Editors' note June 9, 2008: The rating of this player has been changed again to reflect changes in the marketplace.
Editors' note February 14, 2008: The rating of the BD-P1400 has been lowered since its initial publication to reflect the disc compatibility issues that have occurred since we reviewed it. While many of the issues were eventually fixed by firmware upgrades, the new rating reflects our decreased confidence, based on the company's delays in the past, that Samsung will offer timely firmware upgrades for newly released movies.
The format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray is showing no signs of letting up, with HD DVD players selling for a low as $99 this holiday season and Blu-ray discs continuing to outsell HD DVD discs. The price of the hardware has long been a sticking point with Blu-ray, but the Samsung BD-P1400 makes a big step in the right direction with a list price of $500, but selling for less than $300 online at the time of this review. Savvy buyers might expect that Samsung cut some corners to hit the low price point, but that's not apparent from the spec sheet. The player has excellent support for high-resolution audio soundtracks, 1080p output at 24 frames per second, and an Ethernet port for upgrading the firmware. Plus, we can vouch for solid image quality on Blu-ray discs.
A more detailed look, however, does reveal some shortcomings. The BD-P1400 only supports Blu-ray Profile 1.0, which means it won't play some special features on discs coming out next year. And we did experience a few significant operational flaws, including a quirk with the pause function on some discs that makes you start the movie over. But overall, the BD-P1400 represents something buyers have been longing for: an affordable, standalone Blu-ray player without a deal-breaking flaw. Yes, the Sony PlayStation 3 is still a better deal overall, and no, we still don't think either HD DVD or Blu-ray is ready for prime time with the average consumer, but for enthusiasts dead-set on a standalone player--who don't care about special features--the Samsung BD-P1400 fits the bill. That being said, we wouldn't be surprised to see an even cheaper Samsung Blu-ray player early next year with full Blu-ray profile 1.1 compatibility, so those who can stand to wait a few more months probably should.
The BD-P1400 has classic Samsung style. The front of the unit is all glossy black, with a thin strip of silver along the bottom. To the far left is the Power button surrounded by a blue light, which unfortunately can't be turned off in the settings menu. To the far right is the LED display, which is a little small when viewed from a standard seating distance. Overall, we tend to prefer a slightly more muted look, but we're guessing most people will like the BD-P1400's glossy sheen.
The included remote is pretty good. Most of the standard playback controls (Stop, Play, Chapter forward/backward) glow in the dark, which makes them easier to see in a darkened home theater. There's a directional pad toward the bottom of the remote and handy buttons located around the perimeter. A little more button differentiation would have been nice, and we'd also prefer true backlighting as opposed to glow, but those are nitpicks rather than knocks.
We've been disappointed in many high-def players for their blocky, standard-def menus, but Samsung gave the BD-P1400's menus a makeover. All the graphics are in high-def and are easy enough to navigate. Our only gripe is that occasionally the menus would be slow to respond, causing us to hit a button twice when we thought it didn't initially register.
In addition to Blu-ray discs, the Samsung BD-P1400 can play standard-definition DVDs and CDs. It cannot play any discs of the competing HD DVD format. For more basic information on the differences between Blu-ray and HD DVD, check out our Quick Guide to HD DVD vs. Blu-ray.
The BD-P1400's high-resolution soundtrack support is excellent. It has onboard decoding for Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD High Resolution, which means it can output these soundtracks either in PCM format over the HDMI output or via the analog outputs. For newer receivers, the BD-P1400 also offers bitstream output for high-resolution soundtracks. So if you have a newer receiver with onboard Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding, you can set the BD-P1400 to output audio over HDMI in encoded bitstream format--letting your receiver do the decoding, rather than the player. There should be absolutely no sound quality difference whether you let the receiver decode or the player decode, but some AV fans just love seeing the "Dolby TrueHD" light on their new receiver. The only addition we'd really like to see on the BD-P1400 is onboard DTS-HD Master Audio decoding so even those with older receivers could take advantage of this format, but it's not a major complaint since there are no other Blu-ray or HD DVD players with that capability.