Panasonic DMR-BS850 and DMR-BS750: freesat Blu-ray recorders

With freesat crawling and puking towards its first birthday, Panasonic has announced two Blu-ray recorders with twin freesat tuners and a host of awesome features

Ian Morris
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Panasonic announced some time ago that it would be hitching its Blu-ray recorders to the freesat pony and now we've seen them in action. There are two models -- the DMR-BS850 and BS750 -- which both boast dual freesat tuners and built-in hard drives (500GB and 250GB respectively) for storing your favourite shows.

Having twin tuners means you get loads of flexibility on what you watch. The recorders will allow you to record two programmes while watching a Blu-ray movie or a previous recording. You can also watch one channel and record another, or pause the programme you're watching.

These are also fully featured Blu-ray players, with BD Live for online interactivity and support for 1080/24p video and all of the HD audio codecs you could possibly want. You also get access to Panasonic's VieraCast technology, which allows you to watch YouTube and other online services on your TV.

There's also some good news from freesat. Until now, recordings from BBC HD have been tightly restricted. Most shows couldn't be archived off a hard disk, something we found annoying on the Humax Foxsat HDR. The BBC has recently announced that before these recorders launch, the flags will be altered on all of its shows to allow you to burn one copy to Blu-ray. Movies and certain US import material will still not be burnable, however. We're also thrilled to hear that iPlayer is all but confirmed to arrive on freesat boxes this year, something that will no doubt drive demand substantially.

So, we were really impressed by the products, but there must be a downside, right? There certainly is. The price is what we'd describe as ludicrous on the face of it, with the BS850 costing £1,000 and the BS750 going for £900.

What's the maths here? Well, if you assume the Blu-ray player part of the 850 is similar to the DMP-BD80, you've got a player worth £350. Add on to that a decent freesat PVR -- say, the Humax Foxsat HDR -- and you've spent another £300. What the DMR-BS850 offers is both of those components in one box, with the addition of a Blu-ray recorder. You're basically paying an extra £350 to have a one-box solution with a bigger hard drive than the Humax.

On top of that, recordable Blu-ray discs aren't cheap at all. Panasonic's new 6x recording speed media is even more costly -- especially if you opt for the 50GB versions. We're also unsure about how much demand there is for recording TV to physical media any more -- so it will be interesting to see how people take to this technology. A triple pack of 2x speed, 25GB discs is expected to cost around £15. The point here is that blank discs cost pounds, not pence.

Is it worth it? That's for you to decide. We love the machines -- Panasonic has pretty much thought of everything and freesat is set to get better and better over the next year. Certainly, anyone buying one of these machines will get a lovely piece of kit and that's what we're all about.

Panasonic also showed off a DVD-only machine, known as the DMR-XS350, which has the ability to record HD freesat programmes to its built-in 200GB hard drive. It can also archive shows via its DVD recorder in standard definition. It will cost £700.

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Blu-ray discs are still extremely expensive in their writeable form. Panasonic's new line-up starts at around £15 for three 25GB discs and gets more expensive from there.
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The recorder itself is an attractive, slender beast -- certainly no bigger than a standard Blu-ray player, but with lots more functionality.
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Notable by its absence is analogue 7.1 audio out. There are, however, digital optical and coaxial outputs, as well as component video out. Scart, S-video and composite video inputs and outputs increase the recorder's flexibility.
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As you'd expect, HDMI is present and correct, with both XV and deep-colour support. You get dual LNB inputs for the twin tuners and an Ethernet socket for Internet, BD Live and IPTV futureproofing.
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The direct navigator is a terrific system for finding your recorded shows. Icons tell you about the recording and what you can do with it, while everything is listed in chronological order.
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At the moment, freesat HD recordings from BBC HD are mostly restricted to either burn once or burn never, which is common for movies. In the next few months, the BBC will lift the burn restrictions on its own shows, so the only thing you'll struggle to burn is movies from those money-grubbers in Hollywood. There's no restriction on saving recordings to your hard drive, of course.
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The freesat programme guide is as easy to use as always.
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The final question -- will these recorders fly off the shelves in record numbers, or will people opt to keep their money in a valueless ISA or savings account?

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