Review: Philips Philips DVD-963SA CD Player

Category: Digital

I am not ashamed to admit that in the last two years I have ended up buying three DVD players. The first one was the Philips DVD-761K, which after a year started to misbehave and would not play some of the DVD’s. In frustration (since I was not able to play the Diana Krall – Live in Paris DVD which I reviewed earlier) I had to get another one back in January this year which happened to be the Philips Q35. I picked up the Q35 without any research as I was in a hurry. Q35 turned out to be a great player in the sense that it could play anything, being a multi region player. It is still functioning and giving good service. Q35 however failed my test of being a good or even acceptable CD player. It sounds like a mass-market run of the mill CD player with no character to back it up.


The reason for my going for the Philips DVD-963SA was primarily to use it as an audio only player with option of watching the DVD concerts whenever I felt like. SACD happens to be its forte and that would make the player somewhat future proof (the way format war is going on nothing basically is). SACD Video is another format that would be bestowed on us poor consumers soon and we all would be having obsolete players to deal with. Certainly the current breed of SACD players would not be capable of handling the new format. Before this player gets obsolete lets consider what the current technology has to offer us.


· SACD Stereo and Multi-Channel
· Fully Separate Analogue and Digital Processors
· Favourite Track Selection (FTS)
· Separate Audio and Video Circuitry
· Video Circuitry can be switched off for purer sound when playing SACD’s or CD’s
· DVD, DVD-RW, CDR, CDRW Compatible
· HQ Progressive Scan with Faroujda DCDi
· CD Up-Sampling to 24 Bit 192Khz
· Advanced SACD Bass Management
· SACD CD Text
· 24 Bit 96kHz Audio Digital to Analogue Converters
· 13 Bit 108Mhz Video Digital to Analogue Converter
· Dolby Digital and DTS Outputs
· Dolby Digital and DTS Decoder Built-in
· Outputs
Composite Video RCA x 2
Component Video RCA
Coax Digital
Optical Digital
Audio – RCA (L/R)
Audio – RCA (FL/FR/RL/RR/SB)

Firmware: 4.81.22 (servo 7.12.0)

The technology that went into this player is very much state of the art (as of today from the consumers point of view) boasting a 13 bit Video DAC, unlike many others incorporated with 10-bit/12bit DAC’s. The higher bit DAC helps the player expand the colour palette to 8192 for Y, U and V signals. The progressive scan out put is the preferred choice if one has a TV with input capability for same. On the other hand it also is bestowed with a high quality up-sampling converter for audio only playback (my views on this later). The video circuitry can be switched off with a button on the front panel for purer sound from CD’s and SACD’s (would put a smile on most audiophile’s faces). Another feature that I personally was very thrilled about was the tiny button at the back of the unit marked progressive/interlaced. This button comes in very handy when the TV is being switched from progressive to interlaced, the earlier models both had software switching which required the player to be switched on and you make the changes by viewing it on the TV. It is a very welcome feature indeed and hoping that this will be the trend in future for all players.

List of Equipment used for evaluation of the DVD 963SA

Television: Philips Pixel Plus 9420
Amplification: Quad 66 Pre and 606II Power
Speakers: Paradigm Reference Studio 40 v.2 and Chartwell LS3/5a 15 Ohm versions both on heavy duty custom made stands filled with river sand and adjustable spikes underneath
CD Players: Quad 67 CD Player,Marantz CD-63 Special Edition CD Player, Philips CD-Interactive Player CDI-205
DVD Players: Philips DVD Q35 Philips DVD 761K
Turntable: Rega Planar with Ortofon and A&R cartridges
Cables: Monster Cables, Cable Talk, Musical Fidelity and Music Interface Technologies
Power Supply: Surge Protected with EMI and RFI filtering.


In my opinion I found that the black is blacker and white is whiter, and in between the colours are very refreshing and vibrant indeed. I am at a loss not having the ultimate test disk “Video Essentials” but I do have a very good Philips demo disk with many video clips and stills to evaluate and check the colours on any TV or DVD player. I used it to set up my system before any evaluation was done. I did the test using some of my favourite DVD’s which I have watched on various systems and I happen to have a very
good reference of which include Diana Krall – Live in Paris, James Taylor – Live at the Beacon Theatre, Abyss, Lawrence of Arabia. I noticed that the detail this player was able to extract from the source disk was far more than what I was used to with the Q35. Compared to the Q35, this player had the uncanny ability to extract a lot more detail from the DVD. The sense of atmosphere was added to most of the outdoor concert videos when the lights come on in the dark. The other thing I noticed was that the shadows had much more detail. On the James Taylor DVD, the texture detail on the stage flooring while the camera is being panned was amazing, I had not noticed it earlier even though I must have watched the DVD 50 times if not more.

Watching high quality DVD’s will always give you a sharper picture and good colours due to high resolution of the medium even if you are using an average quality DVD player, but badly executed disks will actually give you the real picture and give you a very good idea of how good or bad the player is.

I used some VCD’s which I had purchased a while ago on my trip to far east and one of them being Sound of Music and the other a concert featuring Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour Live. Both the disks on the non-progressive player were having irritating artifacts (jaggies) which was not very pleasant to watch. Even the Q35 having the progressive scan capability was not a big improvement on the 761K. I switched it to the 963 with progressive scan engaged and the results changed; the artifacts were now hardly visible and the image was much more appealing. This means that the 108Mhz/13 bit video DAC was really working and showing a clear difference. The other two player’s were featuring a 54MHz/10 bit DAC. Its not just hype, the quality is there for anyone to appreciate.


The audio output marked audio L/R is to be used for connection to the TV only and not for High Quality output. You must use the multi-channel out put to feed to your amplification as this is meant for the very purpose. If you are into two-channel audio you can use the menu system to set up the audio accordingly.


Being an audiophile I had to ask this question to myself, is this the player that can replace a stand-alone CD player? With the burning question in my mind I set out to test it as if it WAS a stand-alone CD player. Out of the box, the sound was good, rather acceptable but not as upbeat as my Marantz CD-63SE or the velvet smooth and slightly higher end Quad 67 CD Player. The sound that was there led me to believe that the player has the potential to sound better once broken-in. During my research about break-in period the general consensus seems to be a 100 hours for each of the format DVD Video/SACD/CD. I have not yet completed it and cannot say for sure if that is what it takes to get the player to open up. As time passes this player sure is sounding better and better. I am just keeping my fingers crossed that a time will come when this player will sound as smooth as the Quad 67 and as upbeat as the CD-63SE. The up-sampling feature initially was very confusing as I was getting different results with different albums. However, now I have come to the conclusion that the up-sampling feature is not to my liking and I prefer the feature switched off rather than have it engaged. I ended up using my usual reference CD’s comprising of albums listed as follows:

Sting - Soul Cages, Brand New Day, Nothing like the Sun
Patricia Barber – Café Blue, Companion, Verse, Nightclub
Diana Krall – The Look of love, When I look in your eyes
Dave Brubeck – Time Out
Strunz and Farah – Primal Magic
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong – Porgy and Bess
Dave Grusin – Migration, The Gershwin Connection, Collection, Mountain Dance
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Michael Brook – Night Song, Mustt Mustt
Alan Stivell – Harpes du Novel Age, Renaissance of the Celtic Harp
Keb Mo – Slow Down
Joni Mitchell – Both Sides Now, Clouds, Court and Spark, Blue
Vivaldi – Four Seasons - Seiji Ozawa conducting Boston Symphony Orchestra with Joseph Silverstien
John Williams – Concerto de Aranjuaz


I had the opportunity to compare one track that I happen to have on both formats, normal CD Audio as well as SACD version, which was Diana Krall’s “The Look of Love” featured on the Philips SACD Hybrid Sampler. The first thing that I noticed was the high frequency which on the SACD version sounded very clean and extended more towards analogue side than towards digital. The other noticeable difference was in the lower octaves, which to my surprise was sounding boomy on the normal CD and sort of anchored on the SACD version. Finally I did the test on high volumes and the difference was even more in the sense that the SACD was sounding very controlled whereas the CD version compelled me to lower the volume a bit. This track is a 5.1 remix from the analogue master. On the same sampler another track which also sounded very good was the track from James Taylor’s album “Hourglass” entitled “Jump up behind me” the separation of the instruments and layers in the front and back of the speakers was just incredible. I have heard the live version of same song on the James Taylor’s DVD “Live at the Beacon Theatre” and I somehow preferred this studio version in terms of expanded soundstage. This track was also remastered from a 5.1 PCM master.

The last two tracks on this Philips SACD sampler in my opinion were true representation of what the SACD sound is all about as they were both recorded using the DSD (Direct Stream Digital) format, one being the “Theme from Papillon” composed by Jerry Goldsmith and the other, Johann Strauss’ “Long Live the Hungarians”. On both tracks I felt that somehow there was a noticeable improvement in the Dynamic Range and the soundstage had expanded even more.


Not quite! There are a few things that some may find irritating about this player. First of all the transport although is very smooth but it sure takes its time to read the disc. The blue lights on the front panel are a bit on the brighter side as far as my own taste is concerned, I would have preferred a small LED instead of the one it has which lights up around the Audio Switch (for switching the video circuitry off). The other one lights up on the left side when up sampling is engaged. The display although is big but the lettering is a bit unsophisticated when it comes to CD text display, Dot Matrix would be a better option rather than the slanting alphabets. The fast forward mode when playing audio discs is the most irritating one for me as it jumps few seconds at a time with sound interrupted in between. This attribute of the player makes it very difficult to search for a passage and start playing from a particular point.

Although there are a few things which I would have wanted in this player to be different, but one thing is certain – there is nothing wrong when one is either listening to the music or watching the video through this player, both are excellent at this price point.


Whether you are in the market for a DVD Player or an SACD/CD player in either case you owe it to yourself to short list this one. There are many players in the market to choose from but few which have the capability to give you better than average return in all departments. At this price level this is a fine piece of gear and I am more than happy to have it in my system.

Thank you for dropping by and reading what I write.

Associated gear
Quad 66 Pre and 606II Power amp
Philips Pixel Plus, Progressive Scan TV
Paradigm Reference Studio 40 v2
Chartwell LS3/5A 15 Ohm version
Cables: Monster Reference, Cable Talk, Musical Interface Technologies,

Similar products
Philips DVD-761K
Philips DVD Q35
Marantz CD63SE
Quad 67
Philips CDI-205
Thanks for the review. The 963sa is my first DVD player and was purchased for CD playback. I wasn't real happy with it's sound until I upgraded the main capacitor on the power supply as mentioned by Agonner Ears. (I'd reference his post but it has disappeared from the archives.)

I may not have burned in the DVD portion enough, but had about 150 hours on both CD and on SACD. Changing the cap immediately kicked the player up a few notches. Much more warmth, immediacy, vastly superior bass, and, for lack of a better word, balls. And after about 2 weeks of use, it's gotten even better. I highly recommend spending the $30 (including shipping from referenceaudiomods) to upgrade to the Blackgate VK 150/350V capacitor. It's a simple soldering job, will void your warranty, but puts this player in another league.

Would be interested in any other upgrade suggestions people have tried. Such as compatible power cords (hopefully inexpensive). Have heard that upgrading the op amps make a difference, but that takes some real soldering skills.
I appreciate your comments and thank you for reading the review.

As for upgrades, I personally do not feel comfortable in making chages where the soldering is required. When I feel the need to upgrade I just get a newer and better player.

However, I do not mean that upgrades do not work, they do, but I am not very skilled at such things so I leave it for those who know what they are doing.

When I wrote the review I mentioned about “equipment break-in” which of course applies to almost everything you buy which can be classified as “hifi”, be it source, amplification, speakers, headphones etc. It’s been close to three months now that I have had the player and it has, most definitely “come of age”. I reckon my mileage as far as the unit is concerned, is close to anywhere between 175 and 200 hours. A lot more, than what my finding was initially, of about 100 hours based on my research.

So, what does it sounds like after the said break-in period? Well, for one thing I certainly can say that the Marantz is no longer in the race. The unit is sounding very controlled with excellent low end resolution. Not just the Paradigms that are sounding more authoritative with this unit but I can also say that the newly acquired Rel Strata III which I purchased recently gives a very good idea of what the player’s capabilities are at low end of the spectrum. I even connected the combination of the LS3/5a (ruthlessly revealing the midrange quality of any gear upstream) Rel Strata III (considered a fast and musical sub by many) and they both really start to sing. The midrange is sounding very refined and smooth to my ears. I tried few CD’s namely, Diana Krall, Suzanne Vega (Tom’s Diner), Patricia Barber, James Taylor, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong etc. Dare I say the midrange is as good as the Quad 67 CD player, if not better. However the Quad 67 remains in the race unlike the Marantz CD 63SE. The high end of the Quad 67 was such that it made the player sound very civilized in the sense that it was sweeter. In comparison the 963SA is very open and probably has better resolving capability. Quad 67 was forgiving but 963SA is not. Now, this aspect of the unit again is a matter of personal taste. Some like it hot so to say! But certainly it is no sizzler. I personally do not like players which give out tizzy top end as they tend to turn out to be very fatiguing rather than anything else. I have spent many hours at a time on weekends (like 6-8 hour sessions) and never felt the high end of this unit was anywhere near being tizzy. For a $500 unit it is extremely civilized. No worries there!

The other point which I touched upon in my review was the upsampling feature on the unit. Initially I was having problems with it as the sound on some of the disks was not to my liking and I used the player with the upsampling feature turned off. Now the scenario has somehow changed after the break-in period, no, I am not listening to the feature turned on all the time but it does make a difference on some of the CD’s, even the new recordings tend to sound very different which I did not notice as much initially. When the feature is turned on, the sound is much smoother on most of the recordings and somehow the high end sounds sort of extended and clean. It also does something to the soundstage, expanded, airy, giving an illusion of addition of an extra layer. I also came across some CD’s sounding odd but the number of them is not a concern here as they are in minority. Could be that the recording does not favour the feature. But, I must add that all those recordings that are great, not just my opinion, but also the opinion of the majority of the audiophile fraternity, sound great. I would advise anyone to use it and see for yourself if the feature works for you or not, since it may be attributed to personal preference, rest of the equipment in the chain, upstream or downstream and the room acoustics.

Another feature I touched upon in the review was the button on the front panel which switches off the video circuitry. Well I have tried the tweak many times and expected some change to come about, but, my conclusion is, in one word NOTHING! Some golden eared audiophile out there may write a few pages on this feature alone, stating how much difference it makes to the sound but not me! The only thing I can think of (since this unit boasts a twin laser) is that, it is there to enhance the life of the video circuitry and the laser. It may also reduce the possibility of heat being generated by the circuitry and let the system run a bit cooler thereby enhancing the overall life of the components. So this feature, as I see it, is not really useless but has a purpose.

My initial findings and impressions were that it was a good player for the money, but, after the break-in period, it is even better sounding and has more to offer. It is a bargain for sure at the particular price point.
Quadophile,once your warranty is up[if that is a concern] you can take the power supply out by unclipping the power harness and unscrewing three screws.
Then take the PS to someone who can solder along whith the Blackgate vk150/350v replacement and you should be able to get this done very cheaply.
This cheap mod all by itself will make you think you spent a grand more on a better player.

I have had all positive feedback on this mod from around the globe after posting it on four boards around 7 months ago.
This cheap mod will make your jaw drop whith no break in and only gets better whith 2-300 hours of playback and will easily compete whith any 2k sa-cd/cd player in sa-cd mode and beat the same player in cd sonics.
This cheap mod will give you the most bang for the buck in audio by far.
Also, the resale will not be hurt as there are enough people that know of this mod now,that you would actually be able to sell the unit quicker whith the mod.
This is a win-win situation IMHO.

Wow, thanks for taking time and giving me the tip, I sure will work on it and the first person whom I tell about the difference will be you!

Thank you again, your consideration much appreciated!
About that BG cap. I had a friend install one for me about 30 playing time hours ago and right off the bat I really didn't think there was any change. I was willing myself to hear something new, something clearer, really didn't know what to expect. A little disillusioned I figured I wasn't out much in the way of cost and I've thrown much more money down the drain in this hobby than $23 on a BG cap and a bottle of wine for my buddy to install it. Then last night while listening I took a momentary break to retrieve a disc I had upstairs and upon my return what a difference! Almost like someone turned on a switch for clarity! Much more organic presentation - less like digital. I had changed speaker cables a few weeks back and while they were still settling in some, I know that cables in an instant do not change. The only thing I could attribute this sonic improvement was due to the BG cap suddenly kicking in. I would imagine there might be another plausible explanation but for the life of me I can't think of one. One of the strange audio mysteries...
Rgd, ya maybe I should tone down my enthusism as my gear is likely a lot more revealing than most who would buy a 963sa and there was an instant change for the better which of course gets even better whith 24-300 hours.

I noticed an obvious wider and deeper soundstage as well as inner detail and a smoother more organic sound overall plus a lower noise floor right off the bat.
I could use the upsampling on all cd's after around 80-100 hours and rarely used it before the ps cap mod.

The only thing I can say that is bad about the mod is your bound to want even more mods such as signal caps,the rest of the PS, clock ect after hearing what one cap can do on the 963sa.

There is good reason why 8 or more pro modders mod the 963sa as it offers major bang for the buck when modified.

I had a fully burned in 963sa whith 1300.00 in ic's and pc plus isolation and dampening of the case before my cap upgrade and the cap upgrade was at least 2 times the improvement as all the rest but I would say 3 times the improvement after a week.

Blackgates are said to take the longest of any caps to settle in.

Do you have a link to any of your board postings on this cap upgrade? I have a 963 and would be very interested in doing this mod. Thanks for your time and assistance.

Hi, interesting thread this. I replaced a Primare 30.2 CD player with the Philips and have never looked back - one less box in a burgeoning rack!
A simple mod which I have found very effective is to use RDC2 cones. I've got one under the transport and 2 at the back. It sounds better than four under the existing feet. Wife says she can hear words much more clearly but for me the biggest improvement is a tighter, more musical bass. General levels of detail are also improved.
I also use a custommade plinth under the player and this has somehow realy helped the player in terms of detail.