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As much as we love DVD/HDD recorders and what they can do, they're not always the most interesting machines to look at. But that's not the case with Samsung's latest DVD/HDD combi, which uses the sleek black design seen on its Blu-ray and DVD players to great effect. The fascia is flat and sports only a few buttons, most of which are clustered together in a circular pad on the right hand side, giving it a clean, uncluttered look. On a negative note, the small display panel isn't easy to read from a typical viewing distance.
You'll find a very useful range of connections on the rear panel. Outputs include HDMI, component, RGB SCART and composite video, and if you want to record from an external digital TV receiver, then you can connect it to the second SCART socket, which accepts RGB and composite signals. You can also connect the unit to your sound system using either the optical or coaxial digital audio outputs, or the analogue stereo output.
There are more sockets underneath a flap on the front panel, including DV, composite, stereo audio inputs and a USB port. You can plug an MP3 player, USB memory stick or digital camera into the latter port and transfer JPEG, MP3 and DivX files onto the hard-disk or DVD (or vice versa) or play them directly from the device. These codecs can also be played from recordable CDs and DVDs, revealing the Samsung's excellent format flexibility.
The DVD-SH875M is equipped with a 250GB hard-disk, offering up to 421 hours of recording time, and can also record onto DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD-R and DVD+R discs. The manual says nothing about dual-layer DVD-R/+R recording but we tested it out and it accepts both formats, effectively doubling the recording time afforded by single layer discs. Like any DVD/HDD combi worth its salt, you can copy recordings from the hard-disk to DVD and vice versa at high speed, while DVD-RAM and DVD-RW discs formatted in Video Recording (VR) mode can be used to make non-linear edits.
It's fitted with a single digital tuner and boasts all the usual Freeview features, including a 7-day EPG, digital text and interactive support, plus series link as part of the deck's Freeview+ support (which is still called 'Playback' on the box). The Freeview functionality is attractively presented but not always easy to use. The EPG. for instance, is slow to populate and annoyingly hesitant when you're trying to move from programme to programme, plus channel changing is slow and hitting the 'info' button during TV viewing brings up details about the deck's status rather than the programme - the only way to read the programme synopsis is to enter the full EPG. But setting series link is easy, digital text is quick to appear and the channel/favourites lists are easy to edit.