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Although the 709 has been discontinued and superseded by the 511 there are still some machines around, especially second hand.

Introduction


After owning both the Wharfedale DVD 750 and the Matsui DVD 110 I was expecting great things from the 709. The player cost me the sum of £220 when new, although they are obviously much cheaper now. The Samsung was a revelation when I got it home, it offered all of the functions of my previous two machines, but without the niggling problems. The first thing I did when I got the machine home was whip off the top cover to examine the firmware. My player has the 3.28 firmware and should not suffer any major problems with any current discs, although seemless branching has been known to trip the Sammys up from time to time.

Samsung DVD 709
Right, on to the technical bits:

Connections


The 709 comes equipped with a pair of RCA connectors for stereo audio output, a SCART socket capable of composite, S-Video and RGB output, separate composite and  S-Video sockets, and a coaxial digital output. In addition to DVD discs, the player is capable of audio CD and VCD playback. On the rear of the player is a switch that can be set to one of three positions - PAL, NTSC or SECAM, depending on your TV. The 709 can output either PAL50 or PAL60 when viewing NTSC discs, helpful if your TV doesn't support 60Hz or you want to backup DVDs onto VHS.

Asthetics


The front panel of the player is fairly sparse. The disc tray is located in the middle, directly below the LCD display. To the right are a selection of buttons including the open/close button, play/pause, stop, and two skip buttons. The power button is located on the far left of the machine. The 709 carries the Dolby Digital, DTS and Spatializer markings.

Unlike the cheaper DVD players the LCD uses upper case characters when displaying information (i.e. "DISC" rather than "diSC"). This puts it one step up from budget players in my book as I think that the other way looks especially tacky. The player features a pleasant GUI displaying a large DVD logo with Samsung emblazoned below.

Remote


The remote control is way better than any other DVD remote I've used, but admittedly my experience has only been with remotes that must have been designed by Satan himself. The little joystick in the middle is soon mastered and it allows you to zip through menus with ease. The fact that you can control your TV set with the remote is excellent. It's saves having to clutch two remotes during a film and I really like this feature.

Settings


Pressing the set-up button allows you to access the player's various settings, and again the menus are pleasing to the eye. You can select to output video for either 4:3 pan-and-scan, 4:3 letterbox, or 16:9 widescreen televisions. The digital out options for both Dolby Digital and MPEG can be set to either Bitstream or PCM. DTS can be set to either on or off. The menu contains the usual parental lock controls, the option to have the on-screen displays turned on or off (useful if you dislike having messages pop up every time you skip a chapter or fast forward), language and subtitle options, and dynamic audio compression. There are many more options, too many to list here.

Build Quality


The DVD tray itself is solid and makes little noise as it travels. The player identifies discs swiftly and you're not kept waiting around whilst the drive spins endlessly. The drive is very quiet in operation, both normal playback and skipping chapters etc. There is an audible "click" on layer-changes however.

Playback


Playing a disc reveals an excellent picture quality, easily as good as the anything else in the low to mid range of players. The picture is sharp and as usual I used the SCART connector for RGB output as this provides better quality than composite or S-Video. I do suffer from the horizontal shift effect associated with the format however, but S-Video is always an option as the quality is only marginally inferior to RGB. The 709 is capable of PAL, NTSC and SECAM playback. The player does tend to be overly sensitive to layer changes though, and they are often accompanied by a noticeable pause and the audible "click" mentioned above.

Features


Now for the special features. There are multiple levels of both fast forward/rewind speeds and slow advance/review. There is a 2x/4x zoom facility, which is actually useful for a change. Using this facility I was able to zoom an area of the South Park movie to view a list of doctors on the wall in the operating theater scene (a nice James Bond joke is contained therein). Things do get very messy up close but you can make out most small text. The ability to pan around is also very useful. The player also features the usual pause/frame advance, repeat playback and multi-angle options. The 709 also plays audio and video CDs, although I haven'y tested VCD capability.

The manual that comes with the player is fairly informative and explains a lot about each function. This is nice to see as I thought that all DVD manuals were appalling before this.

Overall


I would definitely recommend this player to any of my friends (should any of them suddenly develop an interest in DVD that is), as I believe it represents a good mix of technology and affordability. If anyone is looking to get into DVD for a bargain price, or to get a cheap second player for the bedroom, then they could do worse than pick up one of these machines second hand. The more expensive players seem to lack the region hacks and ease of use that set the 709 apart.


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