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Panasonic DMR-XW450 review: Panasonic DMR-XW450

Panasonic's upmarket DVD recorder has oodles of functionality, but it's hidden behind a somewhat obtuse remote control.

Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman is a freelance word writing machine masquerading as a person, a disguise he's managed for over fifteen years now, including a three year stint at ZDNet/CNET Australia. He likes cats, retro gaming and terrible puns.
Alex Kidman
4 min read

Design

There's not a great deal that we can say about the DMR-XW450 that you can't ascertain from the pictures above. Panasonic hasn't bucked the trend in AV gear design and made it in, say, pink, or created a DVR in the shape of a hot dog, or anything like that. It's a flat black box, the same as any other flat black AV box. A drop-down panel at the front reveals AV and USB/FireWire inputs, with all other connections from the rear.

8.2

Panasonic DMR-XW450

The Good

YouTube viewing. Easy to back-up recordings. DivX/Xvid compatibility. HDMI. Good upscaling. Twin HD tuners. Free EPG.

The Bad

Can't multifunction tasks. Somewhat expensive. No live rewind. Complicated remote hides some features.

The Bottom Line

Panasonic's upmarket DVD recorder has oodles of functionality, but it's hidden behind a somewhat obtuse remote control.

About the only notable thing about the DMR-XW450's front panel design is that the eject and power buttons are rather daftly placed. There's a button above the DVD tray, which you might assume is the eject button — but that's the power button. Over on the far right, well away from the DVD tray is where the identically shaped and coloured eject button lives. We've no idea why this seemed like a good idea to Panasonic's designers.

The DMR-XW450's remote control comes from the same factory that Panasonic's been using for its remote controls for some time, with a lot of functionality effectively hidden behind controls that ring around the top half of the five-way selection pad. It's a busy remote, and one that will take a great deal of learning, which isn't perhaps the best thing in a piece of consumer home AV equipment.

Features

At AU$1319, the DMR-XW450 isn't exactly cheap, so it's a good thing that Panasonic makes a lot of effort on the features front to justify the asking price. On the PVR front, it's equipped with dual-HD digital tuners and a 500GB hard drive. Recording in H.264 format, Panasonic reckons the internal drive is good for between 110 and 885 hours of recording time, depending on the quality you choose. A seven-day EPG is supported for recording purposes, although typical to EPGs everywhere, you'll need to buffer recordings and ensure the clock is set correctly unless you like missing the end of your programs.

On the recording side, the DMR-XW450 supports every format of single layer DVD you'd care to name, but not dual-layer. It'll also handle CD-R and CD-RW playback, but not recording. There's a definite advantage here over PVR solutions such as Foxtel iQ2 and TiVo in that you can more directly backup recordings if you are starting to tax the DMR-XW450's internal storage resources.

Panasonic's not unaware of the internet age either, and the DMR-XW450 has in-built functionality to access YouTube and Picasa via an Ethernet port in the back. Wireless is sadly absent, meaning you'll have to either have pre-wired your home or opt for a power line-based solution such as Belkin's recently reviewed Powerline AV Network Adapters to get your YouTube fix.

Performance

Set-up of the DMR-XW450 was pretty easy, and its initial scan of nearby digital channels picked up everything with ease. That's about where the easy side of the DMR-XW450 ends, though. Compared to PVR solutions like the iQ2 or TiVo, the DMR-XW450 has a pretty steep learning curve; while basic functions like recording and EPG are clear enough, other factors — like the fact that it doesn't buffer the channel you're on unless you specifically tell it to, making live TV rewinding a non-starter, or the exact way to do in-PVR editing — are buried beneath layers of menu functions. That complexity's not a bad thing once you understand how the DMR-XW450 thinks, and it does mean that you can do things with the DMR-XW450 that other PVRs simply aren't capable of. You just have to know how.

The much-vaunted YouTube and Picasa access works but is slow, and as you'd expect when you take a low resolution YouTube video and stream it over Australia's increasingly creaky broadband infrastructure, quality and buffering aren't high points of your viewing experience. The in-built interface is also rather slow, which is annoying.

DVD playback worked well, although the DMR-XW450 unit supplied to CNET Australia wasn't region free, and no amount of online trawling could find an unlock code. Some search results suggested that this may be a matter of luck, however, with users on the Australian DTV forum receiving some region-free models as well.

The DMR-XW450 is a highly capable PVR, but at the same time Panasonic isn't exactly shy about charging a fair bit for it. This, combined with its innate complexity, makes it a tough recommendation to those who want a simple AV life. There is a lot on offer here, and those who get over the DMR-XW450's learning curve will get a good player and recorder, but not without a comparably high price.