EXCLUSIVE PREVIEW: Hands on with Panasonic's DMR BS850 Blu-ray recorder

On 20th June, Panasonic will release the first ever Blu-ray recorder in this country, offering the ability to record to HDD or archive on 50GB Blu-ray discs.

We're the first to get our hands on a full production sample, and we'll be publishing our verdict as the lead First Test in the July issue of What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision, on sale from June 3rd.

In the meantime, we thought we'd bring you our initial thoughts on the product.

The Panasonic DMR BS850 is a massive achievement. In a box no bigger than a standard Blu-ray player, it hides a Blu-ray recorder, a 250GB or 500GB hard drive and a Freesat HD receiver.

Panasonic is pitching it as the single box you need under your TV – and, as a concept, it's hard to argue with the logic. The 500GB and 250GB (DMR BS 750) models will cost £999 and £899 respectively, with a 250GB DVD version (DMR XS350) available for £699.

Twin Freesat tuners as standard
The DVD version will not record HD footage direct to DVD (just the HDD), though all models come with twin Freesat tuners and feature Viera Cast, allowing access to internet sites such as YouTube and photo-sharing site Picasa.

The hard disk drive on all models can store music and photo content too, and, as internet connection is offered as standard, it's certainly the most convincing stab at genuine home cinema convergence we've seen.

Both the DMR BS850 and BS750 are Profile 2.0 players and all models come with a Gracenote database of 350,000 albums and song titles, which can be updated online via the ethernet connection.

The EPG automatically tells you when a programme is in HD as well as standard-def. All HD shows will record to the hard disk, though some content may only be able to be copied once (and, rarely, never) to Blu-ray.

Recording of HDTV and 5.1 audio
Direct bitstream recording of HD programmes means everything is uncompressed. You'll also get 5.1 audio on the high quality 'DR' recording setting if the original broadcast supports it. The DMR BS850 has upgraded audio connections, which include an enhanced DAC and gold plated terminals.

There are five recording modes, with the DR mode offering 77 hours of content on a 500GB HDD and the lowest HL setting offers 240 hours on a 500GB HDD.

Of course, 25GB and 50GB Blu-ray discs are available too – a three pack of 25GB rewritable BD discs will cost £30. Amazingly, Panasonic also promises 100GB BD discs next year.

As well as ethernet, there's a USB socket for MP3 players and an SD card slot for photo, music and home movie content. Regular movie content such as DivX files can be played via the USB socket.

An optical socket is also featured and the two Blu-ray models can both decode Dolby True HD, DD Plus and DTS HD Master Audio. We have an exclusive UK review next issue, on sale 3rd June.

Forum Feedback

Your thoughts on recordable Blu-ray:

"This product is exactly what I'm looking for. I have an HDD/DVD recorder but upgrading to HD will mean I don't have to fiddle around with plug-in hard drives"
Forum username: Charlesnancarrow

"I'd be happy if they released one with a HDD recorder and just a BD player instead of a recorder, as I think that's what pushes the price up"
Forum username: Fido87456

Andy Clough

Andy is Global Brand Director of What Hi-Fi? and has been a technology journalist for 30 years. During that time he has covered everything from VHS and Betamax, MiniDisc and DCC to CDi, Laserdisc and 3D TV, and any number of other formats that have come and gone. He loves nothing better than a good old format war. Andy edited several hi-fi and home cinema magazines before relaunching whathifi.com in 2008 and helping turn it into the global success it is today. When not listening to music or watching TV, he spends far too much of his time reading about cars he can't afford to buy.