The newest HD-DVD and Blu-ray video players are all the rage right now, with a large number of movie watchers jumping on either the HD-DVD or Blu-ray bandwagon. The sales of both types of players have been steadily climbing through the first half of 2007. But for those people who are not quite ready to jump on either bandwagon yet and shell out a few hundred dollars for a true high-definition player, upconverting DVD players still offer a low-cost alternative to obtaining near HD-quality playback of your existing DVD collection. Priced at about $200 USD, the Samsung DVD-HD960 is the flagship model of Samsung’s line of upconverting DVD players, and it offers a high-resolution, near HD alternative to investing in a much more expensive HD-DVD or Blu-ray player. But does it make sense for you to invest in this upconverting DVD player for your next home theater purchase? Read on to find the answer.
Features and Design
The slim design of the HD960, along with the glossy black front panel, accented by a silver lining along the bottom, gives the player a high-tech and low-profile look that will blend seamlessly with other audio and video components in your home theater. The front of the player is simple and straightforward, with only the essential controls laid out along the front panel. The power button is placed on the left corner and emits a soft blue glow once the unit is powered on. The basic controls of play, pause, fast forward, and rewind are consolidated on a black circle control in the far right-hand corner, and the only other control button is the open/close for the DVD tray. An LED display to the right of the DVD tray supplies the basic information about the disc being played. All in all, the minimalist design does a very good job of blending together both function and style.
The included remote control provides a plethora of control options for operating the DVD player. The nice part about the audio and display options with the HD960 DVD player is that it offers a number of tweaking options for serious videophiles. It also offers an “EZ Set” option to toggle through a preset list of display resolutions to allow you to easily find the resolution that looks best on your TV. The layout of the remote is straightforward and well thought out, with the most commonly used buttons (play, pause, stop, chapter skip) placed directly in the center for easy access. I do wish, however, that the most often used buttons were somehow differentiated more clearly from the other buttons — either with a larger size or with a different color — to allow them to be easily found in the low light levels typically found in a home theater environment.
• Upconversion of standard 480p DVD format to 720p/1080i/1080p
• HDMI output
• DivX (MPEG-4) and HD JPEG format support
• Slim design
Image Courtesy of Samsung
Out of the Box Setup
Out of the box setup of the HD960 is extremely simple and should only take a maximum of 5 minutes to get it up and running. With the included HDMI cable, connecting the player to your TV is completed with only one cable connection. The player also includes component video output, S-Video, and RCA (red, white and yellow) connection options if your TV does not have an HDMI or DVI input. The HD960 also has all of the standard digital audio options covered with optical and coaxial audio outputs included. I chose to use the HDMI output for the video connection to my TV and the optical audio output for connection to my AV receiver. After getting the cables connected, I skipped all of the usual setup screens by inserting a DVD and immediately pressing “Play.” The EZView and HDMI SEL buttons on the remote allowed me to quickly find the optimal resolution and aspect ratio for my TV: 1080i with progressive scan enabled and 16:9 Screen Fit aspect ratio. This method of trial-and-error setup makes it simple to find the right settings for viewing DVDs, and the HD960 gets a big “thumbs up” in the ease-of-use department.
To test how the DVD-HD960 performed, I carefully viewed a half dozen movies ranging from the old stand-by’s for action and drama — Lord of the Rings: Twin Towers and The Matrix: Reloaded — to a couple of romantic comedies: Along Came Polly and Fever Pitch. The action movies served as a thorough test of the video processing limits of the DVD player, and the romantic comedies served only to gain approval for the DVD player from my significant other (because, let’s face it, unless you tend to watch DVDs with only a male audience, the DVD player you choose will most definitely see its fair share of comedic and touching moments built around the trials and tribulations of on-screen character relationships). Since the image quality differences from one romantic comedy movie to the next are inconsequential, the action movies formed the foundation for my performance testing.
Starting off with the initial battle scene in The Matrix: Reloaded, in which the character Trinity is fighting for her life and plunges off a high-rise building, the detail level produced by the HD960 was impressive. Each bullet fired from Trinity’s gun had clear detail; the images had no jagged lines, and even the outline of the bullets traveling through the air was clearly visible. As the movie unfolded and Neo and the crew were battling the machines during the highway chase scene, the video processing power of the player was once again evident as the special effects looked absolutely stunning in upconverted 1080i resolution. I saw no uneven lining around the images even during the fastest moving scenes, and the DCDi Faroudja chip provided outstanding picture quality.
Diving right into the massive scale battle scenes in Lord of the Rings: Two Towers provided an equally impressive experience. The color saturation was not up to par with true HD content, but the result was a big improvement over the regular DVD 480p resolution. There were a few fight sequences where the images had a slight graininess and the difference between true 720p or 1080i content and the upconverted DVD content was readily visible, but the average viewer will notice this only if he or she has watched a movie multiple times and is specifically looking for these types of picture quality differences. I was pleasantly surprised to find that as the arrows flew and troops advanced, I saw no ghosting issues or artifacts as a result of the upconversion. Overall, the upconverted picture quality of the HD960 player was outstanding in all of the movies viewed during the testing.
A few additional features of the HD960 (and one drawback) are also noteworthy. One of the subtle and not overly apparent features is its quiet operation. The noise level while playing DVDs is imperceptible, and home theater buffs will appreciate the lack of disc spin startup noise or other irritating audible noises during playback. A not-so-impressive feature is the relatively slow load time — it took at least 6-7 seconds longer to load a DVD than other DVD players I have tested. However, the auto play feature, which automatically loads and plays a DVD once the disc tray is closed, helped to alleviate any frustration caused by the sluggish load time.
Despite a few minor drawbacks, the Samsung DVD-HD960 is an excellent interim step between investing hundreds of dollars in a HD-DVD or Blu-ray player and being stuck with a plain old 480p DVD player. The image quality improvement with this upconverting DVD player is a huge step up from a traditional 480p DVD player, and only the most discerning viewers will notice any artifacts due to the upconversion. Adding to the extremely user-friendly setup and operation, stylish design, and playback options of DivX and HD JPEG playback, the HD-960 offers a lot of good reasons to upgrade from your old DVD player. The biggest drawback, however, is the relatively high price when compared to other upconverting DVD players. The price of the HD960 is approximately $30-$50 USD higher than competing upconverting players, although Samsung will soon be replacing the HD960 with a new model, and closeout prices will likely bring the street price of the HD960 down quite a bit.
• Good image quality through DVD upconversion
• Easy operation
• Included HDMI cable
• Sleek, modern styling
• Sluggish load times