Samsung DVD-HD931 Upconverting DVD Player

Photos by Tony Cordoza You can get a hint of what's up with Samsung's top-of-the-line DVD player from its model number. The "HD" in DVD-HD931 signifies that it has a special output for "upconverted" DVD video signals that closely match the capabilities of high-definition TVs. To take advantage of this feature, though, you need a set with a DVI (Digital Visual Interface) input, which you'll find on most new HDTVs.

Along with the DVI output, the DVD-HD931 has what is by now the standard array of features, including playback for JPEG images and MP3 music files, a zoom control, and a virtual surround sound mode for its analog stereo output. The remote control is simple but functional, like previous Samsung DVD remotes, but smaller than those earlier models, with some of the buttons a little too closely spaced for confident operation by touch - at least by my small hands. Disc access and operation were noticeably slower than with other players, but not annoyingly so.

The front panel has the typical stripped-down array of disc-transport controls, along with a spectacularly lighted jog dial that, depending on the setting of the neighboring jog button, selects among the player's fast-scan speeds (up to 128x forward or reverse) or steps from frame to frame. (Unfortunately, the stepping works only in the forward direction, which makes precise cueing of something you just passed difficult.) The front panel is also the only place where you can switch the component-video output between interlaced and progressive-scan (the remote's Prog button is for programed playback) and access the controls for the DVI output.

FAST FACTS

KEY FEATURES • Plays DVDs, CDs, and CD-ROMs containing JPEGs and MP3 music files • Upconverts DVD video to high-definition signal formats • Digital Visual Interface (DVI) output for direct connection to HDTVs or HDTV monitors

OUTPUTS DVI, component video (switchable between interlaced and progressive-scan), composite/S-video; optical and coaxial digital audio

DIMENSIONS 17 inches wide, 2 1/2 inches high, 9 1/2 inches deep

WEIGHT 5 1/2 pounds

PRICE $350

MANUFACTURER Samsung Electronics America, Dept. S&V, 105 Challenger Rd., Ridgefield Park, NJ 07660; www.samsungusa.com; 800-726-7864

That DVI output is the player's most intriguing feature, but it delivers somewhat less than it would seem to promise since it can't provide true high-def resolution - mathematical theorems conspire to make that impossible, and you know how unforgiving math can be. No matter how many scan lines the Samsung player puts out - and it will upconvert standard 480-line DVD images to 720 or 1,080 scan lines - you wind up with visual resolution performance close to that of the original DVD: that is, 480 pixels of vertical resolution and 720 pixels horizontally on a 4:3 image.

So why bother? Because any high-def display has to do some type of conversion to play a standard DVD signal at the display's "native" screen resolution - say, 1,280 x 720 pixels. That resolution is bound to be different from the "native" resolution of DVD, so it's best to do the conversion in the player. Since the player "knows" a lot more about the signal - for example, the visual content of the preceding and following frames - it should do a better job than the upconversion processing in a high-def monitor. This assumes, of course, that the player's upconversion is up to snuff. If it is, images will look "cleaner" and have fewer visual artifacts like jagged diagonal edges and moiré effects.

But, as already noted, you need a TV with a DVI connector, which carries video signals in digital form. And if your TV has a fixed-pixel display - such as one using plasma, LCD, or DLP (Digital Light Processing) technology - a digital video output like the Samsung's is the best way to go because it eliminates a cycle of digital-to-analog-to-digital conversion that would otherwise occur between the player and the screen.

If your TV has a DVI input, however, make sure it conforms to the requirements of HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection). The DVI output of the Samsung player feeds copy-protected signals even when it's playing nonprotected material. If your TV doesn't conform to HDCP, you get a screen full of "snow."

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