Aside from the fact that it comes with a separate receiver, there's also one fundamental difference between this Panasonic system compared to the rival Marantz Hollywood Take 2; it includes a DVD recorder (the DMR-E55EBS).

Having a separate receiver and digital recorder makes this more of a total AV solution than an all-in-one system; my guess is it won't hold the same appeal for style gurus, not least because there are more sharp edges here than in a cutlery drawer.

Conversely, the Panasonic remote is more aesthetically pleasing. There's one for each component - with the receiver controller able to pilot both bits of kit.

As expected with two separates, there's a multitude of connections on offer including five Scarts; two in/outs on the recorder (both RGB-enabled) and three in/outputs on the receiver (one RGB). There's also a set of component outputs (on the recorder) that are capable of PAL progressive scan.

Others, collectively, include four composite AV inputs and two composite outputs, plus two S-video ins/outs. Two optical digital audio inputs are supplied on the receiver (one matched output on the recorder), plus a coaxial digital audio input.

The recorder supports the universally available and compatible DVD-R writeonce media, and the more versatile rewriteable DVD-RAM format.

Recording modes are Panasonic standard: XP (1hr on a 4.7GB single-layer disc), SP (2hrs), LP (4hrs) and EP (6-8hrs depending on configuration). Obviously, XP is the best quality and is as close to broadcast imagery as possible. Even SP has such minor peccadillos as to be almost imperceptible.

Artefact issues

The others, while better than any VHS recording, have definite artefact issues, but there's very little of the motion jitter and picture shifting problems associated with other machines. Editing is also a doddle, especially on DVD-RAM, and the Timeslip feature (allowing you to record and play at the same time) is a wow for those first encountering the facility.

Video playback is also superb, with sharpness and colour-vibrancy every bit as good as that of most rivals.

The achilles heel of the unit is its audio playback capabilities. The centre speaker has a rather edgy and sibilant character. This is coupled with a thumping mid-bass from the sub (a more aggressive performance than the Hollywood equivalent). The digital powerplant is also subject to wilting under pressure, so you're best considering it only for small-to-average room sizes.