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