Panasonic DMR-BW500
4.8Overall Score
Price (RRP): $2,299 Manufacturer: Panasonic

GADGETGUY EXCLUSIVE – FIRST AUSTRALIAN REVIEW!

Once every year or two a new product comes along that lifts my job beyond mere routine, and provides genuine excitement. The first Blu-ray player I reviewed comes to mind. And the first full high definition projector.

And now, here, the first Blu-ray recorder. Those words – ‘Blu-ray recorder’ – would alone be pretty exciting. But this unit is from Panasonic, so it is not just a Blu-ray recorder. It is a useful Blu-ray recorder -no, more than that; it’s a useful home entertainment device in all respects.

Features

Now I feel confident that if I were to mention this unit to friends and family (I can’t, because I’m on a non-disclosure agreement as I write, a week before its official launch) the first question to be asked would be: “How much does it cost?” I can imagine, when I answered ($2,299), the winces.

But let us get this into perspective. The Panasonic DMR-BW500 is a high quality ‘Bonus View’ Blu-ray player, that is for all practical purposes identical to the Panasonic DMP-BD30, our current favourite. That player costs $899.
It is also a high quality DVD recorder. Panasonic’s DMR-EX87 250GB (half of the DMR-BW500’s 500GB hard disk) model costs $759.

It is also a high quality twin tuner high definition 250GB PVR (the other half). These vary in price, but a good one will cost you at least $800. We shall soon see that this unit puts the competition to shame on this front.

What does all that add up to? $2,458.

Now consider this: in addition to all that, this unit lets you record high definition Blu-ray discs. So at $2,299, it’s a dead-set bargain!

And we haven’t even gotten to the tricky stuff.

Performance

Although this section is labelled ‘Performance’, I am going to continue to talk about features for a while, simply because it’s convenient. Unless I write otherwise, any feature I mention here works properly, as stated by Panasonic.

Recording TV, as we all know from VCRs, leaves chunks of advertisements interrupting our playback pleasure. So decent DVD recorders allow you to record TV to a hard disk drive, upon which you may edit the video before finally dubbing to a DVD. This unit allows the same, except that in the case of high definition video you can dub to Blu-ray (actually, you can copy enormous amounts of SD material to Blu-ray as well). And before that, you can do seamless editing on the hard disk, down to a precise frame, removing the bits of the program that you don’t want. This editing is far, far better in quality than any offered on any existing HDTV PVR.

With the unit you get three 25GB BD-RE discs (that’s what rewriteable ones are called). The video and sound quality provided on these is identical as the original recording. When recording from broadcast to the hard disk, all the unit does is make the necessary adjustments to the stream packaging so that it records properly on the hard disk. It does the same when you’re dubbing to BD-R/RE. If the sound of the program is Dolby Digital 5.1, that’s what your final recording will also have.

Incidentally, if it has subtitles, so will your recording!

Now, at $30 each, you probably won’t be rushing out to buy a stack of BD-RE discs. Eventually prices will fall (as they did with recordable DVDs), but until then you use regular DVDs for basic archiving. In this case you don’t get HD, multiple audio streams, or subtitles. In fact, the unit downconverts the video to standard definition and uses one or more of the regular Panasonic recording modes (XP, SP etc, switching between them as required) to fit the program onto the blank disc.