Panasonic DMR-EX79 £319.99
19th May 2009 | 09:00
Panasonic's DMR-EX79 offers top quality upscaling plus Freeview, hard disk and DVD recording
Panasonic has performed a subtle refresh on its DIGA range of combined DVD and hard disk recorders. The DMR-EX79 is in the middle of the lineup and includes a 250GB hard drive plus several new features.
The main points are as usual for a combi. You can record from Freeview onto hard disk or blank DVD and from external sources. It's Freeview+ compatible, so automatic series recording is a one-button process, and it also upconverts video output to 1080p.
The DMR-EX79 includes most of the usual connections. The front has i.Link for digital camcorders and a USB port for transferring photos and music files or playing DivX video. There is no SD slot for instant access to digital camera photos and, unlike some recorders, it lacks a CAM connection for extra channels on top of Freeview.
However, given the fortunes of Setanta Sports at this time, that's not much to be bothered about. It's via the HDMI that you'll see the upscaled Freeview and DVD playback to 720p, 1080i or 1080p resolutions, depending on your TV.
As with other current Panasonic recorders, it uses the advert-based Guide+ for onscreen listings and timer settings.
The 250GB hard drive stores from 55hr to 441hr of recordings, depending on the quality chosen. There are four presets for this, and a handy FR (flexible recording) setting where you can specify precise running times for the best trade-off between DVD capacity and picture quality. The recorder tells you how much time is left per mode whenever you change the setting, which is helpful.
Panasonic has added two more tweaks in the background, such as auto standby mode that keeps power consumption down when the TV is off – and fan noise reduction, to keep distractions to a minimum.
Ease of use
With this generation of recorders, Panasonic has taken a few cues from Pioneer and Sony by adding little prompts to the onscreen menu that explain exactly what it is that different settings do.
Another feature that brings this range in line with the best digital recorders is automatic scene chaptering – a superb system that adds chapter marks at major scene changes, so that navigating through recordings is more like the DVD experience. It also makes it much easier to skip or edit out ads, which will be a relief to most users.
The timer setting is dead simple, with series recording choices shown if a programme is not a one-off. It's also straightforward to check and modify timer settings to change picture quality mode and so on.
Options to record digital TV subtitles or audio description are included too. Sadly, with this year's models you still cannot edit, copy or access the programme guide if the machine is recording, so be sure to make your selections at quiet times.
Along with other DVD-equipped Freeview recorders, there is only one tuner, so you can't record two programmes simultaneously. Being Freeview+ compatible does at least mean that the Guide helps resolve overlaps by finding any repeat showings due within the week. The TV Guide Explorer option is another convenient tool, as it searches for upcoming programme titles that match existing recordings on the hard drive.
Live upscaled Freeview is produced in sharp detail, punchy contrast and colour and with very few obvious digital side effects. It doesn't quite replicate the zing of a genuine HD broadcast of the same material, but it's a close approximation and a good way of getting more out of both Freeview and HDTV screens.
The same excellent quality can be seen in the top XP recording mode (equivalent to 1hr on a single layer DVD). SP (2hr on DVD) retains the vivid hues and reproduces a decent level of sharpness. LP (4hr) is acceptable, with only slight jagged edges showing up. EP can be used in 6hr or 8hr versions.
Both are extremely soft and suffer from very blocky image break-up during fast movement, but that's not surprising at this low level and, actually, the 8hr option looks better than expected.
DVD playback presents you with faithful and not too overbearing colours, while the upscaling shows more detail and less picture noise than Panasonic's previous upscaling combi recorders.
In line with most of its contemporaries in the hard disk recorder sector, the DMR-EX79 acts as an audio jukebox as well as a digital video recorder. It's versatile enough to play MP3 and WMA music files from USB memory sticks or copies of your PC collection burned onto CD or DVD.
It can also transfer these to its own hard drive, and with 250GB, there's plenty of space. In addition, it can rip directly from original CDs onto hard disk in original LPCM format where it adds automatic track naming from the upgradeable Gracenote database.
The sound quality for digital surround soundtracks, especially music, is pretty good, though not truly exceptional.
At the time of testing, you can get the DMR-EX79 for slightly less than £300, which is a very fair price for a recorder with a 250GB capacity, particularly one which has all the user-friendly features and top-notch picture quality on offer here.
It makes it a superb AV hub for playing music, viewing photos, scheduling and making TV recordings and playing DVDs.
Follow TechRadar Reviews on Twitter http://twitter.com/techradarreview