The appeal of Panasonic's DMR-XW480 certainly doesn't lie in its visual style. It's a plain black box, like any other AV box that you may come across. About the only genuine oddity in its design is that the eject button for the DVD tray sits on the opposite side to the tray itself, and the button above the tray controls the unit's power. It's a design we've seen before, and it's annoying, because if you hit the closest button to the tray, rather than ejecting, the whole unit simply shuts down.
The XW480 utilises Panasonic's standard remote control layout, which we've had issues with for years now. It's most charitably described as overly busy. It offers up a lot of functionality directly from the remote, but it's buried under layers of menus and often baffling labels.
It's the feature set of the DMR-XW480 that makes it interesting. First of all, it's a dual-HD tuner digital TV recorder with an in-built 500GB hard drive and DVD Super Multi writer built in. It's also network aware, which brings in two slightly different sets of functions. Firstly, there's Panasonic's Viera Cast, which allows access to Picasa, Weather, Bloomberg Television and YouTube. There's also a number of blank icons on the Viera Cast main screen, suggesting functions that may be built into the firmware in the future. As always, we can only assess the features available right now, because promises of future functionality don't always play out as actual features down the track.
The other networking feature that the DMR-XW480 brings to the table is DLNA capability. Not to play files from your network, but to send its own recorded files out to DLNA-compatible playback devices on your network. It's a subtle distinction, and one that means that not surprisingly the DMR-XW480 isn't listed as Freeview compatible. It also means that if you've got additional DLNA devices you can get easy multi-room viewing for your recorded TV, something you can only do achingly slowly with a single TiVo unit via file transfer.
Setting up the DMR-XW480 involves the usual run of scanning for available channels, as well as an optional but quite nice step of setting a power-saving scheme between specific hours. Not only should this save a little on your power bill, it should also extend the service life of the hard drive within by stopping it spinning during those hours when you're not recording or watching TV.