Believe it or not, I used to belong to the minority of people who do not own a DVD player. In fact, it was only last summer that I actually acquired a digital set-top box! The set-top box was nothing special though (a cheap Alba one) but at least I finally began to catch up with the rest of civilization to enjoy the wonders of Freeview! Oh yes - I too could access all those many free extra channels available on Digital TV; and oh yes - I too could be part of Katie and Peter's world on ITV2... But seriously - I particularly like watching some of the programmes on BBC Four like Flight of the Conchords, and I like some of the cult classics that ITV4 broadcast, such as The Professionals and The Prisoner. As a result, I became increasingly frustrated with the fact that I couldn't record any of these digital programmes on my trusty old VCR. What really drove me nuts though was my cheapo set-top box eventually became unusable, because it would keep freezing up on me. That was the last straw!
So enough was enough - no more telly hell. I treated myself to this Panasonic DMR-EX78EB-K Freeview+ 250GB HDD DVD Recorder for Christmas. I therefore bought this product ultimately to satisfy my two main requirements: to record programmes on Freeview onto the its hard disc drive or onto DVD, and to use it as a DVD player! I was also impressed with some of its other features, which I will also discuss in my review.
What I would like to stress first of all though, is that it is definitely worth shopping around for this product. At the time of writing this review, Amazon are selling it for £220.98 compared to Argos who are selling the exact same model for £293.39! If, like me, you still have an old-fashioned CRT television, you will also need to buy a SCART cable to connect the TV with this product. If you have an HD Ready TV, then you should buy an HDMI cable. In any case, I strongly recommend that you invest in buying a premium quality gold-plated SCART/HDMI cable, because the gold plates transfer the Digital TV signals most effectively and they minimise distortion. In other words, don't under-estimate the value of these premium quality cables in relation to this product, because they can actually improve the picture quality and overall TV viewing experience. I've found that you can buy a good SCART cable for at least £10 at the moment.
LOOKS GREAT & EASY TO USE
On opening the packaging, I was impressed by this product's sleek and shiny appearance. It does look really good in my opinion and takes pride and place in my living room. It was surprisingly light and was easy to plug in and install. Any technophobes who may be reading this review should not allow themselves to be overwhelmed with the thick-ish user manual that accompanies this product. It is a bit weighty, because there is so much you can do with this product, if you want to. For every topic and feature addressed in the manual, there are clear step-by step instructions with illustrations, where appropriate. This is also why the installation was so easy. I believe that this is one of the reasons why this product is good. It will appeal to people who want an easy life when operating this recording device, whilst it will also appeal to people like me who like a bit of tech!
Like a cheapo set-top box, this device will scan and detect all of the Freeview channels that are available in your area during installation. Unlike my cheapo Alba however, my Panasonic will automatically check to see if there are any more new channels available on a regular basis. The machine will alert you if it detects any new channels and with the press of a button, my device will update its channel listings very quickly. I find this small function very convenient.
1080p UPSCALING: GREAT FOR THOSE WITH HD TVs
The sound and picture quality is great on my Panasonic CRT TV both when I am watch TV and DVDs. According to the technical specification, this product can perform 1080p up conversion. In other words, this will benefit people who have HD television, because this product is supposed to enhance the picture quality to a high definition standard. As I do not yet have HD TV, I am unable to comment on the effectiveness of this feature. It is good to know that as and when I do upgrade my TV, I should still be able to benefit from using this product due to this attribute.
MANY GOOD RECORDING FEATURES
The specification also states that you can record 440 hours of TV onto the 250GB hard disk drive. That is true, so long as you are prepared to record all of your programmes in Extra Long Play (EP) mode. Basically there are four different recording modes. I have listed them below, along with the maximum number of hours you can record programmes in each mode onto a 250GB hard disc drive (HDD):
1. XP (High Quality): 55 hours
2. SP (Standard Play): 110 hours
3. LP (Long Play): 221 hours
4. EP (Extra Long Play): 441 hours
Understandably, LP and EP recording modes are supposed to have a lower picture quality compared to SP and XP. I have only needed to record in SP and LP modes so far. To be honest, I have not personally seen a dramatic difference in quality when I play back programmes either recorded in SP or in LP! I am quite happy to record in LP on a regular basis.
This product comes with a 7 day Electronic Programme Guide (EPG). This means that with a press of a button, you are able to see a display of the TV listings for 7 days. It is really easy to navigate around and to use if you want to find further information about a particular programme. It is also fantastically easy and convenient to use the EPG to set timer recordings, because there are few buttons that you need to press! Like a Sky+ box, you can do "series linking". This means that you can press very few buttons to record every episode of a series on to the hard disc drive.
One thing that is important for me to mention is that this product only has one digital tuner. This means that when you do record a programme on Freeview, you would only be able to watch the programme that is being recorded at that moment. As a result, my HDD DVD is somewhat hijacked during this recording process, and I can't even access the subtitles or browse Teletext let alone other channels on Freeview. In fairness, this is somewhat characteristic of many HDD DVDs. At least with a VCR you had two analogue tuners: one for the video and one for the TV, so that is why we never had this type of trouble before. I think Humax are the only brand that actually sells a HDD DVD with a twin digital tuners at the moment. Anyway during these situations, I sometimes switch back to Analogue. I can also "chase playback", so that I can watch from the beginning the very programme that I would presently be recording. I can watch other programmes stored on the hard disk and watch DVDs while recording too, so it's not all bad!
You can use this product to edit the programmes you have recorded. This is particularly useful if you want to cut out all the annoying adverts that interrupt a programme for example. You can also create chapters and playlists too, if you want to record programmes from the HDD to DVD. I have used these features by following the instructions from the manual and I didn't have any problems at all. This product is compatible with all of the different DVD formats including DVD-RAM. DVD-RAM is a newer format and is like a rewritable DVD, but better. This is because you are able to create chapters and playlists and delete adverts or programmes on the disc. It is therefore a lot more versatile than a rewritable DVD and is apparently meant to be more durable. I may write a review on Dooyoo about Panasonic DVD-RAM in more depth, so watch this space!
YOU CAN ARCHIVE VIDEO TAPES - HOORAY!
This is fantastic for me, I was finally able to back up some old footage from my VHS tapes onto HDD and DVD. To do this, you will need to connect a SCART cable from the VCR to the TV. Again I have recorded from VCR to HDD successfully and it was a really simple process. My Mum was ecstatic when I copied her Barbra Streisand concert recording on VHS to DVD. You can also record programmes from an external satellite. This product is a great tool for archiving. The HDD is essentially a computer, and it should be treated that way. According to Panasonic, the HDD is sensitive to dust, high temperatures and vibration and shock, so too much of this could hinder its performance in the long run. This is why it is important to archive any important programmes stored on HDD to a DVD format.
OTHER NICE LITTLE FEATURES YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW ABOUT
With this product, you can pause live TV on Freeview, which I find useful sometimes. You can also store music on the HDD. This product comes installed with the GraceNotes Database, so it can detect and display the album and track titles for CDs and mp3s prior to playing or importing the music. Furthermore you can view and import photos. There is a nifty little USB port available to import music and photos, but I have not really used this feature. According to Panasonic, there are some restrictions on the type of USBs devices that this product will recognise, so be aware! These are nice added extras, but are not a major selling points for me, because I prefer to store music and video on my home computer. This product also supports DivX, which I know is great for some people too.
One more thing to add - the machine operates quietly when in use!
© This is entirely my own work. I have also published this review under the user name dnl05 on Ciao UK.