The Samsung DVD-HD950 is part of a new wave of DVD players that use a digital HDMI connection and upconversion technology to offer improved video quality on their DVI- and HDMI-equipped HDTVs. While HDMI can make a big difference in image quality, the benefits of upconversion are more subtle. Unfortunately, we found the HD950's picture quality a little disappointing, which probably outweighs the benefits of upconversion. Despite the picture-quality issues, the HD950 offers a solid selection of features and costs less than competing models such as Sony's DVP-NS975V and Panasonic's DV-S77S.
Compared with your average bargain DVD player, the Samsung DVD-HD950 looks more like a serious A/V component, with its all-black chassis and minimalist silver buttons. Its slim profile measures 16.94 by 2.94 by 11.56 inches and should fit easily into almost any home-theater space.
The included remote does not have a backlight, but we found it easy enough to navigate. It has dedicated buttons for many advanced functions, such as HDMI-output resolution and video output. It also has a large jog/shuttle dial at the bottom of the remote that allows easy frame-by-frame step-through and fast searches, both forward and backward. The remote can control many brands of television.
The Samsung offers more features than most players of its kind. It includes an aspect-ratio control that can resize 16:9 and 4:3 content in several ways. For example, it can zoom and crop the picture to remove the thin letterbox bars from 2.35:1 movies or expand nonanamorphic wide-screen discs to fill wide-screen TVs. That's a big boon for users whose HDTVs don't allow aspect-ratio control on HDTV or HDMI sources.
Other notable features include DVD-Audio and SACD decoding--although if you don't care about these high-resolution audio formats, you can save some money with the silver DVD-HD850, which lacks support for DVD-A and SACD but is otherwise identical.
The highlight of the HD950's connectivity options is the HDMI output, and Samsung supplies both an HDMI-to-HDMI and an HDMI-to-DVI cable with the player. Other outputs include one each for component video, S-Video, and composite video; two for digital audio (optical and coaxial); and one each for analog stereo and multichannel audio. As we mentioned before, the player can upconvert through its HDMI output, meaning that it can scale DVD resolution (852x480) to 1,024x768 (a.k.a. 768p), 1,280x720 (720p), or 1,920x1,080 (1080i). While many HDTVs perform this conversion on their own, the video circuitry in the DVD player supposedly produces a better-scaled picture.
In our tests, the DVD-HD950 produced relatively disappointing picture quality compared to other upconverting players we've reviewed. Its worst offense was somewhat soft resolution; it produced a less crisp image than the Sony DVP-NS975, and several tests revealed a softer, less-detailed picture at all output resolutions using both HDMI and component outputs. Resolution tests from Avia Pro and Silicon Image HQV revealed that the HD950 had problems displaying all 480 lines of horizontal resolution. Further testing using Digital Video Essentials Pro was less conclusive. During the initial round of testing, the Samsung clearly failed all the resolution tests, but secondary tests revealed some peculiar behavior. For instance, the player would fail the first resolution test and pass the second test, but when we returned to the first test, it would pass. In other words, its performance was less consistent than that of the Sony or any upconverting DVD players we've tested.
The Sony DVD player also outclassed the Samsung in many other tests from the Silicon Image HQV suite. For instance, one test featuring roller-coaster footage did not play smoothly, resulting in what looked like dropped frames and visible stutter as the roller coaster entered the picture. The various cadence tests, which measure how a player handles nonstandard frame rates, also looked smoother on the Sony.
The Samsung DVD-HD950 performed admirably in other tests, though. For instance, it did not exhibit the chroma bug on tests from the Windows Test Annex DVD, and its 2:3 pull-down detection successfully rendered the opening sequence in Star Trek: Insurrection without showing significant jaggies in the hulls of the boats. A text crawl from the HQV suite showed combing on the Sony and none on the Samsung. And to be fair, the differences between the two units were more difficult to spot using actual movies, so less critical viewers may not notice the difference. Note that all the above tests were conducted via HDMI on a Philips 42PF9630A plasma, a Vizio P50HDM plasma, and our reference Sony KD-34XBR960 CRT via 1080i and 720p resolutions. Strangely, the Samsung's 768p option, which is ideal for the 1,024x768 Philips, was not available on our review sample.
Disc compatibility for the HD950 was very good, choking on only a few old, badly mastered DVDs. It handled DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW formats and can play DVDs with MP3s on them. The HD950 can also play both DVD-Audio and SACD high-resolution audio formats. While not quite as versatile as the Pioneer DV-588A, it came about as close as possible for a player without DivX support. Note that while online product images of the HD950 show a DivX logo on the player, our test unit did not have the logo and couldn't play DivX files.
Overall the Samsung DVD-HD950 isn't the best-performing upconverting DVD player we've tested, but its ability to play DVD-A and SACD discs will appeal to audiophiles and videophiles who don't want to splurge on a higher-end universal HDMI DVD player.