Despite its niche appeal this is an awesome machine worthy of being called the world's best video recorder
HD for free
Making HD recordings to optical discs
ITV copy prevention
Dearth of HD channels
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Panasonic's DMR-BS750 is arguably the most sophisticated entertainment hub available in the UK.
The BS750's capabilities include: twin Freesat tuners; DVD and hard disk recording; Profile 2.0 playback and compatibility with MP3s, JPEGs, DV, AVCHD, DivX files and audio CDs.
An Ethernet connection that enables BD Live playback, also allows ripped CDs to be named via Gracenote and it can access internet widgets, such as YouTube and Picasa. But the jewel in the crown is the DMR-BS750's ability to record HD on to Blu-ray. Or is it?
Not too long ago the world would have gone bananas for a machine that could make broadcast-quality recordings onto optical discs. Now, video tape is a fast-fading memory and even the role of DVD as an archiving medium is diminishing.
And yet if recording HD on to Blu-ray were as simple as recording everything that's broadcast in HD, the case for a Blu-ray recorder would be highly compelling.
With just two HD channels on Freesat (compared with more than 30 on Sky) there isn't the surplus of must-keep content that there should be. If ITV's HD output were greater than the paltry smattering of programmes it currently offers, the broadcaster's anti-copy measures would be a serious spanner in the works.
You can still record the likes of The Bill onto the hard disk in HD and down-convert to standard definition onto DVD and, of course, you can dub your AVCHD camcorder recordings to Blu-ray. However, Freesat desperately needs more HD channels, particularly as HD versions of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and five will start to feature on Freeview soon.
While it's no work of art, at least the unit is inoffensive to look at. The fascia drops down to reveal an SD card slot plus USB, DV, S-video, composite and stereo audio inputs.
An LCD display panel uses large digits to show the channel number (but not the name), while there's a red recording light for each Freesat tuner.
The most notable rear connections are the HDMI and Ethernet, but there's no built-in audio decoder and hence no multichannel analogue audio outputs. Nor can it be plumbed into a home network via the Ethernet; all external files have to be fed in using memory cards or discs.
Ease of Use
Given the multitude of functions, Panasonic has done a commendable job with the menu system which is intuitive and graphically pleasing. The most grating niggle probably remains the minor delay that sometimes occurs when switching between some functions, notably when recording is involved.
Recording from Freesat is a cinch, with automatic programme tracking ensuring that over-running shows are fully recorded. Loading Blu-ray discs is a painfully slow process, but you can watch movies at 1080p 24fps, while DVDs can be upscaled, too.
High-definition recordings, retaining their studio-like quality on the hard disk, look every bit as sensational as you'd expect. The biggest test though is the quality of Blu-ray recordings and an archive recording of The Tudors shows just how amazing the system can be.
Every nuance of the splendid costume drama is beautifully preserved for good on our own optical disc. Even compressing the file using the lower quality HL mode yields excellent results, but take note: there's no guarantee that finalised discs will play in other brands of deck.
When recording onto DVD, or recording from external sources via the AV inputs, you have to use the regular XP, SP, LP and EP modes. The DMR-BS750 does an exemplary job with standard-def recording, which doesn't have to be made onto DVD.
Blu-ray's high capacity means that it can be used to store large amounts of SD material, about five times as much as a DVD on a 25GB BD-R, or 10 times on a 50GB disc. BD images are as good as you would expect from a top-end deck, as Panasonic's P4HD engine and PHL Reference Chroma Processor Plus pay rich dividends.
Top-notch movie fodder such as Watchmen provides an excellent test of a player's black level capabilities with its heavy, dark shadows. These are fantastically rendered in all their inky intensity. Whatever the light level, detail and clarity are so well realised that the movie could be three-dimensional.
The DMR-BS750 doesn't fall down on the audio front, either. Its high-quality sound components do a fine job with stereo CDs and MP3/LPCM audio from the hard disk, and it can output DTS HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD as a bitstream or convert them into PCM.
This means you can get immaculate multichannel sound using an HDMI-equipped amplifier, although the provision of only one HDMI could prove problematic. Pleasingly, none of the subtlety of Watchmen's DTS-HD Master Audio codec is lost as some highly effective audio imaging complements a hefty LFE channel.
The DMR-BS750 is the UK's most affordable Blu-ray recorder with its sibling, the £1,000 flagship DMR-BS850 doubling the BS750's 250GB hard disk to 500GB.
Given that it's the first deck of its kind and is an excellent product, the £900 tag doesn't seem overblown, but the lack of hi-def content on Freesat and uncertainty over copy restrictions of any future HD channels, mean it's designed for a market that barely exists yet.
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