So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Panasonic DMR-XW350 DVR/DVD recorder
A YouTube-enabled DVR/DVD recorder with 250GB hard drive and dual HD tuners
- Twin HD tuners, solid DVD upscaling, 250GB of inbuilt storage
- Expensive, sluggish and complicated remote control
The Panasonic DMR-XW350 is a tricked-out DVD recorder that wont leave AV enthusiasts wanting. On the downside, the user interface is needlessly complicated, which makes it a steep learning curve for beginners.
Price$ 879.00 (AUD)
The Panasonic DMR-XW350 DVR comes with a 250GB hard drive capable of storing up to 441 hours of Extended Play video and dual HD digital tuners for recording two television channels at once. Other highlights include high-definition (1080i) video recording, seven-day Electronic Program Guide (EPG) support and access to YouTube and Picasa (via Viera Cast/Ethernet). It's essentially a PVR with an inbuilt DVD recorder and added Web functionality. Pretty much the only thing it won't do is play Blu-ray discs, but we suppose you can't have everything.
As its name implies, the Panasonic DMR-XW350 is a refresh of last year's DMR-XW300. Both models come with 250GB hard drives and twin HD tuners, though the DMR-XW350 benefits from a more efficient H.264 encoder, as found on the top-of-the-range Panasonic DMR-BW850. Panasonic has also added Viera Cast to this new model, which allows you to stream YouTube and Picasa content directly to the player. (Unfortunately, there is no wireless functionality, which means you're forced to run an Ethernet cable through your living room.) DivX support is also included.
The Panasonic DMR-XW350 is a sturdy looking device that doesn't skimp on the bells and whistles. It shares the same sleek piano-black finish as its predecessor and measures a relatively compact 430x59x330mm. The DMR-XW350's drive tray is located on the top left, with an LED information panel to the right. The lower section of the device opens up to reveal a host of connectivity options, including an SD card slot, a USB port, composite outputs and a DV input for digital camcorders. This makes it easy to transfer assorted media files to the DMR-XW350's hard drive, with no need to fiddle around at the back. Basic playback controls are also supplied on the DMR-XW350 — handy for when your remote goes walkabout. Or when you throw it out the window.
For some reason, Panasonic seems incapable of designing efficient, user-friendly remote controls for any of its products, and the DMR-XW350 falls into the same unfortunate boat. Its remote is unduly complicated, suffers from sluggish response times and lacks backlighting. Even simple tasks like accessing a DVD menu turned out to be a chore (you have to select a menu key from the onscreen drop-down box as opposed to, y'know, pressing a button). We can only assume it was designed for smug videophile dads who don't want anyone else in their household to man the remote. That said, most of its foibles can be ironed out with a little time and practice.
As befits a Modern Age home entertainment device, the Panasonic DMR-XW350 comes with an HDMI port. This means you'll be able to get the best image quality possible from digital television and upscaled DVDs — the next best thing to Blu-ray. It also makes the device very easy to set up, with the HDMI link and power cable the only necessary connections. (Component, composite and SCART outputs are also included for older televisions and sound systems, as well as an RCA audio input.) We tested the DMR-XW350's 1080p upscaling on a Panasonic TH-P58V10A plasma television while watching the Lobby scene from The Matrix. Image quality was excellent, with very few artefacts marring the picture.
The Panasonic DMR-XW350's main claim to fame is its twin DVB-T tuner that can record two channels simultaneously. HDTV content can be recorded directly to the hard drive, or scaled down onto DVD discs. When recording at the highest quality, you can store up to 110 hours of content on the DMR-XW350's hard drive (that's enough for around 250 Family Guy episodes, in case you were wondering.)
We found recording television to be a painless process. If you're watching a program you'd like to record, just press the record button and it begins almost immediately. You can then pause and rewind live television as you watch; which is always handy. The dual tuner lets you record one channel while browsing the other networks, with no disruption to recording. Seven-day EPG support makes scheduling recordings a breeze — instead of faffing about with times and dates, you can simply select the relevant programs by name.
All in all, the Panasonic DMR-XW350 is a multitalented device that home theatre enthusiasts are sure to love. However, it is a teensy bit expensive and could do with some improvement; particularly when it comes to user-friendliness. If you have extra money to burn, we'd recommend plumping for the Panasonic DMR-BW750: this is a very similar device that adds a recordable Blu-ray drive for $650 more.
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