At just 43mm high, this combi is one of the slimmest on the market and also one of the most attractive, sporting a deliciously moody mirrored fascia and a tasteful red ring that lights up when recording.

Features

The recorder offers a reasonable feature list with one significant omission that we'll come to later. It steals a march on its rivals, however, with the addition of dual-layer DVD+R recording.

There's a 160GB hard disk on board, which might be smaller than some of its rivals, but the Philips makes more of what it's got with features such as Time Shift Buffer. This automatically stores up to six hours of TV in a cache memory - enabling you to view favourite moments again and even choose sections to keep permanently. It can also pause live TV and simultaneously play and record the same programme (a function dubbed FlexTime).

The deck also sports a decent socket selection, with both specifying a 1080p-capable HDMI output. The Philips boasts two Scart sockets (both RGB-capable) plusS-video and composite outputs, but strangely there's no component video output here.

If you've got a big library of digital media files, you can transfer them to the hard disk and play them using the deck's Jukebox feature. Compatible files include DiVX, MP3, WMA and JPEG, all of which can be transferred either from DVD/CD or by plugging in an external device to the USB port on the front panel. Also on the front is a DV input and composite/stereo audio inputs.

For recording purposes there are seven recording quality modes, ranging from the best quality HQ to the lowest quality SEP, giving you admirable flexibility when trying to fit programmes onto a disc.

Post-recording features include the ability to merge or split chapters, divide titles and set chapters to hide unwanted sections. There are no advanced editing features such as a playlist creation option.

The significant omission we mentioned earlier is Freeview. All you get is an analogue tuner, which not only limits you to a maximum of five channels, but also means that recordings are likely to pale in comparison to those made on other decks. And instead of a swanky seven-day EPG, the only timer-setting assistance you get is Video Plus. With digital switchover well under way, it won't be long before this model can only be used with an external digital TV receiver.

Ease of use

The improved main menu mimics the one found on Philips' flatpanel TVs and it's no longer unresponsive, making it quite easy to use. Its clever system of scrolling submenus enables you to glide through the options quickly.

The Time Shift Buffer onscreen display is a nice touch, showing where you are in the timeline, and the deck uses a similar device for editing your recordings. The hard-disk recording list is well presented too, though the moving thumbnails are displayed without sound.

The remote control has also been improved and now features separate buttons for disc search and chapter skip, plus a handy button for direct access to the HDD menu.

Picture

Inevitably, recording quality is merely average from the analogue tuner, even in the top quality HQ mode. Edges look fuzzy and colours aren't as crisp and fulsome as they are on the RD-97DT, and interference ruins image quality.

On the plus side, there's nothing wrong with the deck's MPEG2 encoding, with HQ recordings proving to be an accurate reproduction of the live feed.

This pays dividends when recording from an external digital TV receiver, as the unit captures images that are deep and rich, thanks to the all-important RGB Scart input.

Moving down the recording modes, pictures look superb until you get to LP, where you first notice a distinct drop in quality. This mode provides three hours on a single-layer DVD, but you have to put up with extra pixel noise and a hint of haziness across the entire picture.

In SLP and SEP modes, pictures are riddled with block noise, but for the sake of squeezing up to eight hours onto a DVD we think you'll be willing to tolerate it.

However, when watching live TV through the unit, the pictures are displayed in whatever recording mode it's left in, which is problematic if you leave it in SEP.

Pre-recorded DVD playback is excellent thanks to the clean digital signal being passed through the HDMI cable, and when bumped up to 1080p the results are spectacular. The intense detail contained in the King Kong disc is perfectly reproduced, with the movie's magnificent landscapes and CG textures looking sharp and focused. Even RGB output is pleasing, with only a touch of extra noise.

Sound

Sound is captured in stereo Dolby Digital and is every bit as clear and audible as live broadcasts. The unit also pipes glitch-free digital movie soundtracks to an AV amplifier, and offers pleasing CD playback through the analogue jacks.

Value

The DVDR3577H offers many tempting features, such as a USB port, hard-disk playback of digital media and the brilliant Time Shift Buffer mode. These extras would have meant a hands-down victory for Philips, but the lack of a digital tuner - coupled with the low capacity of its hard disk - allows its rivals to claw back some ground.

But when all is said and done, Philips still takes the prize, because it's a better all-round recorder with a slicker operating system and a longer feature list.