Product Type: Panasonic DVD recorders
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EX is for Excellent
Member Name: davidbuttery
Date: 19/08/10, updated on 19/08/10 (430 review reads)
Advantages: High quality feel, very good picture quality, auto chaptering really works, superb remote
Disadvantages: Only one Freeview tuner, not multiregion, missing some bells and whistles, forced ads on EPG
Some of you may remember my distinctly unimpressed (one star!) review of Sony's RDR-DC205 DVD/HDD recorder. In that review, I mentioned that I had almost been relieved when it broke down, such were its manifold shortcomings and frustrations. It was replaced with a Panasonic DMR-EX769, and the difference is like night and day. The Panasonic is not perfect, and it has a few limitations which will prevent its being right for everyone, but for everything I want it for it does its job very well indeed.
The first, and also probably the most significant, of those limitations is that it has only one Freeview tuner. This means that unless you happen to have it connected to a TV with its own tuner built in, you cannot record one programme while watching another. Mine *is* connected to a TV that has that capability (another Panasonic, at that) and so this is not a problem, but were I still using the older setup with an analogue telly and separate set-top box it might well have caused some considerable irritation. It's also *not* a multiregion box; I expect there are tweaks on the internet to sort that out, but I don't watch Region 1 discs as a rule, so haven't looked very hard.
It seems strange to me that the market for combined HDD/DVD units such as this one is shrinking, because I find the flexibility it offers enormously useful. Assuming that you can access a half-decent high-speed dubbing mode (which you can) this makes it easy to create a bit of space on the hard drive simply by copying material to DVD. The procedure does require a little reading of the manual to get right, and there is the odd trap lurking (you have to use -R rather than +R discs, for example) but it does work, and works well. Talking of the manual: it's written in more or less comprehensible English throughout. A big plus point over that Sony!
If you're the sort of person who does a lot of recording, you may well need that facility, since the HDD is a little bit small by current standards with its capacity of 160 GB; many models these days offer 250 GB or more. Practically, that 160 GB figure means that you can store 35 hours of programming at top ("XP") quality and 70 hours at standard, with a "long play" mode on top of that. You can use even more compressed "extended play" quality, but I wouldn't recommend that unless you have no alternative; that goes double it your TV has a largish screen, as the loss of quality is very obvious on a 32-inch set. A nice feature is "Flexible Recording", which adjusts quality in order to make your recording fit the space available.
Setting up the unit via an HDMI cable was very simple, although it probably did help a bit that the TV was of the same brand; whatever, everything worked first time with no problems. The unit has SCART sockets as well if required, but I haven't used them. The on-screen display is not the slickest you will ever see, and the electronic programme guide looks frankly like those old low-budget adverts you used to see on ITV in the middle of the night, but it does the job. The EX769 offers series recording, so that you can choose to record multiple episodes of an, um, series without setting the machine repeatedly each time, and that works fine.
Going back to features missing that you might find on other, more expensive models (including several of this recorder's sister models), you should be aware that there is neither a USB nor an SD connection. This being so, if you want to play MP3 files or show off your JPG photos, and assuming your TV doesn't have that capability of its own, you're going to have to copy them onto a disc first. You also don't get the option some machines give of using either a posh EPG with adverts or a more basic one without; it's posh-with-adverts only here - though it *is* quite clear. Oh, and there's no DV-in socket, which may disappoint the camcorder enthusiasts.
Right, having spent the last paragraph pointing out missing features, how about we spend the next one looking at something nice that the Panasonic *does* have? One in particular is Auto Scene Chapter, which automatically works out where to put chapter points in recordings based on sound volume. The idea is that this will mean chapter marks are created in places such as advert breaks. You'd think this was just a gimmick, but actually it works far better than I could have imagined. You can always choose to have regular five-minute chapter marks if you don't like it, though.
I'm not that bothered about looks in a recorder, but I think the EX769 looks perfectly okay. Not amazingly sleek, but then I don't really like ultra-thin models with no labels anywhere; they serve only to confuse. The remote is extremely nice, though: the buttons are soft to the touch without being soggy, the text is very clear, the colour-coding is sensible and not overdone, and just about everything is sensibly positioned. I would be very pleased indeed if all my electronics' remotes over the years had been this good! If you have a suitable Panasonic telly, you can even control it from this remote too.
Oh, and just in case you thought I'd forgotten, there's the little matter of picture quality. Happily, it's great. XP recordings are superb, and look no different to watching the programmes directly on the telly, and even SP is only noticeably worse (to me, albeit maybe not to hardcore videophiles) if I peer at the screen in a way I never would in normal use. Watching commercial DVDs is very nice, too, with a particularly pleasing factor being the deep, calm blacks. The unit does offer 1080p upscaling, but as my TV is not actually an HD one I can't really comment on just how well that works. What I will say is that DVDs look crisp and bright even on a standard definition telly, and that I have no complaints at all.
This thing has been on the market for well over a year now, and such is the pace of change in the electronics industry that it's already starting to disappear from the shelves. It's still there if you shop around a bit, though, and it shouldn't be impossible to find it for around the £190 mark. That means it's not the cheapest model around, but that's (literally) the price you pay for the Panasonic brand name. Personally I think it's worth the little extra, though of course my memories of that diabolical Sony may influence my thinking there!
Overall, then, whether or not I recommend this recorder to you will really depend on whether you need the extra bells and whistles that Panasonic has chosen not to include: the extra tuner, the multiregion capability, the USB port and so on. If you do, then sadly you will have no alternative but to look elsewhere. If, however, what you're after is a slightly less complex but easy to use combined HDD/DVD unit with a few nice features and a general feeling of quality about it, then it would be hard not to conclude that this should be on your shortlist. So I will: it should.
Summary: Has its limitations, but within those is a very nice unit indeed
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