If you have a spare $2200 and can afford BluRay media, this is the PVR to get. With BluRay, full HD and dual HD tuners it doesn’t get much better.
If you have the cash and want to be able to record high definition content, the DMR-BW500 is a magnificent piece of kit. It comes with twin high definition digital tuners, allowing you to record two programs simultaneously to its 500Gb hard disk or, if using timer recorder, directly to BluRay media. Inputs also allow you to capture and record high definition content from AVCHD camcorder and SD-HC memory devices.
The unit looks and weighs about as much as a typical DVD recorder, with large display and silver trim. However, the giveaway that this is something more is the BluRay logo on the front panel and the label that boasts the Twin HD Digital Tuner and 7-Day EPG.
The rear of the DMR-BW500 has a comprehensive array of connectors including HDMI (Version 1.3 with support for Panasonic’s proprietary Viera link) component, S-video and composite, coax and TOS digital audio and analogue stereo. There are also two SCART connectors, which we understand provide additional AV inputs for satellite receivers and an Ethernet port, but unfortunately this is only used to download firmware updates and access the Gracenote online CD database when listening to audio CDs.
The front panel has a power switch, a disc-tray open/close switch, blue LED display and a front cover which opens to reveal USB and SD card slots, basic transport and recording controls, a FireWire port to connect digital video cameras and an additional set of S-video and composite inputs.
Designed for non-technical users, the auto setup is very straightforward. Simply select the state you are in and the BluRay recorder will automatically find all available digital channels, set the clock and load the EPG. There were no issues connecting the HDD recorder to our HDMI test panel and if you have a Panasonic television with Viera link, the unit will automatically download station information from the television and allow control from the television remote.
The DMR-BW500 provides various ways to record programs; the easiest being to simply press the record button. Another option is to use timer record and the third option is to use the EPG. However, recording directly to BluRay (or DVD-RAM) is only possible with timer or EPG record and if you want to record to DVD (SD only) you must first record to the hard disk. Got that? Basically what this means is that you would generally record first to hard disk and then copy (using the high-speed copy function) to removable media. Note that if a digital recording is tagged “one time recording” DRM restrictions may apply.
The unit provides several record modes. DR (which is also available for recording to BluRay) record captures the complete DVB (digital) signal directly to the disk and allows you to enjoy as broadcast high definition recordings with all additional features, including surround sound, subtitles and multiple language support. When you copy a recording to DVD, however, it is downsampled to standard definition with a choice of recording quality ranging from XP (highest quality) through to EP (lowest quality, but longest record time). If you are recording to BluRay and you run out of space, the unit will automatically switch to hard disk as a fall back.
The 500Gb hard disk provides around 62 hours of (DR) direct high definition recording capacity and/or up to 887 hours of SD quality in extended play modes. A 25Gb, single layer BluRay disc can provide around three hours of HD and up to 42 hours of EP recording, with double-layer discs providing double recording time. While the hard disk should be large enough for most, you cannot expand hard disk capacity by simply plugging in a USB hard disk, since the USB slot is solely for playback of memory devices.
Like all PVRs, the EPG is limited by the broadcast stations’ lack of ability to keep to schedule, so it is necessary to manually tweak the record times (when you select a program from recording) rather than just let the EPG populate the timer fields. It would be nice if the unit could automatically pad the EPG record times but this is no show-stopper.
High definition playback is possible from BluRay, the hard disk, AVCHD camcorder, SD card and AVCHD DVD recordings, although the unit cannot record AVCHD content to DVD or memory cards. Support for all of the current high resolution audio codecs (including Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD High Resolution and DTS-HD Master Audio) is also provided.
At the time of writing, the DMR-BW500 is the only BluRay set-top recorder on the market and for a first release product it is very good. In future we'd like to see support for streaming media, DivX, Flash and other Internet media but for now, this unit would have to be the ultimate high definition PVR if you can afford it.