If you can't decide between buying a DVD or a hard drive recorder, why not consider a hybrid model that offers the best of both worlds? Panasonic's DMR-EX75 features a 160GB hard drive and recording compatibility with all disc formats in a single system.
This versatility means you can record TV programmes from the integrated Freeview tuner onto the hard drive for extra space and convenience or onto a disc if you want to save or transport your copies. Recording quality is as close to the poised and colourful original as you could ask. DVD playback is equally attractive -- especially using HDMI to an HD Ready TV.
The impressive specification is supported by complete connectivity and an exhaustive range of recording and playback features that are superbly presented and easy to use. With only a single digital tuner you won't be able to watch one live programme while you record another, but that is one of the few flaws.
We found the EX75 online for just under £400, but you may find special offers if you shop around. This is expensive for a recording device, but we feel the price is justified by the range of features, the usability and the excellent picture performance.
Despite carrying three separate components -- Freeview tuner, hard drive recorder and DVD player/recorder -- in a single system, the EX75 manages to retain surprisingly slimline dimensions. And it's only the unit's contrasting weight that implies there's more technology here than meets the eye.
The attractive face is minimally styled with only a few fundamental controls, which have been thoughtfully arranged at an angle for easier access from above. Also within close reach at the front is a set of standard AV connections including a DV input that lets you to transfer high-quality footage from a digital camcorder. And a neatly integrated SD card slot completes the front panel features -- I think allowing you to transfer, store and edit JPEG digital photos on the hard drive, which can then be upscaled for high-definition quality viewing.
At the rear, there's a full house of connections ranging from standard analogue inputs and outputs to the latest performance-enhancing digital options. The best is an HDMI digital output that allows the up-conversion of DVD images to high-definition 720p and 1080i resolutions that perform exceptionally well with the latest HD Ready flat panels. A separate HDMI input wouldn't go amiss, allowing you to record straight from high-definition sources like an HDTV receiver, but few recorders can claim this feature.
Analogue alternatives include a pair of Scart terminals, both of which are RGB-enabled for higher quality picture performance. You can use the Scart input to connect devices like your now redundant VCR to re-record your old videotapes, and with VHS Refresh Dubbing technology the quality of images actually improves on the original. There's also a set of component inputs that will support progressive-scan video and some high-definition sources using an adaptor cable, while surround-sound setups can be connected using an optical audio output.
Recording devices rely heavily on the functionality of remotes and Panasonic models are among the most intelligently arranged and easy to use. The oversized controls appear to overwhelm the unit itself, but there's no searching around for keys. Most functions use shortcut keys to save you always going through the menu system.
Panasonic has crammed the EX75 with practically every recording and playback feature imaginable. There's an integrated digital TV tuner, which gives you access to all Freeview channels and simplifies recording using an attractive seven-day electronic programme guide -- all you need to do is highlight the desired programme and leave the rest to technology. And if you're unlucky enough to fall outside of digital reception, there's also an integrated analogue tuner.