So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Panasonic DMR-HW220 set top box
Panasonic’s first PVR is impressively easy to use
- Fast operation
- Accessible interface
- Plenty of hard drive space
- VIERA Connect is inferior to Samsung and LG
The DMR-HW220 is the first dedicated set-top box from Panasonic, and it handles basic set-top box duties very well. Its Internet features are reasonable, but more useful is its capacious hard drive and smooth and simple operation.
Price$ 499.00 (AUD)
The Panasonic DMR-HW220 is basically a DMR-BWT820 Blu-ray recorder with the Blu-ray drive cut out. It’s much cheaper, and retains the high quality internal TV tuners and simple interface that we liked about the BWT820.
Panasonic DMR-HW220: Design and setup
From the front, the HW220 and its BWT820 big brother are almost indistinguishable. They both have the same mirrored, flip-down front fascia that covers a single-line LCD screen, USB and SD card ports. There’s no Blu-ray player on the DMR-HW220, so the space reserved for the disc tray is conspicuously blank.
The front panel also has basic channel and playback controls, which might come in handy if the remote goes walkabout and you can’t control the DMR-HW220 over VIERA Link (using another Panasonic device’s remote when connected via HDMI).
Identically to the DMR-BWT820, the Panasonic DMR-HW220 has a single HDMI output, composite video output, surround digital and stereo analog audio output, a USB port and antenna input and output terminals. It also has Wi-Fi built-in, so there are multiple ways to connect to your home network and the Internet.
From the moment you turn it on, this is a set-top box that is helpful but unobtrusive in the way that it operates. A simple setup process — scan for channels, set up your network, then go straight to watching TV — isn’t at all technical or confusing. We’d happily leave a Luddite to set up the DMR-HW220; it’s far less complicated to set up than a TiVo, for example.
Panasonic DMR-HW220: Operation and performance
As we’ve mentioned earlier, the Panasonic DMR-HW220 is a very simple set-top box. The blue-and-white user interface is clearly laid out, and the electronic program guide especially is very easy to understand and navigate through. It’s got plenty of different features integrated, but the HW220 doesn’t force them on you at every turn — it’s perfectly content to just be a set-top box and show you an intuitive, well-engineered channel guide.
Changing channels is a quick process, whether you’re recording a program on the secondary tuner or not. We were able to change channels in under two seconds consistently, which is our benchmark for a quick TV tuner. Anything longer than two beats starts to feel slow, so we’re happy that Panasonic’s digital TV implementation is speedy.
The internal 1TB hard drive can handle over a month’s worth of non-stop HD video recordings. This is heaps; it’s got six times the storage of a standard TiVo HD set-top box, for example. If you’re at all capable of deleting recordings once you’ve watched them, we sincerely doubt you’ll encounter many or any problems with the hard drive space in the DMR-HW220.
It can record two programs at once on the twin tuner, saving them to the hard drive in uncompressed Direct Recording mode for the best possible quality. This will only net you 140 hours of recording time, which is still plenty in our humble opinion.
If you do manage to fill it up, you can use an external hard drive via USB for additional storage. Up to 2TB is supported — another two months’ recordings for a small extra cost.
The comments we made about the Panasonic DMR-BWT820’s implementation of the VIERA Connect service, with its video on demand and social media apps, applies equally to the DMR-HW220 set-top box. VIERA Connect is good, but not great. The video on demand services are reasonably populated with content — and as usual ABC iView is our go-to favourite — but Samsung and LG have better Smart services on their Blu-ray players and PVRs.
This set-top box also supports DLNA through its wired and wireless network connections, acting as both a server (for content saved on the 1TB hard drive, or connected via USB) and as a client (for any content saved on a networked DLNA device like a PC or smartphone). It works perfectly well, supporting any file type that the box supports directly over USB — so AVI, JPG, AVCHD, MP4, MKV all work without hassle.
Panasonic DMR-HW220: Conclusion
The Panasonic DMR-HW220 has the same high-quality interface and features (sans Blu-ray) of the DMR-BWT820, and is similarly speedy and easy to use. It’s also half the price.
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