In a market dominated by dull, identikit boxes, the Samsung DVD-SH875M, the company's latest HDD/DVD recorder, stands defiantly apart.

Its minimalist chassis – with a flat, glossy black fascia incorporating just a few buttons – and small display panel lends the DVD-SH875M the sort of well-dressed sheen that makes current Panasonic and Pioneer models green with envy.

Recording features

The DVD-SH875M can record up to 421hrs of video on its 250GB hard disk drive, albeit at the lowest quality, while the high-quality XP mode offers a maximum recording time of 53hr. The standard record mode offers a more than reasonable recording time of 106hr.

As well as hard disk recording, the deck offers support for a wide range of recordable DVD formats: archiving to disc should be a breeze. As with the hard disk, there are several modes to choose from,
offering variable recording quality and making sure that you can get as much as possible onto to one disc to free up more recording space.

A Flexible Recording mode scans the remaining time on the disc to find the most suitable recording setting. As with most products of this kind, the DVD-SH875M enables high-speed recordings from the hard disk drive to DVD and vice versa.

Freeview+ deck

You'll also find a comprehensive range of connections, including an HDMI and a pair of RGB Scarts – the second of which is particularly handy for making recordings from an external set-top box.

The inclusion of a USB port means you'll be able to attach an MP3 player, digital camera or USB memory stick to transfer your music and picture files, as well as DiVX movie files.

Additionally, this model boasts Freeview+ status. You'll be able to enjoy the benefits of a seven-day EPG and series link – you'll never miss an episode of your favourite programme again.

What's more, the Anynet+ (HDMI CEC) capability means that you can operate any compatible kit
with just one remote. Other features include Time Shift, enabling you to pause live TV, along with Dolby Digital and DTS bitstream output.

Sluggish EPG

The Samsung DVD-SH875M's onscreen menus are laid out well and attractively designed, so it's a shame about the remote control.

For starters, the handset is awkward: there are far too many buttons packed in, making them difficult to use. Several of the most important functions (including Record and Guide) are squashed together at the bottom of the remote, making them difficult to access quickly. The labels next to these buttons are a bit confusing too: they're so close together it's not always clear to which button they are referring.

We also found that the Freeview functions, despite being well presented, were clunky in operation. Flicking through TV channels is somewhat slow, for example, while the EPG takes an irritatingly long time to operate.

Although there's no denying that the deck's fascia is beautifully designed, the text on the display is far too minute and faint to easily read. It's especially problematic when trying to select recording modes – we simply couldn't see what was written from a normal viewing distance.

Impressive upscaling

Freeview images are perfectly satisfactory with good colour reproduction and sharp edges, with the upscaling helping make the images a touch better than some other Freeview sources we've seen.

Footage recorded onto both the HDD and DVD is of good quality: there's little difference between the live version and the copy, even in the standard recording mode. There is a marked difference in picture quality when using the LP mode, however. Images become much softer and lack detail, but that's only to be expected in this basic mode from any recorder.

The upscaling on pre-recorded DVDs is impressive, offering crisp images and a level of detail far greater than you'd expect from a combi deck.

While black reproduction is good, avoiding the washed-out grey effect produced by some decks, some
detail is lost in the murkier corners of the picture. There is still some motion judder, but with such scarily realistic images, it's churlish to complain too loudly.

Cinematic audio

The Samsung DVD-SH875M's audio performance with TV broadcasts is solid, sounding surprisingly good, even when just played through the TV's speakers.

You can also make use of the optical or electrical digital audio outputs, or the analogue stereo output if you want to rig the deck up to a separate sound or home cinema system.

The flexible deck also puts in a good performance with conventional audio CDs and DVDs. Movie soundtracks sound suitably cinematic when the recorder is paired with a reasonable surround sound system.

Plenty for your money

When you consider the decks that this Samsung is competing against, the Samsung DVD-SH875M actually offers an impressive spec for a lot less cash.

Not only does it boast a Freeview+ badge, but it also features a slick design and superb upscaling capability. What's more, it's a great all-rounder in terms of the many recording formats that it supports.

It's really only the awkward remote control and the slightly clunky Freeview operation that lets this great deck down.