DVD recorders offer a simple and cost-effective way for viewers to record TV programmes, but their small capacity reminds us of the limitations of tape. There's no way that you can go on holiday and fit two weeks of your favourite programmes on one disc. Likewise, Freeview recorders are great because they can store masses of programmes for a rainy day, but you can't archive them away without buying a DVD recorder. The obvious solution is therefore to combine all three products -- DVD recorder, hard drive and Freeview tuner -- in one, but it has taken a surprising amount of time for such a device to be released.
The Panasonic DMR-EH60D wins points by being the first out of the gate, but it predictably needs an upgrade if it's going to be an essential purchase. Most dedicated Freeview recorders these days come with twin tuners -- the Panasonic has just one, meaning you can't watch and record different channels. The omission of an HDMI output and DivX video playback is also disappointing. The recorder is impressive nonetheless, thanks to Panasonic's easy recording options, a massive hard drive, and compatibility with every disc format except DVD+RW.
Panasonic recorders have always been the catwalk models of the DVD world, but the amount of tech housed in the EH60D's shell means this has a larger frame than most. The main feature is a reflective fascia which houses an SD card slot in the centre and a large disc-loading tray.
Along the back of the EH60D, the assortment of inputs and outputs will cater for the more serious user. You can output video in progressive scan via the component outputs -- perfect for flat-screen owners because of its high quality. If you've yet to make the upgrade to plasma or LCD, then you can use the RGB Scart output, which offers a well defined, colourful picture. It's a shame there's no HDMI output, but the improvement over component video doesn't tend to be huge.
Even though the digital tuner is included in the box, the EH60D still includes video inputs in case you want to record from an external source. You can output and input video via RGB Scart, so picture quality is preserved from the source to the display. There are also inputs and outputs in both S-video and composite format, although the quality level for these is poor. If you want to burn some home movies to DVD, it's far better to use the i.Link (aka FireWire) input on the front of the machine, which will let you archive and edit your camcorder footage and save it to DVD or the hard drive.
Special mention must go to Panasonic's remote control, which is small and neat, yet has buttons that are big enough to make recording a simple case of intuition. The remote control can also take command of your Panasonic TV, while the combination of thoughtful on-screen menu design and obvious command buttons makes setup a breeze.
The Panasonic DMR-EH60D has plenty going for it -- an integrated digital tuner, a DVD recorder with multi-format disc support and a large 200GB hard drive. The ideal way to use this system is to record all your programmes straight to the hard drive, transferring the ones you want to keep to DVD. Not that you'll be stuggling for space -- the EH60D has a large enough hard disk to accomodate 89 hours of SP-quality recordings.