On the whole, the DVD-SH855M is a decent picture performer. Recordings from the built-in Freeview tuner onto the hard-disk look sharp and dynamic, offering strong colour reproduction and competent handling of fine detail. The fact that you can't select the recording mode didn't cause any problems - the deck was always spot-on when it came to selecting the right mode for the broadcast it was receiving.
For instance, when recording from Channel 4 or ITV, both of which are broadcast at around 2.7Mbps, the deck selected LP mode, which operates at just over 2Mbps. But for BBC One, typically broadcast at around 4.5Mbps, it selected SP mode with an encoding rate of 4.5Mbps. The upshot is that you get recorded picture quality that is virtually identical to the source every time, without the need to crank it up to the space-consuming XP recording mode.
That said, we compared the BBC One Freeview recording in SP with a recording of the same channel from a Sky box in XP mode, and the picture quality from the Sky box was slightly superior.
The difference between XP and SP recordings is minimal, which means you can potentially fit up to four hours of very high quality recordings onto a dual layer DVD. Dropping down to LP or EP mode reveals softer pictures and some break up with fast-moving objects but artefacts like these are kept well within acceptable limits.
With pre-recorded DVDs, the presence of an HDMI output and 1080i upscaling helps the deck to produce some crisp and engaging pictures. Our trusty copies of King Kong, Revenge of the Sith and Se7en were all displayed with terrific fine detail reproduction, striking colours and very few instances of block noise, rounding off an impressive picture performance. We're sure 1080p upscaling could have taken it to the next level on a Full HD TV, but this will be good enough for most people.
Sound performance is every bit as good as you'd expect from a DVD/HDD combi. Movies sound fantastic through a good sound system, while CD playback through the analog outputs is punchy and well-balanced.
Apart from an ill-thought out remote and the lack of 1080p upscaling, Samsung's latest DVD/HDD combi is undeniably impressive. Its generous feature list, which includes 1080i upscaling, a USB connection and multi-format DVD recording would be reason enough to take a punt, but it's also backed up by strong recording quality (despite the fact that you can't choose the recording mode for Freeview) plus pre-recorded DVDs look great. So if the 1080p-capable Sony RDR-HXD870 or Panasonic DMR-EX87 don't take your fancy then the DVD-SH855M makes an ideal alternative.