Panasonic has a top reputation for both its Blu-ray players and its PVRs. Now you can get both in the same box.
For years we’ve been covering Panasonic’s rather nice combo PVR (personal video recorder) and Blu-ray recorders. For so many years, in fact, that the first few were PVR/DVD recorders. This 2017 model, the Panasonic DMR-PWT560 is a little different. It is a PVR, but it is not a Blu-ray (nor DVD) recorder, just a player. You can time-shift stuff on the TV, but not archive it to an optical disc. (There is a higher model which still allows that.) Instead it hits what we reckon might be a convenient combo hotspot for many users: a PVR and a Blu-ray player in one box.
So, as a PVR what do we have? Two highdefinition digital TV tuners, both of course supporting the H.264 codec used these days for the high-definition channels. You also get Panasonic’s excellent picture processing. You can pause and rewind live TV, record all episodes of a series, and record by keyword.
There’s a 500GB hard-disk built in. That’s typically good for several dozens of hours even of HD content now that it’s being more efficiently compressed. Panasonic’s estimate is 69 hours for HD and 131 hours for SD, but that’s based on 15Mbps HD and 8Mbps SD. In practice, HD is generally under 6Mbps and SD under 5Mbps, sometimes a long way under depending on the channel, so you’ll most likely get far more than is quoted.
And that’s recording in the original format. You can also have the recorder re-compress the content on recording so that it uses less space. There are nine options for this, ranging from HG, which gives you 78 hours of recording, to EP which manages to squeeze an estimated 860 hours onto the hard disk. If you want greater capacity without the loss of quality inherent in increased compression, you can add an external hard-disk drive — you’ll have to sacrifice the drive, at least temporarily, because the DMR-PWT560 will reformat it so that it can’t be read by anything else. If you need even more space, you can ‘register’ up to eight HDDs (that is, lock them to this unit) and switch them in and out as required.
As intimated the optical disc spinner is for playback only. Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD and CD are handled.
There are no inputs for recording from external sources, and the only outputs are HDMI and coaxial digital audio. There is an SD slot under the flap, along with a USB connection to go with the one at the back. The SD slot supports cards up to SDXC (i.e. greater than 32GB in capacity). That allows you to pop in a card from
many cameras and display photos or videos easily, including 4K videos. You can copy certain contents from the hard disk to SD. In addition to allowing an increase in recording capacity, the USB sockets can also be used for playing back music, movies and photos.
There’s an Ethernet socket, of course, but also built in dual-band Wi-Fi supporting the 802.11n standard.
Do delve into the set-up menus. In particular, work your way through Connection/HDMI Connection and switch ‘24p Output’ from its default of ‘Off’ to ‘Automatic’ if you’d like to have smooth motion from your Blu-ray discs. Otherwise the 24p material will be converted to 60p, using a two-frame, three-frame, two-frame, three-frame repeat cadence.
And while you’re there, go into the recording settings and set the start and stop time buffers. Each can be set to one, three, five or ten minutes. (We’d like options far beyond ten minutes for the stop buffer, Australian broadcasting being what it is.)
The picture quality even from standard definition was extremely good, remarkably smooth. You can have the unit upsample content all the way to 2160p at 25 or 30 frames per second as appropriate. Best, though, to stick with 1080p because that can be output at 50fps, avoiding any problems with video-sourced material (in which the field pairs don’t align). That’s the output standard I set the unit to.
Now that actual HD content is fairly common on the HD stations these days, the picture quality was extremely good on those programs and, more to the point, the recordings were all reliably captured. I did give a couple of the higher compression conversions a whirl, and I can report that they weren’t quite as horrible in picture quality as I expected. Just nearly as horrible. Readers of
Sound+Image might be reluctant, like me, to use one of those modes.
Nonetheless, this capability could on occasion be useful. For example, if you will be absent for a lengthy period, the capture of certain programs could be more important than their picture quality. So being able to record up to 860 hours, well, that’s a nice option to have available.
Since the unit delivers such fine picture quality with broadcast TV, it isn’t surprising that it did a first-class job with DVDs and BDs. The default deinterlacing is ‘Auto’, and it proved to be just about perfect on all my interlacing torture tests for both 576i/50 and 1080i/50.
But you can force it to both video and film mode if you like. Real force, too, not just a mere suggestion. We like that level of control.
As usual with Panasonic’s combo PVR/ Blu-ray/DVD devices, playback from disc was too readily stopped by a press of the wrong button — including some of the most prominent ones on the remote.
Panasonic hasn’t shifted its Blu-ray devices over to the Firefox OS it’s using on its smart TVs. Instead there’s the now rather dated interface for its ‘Network Services’ that Panasonic has been using for years. This shows network functions in eight boxes on a screen, with the ninth allowing switching to more pages of functions. When you go to these network functions the unit changes from its default 50Hz output to 60Hz, which may be irritating if you’re using a projector which is slow to latch onto changed signals.
Once in the network screen, it seems that you stay at 60Hz until you exit back to other facilities in the player. This network screen had Netflix and YouTube amongst the apps available on its front page, along with the ABC and SBS catch-up services: iView and SBS On Demand. I had a little play with iView, and it turns out that even its shows are delivered at 60Hz, even though all its content is of course 50Hz. No doubt that would have made for jerky motion, except that iView is so low in bit-rate that such defects were less obvious.
The other pre-installed apps include Bigpond Movies, Quickflix, Vimeo, and some kids stuff. The Panasonic market allows you to add Shoutcast and TuneIn, some specialised video channels (but not Presto or Stan nor catch-up for any of the commercial stations), Twitter and some other random stuff. I’m fairly sure there are fewer apps available for this platform than there were five years ago. The web browser doesn’t support a plug-in USB keyboard or mouse.
That said, the processor incorporated in this player is far faster than those in machines of old, so even though the interface is old, it’s snappier and smoother in operation than it used to be.
Far more fun and useful were the DLNA functions. No problems playing music at all from the network. I used my Android tablet to dial up music on the server and send it to the Panasonic device. Formats? Pretty much everything commonly used these days: MP3, WAV, AAC, WMA and ALAC, and FLAC and even DSD, I tested it with FLAC up to 192kHz, 24 bit sampling, and it worked properly. You don’t have to worry about the quality of the DAC because, of course, the player doesn’t have a DAC. I checked the signal it was delivering over HDMI using the info screen on a Yamaha Aventage RX-A3060 AV receiver and it was reported as the being the full 192kHz sampling rate. As for DSD, the unit supported both regular DSD64 and double-speed DSD128. In both cases it was converted to 88.2kHz PCM output. That’s the norm for DSD64, but perhaps slightly less resolution than optimal for DSD128. Still, it’s impressive that it handles DSD at all, let alone DSD128.
The only real weakness in network audio was that playback wasn’t gapless, so there were pauses between what should have been run-on tracks.
It will also show video from DLNA sources — I played back a show I’d recorded on a Beyonwiz PVR (current models can act as DLNA servers). Or provide its own recordings via DLNA to other playback devices. Or indeed supply them over the internet via Panasonic’s servers to you anywhere in the world using the Panasonic app and a feature called ‘TV Anytime’ (it might more appropriately be called ‘TV Anywhere’).
When showing video from network sources, you get the same picture processing controls as for DVDs and BDs. Most are unremarkable, but again you can force film or video mode if ‘Auto’ isn’t doing the trick.
Miracast receiver functionality worked well enough from my Samsung Android Galaxy A tablet but it was invisible to my Samsung Galaxy S7 phone, to a Huawei Mate 9 phone and to a Microsoft Surface 4 Pro (all four devices could see the Microsoft Wireless Display Adaptor I keep handy to check that these things are working). Still, different network, different connection, things could change. Sometimes the why of these things defies our understanding.
If you want a convenient single-box source and you’re not quite ready to make the Ultra HD Blu-ray plunge yet, the DMR-PWT560 brings all Panasonic’s video prowess to these tasks. It’s doubtful that you’d get better Blu-ray or free-to-air TV quality with any other device, while the network media functions are excellent.