We love personal video recorders. Indeed, wethat going from having a PVR to not having a PVR is on a par, as an undesirable turn of events, with having your arm bitten off by a shark. When Panasonic sent us its DMR-EX79, therefore, we got quite excited. Where Panasonic's PVRs score over many rivals is in the added flexibility that comes from having a built-in DVD recorder. Panasonic isn't the only company to offer this capability, but it's one of the few that only make PVRs with DVD recorders.
The DMR-EX79 costs around £280, which puts it at the top end of the PVR pile. For that, though, you get a single-tuner Freeview PVR with HDMI out, a 250GB hard drive and 1080p upscaling. Is it worth the money? Let's find out.
Stylish and functional
We've said before that Panasonic isn't a company that spends much time coming up with exciting new designs for the exteriors of its hardware. This PVR looks the same as the ones that came out last year, and those that came out the year before that. Of course, minor changes have been made to the layout here and there, but, for the most part, Panasonic leaves things alone. That means most of the company's attention goes on making sturdy, reliable hardware, and we're thankful for that.
You get plenty of connection options, too. There's an HDMI output for sending upscaled video to your TV, but there are also Scart sockets and component outputs for people with older equipment or without a spare HDMI socket on their TV.
DVD playback and capacity
Another of the things we like about Panasonic is its unfaltering support for DVD-RAM. Although far from essential, DVD-RAM is a good format. It's like DVD-RW, but it's more reliable and can rewrite data to a disc many, many more times than the other rewritable formats. DVD-RAM is slightly less convenient in some regards, because the discs are generally contained in cartridges (although they don't have to be), but Panasonic hardware does a really good job of handling these discs. Although the discs are more expensive, their long life and sturdy housing mean they're likely to last you ages, and be much more child-proof. You can also read from a DVD-RAM disc at the same time as you're writing to it, which makes chase play a possibility, unlike with DVD-RW.
It stands to reason that someone buying this machine is likely to be interested in watching normal, pre-recorded DVDs. Happily, the DMR-EX79 does a terrific job of playing back such DVDs. Because of its upscaling and HDMI output, you can theoretically get 1080p images from a standard-definition disc. Upscaling is usually something of a mixed bag, but the DMR-EX79 seems to do a fairly decent job.
The 250GB hard drive offers a reasonable amount of storage space. You'll get around 50 hours of video onto it if you use the highest quality setting. If you're prepared to compromise on the recorded video quality, you can extend that to 300 hours using the EP mode. We'd avoid doing this, though. The ability to record to DVDs means you've got virtually unlimited storage space at your disposal, so what's the point of compromising on quality? It's not like Freeview overdoes it with the bit rates in the first place -- compressing them more is just asking for trouble.