If you've recently bought a high-definition display and want to improve the image quality of your existing DVD collection without applying for a second mortgage, then an upscaling DVD player is the answer.
Players featuring integrated video scaling can up-convert standard DVDs to near high-definition quality using 720p and 1080i signals. Images aren't as impressive as true HD content but they come close -- provided you have a compatible display with HDMI digital connectivity.
This technology was once reserved for expensive players but nowadays even entry-level models costing less than £100 can bring notable improvement to your film viewing. We've selected four affordable players that offer a taste of high-definition without spending a fortune on next-generation devices like Blu-ray and HD DVD.
Denon's DVD-1730 is comparatively expensive, although at around £100 it's still affordable and claims class-leading performance and design. The oversized unit is immaculately constructed using high-quality components. Integrated video scaling will upconvert standard DVDs to both 720p and 1080i formats, while the more expensive DVD-1930 also features the latest 1080p scaling. You can play a variety of discs including recording formats carrying JPEG, WMA, MP3 and compressed video DivX files. Connectivity includes all the usual suspects -- HDMI, RGB Scart and component outputs that support progressive scan. Picture quality is outstanding, using dense blacks to create solid definition and depth-defining contrast with stunning detail -- if performance is a priority, it's worth every penny.
Samsung's DVD-HD860 is the first of several incredibly affordable players. The typically slim design is stylishly finished to complement flat-screen displays. Upscaled 720p and 1080i images rely on HDMI digital connectivity, although there are analogue alternatives for conventional users. Standard settings are relatively basic, but high-definition images can be enhanced using dedicated HDMI adjustments. Image quality is at its best using 720p, which doesn't require any downscaling with typical WXGA-resolution screens. Pictures are clean and cohesive with well-balanced colours, but there is occasional instability, which seems emphasised using 1080i.
Toshiba is generally regarded as 'the daddy' of budget DVD players and you're unlikely to find a better model for less than £100 than the SD-360E. The attractive price means you'll have to cope with average build quality but you can upscale images to typical 720p and 1080i formats using HDMI, which is supported by a full range of analogue connectivity. Audio options are slightly limited by the absence of an optical output, but you can still connect a home cinema amplifier using a coaxial connection. Like most entry-level models the feature count is quite low but, for the price, picture performance is exceptional. Upscaled images show obvious improvement over standard-definition, with intricate detail accompanied by naturally balanced colours with plenty of realism. Background noise isn't completely controlled but these slight flaws are easy to ignore.
Philips' DVP5960 is even less expensive, despite an impressive specification that includes some unique convergent features. USB connectivity allows you to access music and photo files from a storage device or portable media player. You can also enhance the resolution of digital photos up to 2 megapixels and view them on screen as a slide show accompanied by music. There are a few compromises elsewhere, though -- DVD recording disc compatibility is restricted to + R/RW formats, an optical audio output has been ignored and there's no support for DTS soundtracks. Nonetheless, picture quality is impressive with both 720p and 1080i images displaying enhanced detail, pronounced colours and fluid movement. Black levels, however, appear slightly worn, which deprives pictures of class-leading depth and definition.