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Samsung DVD-HD931 review: Samsung DVD-HD931

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digital visual interface

An angled piece of mirrored plastic dominates the HD931's face and completely conceals the screen when the power is off. A circle of bright and unfortunately undimmable blue light surrounds the jog dial on the right, and a string of same-size keys enables control of display formats and disc transport. The front panel doesn't offer menu access, however.

7.4

Samsung DVD-HD931

The Good

Excellent performance via DVI; converts DVD resolutions to 1080i and 720p; sleek styling; relatively inexpensive.

The Bad

No DVI aspect-ratio control; DVI jack won't work with non-HDCP displays.

The Bottom Line

Great video and high style make this DVI deck shine, but make sure you have a compatible TV.
Samsung's DVD-HD931 (listed at $299) is one of the new wave of DVD players with a digital-video output, or (DVI) jack. If you're familiar with the technology, you probably know that the HD931 can transmit high-definition resolutions to certain types of televisions. If you don't know about DVI, however, you may have gotten the impression that this deck turns DVD into HDTV. That's simply not true. No matter how good a player is, it cannot provide more picture information than is present on the disc. Nonetheless, the HD931 is pretty impressive. It displays great video on the right TV, and its stylish, silver exterior beats that of its prime competitor, the more feature-laden and less-expensive V Bravo D1.

One button changes color according to the DVI jack's output format: red is for 480p, blue is for 720p, and green is for 1080i. We prefer the way the Bravo D1 simply states the resolution on the display.

With its finger-friendly layout and its ability to control some TVs, the HD931's remote is a darn sight better than the Bravo D1's. But forward and reverse scanning is annoying; in the absence of dedicated buttons, you have to hold down one of the Chapter Skip keys instead. We also sometimes confused Menu, which provides access to the setup and other settings, with Disc Menu.

This Samsung's chief claim to fame is its DVI output. Unlike with analog component-video and RGB connections, the DVI-transmitted video signal travels directly from the DVD player to the display, bypassing the typical digital-to-analog conversion and much of the processing in the TV or the monitor. The result is reduced video noise and artifacts.

Unlike the Bravo D1's DVI jack, the HD931's is equipped with high-bandwidth digital-content protection (HDCP). Unless your TV's DVI input also has HDCP, the Samsung cannot send a picture. Hollywood counts this feature a blessing, but it's a curse in terms of display compatibility.

Providing you have the required TV hookup, the HD931 can convert the resolution of wide-screen DVD (852x480 pixels) to standard 480p, as well as the HDTV resolutions 720p (1,280x720) and 1080i (1,920x1,080). The DVI output works best when feeding fixed-pixel displays that use plasma, LCOS, LCD, or DLP technology. With CRT-based tube or rear-projection sets, the DVI connection is unlikely to deliver a noticeably better picture than component video would.

We were disappointed to find that the DVI output has no proper aspect-ratio control. The player's zoom can't correctly resize images from nonanamorphic wide-screen or 4:3 DVDs, so those movies appear cropped or horizontally stretched, and all the actors look short and fat. Sets that can resize DVI material themselves don't have this problem.

Aside from the DVI connection, the HD931 has the features of an entry-level DVD player. It handles MP3 and JPEG discs, and its full set of A/V outputs includes both optical and coaxial digital jacks.

To compare the HD931 directly with the V Bravo D1, we set each deck's DVI output to 720p and watched films on Samsung's own DLP-based HLN617W, calibrating the TV to accommodate the players' slight differences. Comparing the arena scene from Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones revealed that the Samsung's processing wasn't quite as adept as the Bravo's. That's not to say it was poor--the HD931 delivered a crisp picture that was notably better than the standard 480p progressive-scan--but details such as the surface of the droids and individual aliens in the stadium crowd looked slightly better on the Bravo.

Next, we checked out some video-based material, as opposed to film-based DVD movies, and the HD931 again slightly lagged behind the D1. While jagged edges were smoothed out--the pendulum pattern from the Video2000 benchmark disc was extremely smooth, and the waving flag from Video Essentials looked clean--the zoom-in on the green leaves from the Video Essentials montage of images revealed noticeable smearing. Interestingly, switching to component video revealed plenty of jaggies when viewing the first two patterns, so we don't recommend using this deck with anything but DVI.

Given the presence of HDCP, we expected some compatibility problems, but only one of the monitors in our testing facility, the BenQ 46W1 46-inch plasma, proved incompatible; all we saw via DVI was snowy static. All the other sets, including the aforementioned Samsung HLN617W, the Sony KV-34HS510, the Hitachi 57S500, the Gateway 46-inch plasma, and the V Vizio P4, worked fine. Nonetheless, we recommend you buy an HD931 from a vendor with a money-back guarantee, just in case.

7.4

Samsung DVD-HD931

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7