The Philips DVD960 is one deck with looks to really stop you in your tracks. But does it have the brains to match the beauty? John Archer puts it to the test.

DVD players come in all shapes and sizes. They also wear all kinds of different colours and finishes. But that doesn't stop the Philips DVD960 from being the most drop-dead gorgeous DVD player ever. Just look at that heavenly, sheer anodised aluminium fascia, the delightful chrome buttons, the silver-white colouring, the wonderfully integrated LCD display - this is the sort of look and build quality you'd normally only find on out-there mega-bucks AV gear from audiophile gurus like Chord, and yet here it is housing a DVD player from a mainstream high-street brand.

There's a good reason why Philips wants the Philips DVD960 to look like a high-end bit of audio finery. Basically, Philips wants the Philips DVD960 to be irresistible to even the most avid music fan - which means that the build quality is more than skin deep; the deck features a totally separate audio circuit and claims to have used the highest performing audio digital to analogue conversion processing systems currently available.

The Philips DVD960's rear end contains an unusually wide range of video connections, which is to say that as well as the normal S-video and composite options there's RGB available via Scart and, even better, component video outputs for delivering ultra-pure signals to any display device able to receive them.

Using the deck kicks off promisingly enough with a delightfully simple - if rather ugly - onscreen setup menu. It's about as foolproof as these things get, and the impressively hefty and large remote control makes navigating through it a doddle.

There is one concern, though, namely that part of the reason setup is so simple is that there aren't many features to get the hang of. Other than a nifty tool for shifting the video position on screen left or right, there's really nothing that you wouldn't find on any bog-standard player.

This situation barely improves during playback. An intro scan tool which shows the first few seconds of each chapter on a disc is occasionally useful, and the deck's ability to play pure NTSC from US discs will endear it to folk with NTSC-capable TVs, but otherwise the only interesting thing is the jog/shuttle dial on the remote. But this dial's over-sensitivity actually makes picture searching and slow-motion more of a faff than usual.

If anything will make the bitter taste of the Philips DVD960's pill easier to stomach, it's going to be in the arena of performance. Which is what makes its pictures doubly disappointing. Although they are by no means dreadful, not even bad, they're not the most wonderful things since sliced bread either - and at they should be. However, detail levels don't seem particularly acute, certainly when compared to recent cheaper offerings from Toshiba, and our laboratory tests suggested that lower-rent TVs may suffer with subtle interference, too.

But what of the much-crowed-about audio abilities? Actually, they really are very impressive. Anyone in the market for a top-notch CD player will be more than happy with what the 960 can do. No matter what type of music you throw at it, the 960 reproduces it immaculately, with precision, authority and supreme control. Even movie soundtracks appear cleaner and more accurately steered than normal.

The Philips DVD960 has a lot going for it. It's a stunningly engineered and beautiful looking piece of kit, it's easy to use, and its audio quality is outstanding. But most people reading this magazine will also want premium picture quality for their ?520, and the fact that you can get better from manufacturers like Toshiba for nearly ?300 less is really hard to swallow.

John Archer, Total DVD, November 2000