As the inventor of the RW disc format, Philips was one of the pioneers of DVD recording, and it's good to see the brand producing a deck as affordable as the DVDR615. This recorder is also super slim and more aesthetically pleasing than Philips' previous recorder offerings - but have corners been cut elsewhere?

Compatibility with write-once DVD R and rewriteable DVD RW discs only may make the DVDR615 sound less flexible than some of the other decks in this test, but the full range of DVD RW's editing options are available (many RW recorders leave them out). And while there's no HDD, as there is on the same-price Lite-on on page 79, the plethora of recording modes got us back on side. There are seven, with varying quality levels and storage ranging from 1-8hrs.

While there are two Scart sockets offering RGB in and out, S-video ins and outs and a FireWire port for transferring footage from DV camcorders to disc, there's no component video output - so no top-notch progressive scan pictures to your flatscreen. Shame.

Usability is not a strong point. The remote boasts very few buttons (and the ones it does have are frustratingly small), so that completing even simple tasks means slogging through needlessly graphic-heavy and labyrinthine on-screen menus. What's more, we found the deck to be unresponsive. Quite often our sample refused our test disc mid-play, and we had to resort to the old 'switch it off and on again' trick. The front panel also informed us that we'd made errors when we hadn't, and that cables were not connected when they were. A little more time in the Philips laboratory could be in order next time.

Still, things looked up with recording features. While the lack of DVD-RAM means the Philips doesn't offer chasing playback, the editing options provided on DVD RW go some way to compensating for this. These include changeable names for titles and chapters, as well as dividing, merging and deleting of files and chapter marks. Setup - with manual or automatic tuning - is simple, and both manual timed recordings and VideoPlus are simple to operate.

The usability shortcomings left us expecting the worst from the DVDR615's performance - but how wrong we were. Using the top two recording modes, our Desperate Housewives episode looked virtually identical to the original broadcast, with every detail intact. Even the 2.5hrs and 3hrs options yielded fine results. The more compressed 4hrs and 6hrs options showed dotted pixellation and an overall soft feel, but this is to be expected of these lower modes, which would only be used for watch-once recordings, and not for archiving.

Sunshine state

Pre-recorded DVD playback is just as pleasing. Our Eternal Sunshine disc has rarely looked better - motion was smooth, colours were vibrant without being unnatural (even the changing colours of Kate Winslet's hair!) and there was plenty of detail on show. What's more, the lack of an optical output matters little, as surround sound from the coaxial output was perfectly reproduced.

The DVDR615's top-notch performance and useful editing features would position it as one of the top decks in this test - if it was more user-friendly. As it is, the web-like menu system and frustrating remote make it a real headache to operate, and as such it's difficult to recommend wholeheartedly.