The 1080p resolution, which combines the benefits of lots of pixels and progressive-scan smoothness, is the latest craze in TV technology, and it wasn't long before upconverting DVD players jumped on the bandwagon. The Samsung DVD-HD960 is one of the first players that can upconvert DVDs to 1080p resolution over its HDMI output, and unlike some of the other high-performance DVD players we've reviewed, this one has a sleek and slim design along with its technological prowess. Don't expect miracles, however; as always, the image quality benefits of upconversion won't make DVDs look like Blu-ray discs or HD-DVDs, and those benefits can vary depending on how well your HDTV itself performs upconversion. Although the DVD-HD960 has a lot going for it--its handling of nonanamorphic wide-screen DVDs is the simplest we've seen--it isn't quite as feature packed as some other players that have memory card slots and support for high-resolution audio formats. On the other hand, its performance is generally very good, though a few issues might disturb eagle-eyed videophiles.
The DVD-HD960's styling is highly derivative of Samsung's BD-P1000 Blu-ray player, which is a good thing. The top half of the front panel is glossy black, with an LED display to the right of the disc tray. Further to the right is a large black circle with front panel controls such as play, stop, and chapter forward/backward skip, which can also scan forward/backward if you hold them down. The bottom half of the player is silver and slopes inward, being distinguished by the power button on the far left with a surrounding blue glow. Home theater enthusiasts will bemoan that the blue light can't be turned off, but we think most others will dig the high-tech look.
The included remote is also well-designed. Although a lot of smallish buttons are on the remote, there's enough differentiation that it's easy to navigate. There's a good balance of functions on the remote. All of the functions we found ourselves wanting to use frequently--such as EZ View, instant replay, HDMI select--were on the remote, while more obscure picture setting were relegated to menu options. The menus themselves didn't look as slick as on some other players we've used--and they were a little sluggish--but it shouldn't be bothersome unless you plan on fiddling with the picture controls frequently.
The DVD-HD960 has a few extra options but not quite as many as we've seen on other players. Its main extra is the ability to upconvert to 1080p over HDMI--which is nice, but make sure your TV is capable of accepting a 1080p signal on its HDMI input if this is an important feature for you. There's also DivX support, so you can play CDs and DVDs with DivX files on them. What's missing is support for high-resolution audio formats such as SACD and DVD-Audio. (While there's not much current support for these formats, many home theater enthusiasts have accumulated libraries of SACDs and/or DVD-A discs, and an upscaling player that can play them is an attractive upgrade while Blu-ray and HD-DVD are still in their infancy.) The DVD-HD960 lacks a media card reader and a USB input. High-resolution audio support, a media card reader and a USB input can be found on the similarly priced Oppo DV-970HD.
We loved the EZ View button on the remote that let us cycle through three different aspect ratios. This was particularly helpful on nonanamorphic wide-screen DVDs, as the Screen Fit mode let us properly fill the screen while maintaining the correct aspect ratio, even when switched to HD outputs. That's a big bonus to those who have HDTVs that lack aspect ratio control on HD sources. While it's not quite as flexible as on the Oppo, it is considerably easier to operate since you just need to hit the EZ View button a few times.