Panasonic HWT230 (DMR-HWT230EB) Smart Freeview PVR Review

Smart yet relatively simple

by hodg100
Home AV Review

70

Recommended
Panasonic HWT230 (DMR-HWT230EB) Smart Freeview PVR Review
SRP: £299.00

Introduction

Panasonic has good previous form in this product sector and has been knocking out Freeview recorders for a number of years, although they are probably better known for the multi-function, archivers dream machines rather than the relatively simple proposition that is the HWT230. This being 2013 however, a simple PVR isn’t quite going to cut it, and the 230EB provides a host of value-added features with DLNA support, apps and Video on Demand services all put as evidence before the jury. Read on for the final verdict…

Styling, Build & Connectivity

The HWT230 is no bigger than it needs to be and is of fairly classic set-top-box proportions, i.e. fairly compact, and at 300 x 52 x 179 mm (W/H/D) it’s not going to take up too much room in the rack. It feels reasonably well built and we like the minimalist facia that takes up most of the front aspect. That’s not a lot more to report apart from the fact there’s buttons for channel hopping and power on top of the unit which is hewn from a ridged black plastic. It’s simplistic but rightly so.

Panasonic DMR-HWT230EB

The rear of the unit has an HDMI output; a LAN connection; Digital Optical output, 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. The remote control has plenty of buttons but is 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. Netflix subscribers will also be pleased to see a direct access to the streaming service located toward the bottom.

Panasonic DMR-HWT230EB

Menus and Setup

The Function Menu is split in to 5 areas – Playback Contents, TV Guide, Timer Recording, Network and Setup. The Playback menu takes you 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 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-HWT230EB 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 but more on that later. It’s not possible to set up your network connection in this area, which is odd, that’s taken care of in the Setup Menus. 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 looking 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 by hitting the DIRECT NAVIGATOR button.

Panasonic DMR-HWT230EB

The Setup Menu has options for Tuning, HDD/USB, Picture, Sound, Display, Connection, Network and 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 and Dolby Digital Plus as PCM or Bitstreamed and the same choices for 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 a 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 and there’s a Deep Colour setting too with choices of Off or Automatic, the safest bet is off. We can also determine whether, or not, to send audio through HDMI as well activating Viera Link – Panasonic’s name for HDMI CEC.

Panasonic DMR-HWT230EB

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-HWT230. 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. Whilst the apps mostly worked very well, we did experience a few lock-ups from both Netflix and the DIGA ‘home page’ that we’ll be reporting back to Panasonic.

Panasonic DMR-HWT230EB
Panasonic DMR-HWT230EB

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 done 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.

Panasonic DMR-HWT230EB

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-BWT230EB is an excellent PVR and is able to utilise both of its tuners for simultaneous recording, 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 remains a bit sluggish and it’s easy to get caught in the trap of unnecessary multiple presses of the button. A rather annoying limitation is that the BWT230 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.

Panasonic DMR-HWT230EB
Panasonic DMR-HWT230EB

The BWT230 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.

Panasonic DMR-HWT230EB
Panasonic DMR-HWT230EB

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.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Extremely Solid Freeview PVR functionality
  • Ability to stream Freeview recordings around the house
  • Lots of good VoD Services
  • Media player now works much better over DLNA

Cons

  • Andoid app isn't quite finished
  • A little clunkiness in the PVR functionality
  • Lock-ups on DIGA home page
  • Menu system confusing and over-complicated

Panasonic HWT230 (DMR-HWT230EB) Smart Freeview PVR Review

The HWT230 is a compact little number featuring a large display panel as its only real design talking point. The supplied remote is similarly functional, rather than eye-catching, and the connections are best classed as adequate, not comprehensive, as there’s just a single HDMI port and a Digital Optical output as far as audio visual is concerned. There’s also wired and wireless LAN and a USB port for internet, connected and streaming purposes. The HWT230 is connected to Panasonic’s online, DIGA platform which has a good set of VoD services and apps, although we did find the unit would occasionally lock-up when accessing them. Panasonic’s new DIGA app for Android and iOS is excellent on the latter operating system although there’s work needed on the former to get the streaming feature working properly. All-round, the HWT230 is a well featured package that has justifiable claims on ‘Smart’ status.

The bread and butter of the HWT230EB’s duties, i.e. its use as a PVR, are typically well executed by Panasonic. As a dual tuner Freeview HD PVR+ it provides all the features we would expect including simultaneous channel recording, chase play and Series Link as well as adding the bonus of both quick and customisable ‘skipping’ – great for getting past advert breaks in rapid order. There remains one or two little things we’d like to see ironed out – a quicker reaction to pausing and not being thrown in to the Direct Navigator when having finished watching a programme via ‘Chase Play’ would be a start – but it’s pretty much a rock solid performer in this department. We’d like to see Panasonic have a slight rethink with their menu systems, too, but there’s not much need to access them after initial setup, so not a huge sticking point.

The Panasonic HWT230EB does exactly what it says on the box: it’s a Smart, Freeview HD+ personal video recorder, and an excellent one at that, so fully deserving of an AVForums Recommended Award.

Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
.
7

Design

.
.
.
7

Connectivity Audio/Video

.
.
.
.
.
5

Remote Control

.
.
.
7

Ease of Use Menus/GUI

.
.
.
.
.
5

EPG

.
.
.
.
6

Recording Flexibility

.
.
8

Recording Reliability

.
.
8

Picture Quality HD

.
.
8

Picture Quality SD

.
.
8

Catch-up/VOD Services

.
.
.
7

Other Features

.
.
.
7

Value for Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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