Panasonic DMR-PWT530EB Blu-ray / Freeview HD Recorder Review

It's (nearly) all there!

by hodg100
Home AV Review

6

Recommended
Panasonic DMR-PWT530EB Blu-ray / Freeview HD Recorder Review
SRP: £325.00

Introduction

Panasonic are past masters at producing these multi-function wonders and have been doing so for a number of years; spearheading a brave new world of one-box-solutions, that others are now seeking to emulate. The PWT530 is their upper mid-range combi player and is packed to the gills with features and functions so, as ever, given there's much to check out, we'd best crack on.

Styling, Build & Connectivity

The DMR-PWT530 looks almost identical to just about every other Blu-ray player/PVR combi unit Panasonic has released over the last few years so carries the air of being functional and hard-wearing. 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 it can be dimmed or switched off entirely.

Panasonic DMR-PWT530EB

The rear of the unit hosts a number of inputs/outputs owing to the multi-purpose nature of the PWT530. 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. One connection it does lack, and we think should be included at this price point, is built-in Wi-Fi. Those that want to operate wirelessly will have to invest in an additional USB adapter (product code: DY-WL5) which retails for between £40 and £50. Poor show Panasonic for a box sold on the back of its Smart capabilities.

Panasonic DMR-PWT530EB

The remote control is home to a host 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 and there’s a handy Netflix shortcut key too.

Menus and Setup

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 selection is replayed from – with choices of hard drive, USB or Networked devices. 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-PWT530EB 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 which we’ll look at later. It’s not possible to set up your network connection in this area, which is odd, that’s handled 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 to look 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-PWT530EB
Panasonic DMR-PWT530EB

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 is 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.

The critical picture affecting options aren’t found in Picture, nor Display, but in Connection which doesn’t seem right. From here we can 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-PWT530. 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. As we’ve noted for a few devices, Netflix is putting more of a strain on the processing since the introduction of the Profiles feature and the PWT530 is feeling it but copes OK once loaded.

Panasonic DMR-PWT530EB
Panasonic DMR-PWT530EB

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 down 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 new DIGA Player app has now been released for both iOS and Android platforms which brings with it some nifty features. The billed highlights of the app are the ability to stream broadcasts and live programming to a phone or tablet as well as a ‘Remote Recording’ function, allowing to schedule events when out of the house – or even whilst you’re in, if you’re lazy. Whilst we found the remote record worked very well, taking mere seconds to create timers, we could not get the streaming to work on the Android version on a Nexus 7 running the latest version. The iOS version had no such issues, however, so we’re seeing the continuation of a theme from Panasonic, where Android based apps are less complete than the Apple counterparts, upon release. We’re sure they’ll get it fixed as they’ve done so with the equivalent VIERA TV apps but we’d like to see more care taken with Android, going forwards.

Freeview HD+ PVR

The DMR-PWT530EB 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 PWT530 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 PWT530 box notifies you if a High Definition version of a programme is available, if you try and record the SD Version.

Panasonic DMR-PWT530EB
Panasonic DMR-PWT530EB

The PWT530 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.

HD Playback

When we compare players outputting 1080p images from 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 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 these days and, despite its undoubted abilities, the DMR-PWT530 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

  • Excellent Blu-ray and DVD Player
  • Extremely solid Freeview PVR functionality
  • Ability to stream Freeview recordings around the house
  • Lots of good VoD Services
  • DIGA Player app is excellent (on iOS)

Cons

  • No built-in Wi-Fi
  • Some limitations with PVR implementation
  • Menu system is bloated and over-complicated
  • Android app not as good as the iOS version

Panasonic DMR-PWT530EB Blu-ray / Freeview HD Recorder Review

We've always rather liked the sturdy, black box approach Panasonic takes with these kinds of products, they just look like they're going to work. The supplied remote also has the same air of functionality about it but we'd like to see a touch more refinement and prettiness in the menu systems, which feel a bit outdated and unnecessarily convoluted.

The PWT530EB includes a handsome set of features, with plenty of Video on Demand services to choose from but we really think Panasonic should have included W-Fi built-in, at the price-point the product inhabits. Instead you'll be forced to fork out nearly fifty pounds, if you can't go wired.

The DMR-PWT530 is an excellent dual tuner PVR with most of the features one would expect from a Freeview HD+ branded product. It includes Series Links and the notification when HD sources are available but there’s still a few improvements we would like to see. 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 still a very dependable PVR.

The PWT530EB doesn't shirk its responsibilities as a disc spinner, either, and handles both Blu-ray and DVD in fine style, thanks to some very solid video processing. Provided you don't go messing with (unnecessary) picture controls hidden in a menu only accessible when pressing the options button on the remote, you'll be treated to pristine high-def and sympathetically handled SD - both broadcast and via disc.

The fact that the one major criticism we can level at the Panasonic DMR-PWT530EB is its lack of built-in wireless access should speak volumes. It's well-built, mostly great to operate and performs its multitude of tasks in uncompromising fashion. Recommended.

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

Our Review Ethos

Read about our review ethos and the meaning of our review badges.

To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.

Related Content

Panasonic DP-UB820 4K Blu-ray Player Review
  • By Steve Withers
  • Published
Panasonic DP-UB9000 4K Blu-ray Player Review
  • By Steve Withers
  • Published
Microsoft Xbox One S UHD Blu-ray Player Review
  • By Steve Withers
  • Published
LG BP556 Blu-ray Player Review
  • By Steve Withers
  • Published
Sony UHP-H1 Blu-ray Player Review
  • By hodg100
  • Published

Latest Headlines

AVForums Podcast: 21st October 2019
  • By Phil Hinton
  • Published
AVForums Podcast: 14th October 2019
  • By Phil Hinton
  • Published
Canton DM76 and DM101 soundbases now available in UK
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
Top Bottom