The Sony GXD500 and (new) Panasonic ES20D are currently the only two Freeview equipped DVD recorders available on the market. Accordingly I thought that some members here may appreciate a brief comparison between them. It has greater significance too - the user interface/operting quirks between the two machines are likely to be the same on the HDD/DVDR combis due later this year (the Panasonic EH60D and Sony 710/910/1010 models). Recorded Picture Quality Sony GXD500: Using the HQ (1hr per DVD), HSP (90mins per DVD) or SP (120mins per DVD) the recorded picture (from Freeview) is outstanding. Compared to equivalent recordings via analogue RGB scart on seperate Digibox/DVD recorder combis the 500 offers a significant leap in PQ - the benefit of avoiding the analogue domain is obvious. Any digital artifacts (not present on the original transmission) were also impossible to find on HQ mode. Likewise HSP was near-perfect. Artifacts were more noticeable at SP mode (especially when viewing via Projector) but the result was noticeably better than recent Pioneer and Toshiba models. At recording lengths over 2hrs though the machine disappoints. Even with an all-digital process the recorded picture quality from the GXD500 was nowhere near as good as analogue recordings on (for example) a Panasonic ES10 when 3hr mode recordings were compared. Whilst this is hardly a surprise, given that the Sony is recording at reduced resolution with modes below SP quality, it was disappointing. Panasonic ES20D: I have been unable to determine if the Panasonic uses an 'all digital' process or not - regardless the recorded PQ is stunning. The XP mode (1 hour per DVD) performs equally as well as the HQ mode on the Sony: I compared a dozen clips recorded from BBC1, BBC News 24 and ITV1 - it was impossible to tell any difference between them. Comparing SP modes though showed the Panasonic superior (and, to be fair, newer) encoder: artifacting that was visible on the Sony was non-existant on the ES20D. Only on high action scenes were any artifacts visible. SP mode is equally impressive and is much closer to the Sony's HSP mode in quality as opposed to that machines 2hr mode. LP (4hrs) is acceptable but probably best avoided IMHO. Ep modes (6hrs and 8hrs) are dreadful - avoid! The Panasonic has a Flexible Record function that provides for recording times between 1hr and 6hrs - very useful for preserving quality. EPG Recording Sony GXD500: Whilst plain to look at the EPG menu is clear and quick to navigate. There are no +/- 24hr buttons and programme information is only available if you select a title - a rather cumbersome approach (especially when compared to the excellent Sony V800 Digibox). Panasonic ES20D: Slightly too bright IMHO but also quick and clear. You can toggle between a grid or channel listings (by pressing the 'Guide' button). No programme information seems to be available - but it is suggested in an insert slip that this will update overnight. The grid is shown below: Setting A Timer Recording Via The EPG: Sony GXD500: The process of setting a programme to record via the EPG is simplicity itself - you select the programme, modify your recording mode and set repeat options - it's that quick. However what it doesn't allow is for you to set a buffer period before and after the programme - this effectively means that virtually every programme is either missing a few seconds from the start or end. Thus the only option for programmes you want to archive in their entirety then is to set a manual timer - much like any other DVD recorder! Panasonic ES20D: Again the process of setting a programme to record via the EPG is very simple: highlight the programme and press Enter. You will then be taken to a screen which allows you to modify any of the recording parameters including start/stop time (shown below). This means you can easily add a buffer time before/after the recording. A automatic +5mins feature would have been nice - but it's good enough. IMHO this puts it leagues ahead of the Sony in operational terms. However this has a significant subnote - in order for the Timer recording to work you need to put the machine into "Timer Mode". This effectively puts the machine into standby and thus, for Plasma/LCD users wishing to use the ES20 as a tuner, is a significant disadvanatage. General Points DVD Playback: the Sony has the edge - although neither are excellent performers. Build quality on both units is reasonable for budget units. Editing: Both machines offer 'VR' editing - the Sony on DVD-RW discs and the Panasonic on DVD-RAM. Without a doubt the Panasonic is the better deck in this regard. Edits are smooth and well managed on the Panasonic, they are much more erratic on the Sony - there is an annoying, intrusive pause on the edit point. Subtitles: Both machines allow you to record the Freeview subtitles - if they are on they get burnt on the recording forever - so if subtitles are left on they will be recorded. They also both have a single button on the handset for toggling subtitles on/off. The Panasonic has a slight advantage here as, for Timer Recordings, you have the option to select Subtitles on/off - there is no such system on the Sony so if you have left them on by mistake they will be recorded. Ideally in future Sony machines I would like to see a 'disable subtitles before recording' option in the menu! Multi-Format: The Sony supports DVD+RW/+R and DVD-RW/-R. The Panasonic supports DVD-RW/-R, DVD+R and DVD-RAM. Neither support dual layer media of either kind. The major thing to note is that the Sony uses DVD-RW for VR mode whilst the Panasonic uses DVD-RAM. The latter has the advantage of reliability and a long lifespan whilst DVD-RW is, IMHO, less robust. In addition the GXD500 will not work with 4x DVD-RW media so media availability will become much harder to get in the near future. Connectivity: Similar on both units in that they have component output, RGB Scart In/Out, S-Video In/Out and no iLink. Nothing major to choose between them in that regard then! Handsets: Not much to say on this as what makes a good handset is very subjective. However the Sony model hides it record functions under a (cheap) plastic flap. The Panasonic, on the other, is a more colourful and compact affair - it uses the 'jog' wheel found on the more expensive Panasonic models as well. Finalising: Obviously DVD-RW/-R and DVD+R discs need to be finalised. Both models seem to be relatively quick as doing this on DVD-R and DVD+R discs. However for some reason the Panasonic seems very slow at finalising DVD-RW discs. Very slow. The Sony is much quicker. Conclusion Hopefully that covers the main issues - between the two the Panasonic is the superior machine - hardly a revelation considering it is 10 months newer (a long time in the AV world). However for those who want to use the machine as their tuner don't discount the Sony - the fact it will do Timer recordings without some obsolete 'Timer Mode' is a major bonus. If anyone wants to know anything else please ask. Also see the Sony GXD500 Review Thread or Panasonic ES20D thread. NB: I was unable to post pics of the Sony GXD500 menu structure due to Copy Protection.