If you can't justify the price of a full HD Blu-ray HDD recorder, this unit is a good second choice. It's easy to use and full of great features but expensive.
If you cannot pony up over $2,000 for a Blu-ray full high definition recorder, the DMR-XW300 is a good second choice.
Like its Blu-ray recording bigger brother, the DMR-XW300 comes with twin high definition digital tuners allowing you to record two programs simultaneously to its hard disk. However, you only get a 250GB hard disk (compared with a 500GB hard disk on the Blu-ray recorder) and support for DVD and CD media only.
The unit looks and weighs about as much as a typical DVD recorder and apart from the label on the front panel that boasts the Twin HD Digital Tuner and 7-Day EPG there is nothing to really differentiate this unit from any other HDD/DVD PVR.
The rear of the DMR-XW300 has the usual 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 assume provide additional AV inputs (although the tentative sample manual we were supplied does not confirm this) and an Ethernet port. Unfortunately the Ethernet port 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, LED display and front cover which opens to reveal USB and SD card slots, a firewire port to connect digital video cameras, an additional set of S-Video and composite inputs and basic transport controls.
Designed for non-technical users, the auto setup was very straight forward. The DMR-XW300 automatically found all available digital broadcasts, set the clock from the digital broadcast signals and loaded the EPG. There were no issues connecting the HDD recorder to our HDMI test panel and if we had a Panasonic television with Viera link the unit would automatically download station information and be able to be controlled from the television remote.
The DMR-XW300 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. If only the television stations could keep to the schedule or update the EPG to reflect the true broadcast time, this method would be ideal. As it stands, using the EPG alone means you are likely to miss out on the end of the program since the television stations are notoriously bad at sticking to their schedule. This, of course, is no fault of Panasonic.
The HDD recorder provides several record modes. DR record captures the complete DVB (digital) signal directly to the hard disk and allows you to enjoy high definition recordings with all the features of digital broadcasting such as surround sound, subtitles and multiple language support. If you are recording to DVD, however, the recording 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). The unit does not support direct recording to DVD (except for timer recording to DVD-RAM) so you need to always ensure you have adequate hard disk space available. With around 55 hours of direct high definition recording capacity available on the hard disk (and up to 441 hours with long play SD modes) this should be manageable. It’s a pity that you can’t expand hard disk capacity by simply plugging in a USB hard disk since the USB slot is solely for playback of memory devices.
High definition playback is possible from the hard disk, AVCHD camcorder, SD card and AVCHD DVD recordings although the unit cannot record AVCHD content to DVD or memory cards. This level of support for AVCHD and SD cards is a good start towards making this hard disk recorder the hub of a high definition home theatre system, it is just a pity that Panasonic did not go all the way by providing DivX or other high definition streaming media support.
We can’t help feeling that the unit is overpriced particularly since it is essentially just a DVD recorder, twin HD tuner and HDD drive albeit packaged with fantastic firmware that makes it really easy to use. Provided you live in an area with good digital coverage and you don’t mind missing out on Channel 31, this unit is a good stop gap until the price of Blu-ray recorders comes down to a more affordable price.