Random Musings about the
Samsung BD-P1000 Blue-ray DVD Player
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It brings a small chuckle when I start to think about people bickering over how to
abbreviate the Blu-ray words. Is it BR or BD; Blu-ray or Blu-ray Disc? Well just
call the HD DVD the HD format and dont bother to mention the DVD portion of it
again. The disc part is a given. Does it really matter if I say BR or BD if you know what
I am talking about in the first place? In terms of marketing, the DVD forum had it right.
and they already have the name recognition and nothing more needed to be said.
Back in the Laserdisc days, some would call the discs LDs
and others like
me, would refer to them as LVs all the time. Laserdisc versus Laservision / Laser
Video since any product that Pioneer (LDCA) would press would have their Laservision
opening graphics. Dolby Digital also had its initial abbreviation problems as the format
was first called Dolby Digital AC-3. Acoustic Coherent something or other. Not important,
but the folks at Dolby quickly realized that the AC-3 portion of the title was the wrong
way to go as people started to abbreviate the format as simply AC-3 and the Dolby part of
the name was lost. And so, the AC-3 portion was dropped and the format was forever then
known as Dolby Digital
or just simply DD. Brand recognition is just so very
important, just ask the folks at THX.
I figured that I would like to get into the review of this Samsung player from the
perspective of it being reviewed in a vacuum at first. The HD DVD format does not exist
for now and I will look only at the players performance alone. No comparisons just
yet, but that might seep in at the end of the review (or a lot earlier). As with the other
review I wrote, dont think of these as being formal product reviews, but rather just
observations of how the player works and performs
and a number of non sequiturs
along the way.
Unfortunately for me, no one is sending me a review unit to look at so I have to just
go out and buy the thing for myself and see. The nice thing is that review samples from
manufacturers sometimes have strings attached when it comes to reviews. While the
manufacturer wont be able to control what you write and the direction you choose to
go in, they will often ask for first right of refusal as it is called. They get to say
"yes" or "no" on whether the review gets published or not. Im
fully willing to sell out here so somebody please send me free product. J
So somewhere at the end of May, I located a 15% off promotion for the unit and put in
an advanced order for it. Still came to just under $1200 Canadian here including taxes,
but that is the cost for being first in line and needing to know more because my friends
and clients expect that of me. Then after that, the local Wal-Mart actually had the
initial batch of films on the shelf a week or so before the official hardware launch so I
grabbed four titles and waited for my player. Im happy to report that the
Wal-Marts here in Canada seem to typically sell the HD titles for $5 to $6 less than
the local Future Shops and Best Buys. They are often located close to where they store the
UMD films for the PSP. (Just so many abbreviations in this electronic world of ours) And
to tell you just how new these formats are, it is extremely likely that I am the only
person in a market area of 40,000 people that has the HD players since it appears that I
am the only person buying the films off the shelf. A format just for me; I like the sound
Time to jump into this full speed. As mentioned in my piece about the Toshiba HD DVD
player, I am looking at the product on two different systems (three displays) as I drag
the player back and forth. System One which is my primary home theater display consists of
a BenQ PE-8700+ 720P DLP projector that is running with the DVI input. All signals get
sent to the display via component video because that is how my system is currently wired.
The equipment is actually located in a coat closet in the hallway outside of the actual
home theater room. The component video cables enter the room and connect to the Lumagen
VisionHDP processor that sends out the DVI signal to the projector.
System Two is my secondary system where I watch the casual stuff as I put it. This is
the stuff that doesnt matter too much to me such as HDTV, romantic movies, anime, TV
series DVDs. Its where the story is more important than the actual presentation
although the image is no slouch. (Its also where there is no bulb cost associated
with the display and I needed to get myself out of the theater room more often.) The main
display here is a Dell W5001C 50" HD plasma running through a second Lumagen Vision
HDP processor. The Lumagen is outputting DVI to HDMI on the Dell end. I am plugging the
player in via HDMI on this end to check HDMI functionality. If I havent mentioned it
before, I positively hate the Dell plasma and if it wasnt for the Lumagen, Id
have junked this plasma set long ago. The Lumagen processor has turned a TV with an image
that I categorize as poor to mediocre and turned it into something in the Very Good
department. Its still not as good as a Panasonic or Pioneer, but this combination
leapfrogs it over other brands. All hail the power of the Lumagen product (power comes at
a cost though).
The third display being used for spot checking purposes is a Gateway 21" LCD
computer monitor with a resolution of 1680x1050 which gets me closest to seeing the full
pixel count from the player. While it is a computer monitor, it was also designed for
integration with home theater in mind. HD images on this display are generally dense and
extremely pleasing to the eye, although the size is still small. Anyone that has said that
there is no difference between HD and DVD material on small displays has never seen these
units. The difference is as clear as day when watching upconverted DVD versus HD disc
My standard definition upconverting DVD player of choice in both systems continues to
be the LG DV7832NXC player pumping out nice 1080i via component video. Somewhere upstairs
in the home is my 42" Panasonic ED plasma and the Panasonic DVD-S97 upconverting DVD
player which were not used in this experiment/review.
Now in all cases, the HD signals have been optimized with the display as well as
possible in the current environment where commercially available Blu-ray test discs do not
exist. The user end optimization is therefore a mix of both upconverted DVD test patterns
and patterns from a HD signal generator. The Lumagen has plenty of separate input memories
so each DVD player inputting signals is optimized for the display. The user settings and
the grayscale have been tweaked out for the display and customized to every signal I feed
it. Its all ISFd since I am an Imaging Science Foundation certified calibrator
as well as a trainer/teacher of this stuff these days.
The unit came from Best Buy and just looking at the multicolored box with the
photographs on the sides, you know they put a few more pennies into the packaging. Open up
the box and you find another color paper insert welcoming you to the world of Blu-ray. BR
for me, so there. Take out the instruction manual and once again
the notion of
quality comes to mind. Quality paper and a nice black embossed cover to boot; not just an
instruction manual printed on cheap newsprint. You want to rub your fingers on the cover
of the manual because it looks that nice.
Take the player itself out and there is one last nice color box under the player
holding all the accessories. Very nice packing and if life were only based on the
extremely superficial, wed have a winner here. Its the best tasting cereal
because it has the best looking box. Regardless of what one eventually thinks about the
performance, they did an impressive job in the packaging. There has to be more to the
story so moving right along
The remote control is typical Samsung with a layout similar to what you find on their
other DVD players and TVs as well. Its not the best remote design out there, but it
is narrow, not too bulky and it fits into your hand with fairly good ergonomics. The main
buttons are not all the same size, but you dont take that long to get used to the
feel. The buttons are responsive and you can feel your way around the remote with your
fingers. Some of the keys appear to be glow in the dark type. No backlighting
that is a tad disappointing, but consistent with Samsung design. For what it is, I
dont mind using it at all, although I ultimately put everything into my Harmony
remote for sheer simplicity sake. How good a remote control is will never be the issue
that makes or breaks the product purchase, but it is still nice to know that there is very
decent functionality here.
The Blu-ray unit is consistent with the Samsung DVD design for this current 2006 model
year. It looks almost identical to the Model 860 upconverting player on store shelves
right now; black front panels with silver trimming and blue light illumination. This BR
unit is just about 1.5 times taller than the upconverting player. Although I said I would
not compare, it is about 2/3 the height of the Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD player and not as deep
as the Toshiba. The Toshiba is far boxier than this unit which has nice curves.
The Samsungs piano black finish on the unit gives it an extremely elegant look.
If you have been fans of the Pioneer Elite line of products for appearance, then this
would fit right in. It just looks great even when the unit is not playing a disc.
Its furniture like in some ways. The bad thing here is that piano finish products
tend to pick up fingerprints far too easily so you end up cleaning it more.
There is also a small blue light behind the disc tray that illuminates the Blu-ray
symbol on the tray cover. Some may find it annoying especially if it sits on a shelf
underneath the TV in non-FPTV environments.
On the left side of the unit is the power button and on the right side is the play
dial. In the center of the unit is a black button for opening the tray. Its not
always easy to spot though and the eject button looks a tad cheap compared to the rest of
the front. Below the front disc tray (left side of the unit) is a door hiding the compact
flash and SD memory card slots. On the right side of the unit on the lower silver panel
area is the output format button selection with lights for HDMI, Component Video and
The back of the unit finds the standard array of plugs from the component video to HDMI
to a fan port and the 5.1 analog audio outputs. No Ethernet port back here and the power
cord is not detachable. (J)
From the moment you press the power button, the player takes time to fully start up.
Much more time than a typical DVD player, but slightly less time than the Toshiba HD DVD
player for instance. All in all, its about 2/3 the amount of time the Toshiba takes
and while it may seem nice on the surface, there is a back end time penalty on this unit.
Accessing the disc menu takes noticeably longer than the Toshiba player for instance. The
little hour glass icon reminds you that you are waiting. It may be cute to look at
initially, but I expect that it could be annoying in time. At least with the hour glass,
it reinforces the notion that this player is more computer like than just a DVD player.
As part of the operation of the player, it has a tendency to pre-select the output
signal type depending on the display that it is connected to. This could be 720p or 1080i.
This pre-selection appears to be automatic and you cannot shut it down. It may seem like a
nice feature until it selects wrong and you have to override it by going through the
player menu setup to manually select the right output resolution that you want to use.
Sometimes I found that the Lumagen would fool the Samsung player back into 720p mode
simply because I had previously been using something set to 720p. This is somewhat
annoying, but I found that I could avoid it by making sure I was on the right input on the
Lumagen before I turned on the Samsung. Oh if only I could just force the Samsung player
into 1080i mode and be done with it. (Maybe a firmware update could add a manual override
so we could shut it off.)
A trip into the set up menu of the BR player is annoying given all the key strokes. If
only we could select output resolution on the remote control or the front player panel.
Hmmm. The selection of resolutions is not as open as one would think. The player only
allows you to select certain resolutions for certain TV sets based on what it thinks the
TV is capable of. In most cases the 1080p option is not even available unless you have a
1080p display. However, people have started to find out that there might still be
compatibility issues even when the TV does accept a 1080p signal and the Samsung player
says otherwise. Can this be improved with a firmware fix? I may not need 1080p right now,
but Id like to know that it would positively work on that next 1080p display that I
buy rather than having to cross my fingers. (Well, word has it that the 1080p mode in the
player is sort of a cheat as the processing hardware cannot handle 1080p signals. It may
be 1080p off the disc, but the player creates a 1080i signal first before reassembling the
1080i signal back into a 1080p signal for output. By doing it this way, the end result may
be no better than feeding the same 1080i signal to a good 1080p display that will properly
de-interlace a 1080i signal back into 1080p.)
The video output from the player also has an auto select routine. If you keep both the
HDMI and the component video plugged in, the player will automatically output to HDMI even
if you had already manually selected component video
but chose to keep the HDMI
plugged in. So it bounces to HDMI and you find that you have to stop the player and
manually cycle the button back to component video. Im not sure that I like all this
auto selection stuff that cant be turned off.
I found that on normal playback, when I hit the pause button to freeze the picture,
that in just a short while
(a few minutes)
an auto screen saver mode would
kick in with this floating Samsung logo. Looking through the menu system, I could find no
way of turning off the screen saver mode. Annoying when you want to do some comparisons
between images or even using static test patterns. This may be a throwback to the older
CRT technologies where burn in as a real consideration. These days, there are more DLP and
LCD based technologies that do not suffer these issues. If most DVD players provide the
option to turn off screen savers in the menu set up, why not on this unit as well? Another
item for my firmware fix list, the ability to disable the screen saver.
Another thing I noticed on some of my freeze frame analysis attempts was that I could
not do frame by frame steps in reverse. Slow motion seems to only go one way with this
player. I would have to reverse scan the film and then advance slowly forward to find the
comparison shots that I needed. With the film paused, I could not even back scan the film.
I wonder what happened here. Normal DVD player can do this without issue.
There was a short time where I had thought there were no interactive menus as pressing
the disc menu would take me from the film back to the menu screen similar to normal DVDs.
Where was the menu overlay as in the HD DVD format? Well the less obvious button on the
remote titled "pop up menu/title menu" activates the overlay. There is no
scrolling time bar though. Im uncertain why both a disc menu key and the pop up menu
key are needed. Isnt there a redundancy here that does not need to be?
The info key brings up the elapsed time and it is here where you can direct search for
chapters and titles. I did not see any display menu that would tell us what type of
compression was being used in the programming material like on the HD DVD players.
On this unit, when you press stop and then play again, the film resumes where it left
off rather than going back to the beginning of the film. This is an improvement over the
Toshiba HD DVD unit.
I did find it annoying/interesting that the four films that I had all default to the
normal Dolby Digital track rather than the 5.1 LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation) track
which is still first up in the menu.
The unit lacks an Ethernet port on the back so firmware updates will have to be through
CDs where we download it from the internet and then burn the update onto the disc.
Although I suppose that an update might be possible through the memory card slots as well
similar to digital cameras. Place the firmware update file into the Compact Flash card for
instance and insert the card. The Player then updates. Some of the Samsung TVs with
memory card slots do get firmware revisions that way.
The standard definition DVD performance turned out a bit different than what was found
on the Toshiba HD DVD player. (I guess I have to start comparing the two format units
now.) The implementation on the Samsung is different. The unit will upconvert regular DVDs
to both 1080i and 720p (and 1080P I suppose) when using the HDMI output of the player. Now
here is the twist. The unit will not upconvert via the component video output at all.
Where as on the Toshiba, non copy protected DVDs could get the upconversion treatment on
component video as well, we are restricted to 480i and 480p via component. This unit will
also not downconvert the high definition material to S-video or composite video unlike on
the Toshiba HD DVD player.
So how does the standard definition portion of the player look?
The first thing I did was throw in the Silicon Optix DVD Benchmark test disc to check
out the de-interlacing capabilities of the player. I was pleasantly surprised to see that
it passed all the main de-interlacing tests (6/6) where as the Toshiba failed all but two
of the major tests. (2/6) This put the standard definition DVD performance out ahead of
the Toshiba DVD performance. But all is not entirely rosie here as the upconverted video
clips blacks and whites. There is no blacker than black information and the whites are
crushed with the lack of whiter than white information. The contrast test on the Monster
Cable/ISF calibration test disc shows all too clearly the loss of the above white material
as the person in the white shirt has not shirt detail. Its like we trade one thing
off for another. Superior de-interlacing and we get clipping. The 480i/p section of the
DVD player via component does not clip the blacks and the whites.
As with the Toshiba HD player that started out life clipping its own blacks and whites
via the HDMI output, I expect that Samsung should be able to easily fix this as well with
a firmware update. Whether they choose to do this is another matter though. Fixing BTB and
WTW issues would seem easy compared to trying to improve the de-interlacing of the player.
The Samsung uses a quality deinterlacing chip and the Toshiba does not and that cant
be fixed on the Toshiba.
The check for the Chroma upsampling error found that there was little to no error on
this player. Red chroma bug does not show up here in any noticeable fashion where as the
Toshiba has a mild case of it.
So if and when Samsung decides to fix the clipping issue in the HDMI section, the
upconversion on this unit would be superior to that on the Toshiba. It should be noted
that the upconversion on the Toshiba HD DVD is not poor at all. In fact, it is very good.
The Samsung upconversion would simply be a bit better.
I looked at the detail level of the upconversion via both the 1080i and 720p modes. The
resulting upconverted image was so close that I conclude that they are effectively the
same. No detail from the DVD is lost either way.
The player will not pillar box 4:3 material unlike the Toshiba so any 4:3 programming
will be stretched to fill the screen. Some find this a problem where as others dont
like pillar boxing. The pillar boxing ability of the Toshiba affects the way some of my
test patterns look. I would rather the DVD stretch the image and I would be able to resize
the image from the scaler end or from the TV end.
So the four films that I looked at in high definition were Underworld Evolution,
Ultraviolet, The Terminator, and finally House of Flying Daggers. I bought the Daggers
film even after reading many scathing reviews of the transfer as I wanted to see what
"bad" was supposed to look like. (Interesting thing about the disc art itself in
each package here. There is no specific disc art on the disc itself, just the name of the
film. The artwork is a generic blue wave. )
Funny thing here is that I watch House of Flying Daggers on both displays and I just
dont see compression artefacts on the calibrated displays
normal seating distances. I am 12 feet away from the 102" projection and 10 feet from
the Dell 50" plasma. These are typical viewing distances and in no way are they too
far away. Daggers as a film simply looks somewhat soft and this would bear out when I
queued up the same scene on DVD via the LG upconverting to 1080i. With both films running
at the same time, I switched back and forth and noticed better colors on the Samsung as
expected. The image remained soft, but there is a small amount of additional detail above
and beyond the DVD presentation. This is hard to see at normal viewing distances though. I
almost got the feeling that the BR presentation was simply some Super Bit version of the
DVD rather than a HD version of the image. (It did take a viewing on the high resolution
Gateway monitor before I first spotted an instance of significant pixelization for a brief
moment in the film. It was during the initial attack sequence in the forest where the
horsemen attack the girl. One shot of the horses legs galloping over the scattered
leaves clearly showed it. Still, I found that these instances are very rare even for a
transfer purported to be this poor.)
Further scrutiny of the image did find that as soft as the image was, there was simply
a lack of compression artefacts in the image whereas they were very apparent on the DVD
presentation and you could not miss that at all. It had characteristics that made it
better than satellite and cable and OTA HD material. It was just soft. But then again, I
cant remember ever seeing a good pristine version of this film so I just dont
know if it was supposed to be soft focus or not. The print just looked worn out like on
the original DVD issue. (Not every Chinese film can look like Hero)
There was actually a small sigh of relief as what passed for maybe the worst of the
presentation wasnt anywhere close to unwatchable that people had made it out to be.
(I even went back to recheck the sharpness setting on both scalers to make sure that I
wasnt making things too soft.) So are people making some of these quality judgments
on uncalibrated TV sets? I have to think that is the case.
With the worst out of the way, it was time to look at what the best one so far was
supposed to look like; Underworld Evolution. It looked nice and once again I did not see
any compression artefacts in the presentation, but it was significantly sharper than House
of Flying Daggers as a film. Nothing popped out at me during the viewing that said there
was something wrong with the presentation. I even looked for posterization effects in the
many dark scenes especially with fog present.
The Ultraviolet film was nice looking in its artistic way, but because of the artistic
intent, the image was soft. It was the way it was shot so we cant argue with the
film makers here. The story was just plain stupid and so much so that even the story
telling eventually stopped showing Violets battles because we already knew the end
The Terminator was an interesting presentation since people were saying that this was
one of the better presentations on the BR format. It looked just like what I remembered
the low budget film would look like. Not great
obviously aged material that
wont look much better than here and its not that great even here.
Posterization was easily visible in many of the night sequences. While it might have been
sharper than Daggers for instance, the grain in the film and the posterization made me
long for a bit more smoothness as in Daggers. Go figure.
So where does this place the performance of the Samsung BR player so far as compared to
the Toshiba HD DVD format? Its not there yet
but I get this strange feeling
in me saying that if you are only an HD DVD player owner right now and you want to get a
sense of where the Blu-ray product is in terms of image quality, then I recommend that you
set the Toshiba HD DVD player to output 720p rather than 1080i. The softness added to the
image at this handicapped mode will simulate the performance of the Samsung with current
Ouch. I know that was a mean thing to say. I want the format to be better than what it
is right now. Im not ready to give up as it is too early for that. I want to give
Samsung the chance to fix some of the unit problems and I want to wait for the better film
transfers. Apparently the unit has an even worse issue with softness as a noise reduction
function on one of the chips in the unit was inadvertently set to on and may be softening
the image too much via the HDMI. The glitch does not affect the component HD output from
what I hear. So put this on the list of things to fix via the firmware as well.
Interesting enough, I did switch between 720p and 1080i for the HD material and I found
that any differences were subtle at best unlike the massive difference between these two
signal types on the Toshiba HD DVD unit. I havent been able to test the 1080p
portion of the unit because I dont have a compatible display for that. I also
wont comment on the audio portion of the unit as I will leave that to the other
reviews out there.
I dont even want to get into the VC-1 / MPEG2 debate or the dual layer disc
debate right now. Thats future stuff and has no impact on what I am seeing right now
today. This is the state of the technology as of today. I do want to note that well
respected industry person named Stacey Spears has indicated that the Blu-ray encoders that
Sony uses for the film material itself are already clipping both the dark end and the
bright end on the films so this is very worrisome. While it is not a debate over MPEG2
compression, it is something to be aware of for software purchases where Sony is creating
the film transfers. As of now, these transfers are a problem because of the clipping so it
may be prudent to hold off on these purchases and look for product done by the other
studios that have not had to use the Sony equipment. It is likely the product from Warner
and other studios which will be VC-1 or something other than MPEG2, will not be clipped of
picture information. If one chooses to buy some of these films now done by Sony, it is
very likely that within a few years that these titles will be remastered and will have to
be repurchased; a built in double dipping system. Its not a debate over the
viability of MPEG2 since the DVHS format clearly demonstrated that when done correctly,
the product is every bit as good as the HD DVD product that uses the VC-1 system.
Eventually, when proper HD test discs become available, Id like to better
calibrate the displays to the player. For now, I get what I want
which is full
access to whatever films are released. Im still weary of transfer issues though so I
have to remain vigilant.
And to end it all
a little summary of where I think the image quality of this
Samsung Blu-ray player currently sits compared to the other HD sources out there. The
scales are simply relative to each other
the numbers are less important.
HD OTA: 6/10
HD Cable/Satellite: 5/10
DVHS D-Theater: 9/10 (MPEG2 done right)
HD DVD: 9/10
Does this mean that you should not buy into the Blu-ray format just yet? Is this
Samsung player just not very good? Well, the problems the player faces right now are just
not that different from the problems that Toshiba faced in its first couple of months of
life. Most if not all the player related issues can be fixed with firmware updates. We
gave Toshiba a bit of slack there and most of the issues were addressed so I am all for
giving Samsung the same slack to see how quickly they can act to fix these issues.
(Granted, its simply a bit harder to get the update due to the lack of internet
Well if you have limited funds and you have not bought into either format yet, I would
say get the Toshiba HD DVD player first. Always best to start with the best looking stuff
at a good price point and then use that experience and knowledge and apply it to the
Blu-ray technology over the next 6 to 8 months. Revisit the state of the art in the
Blu-ray technology at that time and then decide. All you have to lose by waiting on
Blu-ray a bit longer is the chance to spend more money on the product and the films will
likely look better as well.
Now if you have unlimited funds, should you consider this player? The unit is not a bad
performer at all and in many ways excels over the Toshiba HD DVD player. It has better
styling, an improved remote control, and potentially better upconversion performance than
the Toshiba. Id just be inclined to wait until after the initial firmware fix is
released to see how many of the issues are addressed. If Samsung addresses most of the
items here, then definitely consider the player.