You could buy Blu-ray in Japan several years before the format was finally launched over here in late 2006. Funnily enough, those Japanese machines were recorders - in Japan, lest we forget, HD TV has been available for yonks. In other words, Blu-Ray recordrs have been around for longer than players! The caveat is that Japanese early adopters cannot play Blu-ray movie discs on these first-gen recorders - they're incompatible.
Panasonic was one of the prime backers of Blu-Ray recording in Japan, and so it should come as no surprise to learn that it has launched the first such machines in the UK. The top of the range DMR-BS850 is a fantastically-specified machine with a 500GB hard drive, Profile 2.0 Blu-Ray playback (with networking support for BD-Live functionality), jukebox facilities, DivX playback, USB, multi-format DVD recording/playback, SD-HC card-reader (for digital cameras and AVC-HD camcorders and even the ability to access YouTube and Picasa content from the Internet.
It's all clever stuff - but most of it pales into insignificance when you consider the machine's hi-def recording capabilities. Thanks to its twin Freesat+ HD tuners, you can simultaneously record two programmes to the HDD (or watch one while recording another, if your TV lacks Freesat tuners). To make this job easier, the recorder's timer can be programmed directly from the Freesat EPG. The bitstream of a channel (standard-def, as well as hi-def) is recorded, and so there's no loss in quality relative to the original transmission.
These recordings, subject to copy-management 'flags', can be copied to Blu-ray blanks (25GB recordable and rewritable discs are currently available - £20 for three BD-Rs, or £30 for three BD-REs - with 50GB dual-layer discs around the corner). You can copy the HDD-recorded bitstream at high speed to Blu-ray, although the resulting discs are not guaranteed to be compatible with other Blu-ray players.
For this, you'll need one of the 'conversion' modes. There are four of these - delivering between four and 12 hours of HD content per 25GB disc. During a demonstration, we noted that the lowest-quality mode (HL) mode was surprisingly good. Despite its mere 4Mbps data rate, here was only mild deterioration (added blockiness, but no obvious detail loss) relative to the original BBC-HD source. With the less-economical (higher-bitrate) modes, even fewer differences should therefore be noticeable.
You can also store standard-def (544x576i sub-standard def, in the case of ITV and C4!) on Blu-ray discs. Stick with the original bitstreams, and that's over ten hours of regular TV (or five standard DVD-R's worth) on a single 25GB disc. Use the conversion modes (the same recording modes that Panasonic provides for DVD recording), and you could cram in a startling 31 hours. Just as well, then, that attention has been paid to disc navigation! Recording from standard-def sources is also possible, thanks to a selection of AV inputs that include DV/Firewire and RGB Scart. You can also dub HD material to DVD, albeit with standard-def picture quality.
The DMR-BS850 is expected to sell for around £999 when it launches in June. There will also be a £899 version with smaller 250GB HDD (the DMR-BS750) and a machine that combines a twin-tuner 250GB Freesat+ HD PVR with a conventional DVD recorder. This unit - the £699 DMR-XS350 - will timeshift hi-def channels in all their glory, but DVD-only recording equates to a standard-def only 'escape route'; there's obviously no Blu-ray playback, either. Excellent stuff - and the appeal of machines like these can only increase as more HD content is added to the Freesat platform (for which you should alas not hold your breath!).
Look out for a review of the Panasonic DMR-BS850 as soon as we can get hold of one.
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Posted: 07/05/09 09:26:05 05
I'm look forward to a review of this blu ray recorder to see just how good they turn out and wether it's worth getting one straight away or wether to wait till I few models have come out to irony out any niggles and get a better price. All in all though very excited.