Panasonic DMR-PWT520 PVR/Blu-ray player

This mid-range Blu-ray player and digital TV recorder is simple, with good features

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Panasonic DMR-PWT520
  • Panasonic DMR-PWT520
  • Panasonic DMR-PWT520
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Good features
  • Simple and quick operation
  • Good value

Cons

  • Mediocre VIERA Connect

Bottom Line

As a combo Blu-ray player and TV recorder, the DMR-PWT520 does a good job -- it's quick, quiet and simple. The player's VIERA Connect Web features are OK, but you'll find better Internet video streaming from competitors.

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The Panasonic DMR-PWT520 sits squarely in the middle of Panasonic’s set-top box line-up, flanked by the more basic DMR-HW220 and the premium DMR-BWT820. It’s got a Blu-ray player (but not a recorder) as well as a 500GB hard drive and Panasonic’s latest PVR user interface. Twin digital TV tuners means you can record one program while still channel-surfing.

Panasonic DMR-PWT520: Design and setup

Looking more like the HW220 than the BWT820, the Panasonic DMR-PWT520 has a mirrored finish on its front, with a single large flip-down panel hiding the tray-loading Blu-ray drive, single-line LCD screen, SD card slot and front USB port. The only buttons that aren’t hidden behind the fascia are the power and disc eject buttons, which can be found on the front at the top.

The DMR-PWT520 is roughly on par with competing Blu-ray players and PVRs for connectivity. Analog video connectors like component and composite are slowly being phased out across most brands, and the PWT520 doesn’t have any. It does have a single HDMI audio/video output, as well as standalone optical digital and analog stereo audio outputs, so modern TVs and any external sound system should be catered for.

The rear of the DMR-PWT520 also houses a second USB port, and Ethernet wired network connection. The box also has 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi built in. There’s also an antenna input (with internal loop-through to the secondary tuner) and an antenna output to any other digital TV device.

The remote control bundled with this PVR is standard Panasonic fare. It’s reasonably large, well labeled and simply laid out. If you’ve got a Panasonic TV, you’ll be instantly familiar; if you’ve used a modern remote control you’ll get used to the DMR-PWT520’s within a few minutes.

The setup process only takes a few minutes — like all digital TV products, the initial channel scan is the longest step necessary. Setting up Wi-Fi or the wired network is an optional extra, but you’ll want to do it to enable the PVR’s Internet features and DLNA client.

Panasonic DMR-PWT520: Features and performance

With a 500GB internal hard drive, the DMR-PWT520 is able to store around 120 hours of high quality HD digital TV. This figure jumps to around 260 hours when you record SD channels or opt to down-scale HD programming into a SD recording. The twin tuners make the device versatile; it’s easy to set a recording and continue flicking through other channels with no performance hit.

The Panasonic DMR-PWT520’s performance largely follows the standards set by the DMR-HW220 and DMR-BWT820. Its interface is simple and easy to navigate, without crippling important features or hiding useful extras — we think Panasonic’s onto a winner with this current menu system.

The electronic program guide is a particular stand-out — it shows eight channels at once with three hours of program information, so you can see what’s on now, next and later. Switching channels is a speedy affair and navigating forward or back by a day is equally fast. Setting recordings is, as you’d expect, the main thing that you’ll use the EPG for, and there’s a dedicated remote control button for setting reminders and automatic recording.

The DMR-PWT520 is differentiated from the up-scale BWT820 in that it only has a Blu-ray player, not a recorder. You won’t be able to save all your TV recordings to a Blu-ray disc with the PWT520, and it doesn’t include the ability to save recordings to an external hard drive. The Panasonic PWT520 can play back both 2D and 3D Blu-ray movies, and can also convert 2D video to 3D in real time, for any content that the set-top box can play — the effect isn’t great, but it’s only a novelty feature.

We were happy with the range of downloaded media files that the Panasonic DMR-PWT520 was able to play from our connected USB external hard drive. MKV, AVI, MPG, DivX, AVCHD and MP4 movie files at 480p and 1080p resolutions were all accepted without errors; the PVR can also play WMA, AAC and MP3 audio files alongside JPEG photos. The PWT520 also supports playing and sharing media files over a home network, although we didn’t test this feature.

Panasonic’s VIERA Connect service houses all the PVR’s Internet features like ABC iView, Twitter, Facebook and so on. It’s a functional enough feature, and it’s simple to navigate, but the VIERA Connect Market for additional apps is small and other manufacturers like LG and Samsung offer superior Smart TV features.

Panasonic DMR-PWT520: Conclusion

The DMR-PWT520 is a simple enough set-top box — it’s got enough hard drive space for plenty of HD TV recordings, and the interface is more than easy enough for any first-time users. The addition of a Blu-ray player adds some versatility for a $99 price hike over its DMR-HW220 counterpart. We think this is a PVR that hits a good range of features for an accessible price.

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

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