This black box recorder from Samsung has all the latest digital goodies packed inside, so it's strange to see such an old-fashioned design. Still, the DVD-SH855M may well appeal to those who like a bit of retro chic in their styling.

The spec sheet can't be disparaged. There is a useful 250GB hard disk, which is good for around 64 hours in the top-quality XP recording mode. Recordings can be undertaken on any type of DVD as well, including dual-layered versions.

Special delivery

Connections include an HDMI output (which can also deliver upscaled images up to 1080i), a DV input and even a USB port. The onboard tuner is digital, there are some extremely useful editing options, including a partial erase facility.

Getting straight down to business, recordings on the HDD in XP mode (equating to one hour on a DVD) are very good indeed. The picture from our Sky HD box, delivered into the Scart input on the DVD-SH855M, is a little dimmer than it is when delivered directly to the TV, but that can be compensated for.

Detail is first class, with the first-class cricket we recorded retaining every pixel. Grass is highly detailed, skin tones are impressive and the ball can be clearly seen to spin in the air.

The two hour setting sees only a very slight drop-off, but after that it's bad news, with the LP, EP and SEP modes doing poorly.

In the latter two settings, the picture is really worse than SP VHS, with online text becoming nearly illegible.

One thing to watch out for occurs during transfer from HDD to DVD: you cannot change the picture setting, so if you record in XP mode you must transfer to DVD in this mode. This could be an issue if you like to initially watch a recording in XP mode but then step down to SP to fit a two-hour programme onto a DVD.

Before dubbing you will want to take advantage of the editing functions. These include the ever-useful partial delete, whereby you can get rid of commercial breaks and other unneeded stuff. The resulting edit points are fairly good, and certainly less jarring than many we've seen.

Up and coming

Regular DVD playback is excellent using the HDMI socket (although upscaling remains a bit of a red herring because an HD Ready TV does it anyway).

With very good home cinema sound quality you're looking at a competent DVD deck here. It's just a shame the picture quality in recording modes over two hours is not up to scratch, but if the bulk of your recordings are likely to be two hours or less, the DVD-SH855M is still a real contender.