In the spring of 2001, Hitachi dropped a bombshell by launching a camcorder that used 'mini' DVD-RAMs as a storage medium. At that time, all other consumer cams were tape-based. Consequently, it would have seemed likely that Hitachi - a keen backer of DVD-RAM from the beginning - would have been among the first manufacturers to launch a home DVD recorder.

However, it's taken three years since then for the first Hitachi DVD recorder to turn up. As one would expect, the DV-RX7000E supports the DVD-RAM (rewriteable) and DVD-R (recordable) formats. However, it also supports DVD-RW. Interestingly, the manual warns you that 'DVD R and DVD RW discs should not be used' with the DV-RX7000E. But I can confirm that it will play such discs quite happily.

The DV-RX7000E looks attractive in an understated sort of way. Finished in silver plastic, the top half of the front panel gives you basic transport, standby and tuner channel-change buttons - the far-from-minimalist remote is thus essential.

The lower half, which is fashioned from smoked clear plastic, hides the fluorescent display and, under a flap, a set of AV inputs. These yield composite/S-video and stereo audio analogue connectivity. Also available here is an i.Link input for digital camcorder dubbing; the DV-RX7000E is one of the cheapest 'branded' recorders with this useful feature.

Turn to the rear panel, and the good news continues. There are two Scarts, for auxiliary source and TV output; the DV-RX7000E will accept RGB signals for maximum picture quality; the only other Japanese manufacturer to recognise the importance of such connectivity from the beginning is Sony - others should take note!

A second set of composite, S-video and stereo input terminals can be found on the back, together with matching outputs; interestingly, two (identical) pairs of analogue audio outputs are offered. Clearly, Hitachi's thinking is that one pair will feed your display, while the other would go to your hi-fi system. As far as digital audio connectivity (for routing Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks to external home cinema amps and decoders) is concerned, both optical and coaxial are supported. The only criticism we have is that there's no component output for compatible displays, and that means no progressive scan output potential.

Simple set-up

Setting up the DV-RX7000E poses no problems; when it's plugged in for the first time, the time-honoured auto install system will accept local language preferences, simply tune in your channels and set the clock.

Press the Menu button, and choosing the Setup option will allow you to configure various parameters including Scart video output (RGB or composite), the digital audio output (PCM or Dolby Digital bitstream), Nicam tuner audio, commercial-skip (a simple 'jump-ahead' playback function), language, parental controls and dynamic-range audio compression (for late-night viewing). Beneath the setup option is a menu for timer programming. Up to 12 events, set manually or via Videoplus codes, can be included here.

If a disc is inserted, further menu options become available. First up is a 'title list', from which recordings can be selected for playback, protection, deletion or titling (with a virtual keyboard). Next is what Hitachi calls a Disc manager. From here, you can title your discs, format rewriteable discs (note that you can choose from Editing VR or compatible video modes for DVD-RWs) and finalising DVD-Rs or video-mode DVD-Rs).

If the loaded disc is a VR-mode DVD-RW or DVD-RAM, a playlist-editing function is also available. This nondestructive system allows you to specify one or more recordings (or parts thereof) as 'scenes', and define the order in which they're played. Also on offer is a Panasonic-style partial-delete function, which will reclaim (rewriteable) disc space for new recordings.

Making these in the first place is easy; programming the timer is simplicity itself, while manual start/stop recording and OTR are provided as practical alternatives. Other features include picture-in-picture (which will let you, amongst other things, monitor an AV input while playing a disc), playback zoom, user-definable bookmarks and an Anykey feature, which brings up a list of playback options and information. The DV-RX7000E isn't the most-featured recorder on the market, but everything essential is here.

Four recording modes

Hitachi has endowed the DV-RX7000E with four recording mode 'presets', which bear 1hr, 2hrs, 4hrs or 6hrs per disc. Of these, only the first two (XP and SP) work at the full resolution of DVD; the other two (LP and EP) are provided for situations where recording time is more important than picture quality (akin to VHS resolution).

There's also a flexible-recording (FR) mode, which is only available for timed recordings. It determines which preset recording modes should be chosen to fit all of the scheduled events within the remaining disc capacity. If you're using DVD-RAMs, Timeslip is possible; in other words, you can watch the programme that's still recording. As an alternative, a previously-recorded programme can be enjoyed. Timeslip isn't available with DVD-RW discs.

Picture quality impresses. In XP mode, pictures are highly-detailed and rock-steady and mirror the original source, especially if an RGB input is employed. Even fast movement, tricky for MPEG encoders, is handled well. In SP, the quality drop is imperceptible. A slight increase in MPEG artefacting is noticeable, but the changes are very subtle. LP is surprisingly clean, although details are lost - much as they are with VHS. EP, meanwhile, is subjectively similar to VHS LP and recommended only for non-critical timeshifting.

Sound, which is recorded in 256Kbps Dolby Digital, is of the same high standard across all modes. In its secondary role as a DVD player, the DV-RX7000E is as good as a branded budget player. Colour reproduction is pleasing, while foreground and background details are adequatelyconveyed. CD and DVDs sound reasonable during playback, although serious users will use the digital output for playback.

In all, the DV-RX7000E is a high quality debut DVD recorder from Hitachi. Despite the modest asking price, you're unlikely to want more features - and the wide range of DVD formats it's compatible with is comforting. It's more than capable of rivalling the best entry-level recorders. Highly recommended.