The jack pack on the DVD-HD960 is highlighted by its HDMI output, which is able to upconvert DVDs to 720p, 1080i and 1080p resolutions. While almost all recent HDTVs can do this upconversion on their own, it's possible that the picture quality can benefit if the upconversion processing in the DVD player is superior to the processing in your TV. As we mentioned, this effect on image quality is very dependent on the display used, so it's worthwhile to try one of these units on your TV before buying. The rest of the connectivity suite is made up of the component-video output, standard A/V output with S-Video, and both digital and optical digital audio outputs.
For the most part, the DVD-HD960 performs admirably. We ran the DVD-HD960 through the Silicon Optix's HQV test disc, and it passed most tests easily in every resolution, although 480p seemed a little worse than the others overall. Resolution was sharp in every resolution but 480p, and it was mostly jaggy-free on test patterns with a rotating line and three shifting lines. It also demonstrated fine 2:3 pull-down processing on the race car test, kicking in about a half-second after the car starts to zoom by. We put it head-to-head with the Oppo DV-970HD and watched several scenes from Serenity. It was very difficult to spot any big differences between the two players, although we'd give the nod to the DVD-HD960 as it seemed to do a better job of noise reduction.
Although performance was overall pretty good, there is a significant issue that videophiles should be aware of: ghosting, which looks like trailing colors or smudging and is particularly apparent on high-contrast scenes with a lot of motion. We initially discovered this behavior while checking for the chroma bug error on the Windows DVD Test Annex. While it passed the chroma bug test, the animated fish left trails of color as they moved across the screen. While many of the nitpicks we have over video performance are subtle, the ghosting was obvious enough in this scene that we think most people would notice it.
The ghosting issue manifested itself in normal program material as well, although it was much less obvious than with the animated fish. In Star Trek: Insurrection, we could see trails at the end of one of the spaceships as it curved across the screen. We also noticed it in Toy Story, where a green toy army man's head streaked across the background. The Oppo exhibited no ghosting during these scenes. To be fair, we had to look pretty hard to find the ghosting error in most program material, and we didn't notice the ghosting in Serenity, despite looking hard at numerous scenes. That's why we still rate the Samsung's performance very good overall.
We also tested to see if 1080p upconversion made a big difference compared to the more common 1080i upconversion. After looking at several detailed scenes from Serenity, we felt the difference was almost imperceptible on the 1080p 46-inch Sharp LC-46D62U. While the difference may be more noticeable on very large TVs, most people might want to look at the Samsung DVD-HD860M, which is a slightly cheaper unit that does not offer 1080p.
Aside from image quality, we did run into a few operational quirks. Using our Gefen 2x8 HDMI distribution amplifier, we found that occasionally when we switched away from the DVD-HD960, it would fail to output a picture when we flipped back--requiring us to restart the unit. However, this might not have much of a real-world effect since even those with HDMI switching receivers probably won't be switching to another device frequently during DVD playback. On a more practical note, the load times were a little sluggish--about eight seconds slower than for the Oppo DV-970HD.