Panasonic DMR-BW850 Blu-ray disc recorder

This Blu-ray disc recorder improves upon Panasonic’s DMR-BW500 with BD-Live support, YouTube and Picasa access

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Panasonic DMR-BW850
  • Panasonic DMR-BW850
  • Panasonic DMR-BW850
  • Panasonic DMR-BW850

Pros

  • Your best bet for recording high-definition television onto the Blu-ray format, exceptional picture quality, plenty of features

Cons

  • Slow start-up and operation speed, remote control is frustrating to use and navigate, created discs may not play on other units, some issues with Blu-ray playback

Bottom Line

As a digital television recording and archiving device the Panasonic DMR-BW850 works brilliantly. Blu-ray disc playback image quality is free of any problems and the integrated BD-Live and Internet access features add an extra layer of interactivity. The downside to this is a high price for the recorder and Blu-ray discs, along with a complicated interface and some problems using discs on other Blu-ray disc players.

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The Panasonic DMR-BW850 Blu-ray disc recorder provides great image quality and plenty of useful features to those looking for a high-end media storage and playback device. These features, in addition to a large internal hard drive and Internet connectivity, may make this Blu-ray disc recorder look like a good choice, but we found a few issues with the interface and disc compatibility in our tests.

Like the Panasonic DMR-BW500 that preceded it, the Panasonic DMR-BW850 Blu-ray disc recorder is a well designed and constructed product. The same mirrored fascia covers the tray-loading disc drive and front inputs — where USB and SD card ports are a useful addition. The same cover hides basic on-body channel, recording and playback buttons as well as S-Video and composite video inputs — everything you’ll need in the day-to-day use of the machine.

The Panasonic DMR-BW850 Blu-ray disc recorder has a 500GB internal hard drive, which is used for recording and time-shifting digital television from the dual high-definition TV tuners. If you manage to fill the internal hard drive to capacity, the Blu-ray disc drive is able to write as well as read Blu-ray media so you can shift all your old Iron Chef and Law and Order recordings to free up some hard drive space. Using Blu-ray media is a great idea as it preserves the high quality and resolution of HD digital television — if you can afford the prohibitively high cost of write-once or rewritable discs. If you don’t want to shell out for these, DVD media can also be used, although the video will need to be compressed to fit onto the media. The DMR-BW850 brings extra recording modes over its predecessor, with modes to squeeze anything from four to twelve hours of video onto a standard 25GB single-layer Blu-ray disc.

Another addition we found useful was the integration of BD-Live for interactive content on retail Blu-ray movies. While this hasn’t exactly taken off in the Australian market, its inclusion is sure to pay off in the future. Panasonic has also taken the opportunity to add YouTube and Picasa access so if you’re bored of watching the television or movies, you can browse your friends’ photos or look up videos of kittens meowing on YouTube. Picture quality was as good as we expected from a streaming, low-fidelity online service. Unfortunately, there is no wireless functionality, which means you're forced to connect an Ethernet cable to a compatible device.

One initial annoyance we had in our tests was with using the remote control and the on-screen interface. The Panasonic DMR-BW850 Blu-ray disc player has a wide range of features, as such there’s a lot to be navigated through on-screen and this may deter the not-so-tech-savvy user. We also discovered that if you stop the Blu-ray disc while it's playing, and then restart the playback, the disc goes back to the menu instead of where you left off. Frustratingly you have to search the entire movie for the appropriate scene. The remote control is also a headache to navigate if you’re unfamiliar with it — but that said, there’s a button for everything you’ll ever need.

Another issue we had with the Panasonic DMR-BW850 Blu-ray disc player was its operating slowness. It takes around 45 seconds to remove a disc from the tray from standby mode, where other current generation Blu-ray players have halved that time. Recorded Blu-ray discs are also created in a different file format to retail Blu-ray movies, which may cause compatibility issues.

These teething problems aside, the Panasonic DMR-BW850 Blu-ray disc player is a great all-round unit. Picture quality is equal to the best Blu-ray disc players and the best digital television recorders we’ve seen. If you’re keen on watching and recording digital television and have a sizeable Blu-ray disc collection, this is the one product you need to tie everything together.

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