We've spent the day at Panasonic's UK HQ in Bracknell, getting a full technical briefing on its range of forthcoming Blu-ray/Freesat recorders, due out on June 20th.
We first caught a glimpse of the new recorders at Panasonic's European press launch last month, but details were thin on the ground. Now we can give you the full story.
There are two Blu-ray/Freesat recorders coming to the UK, and a DVD/Freesat recorder model as well. Top of the range is the DMR-BS850 Blu-ray/Freesat recorder with 500GB hard disk drive that will sell for £999.
Next comes the DMR-BS750, a 250GB Blu-ray/Freesat model costing £899, and finally there's the DMR-XS350, a DVD/Freesat recorder with 200GB hard drive selling for £699.
All three models have twin Freesat HD satellite tuners and are compatible with Viera Cast, Panasonic's proprietary internet portal that's standard across its entire 2009 Blu-ray range and many of its latest TVs.
The two Blu-ray models have onboard decoders for Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD Master Audio, and the DMR-BS850 gets upgraded audio components such as a better quality DAC and gold-plated terminals (see picture below).
The DMR-BS850 and BS750 are Profile 2.0 out of the box, so BD-Live compatible, and come equipped with an SD memory card slot capable of playing back high-definition (AVCHD) footage from an HD camcorder, as well as full HD JPEGs.
There's also a built-in music jukebox with 350,000 album and song titles pre-installed from the Gracenote database. This can be updated via the web using the recorder's Ethernet connection.
The twin tuners mean you can watch one programme off-air while recording another, or record two programmes simultaneously while watching a third recorded to Blu-ray disc or the hard disk drive.
Direct bitstream recording of high-definition programmes to the HDD means there's no decoding involved, and recordings can include multichannel 5.1 sound when applicable, plus sub-titles, in the highest-quality DR mode.
The Freesat electronic programme guide (EPG) allows for single programme or series recording, as well as the ability to pause live TV, select 'split recording' for, say, films with a break for the news in the middle, and 'schedule TV' which automatically adjusts your recordings to take account of any changes in the scheduled broadcast time.
What's more, the EPG will automatically tell you when a programme is available in high definition as well as standard definition, so you can choose which version you want to record.
Oh, and did we mention that Freesat is promising to offer IPTV services later this year, including the BBC iPlayer? Now that we do like.
Another handy feature is the 'Direct Navigator' function for the hard disk drive. This lets you manage all your digital media – still pictures, music and video – using simple on-screen graphics and pictures.
Any TV programmes you've recorded but haven't yet watched will be denoted by a green flag, and the paperclip symbol means every episode of a particular series can be stored in its own folder on the EPG.
When recording to the HDD or a Blu-ray disc, there are five quality modes: DR (14mbps), HG (12mbps), HX (8mbps), HE (5mbps) and the lowest quality HL (4mbps).
Obviously the storage capacity of the disc or hard drive will depend on the recording quality you choose. But to give you an idea, at the highest quality DR mode you can store 77 hours of high-def content on the 500GB HDD, 37.5 hours on the 250GB HDD and 7.5 hours on a blank 50GB dual-sided Blu-ray disc.
Switch to the lowest quality HL mode and you'll get 240 hours on the 500GB HDD, 120 hours on the 250GB HDD and 24 hours on a 50GB Blu-ray disc.
To speed up recording times from the hard disk drive to Blu-ray, Panasonic has developed a 6x BD-R disc that will enable you to transfer a one hour, DR-mode recording from the HDD to a disc in just four minutes. If the recording is in the lowest HL mode, it will transfer in 1.5 minutes. A 100GB disc is in development and will be available in 2010.
As for the thorny issue of copy protection, the broadcaster can tag every TV episode or film as copy-free (so you can record it to other media as often as you want), copy once (self-explanatory) or copy never.
The DMR-XS350 DVD model can, like the other two, record high-definition programmes in DR mode to the hard disk drive, but only in standard definition to DVD.
We hope to bring you more pictures of the Blu-ray recorders in the June issue of What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision, on sale next month. In the meantime, you can check out Panasonic's own HD Everything website for more details.