With its unconventionally curvaceous design, touch-sensitive controls and a glossy fingerprint magnet finish, the DVD-H1080 deserves a place in the middle of the coffee table.

In these Blu-ray-dominated times, a DVD deck can't rely on looks alone to compete, and thankfully, the Samsung has a few tricks up its sleeve, the most important of which is video upscaling.

The deck will automatically choose the appropriate resolution for you, but you can also manually make it output 720p, 1080i or 1080p. To benefit from this quasi-HD wizardry, you'll need to hook the player's HDMI output to the corresponding input on your TV. For those that don't have one, Samsung also supplies component and composite video outputs – but take note: there's no Scart output.

The deck also sports a USB port, but rather than spoil the sleek, minimal design, Samsung has placed it on the back. Not only does this let you play back music, video and photos from a flash memory drive, but the player can also rip audio tracks from CD into MP3 and save them on a connected device.

However, there's no way of tagging tracks, so you'll need to edit them afterwards on your PC (which rather defeats the object). Format support is decent enough, but DivX HD, MKV and WMV get refused, as does DVDRAM on the disc front.

Front

Ease of use

The deck's unusual design does pose a couple of problems. The first is that there's no display panel, so you can't just glance up to check how much of the film is left – instead you have to call up an onscreen display by hitting 'Info' on the remote.

Secondly, the limited number of buttons on the front panel means you're completely reliant on the handset, which is no good when you don't have it to hand standing up close to the player.

On a more positive note, though, the H1080's neat trickplay modes and convenient features make movie viewing hassle-free in every other way. If you hate the black bars that sandwich 2.35:1 pictures when viewed on a 16:9 TV, the EZ View mode gets rid of them. It also rescales the image in various other ways depending on the aspect ratios of source and screen, but inevitably there's a reduction in picture quality.

The player's no-frills nature means there's very little you need to tweak before settling down with a packet of popcorn. But one thing worth checking out in the setup menu is a dedicated HDMI section, that enables you to change the resolution plus the brightness, contrast and colour saturation settings.

The five levels on offer are too coarse for proper calibration, but might compensate for any deficiencies in your TV's settings. While the onscreen menus are a bit basic, their bright colours, legible text and logical structure make them easy to work with. The deck's responsiveness is another pleasing improvement on some of its sluggish predecessors.

Finally a word on the remote, the design of which is as distinctive as the player itself. It's small enough to fit the palm of your hand and features rows of tiny circular buttons, but clever placement of the core playback and menu controls makes it surprisingly easy to use.

remote

Picture

Crisp and vibrant 1080p images abound as the Samsung gets to grips with our Men in Black disc. The deck's decent contrast range is key to this, enabling it to deliver richly saturated yet natural colours, pristine whites and deep blacks. The titular agents' distinctive suits exemplify its terrific contrast capabilities: lapels and creases are clearly defined and you can make out the various areas of shading and shadow detail.

This deck gets the balance just right and dark scenes, such as the climactic showdown with the chief cockroach, are forcefully defined with lots of detail.

We're also impressed with the H1080's handing of complex textures and fine detail. The bustling CG creatures inside MIB HQ are sharply rendered and their frenetic movement is tracked effortlessly.

Edges are generally clean, but there are a few jaggies on diagonals that you wouldn't get with more expensive processing, and although it keeps block noise at bay, there are glimpses of mosquito smearing and pixel crawl in shots of the sky and background walls. Despite this, we think the deck still offers a pleasing performance for the money.

Sound

Slip a CD in the tray and you get punchy sonics that occasionally sound hard on high frequencies, but generally do the trick. Internally ripped MP3s also sound fine and movie soundtracks, fed from the analogue outputs to a TV or amp, are clear and open.

The quality of Dolby Digital and DTS tracks fed via electrical digital depends on your system, but Men in Black sounds fantastic on ours.

Value

The DVD-H1080's combo of convenient features, stunning looks and solid performance make it superb value for money. To put it into context, the Samsung costs the same as the Toshiba SD490E (£70 starting price, £50 online), which lacks component and USB ports and isn't anywhere near as attractive.

Picture quality is on a similar level too; the only drawbacks with the Samsung being the lack of a front display panel and a Scart output, but if that's not crucial concern then this is a terrific purchase that we'd recommend.

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