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Panasonic DMR-XW480 review: Panasonic DMR-XW480

Once again, Panasonic's served up a feature-rich PVR/DVD-recorder and saddled it with an unfriendly remote control and befuddling menu structure. DLNA streaming and plenty of storage space make this a sensible buy, but only for those with plenty of patience.

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

7.8

Panasonic DMR-XW480

The Good

500GB hard drive. Dual HD tuners. DLNA server in-built.

The Bad

Limited range of Viera Cast functions. Remote control is very busy. Menus are mundane and numerous.

The Bottom Line

Once again, Panasonic's served up a feature-rich PVR/DVD-recorder and saddled it with an unfriendly remote control and befuddling menu structure. DLNA streaming and plenty of storage space make this a sensible buy, but only for those with plenty of patience.

Design

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.

Features

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.

Performance

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.

In respect of the DMR-XW480's basic recording ability, it's not that much different from any of Panasonic's previous PVR/DVD recorders. Everything works well enough, but menu structures are multi-level and visually very basic. If you want simple, this just isn't the unit to buy, and that's something that extends to the overly busy remote. As an example, if you wanted to access a function, you may need to press the Direct Navigator Button. Or the Guide button. Or the Function Menu Button. Perhaps the Option button. You can learn where functions are, but it's rarely intuitive for the first-time user and something Panasonic seems curiously reluctant to address, as it's been the same for quite some time. Our advice is to have the printed manual handy; we reverted to it on more than one occasion.

Viera Cast works well enough for what it is, but we've seen plenty of systems with embedded YouTube and the like, and it's just not that exciting any more. The fact that Panasonic's left empty space on the Viera Cast page for additional functions gives us some hope that the feature set might expand later on.

DLNA streaming was, like a lot of the DMR-XW480's other functions, rather tricky to set up. If you've got other Panasonic equipment it's apparently a seamless proposition, but to get our chosen non-Panasonic streaming box (in our case a PlayStation 3) to work, we had to first enable DLNA on the DMR-XW480, then find one on the PS3, then get told it wouldn't work on the PS3, which was enough for the DMR-XW480 to pick up its MAC address, and then go and authorise it on the DMR-XW480 for access to its files.

At first that didn't seem to work at all, but after a half-hour wait it suddenly sprang to life and started playing back files. We did hit some problems streaming files over the network while it was recording, but otherwise it did work well for multi-room streaming. If you've got multiple TVs but only one antenna point and find that you want to, say, watch TV in bed but don't want to just watch another DVD, this is an excellent way to expand your viewing choices.

Conclusion

The DMR-XW480 certainly works and offers a lot of functionality for your buying dollar. Those with the perseverance to work through its muddled menus will find a lot of value here, but those looking for an easy option would do better elsewhere.