The DVD-V9650 looks pretty slick among its DVD/VCR combo brethren, which tend toward bulk and awkwardness. The front panel is all black with a thin, silver line running through its middle. We like the inclusion of several useful front panel controls, including an HD button to select output resolutions and a DVD/VCR key to toggle to between functions, as well as fast-forward and rewind buttons for when the remote goes missing. The average-size remote is also entirely black with white lettering, but it's still hard to see in the dark since it's not backlit. Most of the buttons are also small and similarly shaped, so it's difficult to navigate by feel.
Connectivity is highlighted by the aforementioned HDMI output, as well as a component output, two digital audio outputs (optical and coaxial), and an S-Video output. A significant drawback to the HDMI output is that it carries only DVD signals. This means you'll need to make a separate connection, either via RF or composite video, to view material from the VCR. This isn't a deal-breaker, but it would have been nice to have one-cable connectivity for both DVD and VHS.
Also, we did have a problem with the component-video output of our review sample; the Pb jack, which carries half of the color information, was not working, severely discoloring the image. This may have just been a problem with our review sample, but make sure you're aware of your vendor's return policy if you're looking to use the component output, just to be safe. Also note that the DVD-V9650 does not have a memory-card slot, although several Internet stores incorrectly list this as a feature. Our review sample did not have one, and there was no mention of it in the manual.
Video-quality testing had mixed results overall. Most disappointing is the fact that the DVD-V9650 cannot pass the full DVD resolution over its HDMI output. We tested the resolution with test discs including Digital Video Essentials Pro, Avia Pro, and Silicon Optics's HQV test suite, and all three demonstrated that the DVD-V9650 could not pass full DVD resolution. This means that fine details in DVDs will look softer than those generated by most DVD players. We did not find much difference between the player's different resolution formats (720p, 1080i, 480p) in any of the tests, but we would say that 1080i looked the most stable. We also found the DVD-V9650 performed poorly on the second "jaggies" test from the HQV disc, so it may introduce jagged edges in diagonal lines on some sources.
The rest of the testing went better for the Samsung DVD-V9650. It did well with tests that involved scrolling titles; the text was crisp without any combing artifacts. Additionally, it passed the chroma bug test from the Windows DVD Test Annex, so it should prevent red and other colors from bleeding on poorly flagged DVDs. Likewise, the DVD-V9650 demonstrated it has 2:3 pull-down processing by properly rendering the opening sequence of Star Trek: Insurrection without jagged or unnaturally moving lines.
Disc compatibility was very good, with the Samsung DVD-V9650 failing to play only a few of the hardest discs in our test suite. It handled MP3s and DivX files stored on CDs and DVDs without a hitch. DivX files played smoothly and without any of the lip-sync issues we've seen in the past.
The convenience of a single-cable hookup and better video quality are two of the main benefits of HDMI. We weren't thrilled by the Samsung DVD-V9650's video quality, and it can't pass the VHS signal via HDMI, necessitating more than one cable for a complete hookup, so the player fails on those two counts. That said, we're guessing most people wouldn't notice the video-quality issues, and for the price, the DVD-V9650 offers a relatively attractive design with the nice bonus of DivX support for movie downloaders.