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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? We’ll just call the HD DVD the HD format and don’t 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. HD … and they already have the name recognition and nothing more needed to be said.

Back in the Laserdisc days, some would call the discs LD’s … and others like me, would refer to them as LV’s 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 player’s 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, don’t 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 won’t 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. I’m 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. I’m happy to report that the Wal-Mart’s 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 of that.

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 doesn’t matter too much to me such as HDTV, romantic movies, anime, TV series DVDs. It’s where the story is more important than the actual presentation although the image is no slouch. (It’s 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 haven’t mentioned it before, I positively hate the Dell plasma and if it wasn’t for the Lumagen, I’d 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. It’s 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 programming.

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. It’s all ISF’d 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, we’d have a winner here. It’s 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 …

Remote Control:

The remote control is typical Samsung with a layout similar to what you find on their other DVD players and TVs as well. It’s 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 don’t 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 … so that is a tad disappointing, but consistent with Samsung design. For what it is, I don’t 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.

Physical Appearance:

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 Samsung’s 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. It’s 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. It’s 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 Video/S-Video.

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, it’s 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 I’d 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. I’m not sure that I like all this auto selection stuff that can’t 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. I’m uncertain why both a disc menu key and the pop up menu key are needed. Isn’t 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 CD’s 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 TV’s with memory card slots do get firmware revisions that way.

SD performance:

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. It’s 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 can’t 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 don’t 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.

HD Performance:

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 don’t see compression artefacts on the calibrated displays … especially at 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 horse’s 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 can’t remember ever seeing a good pristine version of this film so I just don’t 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 wasn’t 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 wasn’t 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 can’t argue with the film makers here. The story was just plain stupid and so much so that even the story telling eventually stopped showing Violet’s battles because we already knew the end result.

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 won’t look much better than here and it’s 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? It’s 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 software selections.

Ouch. I know that was a mean thing to say. I want the format to be better than what it is right now. I’m 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 haven’t been able to test the 1080p portion of the unit because I don’t have a compatible display for that. I also won’t comment on the audio portion of the unit as I will leave that to the other reviews out there.

I don’t even want to get into the VC-1 / MPEG2 debate or the dual layer disc debate right now. That’s 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. It’s 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, I’d 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. I’m 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

Blu-ray: 7.5/10

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, it’s simply a bit harder to get the update due to the lack of internet connectivity.)

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. I’d 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.


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