It's telling that despite all the flat-screen TVs we've reviewed here at CNET.co.uk, a CRT TV is still our top-rated display. In this transitional period before high definition arrives (a period that will last for several years), there's no doubting that traditional television and DVD sources don't look as good on an HDTV as they do on a normal old CRT. Luckily, there are some halfway-point solutions that help fill the gap between low resolution DVD and high-definition TV panels -- and Samsung is the first mainstream company to release an 'upscaling' DVD player.
When it first launched, the DVD-HD850 sold out everywhere, and stocks have been in short supply ever since. Flat screens may finally be approaching that magic price point of £1,000 for a 32-inch set, but that's still a big chunk of change. If the purchase of a flat-screen TV has left your pockets a little draughty, the Samsung DVD-850 could be your best-value purchase of the year. It has HDMI video out -- the very latest digital video format -- plus it supports DivX video and wraps it all up in a slinky and easy-to-use package.
The Samsung DVD-HD850 is available for around £90, but you'd think it was double that from the design. It's very classy and sits along Samsung's recent LCD TVs with inspired and clean design on a budget. The main unit is thin, but the brushed silver fascia is the most impressive part of the construction, with a gorgeous blue backlit LCD screen in the centre. The only thing it could have done with is a multimedia card reader, but that might have spoiled the clean design.
Connectivity-wise, the back panel looks basic, but it includes a number of very modern additions. Let's start with the star attraction -- the HDMI output may be tiny, but it is the very best video connection available to home users. It can carry a digital audio and video signal down one thin wire, which is much more attractive in this miniature-obsessed age than the Scarts of old. HDMI's technological specification preserves the signal when it's sent through to your display and AV amplifier, meaning the only real degradation occurs when it's played through your speakers or television. Essentially, you're giving your system the very best starting point. People who buy vinyl and claim to be analogue junkies may disagree, but if your TV is digital then it's the sensible option. You also get an HDMI connector cable included in the package -- generous, as they tend to be expensive when bought separately.
Sensibly, Samsung has not neglected CRT owners -- after all, they might be buying the DVD-850 specifically so they don't have to change DVD players when they upgrade to a flat screen. In the meantime, they can make use of the RGB Scart, composite or S-video outputs, just like the majority of standard DVD players on the market. There are also two sets of digital audio outputs, one coaxial and one digital. No matter what setup you have at home, there's no doubt that the DVD-HD850 will fit into it.
The major selling point of the DVD-HD850 will only really appeal to flat-screen owners, so we'll assume that you're one of them for the purposes of the review. Whether you're using the component outputs or the HDMI socket, this DVD player can 'upscale' video from its lowly DVD video resolution (480 lines for NTSC and 576 lines for PAL) to that of your high-definition display. Most current plasmas, LCDs and projectors have a resolution of 1,280x768 pixels, so they're perfect for the 720p mode, but ultra-modern (and particularly expensive) TVs from Sony and Phillips have begun to offer full 1080i resolution. Either way, both formats are supported by the Samsung, which is a very impressive feat for such a cheap player.