Samsung DVD-M301 DVD Player

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar: You want to buy a DVD-Video player to impress your friends with your techo-hipness (and besides, you're tired of watching fuzzy VHS rentals). You have a digital surround receiver, so the player doesn't need a Dolby Digital or DTS decoder. You have a growing collection of music compilations, so the player should be able to handle recordable CD-R discs. You also have a growing number of CD-Rs on which you've recorded music from the Internet, so it'd be great if the player decoded MP3 files as well. You'd like to have both S-video and component-video outputs. Of course, you want a selection of cool features and a well-designed, easy-to-use remote to control it all. Attractive styling wouldn't be a bad thing. Finally, you'd appreciate getting all this for, oh . . . around $200.

Congratulations! I think I've found your player. The Samsung DVD-M301 has a nice silver-gray finish. I like that color - I'm going to buy a silver-gray Audi TT someday. The player's front-panel styling has a modicum of tasteful flair. The control set is pretty basic, but there is a jog/shuttle knob for functions like frame advance, chapter/track selection, and fast forward and reverse. There's also a headphone jack with level control. Around back, two RCA connectors provide analog audio output, while another RCA jack and a Toslink connector provide coaxial and optical digital audio output. A slide switch selects between composite/S-video and component-video output. The remote is several cuts above average. Its silver face matches the player, and the black lettering on its white buttons is highly legible. Better yet, the buttons are well laid out, and there is even a small thumb-operated joystick. If only the buttons glowed in the dark . . . . The remote duplicates the front panel's controls and adds such perks as slow motion, subtitle-language selection, and three bookmarks. It also lets you engage Spatializer N-2-2 virtual surround sound for listening through just two speakers, 2X scan with normal-pitch audio (great for watching boring movies in half the time), A-B repeat, 2X and 4X picture zoom, and a digest function that simultaneously shows the beginnings of nine chapters.

An interesting feature that will make video purists shriek is Screen Fit, which expands the picture so that a widescreen movie fills a standard 4:3 aspect ratio screen. Overall, the feature set is surprisingly good for a $230 player.

Installation was a snap. I connected the player's optical digital and analog audio outputs to my receiver and its component-video output to my TV. The onscreen setup menu is very clean and was easier to use than those of some high-price players. A Display button calls up a tidy onscreen readout of the title number, chapter/track numbers, elapsed time, soundtrack type, subtitle language, and volume setting.