Panasonic made advancements in 2005 that let the company's DVD recorders retain a high resolution when recording at lower quality levels. This means that the LP and EP modes contain more lines of detail, although they are still noticeably compressed. The effect is similar to the one you'll remember from VHS, with a lack of clarity and fine detail, but overall the same strength of colours and vocal detail as the higher recording levels. The LP recording level offers 177 hours on the HDD or four hours on a DVD, while the EP level is 355 hours on the HDD and between six and eight hours on a DVD.
On the DVD side, recordings can be made to DVD-R/RW, DVD+R and DVD-RAM discs, meaning that only DVD+RW has missed out. Each format has its advantages -- DVD-R is extremely cheap, DVD+R is supported by more players when you put written discs in non-recordable devices and DVD-RAM is the most versatile. The latter format allows you to timeslip on the EH80V, so you can watch a recording from the disc as it's still being made. As it's also encased in a plastic protector, it's much less susceptible to damage.
The 200GB hard drive is large enough to allow for a great deal of recordings -- either 44 hours or 89 hours at the XP and SP quality levels respectively. This equates to one hour and two hours on a DVD, but you can always downsample recordings from one format to another to save space. When recording to hard drive or DVD, the machine constantly buffers video so that it will record within one second of you pressing the red button.
The most obvious omissions on the features side are DivX playback -- more or less standard on DVD players -- and a digital TV tuner. The latter has made it onto a few DVD recorders, including Panasonic's own EH60D. We think it's time that it is featured on all recorders over the £400 mark, who wants to record analogue TV these days?
The EH80V's AV performance is up to Panasonic's usual high standards, with progressive scan video offering razor sharp DVD playback. If anything, this higher quality of video connection further serves to show the horrible quality of VHS. In the year that Dixons has ditched CRT TVs and everyone goes mad for high definition, we can't see the point of keeping a VHS player, unless it's for some treasured wedding video or your child's first words.
Recording quality at the SP level shows minor loss of detail and a tiny bit of motion artefacting, but it'll probably be the setting you use for most programmes. The XP level is flawless but it hogs disc space, so if you're a purist you might want to use the hard drive for XP and then backup to disc using the SP level.
The recorder has an optical digital audio output, so if you have a home cinema system you'll want to connect up to retain audio quality. The player supports Dolby Digital and DTS audio formats from purchased movies and records in Dolby Digital 2.0, which is all that's needed for analogue TV broadcasts. Sound quality is indistinguishable from the original programme, no matter which recording level you choose.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield