Review – The Panasonic DMR-BWT800 3D Blu-ray disc recorder
Thanks to Panasonic and Insider Crew for the review unit
What you are looking at, is the Panasonic DMR-BWT800GL (The GL is the version that gives you a 1TB hard drive over 500GB), a FULL-HD 3D Blu-ray disc recorder with Twin HD tuner’s for recording two Live TV programs at the same time (up to a total of 600 hours of Full HD Recording). It comes with inbuilt Wi-fi and DLNA for streaming content to the device and from the device, which is extremely useful for those who are on the market for something like this. This is Australia’s first 3D recorder, so those with 3D TV’s will find this extremely valuable, as it is able to play 3D Blu-ray movies as well and it’s nice to look at as well, which doesn’t hurt a bit. But what do we really think about this BWT800? Read on the find out.
For our setup, the BWT800 was connected via HDMI cable to a Sony Bravia TV.
The Panasonic DMR-BWT800GL ships with a Remote Control, Batteries for Remote, AC Mains Lead, RF coaxial cable, and Audio/Video Cable
The BWT800 player comes in a nice glossy black finish which we liked very much. It has an air of quality surrounding it which is good to see that Panasonic haven’t skimped on the quality. It’s not a cheap finish like we’ve already said, but rather looks like the perfect amount of gloss to the player which gives it a ‘finished’ look (we feel that some products that come in a glossy finish can look a little cheap. It’s got a nice glass cover on the front which you pull down to access the DVD/Blu-ray drive (we do however wish the glass went up automatically as well when the DVD did). The BWT800 weights roughly 3.5 kilo’s which is a fair weight for a product which packs a tremendous amount of features within it.
For those of you looking for the player in another colour will be disappointed since it only comes in the black glossy finish, but we’re still not counting that as a bad thing since we very much like that colour. Not else much to say here apart from Panasonic have done well in the design aspect of it. It feels like it’s been well built as well, which is what we always look for (for the price you’re paying for it, you would not really expect anything less). As for the remote, its fairly light, weighing it at just over 100 grams. It feels nice in your hands, and as you can see in the image above, it is crammed with buttons (thus is the problem with so many features) and some people may feel the remote is slightly intimidating to use, which is the only fault we could find on the remote.
Ease of Use
We had mixed feelings about this, as setting up the BWT800 was incredibly easy – the player basically did everything for you and all you had to do was put in the proper date and time. Our initial feeling was that that the process from getting it out of the box to getting started with watching TV and recording directly from the BWT800 was even simpler than setting up a PS3 for instance. Looking at the remote, we figured that apart from the usual features that come on a remote, the remote looks fairly daunting with so many different buttons across the remote, like we mentioned above. Luckily each button has a description, and the user manual picks up the pieces from here, but we highly recommend not throwing the manual at the bottom of the garbage as this will be your lifeline should you not know how to particularly use something on the player.
In terms of Live TV, pausing, rewinding and forwarding was a breeze, and it’s a great to be able to fast forward through the ads between the movie/show, that is of course if you’ve recorded enough of the program to skip past the ads (we all hate advertisements). On that note, recording was a slightly annoying. Basically, by pressing the record button the BWT800 automatically starts recording the program which is great, but then a secondary screen would pop up on top of the TV show which gave you the option of when to stop recording. While that’s useful, we wish you could set the default option to record till the end of the tv program. For instance, in a sports match if you could set it to finish when the actual program ended, as opposed to picking an exact time (or time frame), it would be less tedious. It’s not a problem, since it’s easy to select when to stop recording, but it would be easier in our humble opinion. Still, that doesn’t detract from the overall experience of the player.
There’s nothing particularly ‘hard’ to use here, but some of the ways of getting things done are slightly tedious (ie: the example listed above). Having said that, playing movies on it is easy enough as well, and it’s just as simple as any other player, where you simply pop in the DVD or Blu-ray and it will automatically take you to the disc screen.
We’re actually very impressed at how many features have been crammed into the BWT800, even if the average person might not use all the features all the time. Twin HD Tuners allow you to record two shows at once (we love being able to do this, especially for sports, although we wonder if you could connect this to record Foxtel?). 1 Terabyte of recording disk space is especially useful, as it means endless recording (as long as we keep erasing the old stuff of course). Adding to that, built in wi-fi makes life easy to connect to a wireless network in the house, and the addition of DLNA made us quite happy (streaming content from a PC to the BWT800 was a breeze, although finding videos was so hard as folders are generic and there’s a little bit of searching involved). The BWT800 also comes with Viera Cast which as you can see in the first screen above, it gives you access to widgets within the player such as YouTube, Twitter, the weather, a Marketplace and even Skype. On the Skype front, it requires a Panasonic Skype webcam which we’re not entirely sure many people own. Since we didn’t, we weren’t able to test it out unfortunately.
On the Twitter front, while it was there for us to use and tweet as you can see above, it was extremely annoying and difficult to tweet using only a remote. As you can see, the keyboard layout wasn’t the most modern, and without at least a qwerty keyboard layout we found tweeting a chore more than something we would use. The Marketplace is currently bare, but it does have around 20 to 30 widgets for you to use on Viera Cast, but as of now we didn’t really see many new options that we would really use. That’s not a big problem, considering the Marketplace is a new feature which just made it to the BWT800 this week, so hopefully we’ll be seeing plenty of new features soon.
Let’s not forget 3D Recording and Blu-ray playback! As we had no way to test 3D right now, we’re going to assume it’s great (although 3D content is currently lacking still, especially on free TV).
This seems to be our biggest issue with the BWT800, in certain features. Like we said, the recording process can can get annoying, but it’s the smallest of problems. The one thing we noticed right away was that the TV screen layout looks old, and I confirmed that by asking others for their opinions as well. For such a stylish looking player, the whole UI is surprisingly unstylish. It’s slightly disappointing and it does detract from the overall experience since in 2011 we’d have hoped for more thought into the User Interface (perhaps that’s us just being used to a certain menu system). Make it look as user friendly and flashy, just like it looks externally. Which leads us to Viera Cast – It’s something we want to use – Widgets, but we don’t believe we will because it’s incredibly slow, and tedious to access. Within twitter, it took forever to actually get a tweet published (the process to get to the tweet stage was annoyingly slow). Our suggestion, for the keyboard layout on screen (on any screen) should be more qwerty-like, like on an actual keyboard (like on phones for instance) OR make an actual remote with a slide out qwerty. Hopefully this can be addressed in future updates.
That sounds pretty negative, but it really is just a very small part of the entire system. The rest of the player breezes through tasks when recording media (multitasking) although it won’t allow you to record programs, or rather continue to record programs, when you get onto Viera Cast, but since we won’t be using it much it’s fine (until changes are addressed). Blu-ray playback seems on par with the PS3 (which is widely considered to be the best Blu-ray player on the market) although we don’t why we keep seeing that the quality is like 5% poorer on the BWT800, not sure if it’s our imagination or not. Still the differences are so minimal that 99% of you won’t ever notice. In fact we only noticed when we stood right up to the screen, which we don’t suggest you do that.
Similarly, streaming content wirelessly is speedy enough, but for videos above 5GB (ie: MKV files in HD) tends to buffer a lot for us, but that’s to be expected with wi-fi playback. The other issue is that the BWT800 will not seem to read our phones as a DLNA compliant device (update: Windows Phone 7 with Mango won’t recognize the BWT800, but our Android 2.3 Gingerbread device seems to recognize it). If that’s something you find interesting, then go ahead and utilize.
In our opinion, $1,200 might be pushing it a little bit, and we feel it’s slightly higher than it really should be. Yes it’s feature packed beyond reason, it performs really well, and it looks great (externally) but the old UI and Viera Cast really bring it’s value down as opposed to adding to it. We most definitely think most people won’t be able to afford this, but then again we somehow don’t think Panasonic is aiming it at everyone (since they’re not likely to have a 3D HD setup either). We think Panasonic are still a couple of tweaks away from the perfect BWT800, software wise at least but they’re on the right path. A slide out qwerty keyboard would be brilliant in our opinion, if they want people to use their widgets often (think future Twitter and Facebook content). We feel that the current on screen keyboard is mediocre at best (especially in the smartphone era).
The Panasonic DMR-BWT800 is a brilliant player no doubt, but it’s got a few side issues that I feel are really important from a customers point of view, that hamper the entire experience. We love how many features there are, and how useful it can be, especially since we don’t know of any other similar devices that cram these many features in. We’ve used it almost every day, and it’s taken over from the tv’s original layout because the TV Guide layout is so much richer on the BWT800. Will it replace the PS3 for this kind of setup? For myself, probably not quite yet, but it’s a couple of tweaks (and additions) away from becoming my go-to-device for all things Home Entertainment related.
Having said that, it’s still hard to find many devices on the market with similar features in one device, but a sub $1,000 price would be the best move for Panasonic, especially since the BWT800 doesn’t even come with an included HDMI cable. Add on a slide-out keyboard on the remote and fix the Viera Cast issues, and you’ve got yourself one of the best all-in-one devices on the market.
Still – a Brilliant Effort from Panasonic.