- Review Price: £57.89
DVD players have been around for over a decade now, and inevitably manufacturers are struggling to sex up a technology that’s slowly being usurped by Blu-ray and digital downloads. There aren’t many technological avenues left to explore, but one way to keep people interested is to dream up unusual and alluring designs, and that’s something Samsung excels at. The DVD-H1080 perfectly demonstrates the Korean company’s ability to make a bog-standard product look beautiful, and as a result this affordably-priced deck really stands out from the crowd.
Veering away from the rectangular box approach of most DVD players, the DVD-H1080 sports a distinctive ‘pebble’ design – the type you’d use for skimming across a pond judging by the round shape and slim dimensions. And as is customary for Samsung products these days, it’s styled in a deep gloss black finish that’ll take a lot of maintenance to keep fingerprint-free – but the swanky looks are worth the effort.
We’re a sucker for touch-sensitive buttons so it’s great to see three of them at the front of the unit covering play/pause, eject and power. The disc tray below is so slim you barely notice it, while on the back the connection line-up is understandably limited given the unit’s compact size.
On offer is an HDMI output, which will deliver 720p, 1080i and 1080p pictures to a suitably equipped HDTV, as well as component and composite video outs for lower-tech TVs. Audio outputs are of the coaxial digital and analogue stereo varieties but those who need optical are out of luck. There’s no SCART output either, so check your connection needs carefully before buying.
Samsung has also tucked a USB 2.0 port around the back, which means you won’t spoil the aesthetic with a flash drive plugged in. This makes it possible to play MP3, WMA, JPEG, DivX and XviD files without the need to burn them onto CD or DVD first – but it will also play them back from disc if need be. And disc support is solid too, with a compatibility list that includes DVD-R/-RW, DVD+R/+RW, CD and CD-R/-RW.
The other benefit of that USB port is that you can rip tracks from CD straight onto a portable music player in MP3 format (128 or 192kbps), saving you the need to get your PC involved. But here’s the rub – there’s no Gracenote so you’ll need to tag tracks on your PC later.
Elsewhere the deck does all the basic stuff you’d expec – three-stage zoom, slow-motion, frame advance, four-speed search, bookmarks – but more unusual is the EZ View feature, which offers a range of viewing modes for 16:9 and 4:3 material. These are mostly aimed at people who want to get rid of black bars, the downside being that they either distort the picture or reduce the quality.
Most of these features are accessed from an onscreen display, accessed by pressing info on the remote. This handy list also shows the current title, chapter, running time, selected subtitles and audio track in an easy to read box. This menu is vital given the unit’s lack of a physical display panel on the front.
The setup menu is similarly well laid out, superimposing a transparent menu box over an attractive graphic. Unlike some previous Samsung DVD players it responds instantly to remote commands and covers all the key options. There’s even a separate section for the HDMI connection, which lets you choose the output resolution, activate Anynet+ CEC and enter the Picture Quality menu. The latter lets you alter the levels of brightness, contrast and colour saturation in five increments.
The dinky remote looks fiddly at first glance, but its chunky, ergonomic shape fits beautifully into the hand. The buttons are on the small side but they’re all placed within easy reach of the thumb, which makes it surprisingly easy to use.
Hooked up to a 42in plasma, the DVD-H1080 produces very respectable picture quality for such an affordable machine. It can’t match the sharpness or noise-free purity offered by players from Pioneer or Onkyo, but as budget players go this is a fine effort. It tackles the gorgeous visuals of ”Amelie” with admirable conviction, and is particularly adept at conveying the movie’s lavish colour palette. When Amelie rides the ghost train at the funfair, its green and orange hues are deep and radiant, plus skin tones, shading and subtle gradations are smoothly expressed throughout the movie.
The deck’s upscaling is also sound. It may not look anything like real hi-def but with the HDMI output set to 1080p there’s loads of detail on display – in ”Amelie”, the brickwork of Parisian buildings and busy apartment interiors look crisp and punchy. Edges are well-defined and don’t suffer from significant stepping, although there are some occasional traces of mosquito noise near moving objects and the odd fleck of block noise on backgrounds.
During some of the movie’s darker scenes, such as Amelie walking through Metro stations or through apartment block hallways, the deck’s excellent contrast level ensures you can spot even the smallest details. Shadows and background objects are easy to discern, but if the picture doesn’t quite satisfy the needs of your display then the built-in picture adjustments could come in handy – although the increments aren’t accurate enough for proper calibration.
Sonically, the DVD-H1080 is exactly what we expected from a budget deck, by which we mean decent rather than mind-blowing. It’s at its best when piping 5.1-channel bitstreams via the HDMI or coaxial digital audio outputs – ”Amelie’s” DTS track is reproduced with plenty of detail and the surround channels are sharp and immersive. CD playback boasts a good balance across the frequency range, while MP3/WMA playback is perky.
Weighing up the price, performance and features, we can only conclude that the DVD-H1080 represents superb value for money, particularly when you compare it with the similarly priced but less exciting Toshiba SD-590E. For a little under £60, you get irresistible looks, solid 1080p picture quality, a USB port with wide-ranging format support and CD ripping, plus it’s generally easy to use. The only downside is the lack of SCART output, which could be a problem given the amount of people who will fancy pairing this with an HDMI-free TV in the bedroom. But if that doesn’t apply to you then we recommend giving it a whirl.
Score in detail
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