This is a deck made to catch the eye. Loewe has created a breathtaking piece of AV equipment - not bad for its first foray into this sector, but you would hardly expect less from the chic manufacturer.

It instantly pushes the Hitachi DV-RX7000 into second place in this group test in terms of design and it also boasts unusual disc compatibility. The Loewe can record onto both -R and R discs (as well as the RW versions of each format), a trick that's only been pulled off elsewhere by Sony.

But that multi-format recordability and design will have to go a long way to make this deck stack up with the cheaper models it's up against.

Loewe has pulled a neat trick by hiding buttons and other gubbins behind a fold-down flap on the fascia, giving the deck a monolithic, impassive look that will really get minimalists excited.

It's a great look, fitting for a DVD recorder, and the good news is that under the flap there is a DV input and even a memory card reader, as well as S-video, composite video and stereo audio sockets.

Around the back there are component video outputs and a pair of Scarts, along with both optical and electrical digital audio outs, S-video output, composite video in and out, and stereo audio in and out.

This all seems splendid, but hang on a minute. Those component video outs don't deliver a progressive scan image - a disappointment at this price. Even worse, the Scart input does not take an RGB signal. In fact, it doesn't even accept an S-video signal.

There is the front-mounted S-video input, but that's not going to do anything for the look of your system. 'Baffling' is the word that springs to mind, quickly followed by 'over-priced'.

Feeling utterly deflated, we move on to the features count. You have the familiar four recording options - HQ, SQ, LQ and EQ, giving 1, 2, 4 and 6hrs of capacity respectively. The names for these modes ('LQ' for 'Long Play'?) are symptomatic of a trend with this deck. It uses unconventional terminology, especially on the remote control.

For instance, you have to press the 'EPG' button to rotate through AV inputs and you press 'Text' to bring up a list of titles on a disc. The zoom control is on a button labelled 'Radio', with only a small magnifying glass symbol above it to give you a clue as to its alternative identity.

The remote is multi-function job, which explains some of the choice of labelling, but it is also rather awkwardly shaped. The buttons are also a bit on the small side.

Getting back to recordings, you have a wide range of editing options when you record onto a DVD-RW disc in VR mode. You can add chapter marks, delete chapters or parts of titles, as well as setting up play lists to dictate the running order of a group of chapters. All this is done via a very elegant onscreen display. With a pale blue theme, it fades in and out of existence and really is a delight.

On other discs, editing options are far more limited. You can still erase unwanted material and on -RW (video mode) and RW discs, you recover the space for re-recording, although the space remains in the original position on the disc.

A very welcome feature is the ability, on VR discs, to undo the last deletion you make. It's always good to have such a safeguard in case you accidentally erase the wrong chapter or title, but the function will not be available once the disc has been ejected.

Other features include a zoom, which offers 4x magnification, a karaoke function and a pseudo surround-sound option. You can also set the deck to automatically create chapters at 5, 10 or 15-minute intervals when recording.

To start with the good news, the Centros delivers a very strong image via its RGB Scart output. This is certainly a deck that will do justice to your collection, with excellent colour rendition and fine detail retrieval.

Home cinema audio is very good as well, while CD playback is delivered with conviction and more panache than you might expect from a DVD deck.

Now for the bad news. The recorded image is far from impressive, especially when using a set-top box as your primary source. The fact that you have to make do with composite video input places this deck in an awful bind.

I have no doubt the HQ setting is capable of faithfully recording whatever you throw at it, but when that's a composite signal, it can't do much with it. It is especially galling to watch a programme in all its RGB glory, then see the degradation introduced on a composite recording.

The S-video input at the front might have to be used for serious recording, even though it ruins the look of the deck, because the alternative is just too sad to contemplate.

If you don't have a set-top box and just use an aerial input, you may still (depending on the strength of your analogue TV reception) be able to store a strong image. But analogue broadcasts are living on borrowed time and a DVD recorder should be ready to take advantage of the best current technology.

Editing is easy and that onscreen display makes operation a pleasure. The wide range of options is useful, but you can't help feeling that for many people, this flexibility is wasted.

If you mainly want to transfer DV footage to DVD or if you exclusively use an analogue aerial input, you might be well pleased with the recording quality of this deck. If you have a set-top box, however, you should be looking at a DVD recorder from a company that has taken more notice of the current state of the AV market.