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Samsung's DVD-HD860 is essentially aimed at owners of high-definition displays who want to maximize the performance of their existing DVD collection. The player features an integrated video scaler that converts ordinary DVD films to high-definition quality 720p or 1080i standards. This doesn't give you true high-definition performance because it's derived from ordinary content -- but it comes close.
At this price there aren't many entry-level players that afford this specification and an attractive design, easy-to-use features and outstanding performance, meaning the HD860 is a bargain waiting to be bought.
For the price, the design and specification of this player is extremely impressive. Even in the company of a far more expensive flat screen the discreet design and minimal styling doesn't look out of place, or let slip its budget price tag.
The compact unit is typically slim and shallow enough to be mistaken for a set-top box. The front panel has been kept attractively clean using a single circular control for all playback functions with only one visible button for selecting the video output mode. The contrasting black and silver styling will complement most modern displays.
Rear panel connectivity looks limited, but offers all the output options you'll need for any screen scenario. If you want to make the most of the player's upscaling ability, you'll need a high-definition display with compatible HDMI connectivity. HDMI is a digital only interface that carries both video and audio signals in a single cable. Unlike analogue connections, there's no need for any conversion to get improved performance. You can use HDMI to send upscaled images from standard DVDs, which appear close to high-definition quality on screen.
Conventional screen users haven't been ignored with both a ubiquitous Scart terminal and component outputs also featured in the arrangement. Although you won't be able to play upscaled images using these connections, the component outputs support progressive scan, which reduces screen flicker for a smoother picture. The Scart has been RGB-enabled for the best possible performance from a standard connection.
There is also a choice of optical or coaxial audio outputs, which can carry Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks to an external home-cinema amplifier used in surround-sound set-ups.
The small remote is attractively tapered and features similar styling to the player. There isn't much space between keys, but the compact design is more comfortable to use than most -- even if it is easily lost down the side of the sofa.
Unlike traditional DVD players, the HD860 features an integrated video scaler that is able to upscale ordinary DVD films to high-definition 720p and 1080i standards.
As mentioned, you will need an HD compatible display with digital connectivity -- you can't access upscaling options using component outputs. Most HD Ready flat screens feature typical 1,366x768 resolutions, which are ideal for displaying 720p images but mean that 1080i signals will be slightly downscaled to fit. You can buy screens with higher resolutions to overcome this problem, but they are still very expensive and the difference is negligible. Either way, both formats are supported by the player, which is impressive at this price.
The player will accept a variety of discs, including standard and recording formats encoded with MP3, WMA and JPEG files, which can even be organised into folders and played as a slideshow accompanied by music. Digital camera users will also be able to copy JPEG photos onto disc and then upscale them to view as high-definition quality images.
You can also play DivX encoded discs -- this is an advanced compression technology, typically used to copy video content from the Internet, that allows you to cram an entire film onto a single CD without losing too much quality. This feature is growing in popularity, but is still a rarity in most entry-level players.
The clear and concise menu system makes operation easy to use. You only need to initially apply several set-up options and the rest can be controlled from quick keys on the remote. Settings are fairly limited, but you can use the player to adjust picture elements such as colour, brightness, detail and black level, and there are several specific HDMI settings.
While performance using analogue connections is perfectly capable we'll cast our critical eye over the player's upscaled image quality. This is really what separates the HD860 from your average player, and ignoring video scaling options defeats the point of this player.
While picture quality isn't flawless it is outstanding for the price, which is similar to Toshiba's equally affordable-- although Denon's slightly more expensive remains the budget class leader.
The best picture is brought to you using an upscaled 720p signal. Deep black levels produce excellent detail and contrast while colours appear natural and evenly balanced without missing vitality. Movement is also smooth even with slow-panned movement, which is often more difficult to render than fast-paced action. Backgrounds and straight lines occasionally shimmer, though, and turning to 1080i only seems to emphasise these artefacts. Still, using a price-to-performance ratio, the HD860 is undoubtedly good value for money.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield