For a long time, Panasonic has packed more features, bigger hard drives and wider format compatibility into its DVD recorders than anyone else, but the playing field has recently levelled with other brands matching them spec-for-spec. Can Panny stay ahead of the game?

The fancy mirror-finish of previous generations has given way to this slightly less attention-seeking front panel, although there's still enough mirroring going on to guarantee it won't match any of your other equipment.

Inside, there's a big 250GB HDD that can hold 443 hours of video in compressed mode and crucially, a digital rather than analogue TV tuner. The big selling point this year, though, is the HDMI output, which has enabled Panasonic to include video processing that can upscale footage to Full HD 1080p.

An impressive start, but these are all features that most of its cheaper rivals share. Only Panasonic, however, can boast full DVD RAM and DVD-Audio compatibility.

RAM is not the most fashionable format compared to DVD+/-R - and it's probably only there because Panasonic invented it - but it does offer advantages. It is the only format that lets you store still images and video on the same disc for instance, and it is highly editable.

Multichannel DVD-A is supported here in 2-channel mode only. But that alone elevates this recorder into a difference performance class than the competition. For a sizeable majority, I would wager that this Panny can outperform their CD players when spinning DVD-A discs.

Setup is simple. The intuitive onscreen display reacts speedily to the remote control. Digital channels are searched and filed automatically, and you can set the HDMI output resolution to suit. Realistically, you'll only be using the highest 1080p output if you have a Full HD display device that doesn't have its own scaler.

In 720p mode, the picture quality from DVD is crisp and clear. There was noticeable grain over the picture with 28 Weeks Later, beyond the intention of the director, but no video blocking or serious video jitter. Upscaling to 1080p sharpens edges even more, but doesn't reduce picture noise.

My reference Optoma HD80 does a better job of scaling to this level.

There are four recording modes, and at the highest quality, the duplicate is almost indistinguishable from the original, be that from off-air or from the integral DVD player.

Editing facilities are particularly good. When you insert edit points to cut away adverts the deck helpfully dips the volume very slightly to smooth the join points over.

Apart form the questionable styling of the front panel, there's really nothing bad to say about this recorder. For a very few, the lack of an analogue tuner could be an issue, but for everyone else, the excellent quality, comprehensive feature set and easy usability make the Panasonic an obvious choice.