Face Off: Step-Up DVD Players Samsung DVD-909

Samsung DVD-909
We're happy that Samsung and Daewoo didn't swap electronics- and automobile-manufacturing departments when they merged, although it could've made for some interesting products. Having a DVD player that could drive itself to the store and pick up your movie might be useful. Samsung's DVD-909 player may not have passed its driver's test yet, but it seems like a useful unit nonetheless.

First of all, the 909 has more jacks on its back than any other contender in the Face Off. Besides the ubiquitous component and Y/C connections, the player has dual composite video and stereo analog audio outputs, a 5.1 analog output, and both coaxial and optical digital outputs. The digital outputs allow DTS and Dolby Digital signals to pass to your external digital surround processor. A 24/96 signal can be internally processed, or it can be handled externally in a 16/48 format. The only features not available on the 909's backside are a detachable power cord and something akin to JVC's A/V Compulink, which isn't a big loss.

Cool features continue on both the front panel and within the player's menu. On front, there's a jog/shuttle wheel that allows you to advance the movie frame by frame by spinning the wheel with your extended digit. While surfing the setup menu, we noticed that you can choose whether or not to pass PLUGE test patterns. Since this does nothing but help you set your TV's brightness control, we're not sure why you're given a choice, but we'll take it. The player doesn't seem to have an option for various black-level outputs and is fixed at the NTSC system's accurate 7.5-IRE level.

The player's usefulness continues with the remote and setup menu, both of which are easy to navigate. My only gripe with the remote is the somewhat random pattern of buttons. The point stick, however, does make navigating the player's menu more manageable. The onscreen setup guide's graphics are attractive, readable, and easy to get to with the remote's "setup" button. Furthermore, the 909 is the only player in this roundup with respectable control over the 5.1 analog outputs. For example, the menu allows you to set the speaker size, level, and delay, even though it may require some ESP or a brief read-through of the manual to figure out. This makes it possible to use the 5.1 output with nearly every digital-ready receiver.

When the player was ready for battle, we fired it up and let it rip. The general assessment was that the player performs well but isn't necessarily the best. Maureen thought that the Philips and Samsung units were definitely the most similar and actually preferred the overall color of these two. Clint also thought the performance was similar to that of the Philips player, but he saw a bit of what looked like compression artifacts around edges and thought the colors were not quite as saturated as they were with the other players. Mark didn't really mention the Samsung's performance in particular—he grouped it in with the other units as a more-than-respectable player. For me, the Samsung didn't stand out, but it had no significant detractions, either. It will likely find its place in your system based more on features than performance.

In the end, Samsung's DVD-909 will appeal to many people for its ergonomic remote and attractive onscreen menu. The dual A/V outputs might come in handy if you want to send the signal to multiple locations. Finally, anyone looking for a player with internally decoded 5.1 Dolby Digital signals that offers adequate control over those signals' output should look no further.

• Dual video outputs offer multiple connection options
• Excellent control over the 5.1 analog output