Panasonic's DVD recorders are renowned for ease-of-use, which bodes well for a machine that dares to combine DVD, hard drive and VHS recording in one unit. While recorders that combine the former two features are commonplace, the addition of VHS is relatively rare -- after all, plenty of people have ditched the format completely. But there are many who still have programmes or home movies that they just can't bear to lose, so for them the EH80V's ability to archive to newer formats will be of use.
Panasonic hasn't treated VHS owners with contempt, making a powerful combi recorder that just happens to support an antiquated tape format. This is particularly noteworthy with the hard drive, which at 200GB is larger than the 160GB that seems to be about average. On the other hand however, the unit doesn't have features like DivX playback and a digital TV tuner, meaning that it has been left behind in key areas. If you're still using VHS tapes, then you're probably used to making sacrifices, and if you place tape functionality over more modern features, you'll find the EH80V to be a solid recorder.
The EH80V is huge, with the two media slots and the internal hard drive bumping up its height over most other recorders. To technological snobs like us, the mere presence of a VHS deck destroys any style, but it does manage to retain some sense of cool thanks to a silver finish.
You may have a massive collection of VHS tapes but Panasonic has presumed you have a flatscreen when it comes to connectivity. On the back of the recorder, there are component video outputs so you can output video from all three devices in high quality progressive scan. This makes a big difference to DVD movies as they look detailed and colourful, but this high-quality connection really shows off the low resolution of VHS. If you're still using a CRT then it's more forgiving with VHS, but you'll want to use the RGB Scart output to retain a better picture from DVDs.
We really like the way Panasonic has placed the video inputs around the front so you can connect and disconnect equipment easily -- composite and S-video are hidden under a flap on the left, so you can record from your digibox or another external source. If you're making DVD copies of your camcorder recordings then you're better off using the DV input, which retains digital quality so you can transfer your favourite home movies and send DVDs out to your friends. On the same panel as the DV slot is an SD card input, meaning you can take photos on your camera and watch them back on your TV immediately. Digital audio output is handled by an optical connection, and there are analogue audio outputs if your setup is less hi-tech.
Panasonic's remote control complements the user interface perfectly, and it makes short work of the problems presented by so many recording options. The interface for dubbing between formats is particularly well designed, with selections for source, destination and quality levels all shown on one menu. The main Play, Pause and Stop buttons are large and centralised, switching between sources is simple as the HDD, DVD and VHS buttons are well labelled and the more advanced functions are logically located around the circular jog control pad.
The EH80V may contain antiquated technology, but integrating it with a hard drive and DVD recorder can't have been easy. The nicest touch is the circular dial on the front that lets you transfer recordings from one format to another at the touch of a button. DVD, HDD and VCR each have a button that points into the other two formats, making it easy to transfer recordings quickly. It certainly deems the arduous task of archiving a mountain of VHS easier. It also makes it easier for the novice user to transfer that recording of Desperate Housewives from the hard drive onto DVD to take to a friend's house.