The DVDR725H is the 160GB version of the 80GB HDRW720, which we have criticised in the past for its sluggish operating system and limited editing facilities.
But we couldn't fault it on looks and Philips still makes the best looking digital recorders on the market, despite a spirited challenge from Sony. The silver dials, gentle blue lights and smooth, rounded edges put us in AV dreamland. We also love the fascia's info panel, which displays the title of the current programme when GuidePlus is up and running.
To set this up, you'll need to leave the DVDR-725H tuned into ITV overnight if you're using an analogue feed, or British Eurosport if you're using a satellite receiver hooked up to the Scart input. To control a satellite receiver you'll need to install the G-Link cable, which sends infrared commands to the receiver. This process is simple in theory, but you'll need the patience of a saint, as it's cumbersome.
Which brings us to the DVDR725H's operating system. Try as we might, we can't overlook its annoying sluggishness, a malaise that has plagued Philips kit for years. Press a key on the remote and the corresponding command isn't carried out with the same immediacy as recorders from other brands. It sounds petty, but it's often the little things that cause the most grief, particularly if you encounter them on a daily basis.
The unfriendly hard-disk and DVD set-up menus leave a lot to be desired, and the recording mode option is buried deep in no man's land. However, the GuidePlus EPG presentation is very simple and smart - plus it plays live TV in the top-left corner. Also, the 'HDD Browser', where you access your recordings, is easy to follow and thanks to GuidePlus, each one is named automatically (though you can edit them manually should you wish).
HDD editing features are virtually the same as for DVD RW. Rival recorders allow you to chop out and re-sequence parts of a recording, but the nearest equivalent here is the 'hide chapters' tool. This skips a specified section when played back, and you can transfer this 'edited' version to DVD RW or DVD R. You can also divide and merge chapters.
Everything you watch from the moment the deck is turned on is recorded in the Time Shift Buffer, which can be set from one to six hours, and when full, the oldest recordings are erased. Anything you want to keep needs to be marked, so that the deck will store it when it's up for erasure (or if the memory is 'flushed'). This is a wonderful feature and one that you won't see on many rival HDD recorders.
We're running out of space, but it's worth noting that there are seven recording modes (offering between one to eight hours on a disc), the component video outputs don't offer progressive scan, and the front AV socketry includes a DV input.
The lack of vibrancy we found with the HDRW720's M1 mode is not an issue here. Pictures recorded from a digital set-top box using RGB are bright and sharp, and the only MPEG artefacts we spotted were from the digital TV broadcast itself.
This is the case until you hit modes M3 to M8, which start to look fuzzier and blocky in places, particularly with fast moving action. But the M8 mode offers some of the most watchable 'lowest quality' images we've clapped eyes on, retaining a surprising amount of sharpness and fluidity, despite the reduced resolution and bitrate.
The DVDR725H is a terrific DVD player in terms of picture and two-channel sound quality, but the operational lag mentioned earlier - combined with the fact that you have to hold down the chapter skip key in order to search - makes disc navigation a bit like wading through treacle.
The DVDR725H possesses some lovely features, such as the Time Shift Buffer and GuidePlus, which are good enough to suggest that the three stars previously awarded was indeed a little harsh on its 80GB sibling. But it's the fundamentals that once again prevent Philips reaching digital recorder greatness - namely operation and limited editing features. Although you could learn to live with them, you really shouldn't have to - especially with so many other slicker and more sophisticated models on the market. Danny Phillips