Philips DVD963SA DVD Player Reviewed

Philips DVD963SA DVD Player Reviewed

This player was famous for it's price/performance ratio, offering CD, SDACD, and DVD playback to levels beyond what its meager cost would lead you to believe this unit was very popular

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DVD players have only been on the market for about 5 years now. That's it. It seems like longer because they have made an enormous impact on the entire audio/video/home theater market, and have helped propel the sales of other home theater gear including high-definition televisions.

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As they have become one of the most popular consumer electronics devices of all time, DVD player prices have plummeted, and over the past year high quality progressive-scan players for high-definition displays have proliferated. The name Faroudja was only known by those with ultra high-end systems, but now progressive-scan Faroudja de-interlacing chipset equipped players can be had for a couple hundred dollars. As prices have dropped and margins have shrunk, some









manufacturers have started to get into the high volume, super low price market, while others have just packed more and more technology into their players making them even more tantalizing for the enthusiast. The Philips 963SA is one of the latter breed, following on the heels of the well-received 962 last year. I reviewed the 962 very favorably, considering it one of the best DVD players for video quality under $1,000. With the 963, Philips has upped the ante even further by lowering the MSRP $100 to $499 and adding even more features.

Unique Features - This player is one of the first to utilize the new 2300 series Faroudja de-interlacing chipset. This chipset combines the formerly separate enhancer chip with the de-interlacing chip into one package. It adds aspect ratio control for the first time, allowing the DVD player to stretch 4:3 material to a 16:9 screen. This is of paramount importance to those of you who have high-definition televisions that automatically lock into Full mode when fed a 480p signal. The video DAC has been upgraded to a 13 bit/108 MHz unit, promising a smoother picture.

In addition to this new chipset, the 963 adds CD up-sampling, which takes the 16/44 signal of a normal CD and interpolates information to take it to 24-bit /96 kHz or 24-bit/192 kHz. In theory this creates a fuller, airier, and more detailed sound. The SACD capabilities have been upgraded, and bass management is available. The latter takes the form of a "movie" mode (no speaker settings applied for SACD), and "movie" mode which applies speaker setting for SACD with an adjustable crossover (80, 100, and 120 Hz) as well as adjustable filer slope (12, 18, and 24 db/oct.).

The 963 only comes in silver, and the front aluminum panel has a brushed look to it. The LED lights for progressive scan and CD up-sampling are now in tres-chic blue. The central display is still large and easy to read, and the buttons on the right are now plain instead of looking like a jog dial. The overall effect makes the 963 look more like a DVD player or an audio device than the VCRish look of the 962. The back panel has lost the separate progressive/interlaced component outs in favor of just one component out (the S-Video and composite outs still remain, of course) and a switch for interlaced or progressive output. This makes sense, as the aforementioned aspect ratio control is now standard. The audio analog outputs
are now marked with the color codes for multi-channel outputs (the colors are nice, but I still can't keep them straight in my head).

The only place the 963 takes a step backwards is the remote control, as the one provided is not backlit, and does not even have glow-in-die-dark buttons. The buttons are also laid out in a like fashion, but the transport/navigation buttons are differently shaped. Although it is not the worst remote that I have seen, it does seem to be Philips' way of nudging you towards their excellent Pronto universal remote line.

Installation/Setup/Ease of Use - The Philips player was hooked up to a Fujitsu 50" plasma via Tributaries component video cables, digital out was handled by a TosLink Optilink-5, and analog outputs were hooked up with AudioQuest Python interconnects. The rest of the system consisted of my reference Krell Showcase processor, Parasound Halo A51 amp, Monster HTPS 7000 power conditioner, KEF Reference 207/204c/201 speakers, and REL Strata III subwoofer.

The setup menus are still in the goofy international symbols that seem to have been devised by a cryptographer, but once you get into the sub-menus they are fairly straightforward. The player has various settings, including pass below black, color, enhancer level, gamma, chroma delay, and DCDi on/off. At this point, I realized I really liked the big, clear letters on the front display. The display shows the artist's name and song title for audio music, which also appear on the on-screen display.

Read "The Final Take" on Page 2

Final Take - The first thing I did with the 963 after breaking it in was watch some DVDs. This player was mainly used in progressive scan, although I will mention that I thought the interlaced output was also very good. The Faroudja de-interlacing is nothing short of exemplary, but I did turn the enhancer settings down to 0 as I do not care for the extra enhancement. Picture quality is among the best that I have seen from a DVD player at anywhere near this price, as the new video DACs provide a slight decrease in grain to what was already a smooth picture on the 962 (from memory). Although picture quality was not quite as clean and smooth as my reference Krell DVD Standard, it still comes dose enough that those without the $8,000 burning a hole in their pocket can get a taste of true high end. The dreaded chroma bug was not present. The 963 really does have fantastic picture quality, testament to not only the well-engineered digital engine, but also to the analog stage which provides the clear, grain-free picture.

Audio quality with 2-channel and multi-channel SACDs is also improved over the 962. I found the sound to be slightly on the warm side, with a relaxed top end that is not quite as revealing as more expensive players. The midrange is smooth and neutral. The bass is perhaps not as fast and dynamic as more expensive players, but is solid and full without being mushy. Soundstage width is good, depth is a bit shallow during 2-channel, and imaging is also good but not great. Once again, I am being a bit unfair by comparing it with much more expensive "iron." Overall, the SACD performance is excellent at this price, and is definitely more neutral and composed than the 962. I could live with this player day in and day out for audio. The 963 is an excellent introduction for those who have not tried SACD, and if that group includes you let me remind you that you are truly missing out (as an aside I want to point out that the SACD software selection has really started to grow with recent releases, including the entire Rolling Stones and Police catalogs and Pink Floyd's classic Dark Side of the Moon).

CD up-sampling is another feature that is rare among DVD players, showing again how seriously Philips takes the audio section of the 963. The only glitch I found was that the Krell Showcase would have a fit with the up-sampled signal trying to figure out what it was until the digital out was disconnected (it would try to activate a 24/96 mode). This was easily taken care of by listening to CDs only through the 5.1 input, rather than using the normal analog inputs. Adding the 24 bit/192 MHz up-sampling smoothed out the sound of the highs and upper midrange, and decreased smearing of sounds such as cymbals. There was also a more spacious, airy sound, but again, this was subtle. The overall effect was of a smoother, more relaxing sound that was very pleasing. The performance of this player for 2-channel CDs was excellent at this price level.

This really is one of the best bargains in DVD players for the enthusiast. Philips has added so much good stuff to this player that, in my opinion, it catapults the 963 to the top of the $500 market. It is a serious competitor in progressive scan video quality for even more expensive competitors. This player is proof positive that Philips still cares about the person who wants a top-notch audio/video player without shelling out four figures. Anyone with a high-definition television who thinks that the maximum they should pay for a DVD player is a couple of hundred dollars should take a hard look at this player to see not only how clean and detailed DVDs can look for a just a bit more money, but also how good audio can sound for that bit extra. Highly recommended.

Philips DVD963SA
17" x 4" x 12.5"
Plays DVD, CD, Multi-Channel SACD, CD-R,
CD-RW, MP3, VCD
Component/S-Video/Composite Video Out
Coaxial and TosLink Digital Output
MSRP: $499

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