The next best is the 45-hour SP mode, offering recordings that look a touch softer than HQ but not significantly so - and the benefit is that you can fit two hours on a DVD in this mode compared with HQ's one hour. The subsequent drop in quality in SPP is again very slight, but the 2.5 hour DVD recording time makes it possible to fit a whole movie on one disc in almost the same quality as HQ or SP.
However, the LP and EP modes (68 and 90 hours on the HDD respectively) require a greater compromise in quality due to the low bitrates, resulting in hazy, block-ridden pictures and jerky motion. The 135-hour SLP and 180-hour SEP modes should only be used in an emergency, as the high levels of MPEG noise and soft edges detract from your overall enjoyment.
It's also worth noting that the TV signal doesn't bypass the MPEG encoder, which means live TV is displayed in whichever recording mode is currently selected. This is fine in HQ or SP, but not if you've left it in anything lower, and the inconvenient placement of the recording mode settings makes it a pain to change.
There are no such problems with DVD playback though, confirmed by the sharp and dynamic reproduction of The Two Towers disc. The clean 1080p upscaling makes the CG effects and Middle Earth scenery look crisp, while the deep blacks and richly saturated bright colours make the image seem dazzling from the word go.
For recordings, the Dolby Digital-encoded stereo sound quality is excellent, and although it probably hasn't been built with audiophiles' tastes in mind, we can't find much wrong with the DVDR5520H's music playback either, with both CDs and MP3 files. Solid reproduction of 5.1-channel movie soundtracks via the digital output rounds up a competent sonic performance.
The DVDR5520H can't quite match the high standards set by the latest recorders from the Panasonic camp, but it comes mighty close. And in some areas, it's actually better - in particular its live TV flexibility boosted by the terrific Time Shift Buffer, and the clever Commercial Block feature. Plus, unlike the Panasonics you can play DivX straight from the hard disk.
On the downside, the operating system isn't as slick, it lacks Freeview Playback and a series of minor niggles prevent us from falling completely in love with it - but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.