Video combo

Pana­sonic has a top rep­u­ta­tion for both its Blu-ray play­ers and its PVRs. Now you can get both in the same box.

Sound + Image - - Test - Stephen Daw­son

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.

Equip­ment

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.

Per­for­mance

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.

Smart stuff

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.

Con­clu­sion

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.

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