Panasonic DMR-BWT820 3D Blu-ray recorder

Panasonic’s all-in-one set-top box is expensive, but full of features

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Panasonic DMR-BWT820
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Comprehensive feature-set
  • Easy operation
  • Plenty of hard drive space

Cons

  • High price
  • VIERA Connect is OK rather than great

Bottom Line

Panasonic's DMR-BWT820 Blu-ray player, recorder and PVR combo has every feature you'd expect to find in a high-end home entertainment unit. If you're looking for a single device to handle TV recording, Blu-ray playback, TV show archiving and Smart TV features like YouTube, the BWT820 is a competent all-in-one choice. It's very expensive, though, and you could find multiple devices to serve its purpose for a lower price. Some features are also redundant for anyone with a modern TV.

Would you buy this?

If you’ve just bought a shiny new TV, odds are you’ve thrown out the VCR with the old telly. Recording TV these days is a job best served by a personal video recorder, and the best format for watching movies is Blu-ray.

Panasonic’s DMR-BWT820 combines these two features into a single set-top box, with 3D Blu-ray and TV playback to boot, and VIERA Connect Smart TV features integrated. It’s a one-stop shop for almost anything you could want to watch on your TV.

Panasonic DMR-BWT820: Design

The Panasonic DMR-BWT820 is primarily a personal video recorder: it packs a 1TB hard drive which is good for 684 hours of Full HD video — this is just over a month’s’ worth of constant recording. You can also attach external hard drives for extra recording space, with up to 8 additional hard drives and a total of 2TB of storage possible. It can also play 2D and 3D Blu-ray discs and copy recorded TV shows to blank Blu-rays, so it’s a VCR replacement in every sense.

The DMR-BWT820 is taller and heavier than most Blu-ray players on the market — this is thanks to the heavy hard drive hidden inside. It’s still going to fit in a standard-size cubby-hole in a TV entertainment unit or A/V rack though.

It’s quite an attractive unit. Panasonic has stepped up its game in recent years and the BWT820 is both attractive and solidly built. The mirror-finish front flips down to expose the Blu-ray drive tray, while there are two buttons on the top front of the player for power and disc ejecting. The set-top box sits on four slightly raised feet, which help air-flow around the device’s base.

There’s a screen just off-centre on the front of the BWT820, which is a single-line LCD with a blue backlight. Below it are an SD card slot and a USB port for plugging in external media — the set-top box can handle various video, photo and audio files including AVI, MKV, AVCHD, JPG, and MP3. A few buttons for channel changing, recording and playback are useful if you lose the remote. The centre front of the player glows blue when it’s turned on, as does the slightly gaudy ‘3D’ logo.

The back of the Panasonic DMR-BWT820 you’ll find a gamut of connection options. HDMI output is our go-to for its all-in-one audio and video support, but there’s also composite A/V input and output, optical and coaxial digital audio output, an additional USB host port, and two antenna jacks — one is for pass-through for connecting an additional device.

The DMR-BWT820 has built-in Wi-Fi, so it can connect to your home network wirelessly to access network and Internet content. There’s also Ethernet for a more stable and high-speed connection. This Panasonic set-top box can access video and media files that are shared on a networked PC or DLNA-compatible device, and it can also act as a DLNA server to share whatever files you’ve got saved on the box itself.

The remote control bundled with the set-top box is acceptable but not great. Its buttons are well labeled and there’s a separate panel for controlling a Panasonic TV, but it’s lacking the backlighting that the remote of the Panasonic ST50A plasma TV comes with. At an asking price of $999 for this PVR, we expect a slightly better remote control.

Panasonic DMR-BWT820: Performance

For the majority of its uses, the Panasonic DMR-BWT820 performs perfectly well. We’d happily use it to replace an older personal video recorder and Blu-ray player in a single unit, but the BWT820’s Smart features aren’t entirely up to snuff.

The DMR-BWT820 has two digital TV tuners integrated, so you can watch one show while you’re recording another. If you’re recording two shows simultaneously, you can switch between these two channels or watch other content like YouTube, ABC iView (on VIERA Connect) or a USB media file.

This is a reasonably quick PVR — it only takes a few seconds to turn on and get started, and we opted to leave it running for the few days we tested it in because it runs silently. There’s a fan at the back to keep the system cool but it’s largely inaudible. Switching channels, even when you’re recording, takes only around two seconds which is on par with other PVRs and digital TV devices we’ve tested.

The Panasonic DMR-BWT820 is able to record two HD programs at once, and this doesn’t impact the speed of any other features while recording is taking place.

Panasonic’s new electronic program guide (EPG) is clean and simply laid out. It shows a live feed of whatever channel you’re watching overlaid with the EPG, which shows now-next-later program names for eight channels at a time. This information is populated quickly after the player turns on.

You can skip ahead and back in the EPG quickly, and every channel we looked at had the full seven days of information available. Setting recordings is simple — there’s a dedicated button on the remote control and the guide layout makes it simple to alter or cancel recordings. This program guide is better than the one integrated into most TVs, and it’s much better than the TiVo HD’s outdated system.

In addition to its PVR functions, the DMR-BWT820 can play back and record to Blu-ray; 2D and 3D movies and TV shows are supported. The player can also convert 2D content into faux-3D, but you’ll need a compatible 3D TV and it’s likely that this TV will already be able to make this 2D-3D conversion anyway. We didn’t test the recording speed but we can report that the Blu-ray drive runs silent and is quick at reading both 2D and 3D Blu-ray movie discs.

Blu-ray recordable media continues to fall in price slowly, so if you’re intending on recording a lot of TV, Panasonic’s approach means you can archive it easily. You can also record to external hard drives if the internal one fills up, but we doubt you’d find more than 600 hours of TV in Australia that you’d want to keep long-term.

Panasonic’s VIERA Connect service also runs on the BWT820. YouTube, Yahoo!7 PLUS7 catch-up, ABC iView and other video-on-demand services are the most useful features, but there’s also Facebook and Twitter social media integrated as well as Skype (if you purchase and connect a $129 Panasonic Skype camera). These features largely mirror the ones in the Panasonic ST50A plasma TV, so if you’ve got any modern flat-screen TV you’re likely to have a better experience using your TV’s integrated Smart features instead.

For anyone with an older TV without any Smart services, the VIERA Connect service on the Panasonic DMR-BWT820 is an added bonus. It’s not the best of the Smart TV services available on digital media devices in Australia — we’d pick Samsung for that honour — but it does the job for online movie rentals and free Australian catch-up TV.

Panasonic DMR-BWT820: Conclusion

Panasonic’s all-in-one set-top box handles TV recording and playback with aplomb, and has the added bonus of Blu-ray recording and movie playback. It’s a suitable convergence device — you can use it to replace several older appliances. Its Smart features are acceptable but not anything special, but for almost all of its intended purposes the DMR-BWT820 is a good quality personal video and Blu-ray recorder.

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

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