Styling, Build & Connectivity
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.
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 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 We have to say the GUI of the Panasonic Menus can be a bit off-putting and feels a little outdated and we’d encourage them to look at some streamlining here.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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Standard Definition Playback
- 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)
- 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.
Ease Of Use
Value For Money
Our Review Ethos
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