The Panasonic DMR-XW300 stands out from the rest of the DVD recorder pack because it's Australia's first with twin high-definition tuners. This sort of product has been sorely missing from the market and we're glad that Panasonic has come to the party at such an attractive price-point.
Panasonic is going the less-is-more route with the design of the DMR-XW300. Externally, it looks very similar to the DMR-BW500 in that it's a squat, slightly glossy, black box. While the front is quite clean and lacking in buttons, you'll find a number of inputs and play controls hidden under the silver flap at the bottom.
Like the BW500, the Eject button is also on the wrong side, but eject the tray and you'll find it is broader and flatter than most trays. This is because the player supports DVD-RAM cartridges.
The remote is similar to the models the company has been churning out for the past few years, only a little more confusing. For example, there are three buttons above the direction pad and while Guide is quite self-explanatory it's not immediately clear how "Direct Navigator" next to it differs from the "Drive Select" button elsewhere on the unit. Of course, it should be noted Direct Navigator is used to view recordings on the hard drive.
In addition to the dual HD tuners on-board, the Panasonic also features a 250GB hard drive and HDMI upscaling to 1080p. The company claims the hard drive is able to hold up to 55 hours of recordings in XP mode, and about 30 hours of HD in DR (Direct Record) mode.
The centrepiece of any good DVR is support for the free EGP, and thankfully the Panasonic gives you up to seven days of programming. Setting programs to record, meanwhile, was a little trickier than other machines we've used as we found with the Blu-ray recorder.
The Panasonic also features a LAN port which is used to download track names from the GraceNote database and look for new software updates from the Panasonic website. Unfortunately, there's no media streaming or internet radio for this unit.
The number of connections on the DMR-XW300 is quite comprehensive. Hidden underneath the silver flap on the fascia you'll find an SD card reader and USB input for viewing photos, DV input and an AV input. On the rear this extends to an HDMI slot, optical and coaxial audio, two SCARTS, component and two more AV inputs.
Unlike a VHS recorder, the added complexity of a hard drive and an SD card reader means there is a little more of a learning curve to this player. But once you've got your head around some of the quirks and eccentricities this is actually a good machine.
Recordings were of a good quality in DR mode, and adding your own chapters is easy thanks to the dedicated "Create Chapter" button. We left the machine recording for 24 hours to see what it would do, and found that it split into four parts and called them all the Bold and the Beautiful. Oh dear.
Once you have your footage you can then edit the "footage" and rip it to a DVD. Unfortunately this machine can't chew gum and walk at the same time: if you want to rip your recordings from the hard disk onto a disc you can't do anything else — not even watch the on-board tuner. Also, if you record your shows in the maximum mode it will take as long to rip as it did to record. So, if you have a two-hour movie you may want to set it up before you go to bed. Our HD test recordings scaled well to SD, however, and would be almost indistinguishable to most people. Also, we had no problems in playing back the discs we made in other players — and they also come with a friendly blue Menu by default.
We were impressed by the Panasonic's capabilities as a DVD player, and despite its lack of high-end processing it did a great job of replaying discs. The Brontosaurus Stampede scene from the King Kong DVD is a solid test for DVD players because it tests a player's ability to replay natural colours and counteract noise. The Panasonic was able to reproduce the opening shot of this scene naturally, which we were quite impressed by because most players make it gaudy and to the point of overexposure. Flicking through the disc, we found that the climactic scene on top of the Empire State Building was rendered without noise and with a good eye for detail and colour.
Listening to music was also an enjoyable experience, and while it's no patch on a dedicated player from the hi-fi brands, it accounted for itself quite well. While the frequency response was a little woolly via the AV outputs, focus was good and the musical message intact.
Finally, in relation to some of the comments below: a) we haven't noticed any problems with recording large slabs of TV, at seven hours 59 minutes the audio and visual were perfectly in sync; b) unfortunately there are only two tuners on-board this machine, and when recording you can switch between them but not onto a third channel.