The beauty of Sky+ is that it's so simple to use even your Nan can record an entire series of Midsomer Murders without getting flustered. Features like pause live TV and Series Link have really caught our imagination, making it easier than ever to record and watch TV. And thanks to Freeview Playback, terrestrial digital PVRs now offer the same level of simplicity and flexibility as Sky's satellite trendsetter.
But for some reason DVD/HDD combis have always lived in the shadow of hard-disk PVRs, which isn't really fair when you consider that they offer loads more features and let you burn discs of your favourite shows. Perhaps people think they're simply not sexy enough or too complicated to use, but if that's the case then the introduction Freeview Playback into the DVD/HDD combi world will make them seem a lot more attractive.
The DMR-EX88 is one of the first DVD/HDD recorders to sport a Playback badge and completes Panasonic's ‘holy trinity' of new combis, which also includes the DMR-EX78 and EX768 - both of which we enthused over elsewhere on this site. The EX88 is the top-end DVD/HDD model (not counting the VHS-equipped DMR-EX98V).
At 400GB, it boasts the largest hard-disk capacity in the range, which not only allows you to record up to 712 hours of TV but also store MP3 and JPEG files, turning it into a virtual jukebox and photo album. You can also make TV recordings directly onto DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, DVD-R or DVD+R discs, or copy stuff from the hard-disk to any of these formats. If you need more that the eight hours of recording time offered by these formats, then you can also copy HDD recordings to dual-layer DVD-R and DVD+R discs, increasing the recording time to over 14 hours.
It's not the most inspirational piece of AV kit we've ever clapped eyes on, though, putting functionality over frills with a rather dull black finish. But open the flap on the front and things get a little more exciting, with the discovery of a USB port for plugging in memory devices and playing back media files, and an SD card slot, which you won't find on the EX78 or 768. The slot accepts SDHC (High Capacity) cards of 4GB and over, and allows you to play back MPEG-2 SD video as well as JPEG photos. It's joined by a DV input to transfer camcorder footage in the highest possible quality, plus a set of AV inputs.