Samsung's HD860 impressed when we reviewed it last year, with its budget-priced upscaling and multimedia playback. There were one or two minor issues, but the player packed in a great picture and sound for the price.

Now the HD860 has been replaced by the imaginatively-named HD870, offering pretty much the same feature count, including DivX/XviD and JPEG compatibility - but at a lower price. Does it still cut the low-end DVD mustard?

Digital delights

Some recent 'big-brand' budget players can turn the upscaling all the way to 1080p; in contrast, Samsung's HD870 can only go as far as 1080i. And that's only on the HDMI output, the use of which - for some odd reason - disables some of the analogue video outputs.

Upscaling isn't available through the component bank, which is a pity if you've used up all of your display's HDMI inputs. It will, however, operate in a progressive mode.

Given how inexpensive these players are, some might consider them suitable for 'second room' status. An RGB-capable Scart guarantees the HD870's compatibility with CRT TVs - no longer taking pride of place in the lounge, these have usually been relegated to such secondary environments.

Moving to audio matters, there's no internal surround decoder - and hence no 5.1 outputs. Unless you have an external home cinema audio system that can be fed from the player's coaxial or optical digital outputs, you'll have to make do with boring old stereo.

Not even virtual surround is offered, but that's no great loss. As with pretty much every other DVD player, the HD870 will play CD-ROMs containing WMA or MP3 files - great if you want hours of uninterrupted music.

Setting up the HD870 poses no great problems, but annoyingly you have to stop playback if you want to delve into the menus and change settings - one of which is 'video quality'. This elementary video-processor can be particularly useful with CRT TVs, some of which yield only minimal control over the picture when driven by an RGB source.

The adjustments include colour saturation, black level, brightness and contrast - there's no noise-reduction. Unfortunately, Samsung's user-interface means that it's impossible to see the effects of any adjustments while you're making them.

The reasonably laid-out remote dedicates a button to HDMI mode selection, and so it's easy to gauge whether a particular disc benefits from upscaling or not. Why couldn't a similar button have been dedicated to the video processor?

In terms of video performance, it's difficult to fault the quietly-running HD870 given its modest pricing.

Black levels are deep without compromising shadow detail, while colour rendition is rich yet not overblown. Despite the apparent lack of noise reduction, the visuals of commercial DVDs are largely free of unwanted noise and artifacting. But some kind of noise reduction would nevertheless have benefitted self-made DVDs and DiVX/XViD playback - which proved more reliable here than on the HD860.

Upscaling also works pretty well; although the HD870's circuitry cannot 'fill in' detail that was never there, pictures did seem a tad more detailed on my 1080p Epson projector with the 720p or 1080i options engaged. Audio-wise, the HD870 puts up a fair fight with a reasonably-dynamic and detailed character.

The HD870 combines a distinctive physical styling with a strong feature count and above-average subjective performance. Oh, and it's easily coerced into RCE-proof multiregion playback, searchable on the 'net. File, then, under 'likeable'.