The budget end of Panasonic's current DVD range looks to be in good hands if the spec sheet of the DVD-S27 is anything to go by. Despite the price, Panasonic has included multi-format compatibility and an excellent complement of features.

It also looks like a mid-range deck rather than a bargain offering, with a pleasing silver finish and neat LED display. There are negatives, however. You do not get component video output, which rules out progressive scan, and there is no optical digital audio output.

Among the more distinctive features is a 'TV type' function, which lets you specify what sort of monitor you are viewing on and adjusts picture parameters accordingly.

The Advanced Surround feature works through either a TV's speakers or a set of headphones to simulate surround sound, while the AV-Enhancer automatically gets the best out of whatever disc you put in.

The DVD-RAM compatibility also brings Panasonic's Direct Navigator function (the same found on its DVD recorders and HDD combis) into play. It is an elegant way to access a disc's contents.

Set-up is extremely easy, with a basic (if slightly crowded) remote and a no-frills onscreen menu.

Performance

The picture is very good on a range of material. Fast-paced action fare delivers crisp images with no smearing or artefacts. Skin tones are realistic. The picture may be a touch on the clinical side, but there are enough picture adjustments available to make this a non-issue.

On cartoon material the colours are vibrant, so that slightly clinical look on skin tones probably owes more to a realistic depiction compared to the boosted levels of some other decks.

Audio performance is excellent. Not only do movie soundtracks come over loud and clear, there is a surprising level of clarity to CD material as well. Nobody would call this an audiophile deck, but it does a more than adequate job.

All in all, the DVD-S27is an excellent deck. It's a shame there is no progressive scan, but you can step up the Panasonic range if you want that - this deck is primarily aimed at saving you money. David Smith