The Samsung BD-P1000 delivered an excellent picture via HDMI and component-video outputs with Blu-ray discs, all of which surpassed the quality of DVD as well as broadcast HDTV. That said, we weren't as impressed by the video quality of the first wave of titles as we were by their HD-DVD counterparts. It's very important to remember, however, that these initial Blu-ray titles are only single-layer discs of 25GB and use MPEG-2 compression, same as DVD. Future Blu-ray titles could--and almost certainly will--look a lot better, thanks to dual-layer discs and/or better MPEG-4-based compression schemes.
We did some initial tests of the BD-P1000 using Memento and a Samsung 1080p HDTV, but since then, we've had a chance to much more thoroughly sample the first wave of Blu-ray titles. The movies we had on hand included the Sony Pictures titles The Fifth Element, Hitch, House of Flying Daggers, The Terminator, Underworld Evolution, and XXX, as well as Lionsgate titles Crash and Lord of War. Our test setup included a Samsung HL-S5687W 1080p DLP HDTV and the excellent Sony VPL-VW100 projector.
We were most impressed by the look of XXX and Lord of War. From the opening shot of Prague's Old Town Square, with those gothic spires and the fine grid of bricks, XXX looked wonderfully sharp and lifelike on the big screens. During the scene where Vin jumps the Corvette off the bridge, the branches of the trees and rocks by the river in the foreground looked as just as distinct as the struts in the bridge in the background. In Lord of War, the realism was even more evident; when the plane lands in Africa, for example, we could see the rivets in the fuselage under the engine, the wood grain in the rifles, and the strands in Ethan Hawke's buzz cut. Colors appeared deep and rich in every scene, and details in shadows and other difficult areas looked great.
We did notice a few flaws, nonetheless. In a flat field of background color, such as the sides of the plane in Lord of War, we still saw tiny motes of moving "mosquito noise"--although it was much less prevalent than it would have been on the DVD or, we'd estimate, a broadcast version.
On other titles, we noticed some softness in the image. House of Flying Daggers begins with a carnival of detail as the heroine dances in a teahouse, its walls covered with intricate, colorful designs. These walls, the spectators on the balcony, and the drummers in the background looked softer than they should have--although they were still significantly sharper than the DVD version. The Fifth Element also had hints of softness, and its overall look wasn't too much sharper on the big screen than that of its Superbit DVD counterpart. We could tell the difference by switching back and forth between the two, but the Blu-ray version of this disc lacked the same "pop" that was evident on the best-looking titles.
We felt the same way after connecting a Toshiba HD-A1 to our HDMI switch and comparing different movies in each format. Swordfish on HD-DVD, for example, looked absolutely spectacular, with hyper-real details and a sharpness that seemed to leap off the screen. The same went for another Vin Diesel flick, The Chronicles of Riddick, where HD-DVD again looked sharper and more realistic than anything we'd seen on Blu-ray. Whether to blame any of this on the player, as opposed to the individual titles, is something we can't do until we have another Blu-ray player to compare.
We've heard reports that the Samsung's component-video output outperforms its HDMI output, but watching scenes from both outputs on the Sony projector, it was very difficult to tell the difference. If anything, we thought HDMI at 1080p looked a bit sharper than component video, but of course, that can vary by display. The Sony Blu-ray discs have hidden test patterns (to access them, press 7 > 6 > 6 > 9 > Enter while on the main menu), one of which is a resolution chart, and again there was no difference between HDMI and component video from the BD-P1000. We also tried comparing 1080i vs. 1080p on a variety of scenes and couldn't tell the difference on either of our available 1080p-capable displays.
With normal DVDs, the Samsung did a fine job upconverting them for display at 1080p HDMI, engaging 2:3 pull-down quickly, smoothing out jagged lines relatively well, and preserving all of the original detail. The BD-P1000 also played the majority of the discs in our test compatibility suite, handling photo and MP3 discs of both the DVD and CD varieties. While Samsung doesn't claim compatibility with the +R/RW recordable disc formats, the BD-P1000 handled the + discs we tested.
In our review of the Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player, we noted more than a few operational quirks, and the Samsung BD-P1000 was hardly immune. First off, its load times were a little slow, but definitely faster than the Toshiba's. After pressing the open/close button with MI:III in the disc tray, it took about 22 seconds for the picture to come on the display. Additionally, the Samsung generally responded more quickly to commands than the Toshiba.
There were also a few strange bugs. The subtitles on XXX hung around long after the words they'd translated had been spoken; the most egregious example of this glitch came during the big snowboard/snowmobile chase, when the words, "Catch him fast. Kill him slow!" stayed onscreen for nearly four minutes before disappearing. Once, after inserting Lord of War, the movie began playing as normal, but the player didn't respond to any of our commands during the film's opening. It wasn't until the credit sequence ended and Uri Orlov began his voice-over that the deck responded. We tried to replicate the error a few times, but it didn't happen again.
More annoyingly, on numerous occasions, the Samsung spit back Blu-ray discs that had previously played perfectly well, displaying the message, "This disc cannot be played." After reloading the disc again, occasionally more than once, the unit would eventually play.
Our biggest scare came after inserting a fingerprint-smudged, slightly scratched House of Flying Daggers. After the disc loaded, the scene behind the animated menu stopped and became a pixelated mess; selecting a scene caused it to display a gray screen with a hint of the underlying scene, but it couldn't play the scene successfully after several tries. We ejected the disc and wiped it with a cotton shirt but still couldn't get it to play. Indeed, the player itself wouldn't play any discs until we left it turned off for about half an hour. After this cooldown period, Daggers and other discs played normally, but the player's inconsistent reaction doesn't bode well for long-term use.
In its favor, at least compared to the Toshiba player, the Samsung BD-P1000's HDMI output behaved well. When switching HDMI inputs on our distribution amp, unplugging cables or turning displays on and off, we never got an error message that interrupted playback.