Despite being launched towards the tail-end of 2006, the RDR-GXD360 is still the only standalone DVD recorder in Sony's current range, which shows how much faith the company has in it.

It'll record onto four of the five DVD formats, the exception being DVD-RAM - though it will play RAM discs. It will also record onto DVD+R Double Layer discs, which boosts the maximum recording time to 15 hours.

The inclusion of DVD-RW (when formatted in VR mode) opens the door for hard-disk style playlist editing. In other words, you can chop bits from your original recordings and piece them together in a new sequence, leaving the originals intact. It also enables you to play and record simultaneously.

The connections roster doesn't include HDMI, which means no video upscaling, but the component video outputs deliver progressive scan pictures and the Scart squirts out high-quality RGB pictures.

As for inputs, the second Scart accepts RGB signals, while the front panel sports the standard AV sockets plus an i.Link input.

On board there's no DiVX compatibility, and the lack of an analogue tuner means you'll need decent digital TV coverage. Also missing is Intelligent Chapter Creation, which places chapter points at definite scene changes, such as ad breaks. The absence of this innovative and highly useful feature is a real shame.

What it does boast, however, is MP3 and JPEG playback, which should come in handy for avid song rippers and digital photo fans.

The deck's operating system is not only gorgeous to look at, but also easy to use. Each menu is arranged in an intuitive way, and the remote's well-placed buttons simplify navigation even further. Likewise the seven-day EPG is superbly designed and makes it a breeze to set timer recordings.

The lack of HDMI output and video upscaling is disappointing, but you still get terrific picture quality from the RGB Scart and the component video outputs.

Recordings from the built-in digital tuner in HQ mode look fantastic - solid, vivid, packed with detail and free from break-up and noise (provided the broadcast is up to scratch). The same applies to the next few modes down to ESP, with only minuscule amounts of blocking on fast movement to report.

Drop to LP and the resolution decreases, plus break-up increases with challenging material - even more so in EP - but these low-bitrate modes are impressive compared to similar modes on other recorders. If you want longer recording times without this sort of picture degradation, then your best bet is DVD+R Double Layer discs.

Pre-recorded DVD playback is typically superb, even with the absence of HDMI. With Spiderman 2 spinning in the tray, the deck offers the kind of high picture quality we've come to expect from Sony.

Most striking are the warm, full-blooded colours, which are instantly gratifying, while the decent reproduction of fine detail helps the picture look crisp. The dynamic contrast also helps our test movie look suitably film-like, and makes blacks look very convincing.

Sound also sparkles, particularly with DVD soundtracks but also with stereo CD playback. A test drive of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue reveals a level of sophistication that you don't expect from a DVD recorder.

Aside from the lack of HDMI output, the RDR-GXD360 is standing the test of time well. Its effortless usability and robust build set it apart from cheaper efforts, while the supreme recording quality guarantees that you'll get the best possible reproduction of TV shows.