However, there are a couple of annoying aspects of the operating system: the deck puts an info display over the picture when playing back recordings (you have to press Info to get rid of it), plus you have to dig deep into the setup menu every time you want to change the recording mode.
In terms of picture quality, live digital TV broadcasts are bright and full of colour, but sadly not the cleanest we've ever encountered. There's a visible dusting of digital noise that makes the picture look slightly grainy, and motion looks juddery at times. However, it's no disaster, and certain channels do look better than others.
But in terms of recording quality, the DVDR5500 does a great job of reproducing the incoming signal. In HQ mode, pictures look identical to the source and aside from the niggles mentioned above, the picture quality is pleasingly crisp and vibrant. The two-hour SP mode also delivers the goods, looking almost identical to HQ with a virtually imperceptible increase in pixel noise being the only way of telling it apart.
The SPP mode offers 2.5 hours of recording time, the trade-off being some visible MPEG block noise - but nothing that makes the pictures look unwatchable. In the LP and EP modes however, these artefacts increase to the point where images look hazy and lacking in fine detail, plus diagonal lines look jagged. We don't recommend using either of these for permanent archiving, but they're fine for everyday timeshifting duties where recording time is more important than quality. We'd be surprised if anyone used the hideous SEP mode though - recordings look like they were shot underwater.
Pre-recorded DVDs look fine when upscaled to 1080i, as a run-through of Heat demonstrates. Michael Mann's heist thriller is faithfully reproduced, from the life-like skin-tones to the beautiful blue-tinged shots of the LA skyline. Upon close inspection there is some noise in the picture and a few untidy edges, but not enough to distract from the crisp detail reproduction and solid black level. It's backed up by a dynamic, glitch-free rendition of Heat's fiery 5.1 soundtrack and enjoyable CD playback. Files played back from a USB flash device are also strongly reproduced, whether it's MP3, WMA or JPEG - plus DivX files from disc look great.
The DVDR550 might not be the last word in Freeview or DVD picture quality and editing features are limited, but the inclusion of a digital tuner and 1080i upscaling on such an affordably-priced recorder is a real bonus. Also pleasing is the user-friendly operating system and slim, sexy design, which makes this a good, if not essential purchase.