Panasonic has unveiled its newest Blu-ray and DVD recorders, and the company's best new feature is the Viera Cast function &mdash letting users browse YouTube and Picasa. This alone makes the DMR-XW450 (full review) at AU$1,319 and DMR-XW350 at AU$1,099 the most feature-packed DVD recorders on the market.
The best way to think of these products is as an HD PVR with DVD backup. Both models feature dual-HD tuners which means you can watch one program in HD while recording another. While TiVo and Foxtel also let you do this they don't have on-board backup, and TiVo wants you to pay AU$199 to move your recordings off the machine, you can't backup on-board.
The difference between the DMR-XW350 and DMR-XW450 is that the former has a 250GB hard drive while the latter has 500GB of space. Panasonic has given both players a more efficient H.264 encoder and so the DMR-XW350 can now record up to 120 hours of content. If you have a lot of DivX movies, you can now watch these via the on-board USB slot or when burnt onto a DVD.
One of the key differences between the Panasonic Viera Cast system and the LG BD370 is that Panasonic is able to upgrade its service without the machine needing to be updated — it's all server-based. Panasonic hinted that further services will be made available, but wasn't able to provide details. Can anyone say "movie downloads"?
We had some problems with the previous Panasonic DMR-XW300 model, namely that you couldn't watch TV while you transfer programs to the DVD drive. We're hoping that Panasonic has fixed this, but somehow doubt it.
One difference between this recorder and a normal DVR like Foxtel iQ2 is that it doesn't buffer shows by default, and so to "Rewind Live TV" you have to start recording it first. Panasonic says it does this for disk drive reliability, but we think it's just annoying. How many times have you said: "What did they just say?" and wanted to check? Panasonic makes it harder to be able to do this.
Also missing is the ability to program your recorder from the web, which is one of the best features of competitors Topfield, TiVo and Foxtel.
Without competition from other manufacturers, the DMR-XW350 and DMR-XW450 are still unique in their field. They have access to the free EPG, can playback YouTube videos, and should be able to playback your DVD collection with some degree of authority. They are also arguably better value than a full-fledged Blu-ray recorder like the DMR-BW750 or DMR-BW850.