, and are a mixture of the old and new with the main Menu looking a little long in the tooth compared to that of some of the interfaces for the PVR side of things. Broadly, the Function Menu is split in to 5 areas – Playback Contents, TV Guide, Timer Recording, 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 choice 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-PWT420EB as either a DLNA Client or Media Renderer. It’s not possible to set up your network connection in this area, which is baffling, that’s taken care of in the Setup Menus accessed by selecting Others from the Main Menu. To be honest, after breezing through the exemplar of user-friendliness that was the LG HR925M’s interface, Panasonic’s efforts seem a tad muddled and unnecessarily over complicated with too much duplication of functions in various menus. 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 avialble at all times, however.

Panasonic DMR-PWT420EB
Panasonic DMR-PWT420EB

The Setup Menu accessed from the Others sub-menu is far more comprehensive in its available choices and, again, there are probably plenty of choices that could have been consolidated within more over-arching menus. There are 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 you 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 of 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 Bitstream 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.

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; determine whether to send 24p as 24p or at 60Hz (no brainer) and enable HDMI CEC, labelled Vierra 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.

Panasonic DMR-PWT420EB

We really think Panasonic need to work on getting their 2012 Blu-ray style menus in to next year’s combi players, they’re much better and to further compound the confusion, there’s another set of options only available through the Options button on the remote, including Super Resolution and Detail Clarity that are sharpening type processing choices 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 Pansonic’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-PWT420EB but it’s a shame that Wi-Fi isn’t built-in as it was with the very comparable models from Samsung and LG. 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 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-PWT420EB
Panasonic DMR-PWT420EB

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. We were disappointed that the DMR-PWT420EB features a similar bug to the players we reviewed last year, 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.

Freeview HD+ PVR

Panasonic knows how to make a twin tuner PVR, that much was clear from our time with the DMR-BWT800 flagship recorder and the PWT420EB offers the same level of PVR finesse with every feature we would expect present and correct. That Panasonic have seen fit to improve the EPG by removing the intrusive advertising present in past years is certainly laudable. Hopefully they can make the Record Button actually perform that function from within the EPG in 2013.

Panasonic DMR-PWT420EB

The Panasonic DMR-PWT420EB is able to utilise both of its tuners for simultaneous recording; and you can also watch a recording/Blu-ray etc whilst the unit is recording, which allows for plenty of flexibility but you are unable to enter the Setup Menu whilst a recording is in place, which can be annoying. 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 strange limitation is that the PWT420 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. We’d imagine this is just a glitch in the software as we can see no technical limitation preventing it working.

Panasonic DMR-PWT420EB
Panasonic DMR-PWT420EB

The DMR-PWT420EB 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. Say, 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.

If you were to put a gun to our head and ask us which is the better Freeview PVR between the Samsung, LG and Panasonic combi models we’ve reviewed, we’d probably give it to the Panasonic; just for the extra little features built in but it’s a close call.

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-PWT420EB 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. 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; confirmed by another unsuccessful journey aboard the Titanic and yet another hair-raising journey to Pandora. Our crosstalk torture test, Happy Feet 2 established the PWT420 added none of its own and nor did we encounter any difficulties with disc incompatibilities or other unexpected surprises. It’s a fine 3D spinner.

Likewise, once in their most neutral picture modes, we’ve seen next to no difference in 1080p output between the players we’ve reviewed, users just need to ensure the player is left in Normal Mode . Running through the Spears and Munsil disc revealed that the player is capable of producing full luma and chroma resolution, meaning our output won’t be losing any fine details, even if the display isn’t capable of showing them. Switching to some real world material and we could confirm no grain reduction (Withnail & I/No Country for Old Men), added judder (Casino Royale) and general ability to just look great (The Dark Knight).

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 but there was an issue when viewing material at 1080i through the tuner. We could notice some splutter and judder to movement, particularly with rapidly panning action that left us wondering if the film mode – labelled Progressive from the Options Menu – was kicking in with interlaced content. Sure enough, changing from the default Auto setting to Off clears the problem but it’s frustrating that it’s not just a set-and-forget matter and to ensure optimum performance, it’s necessary to engage/disengage the option.

Standard Definition Playback

As we’ve seen with the rest of this year’s Panasonic products, the handling of standard definition content is very sympathetic. Scaling is bordering on pristine, 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 these days and, despite its undoubted abilities, the DMR-PWT420 can’t make some of the criminally compressed Freeview channels look better but a good quality DVD can look very impressive, indeed.

Energy Consumption

  • Standby: 6.3W
  • With Timeshift enabled: 17W
  • Timeshift set to manual: 14.9W

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Flawless Blu-ray for both 2D and 3D
  • Very robust Freeview PVR functions
  • Impressively solid build quality
  • Ability to stream Freeview recordings to PC
  • Lots of good VoD Services

Cons

  • A few annoyances with PVR implementation
  • Film mode kicks in when you don't want it to
  • Menu system is bloated and over-complicated
  • DLNA Client doesn't really work

Panasonic DMR-PWT-420EB 3D Blu-ray Freeview HD Recorder Combi Review

The DMR-PWT420EB is another example of Panasonic’s robust engineering and although it’s not the prettiest of units, it should slot in to your rack nice and anonymously. The supplied remote control is equally plain but well considered, with the large array of functions on offer readily at your fingertips. Connectivity options aren’t vast but a single HDMI out, LAN port and a couple of choices to output the audio should be sufficient for most. In contrast to the solid hardware engineering, the menus of the Panasonic are overblown, a bit muddled and off-putting to novice users; we’d suggest a rethink is needed to here.

The Panasonic PWT420 doesn’t exactly skimp in the features department, although the inclusion of built-in WiFi would have been nice and in keeping with the competition. Online features are plentiful, with lots of VoD services to choose from but streaming issues carry over from last year’s players and it didn’t seem capable of handling more than a couple of ‘layers’ of our Windows 7 PC file structure. Again, this is something that needs to be addressed.

As a twin tuner Freeview PVR, the PWT420 is more than capable and boasts ‘ad skipping’ buttons as well as the, extremely handy, Timelapse function. Recording was rock solid and the interface for the PVR side of things was a marked improvement on the more general menus. There’s a couple of issues we’d like to see addressed, chief amongst which is the ability to the view the EPG whilst watching a recording but Panasonic have called upon their experience to deliver a very commendable PVR. There is an issue with the Film mode randomly activating, which is a pain, and it needs to be manually adjusted depending on content to ensure optimal pictures. Other facets of video processing were excellent, however, right from the sympathetic handling of bad, old standard definition through to its spotless handling of Blu-ray disc in both 2 and 3 dimensions.

The Panasonic DMR-PWT420EB is confirmation that combi doesn’t have to mean compromise. Its suggested retail price of around £360 - on the Panasonic eShop looks steep against the competition but shop around and it can be had for around £100 less which brings it in line with the rest. There’s a bug or two we’d like to see removed but it’s still an assured Recommended Badge Winner, for us.

Recommended

Scores

Picture Quality

.
.
8

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Features

.
.
.
7

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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