The Hitachi DV-DS253E packs a very useful 250GB hard disk, which is big enough to store up to 338 hours of video in the lowest-quality setting.

More importantly, it gives you 66 hours of theoretically perfect recording capacity, and you can transfer programmes on to DVD for archiving, with DVD±R/RW discs joining DVD-RAM and R double-layer discs on the spec sheet. Before you archive you'll probably want to edit your material to get rid of ad breaks and this is possible using the slightly complex, but nonetheless effective, editing system.

Strangely, you cannot use 'playlist' editing on the hard disk (you can on DVD-RAM and -RW discs recorded in VR mode). Equally puzzling is the absence of a digital TV tuner. The big switch-off is getting close and it would make sense for a digital recording platform to have a digital tuner.

Still, Hitachi does tick one of the other current hot boxes by including an HDMI output, capable of upscaling standard-definition material to 720p or 1080i levels.

It's part of an impressive raft of connections that includes a DV input and a pair of memory card slots. Recordings can be programmed using the VideoPlus timer and you can set the deck to automatically add chapters (in five, 10 or 15-minute intervals).

Excellent remote

The operating system is highly impressive and very nicely designed, and this carries over into the remote control, which is a minor triumph.

Recordings in the top-quality one-hour mode are virtually indistinguishable from the original recording - in fact, to all intents and purposes they are indistinguishable. The crisp picture of Planet Earth is preserved with biting clarity and rock solid colours.

The two-hour setting (much more useful, especially when it comes to archiving movies and sporting events on disc) retains almost all the detail, with only really minor artefacting on fast-moving objects.

The detail remains remarkably good in the LP mode too, because the Hitachi still records a full 576 lines of picture information. There are artefacts, however, and they get very intrusive on the six-hour record setting. This should be avoided.

Switching to playback, the bad news is that video upscaling adds nothing to the image. The good news is the standard picture is excellent anyway, with a 576p feed via HDMI delivering the goods in some style. Editing results in very accurate transition points and dubbing to disc can be done at high speed. Throw in solid home cinema audio and you have a very tempting deck at a really good price.