Freeview-equipped hard disk and DVD recorder combis have advanced a long way since their first appearance in the middle of the decade. Before then, no DVD recorder had Freeview built-in, so you needed to connect a separate digital TV receiver and get the various hardware to interact.
Most recorders now also write onto almost all types of blank disks, rather than just a couple. The best development is that most new recorders offer Freeview+, including powerful features such as automatic series recording, so you need never miss an episode of your favourite show. We put four mid-to-high-end recorders to the test.
Price: £289 More info: LG Electronics Size: 430x49x275mm Weight: 3.74kg Formats: Records DVD-RAM, DVD-R/-RW, DVD+R/+RW, DVD+R Double Layer, also plays CD, MP3, WMA, DivX, JPEG Hard drive: 320GB (85 to 935 hours recording) Connections: HDMI, 2 Scarts (inc RGB/S-Video in/out), composite/S-Video in/out, component out, stereo audio in/out, coaxial & optical digital audio out, DV in, USB
This stylish recorder is certainly not lacking connections, packing HDMI and RGB Scarts into its slim casing. There's an analogue and Freeview digital tuner, 320GB hard disk for between 85 and 935 hours of TV recordings (depending on recording quality) and the ability to play or import multimedia - including MP3 and WMA files - via USB flash drives.
Freeview+ features such as Series Recording are present but the timer setting options and remote control are less user friendly than average for these functions. You can browse the programme guide while recording, a benefit shared with the Sony and Pioneer machines. However, dig down and there are odd little drawbacks. For example, you can't use the USB input while recording. If you choose to use either of the two digital audio-only connectors with a non-HDMI multichannel amplifier it causes problems on an HDMI TV's speakers, so you then have to use an amp for absolutely all sound.
The machine won't record onto dual layered DVD-R (DVD+R DL is supported) and, strangest of all, high-speed dubbing to DVD is limited to one programme at a time - batch recording switches to real time regardless of file size. Also the recording quality modes leave a big gap jumping from SP (2hr on disc) to LP (4hr). Overall, the recording and picture playback, at up to 1080p, looks impressive.
Various disc and multimedia formats; lots of sockets Minus points
Not the easiest for timer setting; lacks flexible recording mode
Price: £325 More info: Panasonic Size: 430x59x326mm Weight: 4.2kg Formats: Records DVD-RAM, DVD-R/-RW, DVD+R/+RW, DVD-R Dual Layer & DVD+R Double Layer, also plays CD, MP3, DivX, MPEG2 from cameras, JPEG Hard drive: 400GB (89 to 712 hours recording) Connections: HDMI, 2 Scarts (inc RGB/S-Video in/out), composite/S-Video in/out, component out, stereo audio in/out, optical digital audio out, DV in, USB, SD card slot
Panasonic's DMR-EX88 includes desirable extras such as SD card and USB ports for playing photos, DivX files and MPEG2 video from compatible cameras. However, you can't transfer DivX to the large 400GB hard disk, as with some products, nor can you output TV recordings onto SD or USB memory. It also lacks a card slot for pay-TV upgrades, as found on the Sony and Pioneer. There are numerous inputs and outputs, though, including HDMI with up to 1080p upscaling and twin Scarts offering RGB or S-video for recording external sources. You can also set to record automatically in response to set-top box timers.
There's one built-in Freeview tuner but no analogue back-up (less of an issue as digital switchover continues). Panasonic now uses the Guide+ electronic listings with part of the screen devoted to advertising. As with some recorders you are locked out of the guide, editing and dubbing features while recording. Up to date Freeview specs are added, including automatic series recording. Timer settings are easy to make or alter.
Other good features are the CD 'jukebox' that rips your music collection to hard drive with automatic track naming from the upgradable Gracenote database. All main blank DVD formats are supported except DVD-RW in edit-orientated VR mode. Disc playback is superb and recordings remain pretty sharp as far down as the LP setting, totalling 4hr on a normal DVD.
Superb HDMI picture quality; CD jukebox with auto track naming Minus points
Can't transfer DivX to hard disk; won't copy video to SD or USB drives