The DVR-8100 is certainly cheap - it and can be bought for as little as £135 online. It also comes from Yamada - hardly a home cinema heavyweight - is a basic silver box and has a remote that looks cheap and flimsy. But can it rise above its uninspiring origins?

The absence of a HDD is hardly surprising at this price, and it's good to see that the Yamada does at least support both writeonce (DVD R) and rewriteable (DVD RW) discs - although editing features are limited. What's more, it boasts progressive scan (for top-notch pictures to your flatscreen TV via component video outputs) and it is multiregion (meaning it can play US Region 1 DVDs) straight out of the box.

It also has a decent set of video inputs, including two Scarts - one RGB in and the other RGB out, which is good at the price - and an i.Link input at the front for DV camcorders (a luxury often trimmed off budget models).

Easy does it

Another good point is the EasyGuider disc tool menu, which has a good on-screen display, with big clear graphics and simple stages - which is more than can be said for the Philips deck in this group test! The 'auto-tuning' isn't so hot, however - it gave us ITV where BBC1 should be, and an unholy mess elsewhere, so you may have to delve into the installation menu to rearrange them.

There are four recording settings, ranging from the top quality HQ mode (1hr), to SLP (6hrs). Other recording features are scarce. There's no chasing playback or VideoPlus timer setting, leaving just manual timer entry. Recorded disc navigation is not too intuitive either, and the only editing options are to protect or erase individual titles on a disc, and rename them.

What's more, while you can delete a DVD RW title, you can't overwrite anything unless it's the last programme - rendering the RW format almost as limited as DVD R. Your only other option is to erase the whole DVD RW and use it again!

Desperate times?

When it comes to performance, things are a little better. HQ mode (1hr) produced a Desperate Housewives recording that was clear of artefacts and very similar to the original broadcast. But with SP (2hrs) recordings we noticed that outlines looked 'stepped' and digitised, while detail was a little soft - even at this relatively high level. EP (4hrs) mode is softer and blockier still, and shows that a 3hr mode is sorely missed, while SLP (6hrs) saw fast motion cause horrible digital breakup and severe banding.

DVD playback is more consistent. Eternal Sunshine boasted the natural colour palette that it requires, while edges looked clear without being exaggerated. What's more, progressive scan images via the component output give an even more fluid look to fast movement - particularly noticeable in the fast-cut scenes where Carrey and Winslet are constantly on the run. Our only criticism is that our test disc didn't look as vibrant here as on some other recorders in this test. Audio, meanwhile, was well handled by the Yamada's optical or coaxial digital outputs.

The DVR-8100 is a respectable bargain-basement DVD recorder, but nothing more. Its best assets are its progressive scan and multiregion status, but it lacks refined recording modes, editing features and even basics like VideoPlus - things that it's really worth spending a little more cash to have. We advise looking elsewhere for a deck to do justice to your flatscreen TV.