The arrival of high-definition displays has led to the emergence of DVD players featuring integrated video scaling. Using internal processors, these players can upscale standard-definition DVDs to near high-definition quality 720p, 1080i and the latest 1080p signals, which correspond perfectly with the latest flat screens and projectors.
It's not 'true' high-definition of course (since it's derived from standard content, it can't actually add more than is already there) but it comes close and is the easiest way of enhancing your existing DVD collection without gambling on the latest next-generation devices like Blu-ray and HD DVD.
We put three high-end upscaling players that offer state-of-the-art processing and exceptional picture and sound performance for a price, and put them up against a next generation Blu-ray player to see who scales the greatest pixel heights.
Arcam DiVA DV137
Arcam's DV137 is the latest player from the British company that claims to unite exceptional image quality with audiophile sound performance - supposedly negating the need for music purists to invest in a separate CD player.
It's also Arcam's first universal player, which means it will accept practically every format under the home cinema sun including multichannel music DVD-Audio and SACD discs.
The understated design is superbly constructed using a lengthy list of high quality internal components including a 10-bit video processor that can upscale standard-definition images to the latest 1080p format. Of course, you'll need a compatible and still costly full-HD (1920x1080) screen to display 1080p images - but this player can also output upscaled 768p signals, which perfectly match the resolution of more typically used WXGA (1366x768) screens.
Upscaled images perform best using the HDMI digital output, which is accompanied by analogue alternatives including component outputs and an RGB Scart terminal. And the range of audio connections is equally inclusive with both optical and coaxial digital outputs and dedicated 5.1 analogue pre-outs.
A colourful menu system eases operation using a Set Up Wizard, which uses test images to help you adjust your screen to the player. There are numerous advanced adjustments that are often ignored in other players including sophisticated speaker management and a lip synch delay that ensures over processing doesn't upset dialogue.
Pictures are pristinely clean and stable with crisply defined detail and beautifully balanced colours using subtle gradations. There's a more pronounced difference between 768p, 1080i and 1080p signals than is seen in some players with more detail and cohesive movement as you move up the hierarchy - although the odd motion artifact can still be seen. Stereo sound quality is the best we've seen from a DVD player offering surprising punch and solidity without losing any subtlety.
Our only gripe is the Arcam's expensive price tag, which means that other players can offer similar performance for less money.
Build quality; complete connectivity; flexible upscaling; excellent picture and stereo sound performance
Comparatively expensive; occasional motion instability
Denon, like Arcam, is currently focusing on improvements to existing technology rather than the new hi-def formats, and the quality of the DVD-3930's state-of-the-art processing creates images that easily compare to early 'true' high-definition models.
At the core of this technology is Teranex Realto processing, which can upscale normal DVDs to near HD quality 1080p formats - provided you have a compatible full-HD (1920x1080) resolution display. It's the same technology used by US HDTV broadcasters to upgrade standard content and is supported by a spate of other advanced picture-enhancing systems.
As a consequence, the oversized design is incredibly weighty and features an anti-vibration construction that claims to enhance music performance. There are all the video connections you'll need including the essential HDMI output, RGB Scart and two sets of component outputs - one with BNC connectors that can be used with high-end projectors. And the usual audio suspects are accompanied by the latest version of Denon Link, a high-resolution connection that can carry all digital audio signals including multichannel music in a single cable.
Universal compatibility means you can play both DVD-Audio and SACD soundtracks as well standard DVDs and CDs including encoded formats carrying digital files like MP3 music and JPEG digital pictures.
There is an extensive range of elaborate picture and sound settings including an integrated keystone correction system for use with projectors (a first for a DVD player) and a Pure Direct mode that shuts off other systems for greater clarity with stereo playback.
With a full-HD resolution display, picture performance is eye-catchingly impressive. Deep blacks deliver images with solid definition, exceptional contrast and subtle detail, which isn't lost in dimly lit scenes. Colours are evenly balanced and natural while 1080p movement is brilliantly smooth and smear-free. The Denon's ability extends to audio performance too with both stereo and multichannel soundtracks affording surprising weight, timing and natural expression. Other players like the Arcam and Pioneer can compete using lower resolution displays but at its future-proof best the Denon holds the edge.
Industrial build quality; advanced processing; extensive features; class leading all-round ability Minus points
Not so impressive with standard displays
Pioneer's DV-989AVi has managed to stand the test of time amid ever-changing product cycles. Its longevity is a testament to outstanding design and performance, although the specification was developed before the latest 1080p format arrived and it's the only player here that can't claim the highest level of upscaling.
This still means the player is suitable for typical users without a full-HD resolution screen and it's comparatively less expensive than its high-end rivals. You can play virtually any format including both SACD and DVD-Audio multichannel music discs, and encoded discs carrying digital JPEG and MP3 files.
Like the Denon, the incredibly weighty construction dwarfs standard DVD players and alludes to an abundance of underlying technology. This includes high performance audio and video DACs, integrated Dolby, DTS and SACD decoding, and advanced digital processing that can upscale images up to 720p and 1080i high-definition formats. Immaculate build quality and elegant styling are undermined by a lightweight and unresponsive remote, which can make navigating the exhaustive menu systems slightly frustrating.
The rear panel is ridiculously well connected for both sound and video. Typical analogue and digital audio connections are accompanied by dual FireWire outputs, which can be used to carry any high-quality digital audio signals (including multichannel music) to a compatible home cinema receiver using only a single cable. Video options include an all-important HDMI digital output supported by a full cast of analogue outputs including component and two Scart terminals, which can be used to connect a separate recording device.
Despite its slighted specification, the Pioneer can still be considered among the class leaders. Enviably clean images are exceptional with practically any source material, especially using 720p upscaling. Dense black levels expose meticulous detail and encourage realistic contrast while colours are subtly gradated between natural and vibrant tones. Movement may not be as ultimately cohesive as the 1080p supporting players but the difference is negligible.
Sound performance is equally impressive with film scores, although the Arcam can claim more fluidity with both stereo and multichannel music tracks - but the attractive price means you afford to spend your savings on a dedicated CD player instead.
Competitively priced; outstanding design and connectivity; superb picture and sound performance with films Minus points
No 1080p upscaling; unresponsive remote; music performance
As mentioned, Samsung's BDP-1000 differs from the rest on test as it's a next-generation Blu-ray player. You can still use it to upscale standard-definition DVDs but the Samsung will also display true high-definition content stored on Blu-ray discs - although early adopters will be engaging in an unsettled format war against rival HD DVD.
The distinctive design, featuring trademark glossed finishing and neon blue lighting, appears more contemporary than the other players. A flip-down panel at the front conceals two memory card slots that support up to 10 different card formats, which means you can access a wide variety of digital media files.
Rear panel connectivity is conspicuous by the absence of any Scart terminals - an indication of changing technology. A single HDMI output is the connection of choice, although you can also use component outputs to display some high-definition signals but not the latest 1080p standard. And there is a full range of audio options including a choice of digital outputs and 5.1 analogue pre-outs.
Disc compatibility outside of Blu-Ray is comparatively restricted to standard DVDs (including DVD-R/RW and DVD-RAM recording formats) and CDs, but doesn't include multichannel music discs. Although Blu-Ray discs contain enhanced interactive menus, the player's menu system is relatively basic with few adjustments - but this makes it incredibly easy to use.
Playing true high-definition material using Blu-Ray discs does afford more detail and sinuous movement but the difference between Denon's 1080p upscaled images isn't massive. And the player's own upscaling ability using standard DVDs isn't as impressive as any of the traditional players. There is noticeably more noise, uneven gradations and little difference between using 1080i and 1080p. Sound performance, especially playing stereo music, is also a far cry from the other players.
If you want to be the first out of the traps with the new technology then the UK's first high-definition player may seem attractive - but as an upscaling player the Samsung is limited. You'd do better to wait for the format war to be resolved, during which prices will fall and performance will be improved.
Contemporary design; true high-definition support; memory card support; ease of use Minus points
Restricted disc compatibility; ordinary upscaling ability; average stereo sound
Each of these players is capable of stunning performance, as you would hope when you're spending this amount of money. There is little separating the upscaled image quality between the three traditional players - Denon's DVD-3930, Arcam's DV137 and Pioneer's DV-989. However, the Denon's uncompromised specification (including full universal compatibility, enhanced connectivity and 1080p upscaling) and outstanding all-round ability with both pictures and sound gets our approval as the finest upscaling player around.
Arcam's DV137 comes close and will appeal to anyone who wants class-leading music performance from a DVD player, but it's expensively priced. Pioneer's DV-989 is excellent value, especially if you're not using a full-HD display - but, without 1080p upscaling, it isn't as future-proof as the others.
Finally, Samsung's BDP-1000 is only average as an upscaling player but does support true high-definition material using Blu-Ray. That's fine if you want to pay inflated prices for a technology that's still developing (not to mention the struggle to find decent material to play on it) but there's bound to be some wisdom in waiting at this stage.
have recently purchased the denon 1930 for 200 pounds and i have got to say it is worth every penny.The picture on the tosh 32wlt66 is faultless and it proves you can get a bargain if you can wait-even my wife can notice the difference so it must be good.Also the music quality is good through the denon maybe not as good as a seperate 200 pound cd player but its good enough when you are on a tight budget.I AM WELL PLEASED AND NEVER AGAIN WILL I GO DOWN THE ROAD OF SUPERMARKET SPECIALS THAT DIE JUST AFTER THE WARRENTY RUNS OUT ,FUNNY THAT . MATT S.