Panasonic DMR-PWT-520EB 3D Blu-ray Freeview HD Recorder Combi Review

We look at the many facets of Panasonic's PWT520EB

by hodg100
Home AV Review

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Recommended
Panasonic DMR-PWT-520EB 3D Blu-ray Freeview HD Recorder Combi Review
SRP: £410.00

Introduction

The DMR-PWT520EB is the latest in a line of High Definition Freeview Personal Video Recorders (PVRs) that incorporate 3D and 2D Blu-ray, DVD and media file playback. We’ve already reviewed the Samsung BD-E8500, LG’s HR925 and Panasonic’s own DMR-PWT420 which, on the face of it, is identical to the 520EB under review here. Since reviewing the 420, Panasonic has issued a firmware update for their PVR combis so let’s see if they took any of our suggestions on board…

Styling/Build/Connectivity

The DMR-PWT520EB is quite a plain looking unit predominantly clad in black but it does feature a nice tray loading disc mechanism that emerges from behind a flap in a neat fashion. The flap is partially transparent to reveal the visual display panel and is carries the manufacturer brand logo as well as those for Freeview+ HD, Blu-ray disc and Diga – Panasonic’s nickname for their DVD equipped products. The 520EB certainly feels of robust construction and typically so for a Panasonic product.

Panasonic DMR-PWT520EB

Connections on the rear panel feature a single HDMI port, the aerial antennae terminal with an RF loop-thru, a LAN connection and a USB input. There also dedicated audio outputs with S/PDIF optical and stereo jacks as well as detachable ‘figure-of-eight’ power cord. On the front The DMR-520EB there’s also another USB port on the front along with an a SD Card slot. It’s also worth mentioning the 520 features built-in Wi-Fi, which is always convenient.

Anyone familiar with Panasonic Blu-ray or DVD remote controls will be completely at home the included handset 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. We count ourselves as pleased on both fronts there.

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-PWT520EB 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 got at 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 available at all times, however.

Panasonic DMR-PWT520EB
Panasonic DMR-PWT520EB

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. 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 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-PWT520EB

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 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.

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 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-PWT520EB. 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-PWT520EB
Panasonic DMR-PWT520EB

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-PWT520EB 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 into 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 but, beware, if you have a 5 and half hour HD recording (like we tried with Super Bowl 47), it may just struggle.

Freeview HD+ PVR

The DMR-PWT520EB proves, again, that Panasonic clearly knows what it’s doing with PVR software. The 520EB 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 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 PWT520 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. Something that seems to have been added is the box will now 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, which is a nice feature.

Panasonic DMR-PWT520EB
Panasonic DMR-PWT520EB

The DMR-PWT520EB 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. 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-PWT520EB 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 Ice Age 4 (poor film but the 3D is quite good), Hugo (one of our 3D favourites) and Dredd which all established the PWT520EB 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 but, like the 420EB, 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 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-PWT520 can’t make some of the criminally compressed Freeview channels look better but a decent quality DVD can look very good, indeed.

Energy Consumption

  • Standby: 7.3W
  • With Timeshift enabled: 18.4W
  • Timeshift set to manual: 15.4W

Verdict

7
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-520EB 3D Blu-ray Freeview HD Recorder Combi Review

The Panasonic 520EB errs to the functional in its design and could easily be mistaken for any number of products that have rolled off their production lines over the last few years. We've no issue with that and the nifty tray mechanism allows the unit to retain clean lines without resorting to a slot mechanism, in which we have tarnished faith. The remote control, again, is highly reminiscent of previous efforts from the Japanese but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, in terms of operability and ergonomics. Connectivity options are more perfunctory that plentiful but we’d imagine most use case scenarios will be catered for.

The DMR-PWT520EB certainly has a trick or two up its sleeve and is choc-a-block with features and internet pastimes. There’s lots of video on demand and catch-up services - including BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Netflix – for which there’s a dedicated button on the remote. Although the media player is quite good, in terms of file support, it’s still unable to burrow down more than a couple of tiers down in a PC’s file directory without hanging; so it may or may not be useable for you. The ability to stream recordings to a Windows 7 (and presumably Windows 8) PC is a big plus though and opens up the possibility of sending the hard drives’ contents around your home.

General picture processing is very good but there’s a bug with the film mode being active on video content when viewing the tuner so user intervention is necessary to prevent some, at times, rather erratic appearing motion. Elsewhere, your standard definition DVD’s and Blu-rays – in either 2D or 3D – will be handled with assurance, provided the out of box Normal Picture Mode is maintained. The usability of the DMR-PWT520EB could use a polish, however, the settings menus in particular feel a touch arcane but at least the when using it as a PVR, it’s fairly simple to operate. There’s certainly a couple of refinements we’d like to see to the software but, more importantly, it proved rock solid in reliability.

The Panasonic DMR-PWT520EB goes about its multiple duties in a solid and dependable manner. At its original list price, just north of £400, it may have seemed a tad expensive against the competition but since current online prices put it south of £300, it’s an easy AVForums Recommended Award.

Recommended

Scores

Picture Quality

.
9

Sound Quality

.
9

Features

.
.
.
7

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
.
6

Build Quality

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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