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Samsung BD-P1000: Blu-ray hands-on

Samsung BD-P1000: Blu-ray hands-on

I recently got the chance to spend about three hours with Samsung's BD-P1000, the first set-top Blu-ray player to hit the market, at the company's New Jersey HQ a few days before the product's official U.S. launch on June 25. During that too-brief time, I took a few preliminary observations (and some blurry photos), so here they are.

  • Blu-ray video quality was excellent.
  • No surprise there. The only Blu-ray software I had was Memento--the Blu-ray disc that'll be included inside the box of every BD-P1000--and a special demo disc that contained a few trailers, a Black Crowes concert, and some great close-up footage of intricate windup watches (?). I viewed all material on a calibrated, 56-inch, 1080p Samsung DLP, the HL-S5687W, in a darkened room with the player set to 1080p output mode.

    Details in the Blu-ray Memento looked spectacular across the board. For example, I could make out the fine wrinkles between Leonard's (Guy Pierce) thumb and index finger; the telephone wires above the old industrial lot where he commits his crime; the texture in the bottom of the Polaroids he uses to piece together his life; and the license plate of Leonard's Jaguar after he parks at the hotel, where even "The Silver State" motto was visible in small print below the number.

    Although the footage of watches looked crystal clear, with details as fine as those of any 1080p demo I've ever seen, it wasn't perfect. During one zoom-out from a watch face that happened to have numerous fine concentric circles, I saw the lines slowly disintegrate into a crosshatch mess as they reached the limits of the disc's--or perhaps the TV's--resolution. I also couldn't help but notice some video noise in Memento and in other material, which appeared as wispy motes mainly visible in backgrounds. Of course, such noise is present in nearly all digital video, and in this case, it was much less noticeable than on the DVD, for example.

  • DVD vs. Blu-ray was no contest.
  • For a direct comparison, I plugged two Samsung BD-P1000s into an HDMI switcher/distribution amplifier, one with a DVD copy of Memento Limited Edition--you know, the one with the memory-testing menus--and the other with the Blu-ray version. Both players were set to 1080p output--naturally, the player with the DVD inside was upconverting the standard-def 480i disc to 1080p. Switching back and forth between the DVD and the Blu-ray versions, the differences were obvious on the big 56-inch screen.

    Toward the beginning of the film for example, when Leonard looks at his Remember Sammy Jankis tattoo after washing his hands, I could clearly read the writing in the Blu-ray version; on the DVD, it looked fairly blurry. When he emerges from the bathroom, there's a shot of the interior of the cafe with decent depth of field. The DVD version appeared markedly softer along the edges of the chairs and booths; the Blu-ray version's details were crisp and sharp.

    The story was the same in every scene I compared, and after flipping back and forth for a while, I became used to the Blu-ray's superior picture, which made the DVD look that much worse. Of course, the differences were more obvious on the large, 1080p HDTV, and I was paying close attention from a close seating distance of about 7 feet. Change any of these factors, and the difference between DVD and Blu-ray will narrow.

  • 1080i vs. 1080p was a wash.
  • Much ado has been made of the fact that Blu-ray players can output 1080p resolution while first-generation HD-DVD players, namely the Toshiba HD-A1 and its ilk, can output "only" 1080i. I've said before that it's nearly impossible to tell the difference between 1080i and 1080p sources on a 1080p HDTV, and after the following test, I feel even more confident that 1080p output capability is overrated.

    Using the same two players hooked up in the manner described above, I put a Memento Blu-ray disc in each and set one to 1080i mode and the other to 1080p. I chose one of the few scenes with a lot of motion--Leonard's final drive back from the vacant lot to the tattoo parlor--where interlaced artifacts from 1080i, such as jagged or moving lines, should be more visible. Bouncing back and forth between the 1080i and 1080p versions, I could see no differences whatsoever. From the white lines dividing the street to the buildings and the parked cars alongside the road flashing by, to close-ups of Leonard and his wife (Jorja Fox), the two looked identical. I can imagine material that might show more of a difference, such as sporting events with lots of camera movement, but it wasn't there in the scene I watched.

  • Upconversion performance was solid.
  • I ran the BD-P1000 through a few tests from the HQV disc, which we use to help determine how well players convert standard DVDs to higher resolutions via HDMI. The player delivered all of the resolution on the disc, smoothed jagged lines nicely, and engaged 2:3 pull-down relatively quickly. I didn't have a chance to test other resolutions or outputs, just DVD upconverted to 1080p via HDMI.

  • Disc compatibility notes.
  • While Samsung's online manual claims the player is incompatible with DVD+ media, a dual-layer DVD+R disc I tried worked perfectly well. CNET's Dan Ackerman and I had also burned a BD-RE (Blu-ray rewriteable) disc of 1080p test clips from DVE Pro and other sources using the Sony VAIO RC310G and its Ulead BD DiscRecorder software, which is designed to create discs that can be played on set-top units such as the Samsung. Although the disc played fine on the VAIO using the InterVideo WinDVD software player, the Samsung spit it back as unplayable. Of course, with first-gen authoring software and hardware, the fault might not be the Samsung's.

  • Samsung BD-P1000 vs. Toshiba HD-A1.
  • Here's a quick rundown of how the Samsung compares in person, ignoring differences in features or price, to the HD-DVD camp's current representative.

    • Load times aren't much faster. From a standby state, it took 24 seconds from the time I pressed Open/Close until the disc drawer actually opened to accept a disc. After I inserted Memento, it took 58 seconds from the time I closed the drawer for the disc's menu to appear. During much of that time, an all-too-familiar Windows or Linux-style hourglass occupied the screen, along with Samsung's load screen; happily, there was no unskippable promotional stuff on the disc. We timed the Toshiba at 90 seconds to load most discs after being turned on, but that was before a firmware upgrade that reportedly cuts load times down quite a bit.
    • Responses were livelier. While the Toshiba occasionally wouldn't respond to commands or would take a long time to provide feedback that I'd issued one, the Samsung's responses were as quick as I expect from consumer electronics devices.
    • HDMI seemed more stable. Take this with a healthy helping of salt since I had only three hours with the unit, but even with the complex HDMI setup described above and my constant unplugging and replugging of the HDMI cables, the Samsung, unlike the Toshiba, never displayed an error message or needed to be restarted. Again, Toshiba's firmware upgrade may have addressed some of those problems.
    • I liked the Samsung's design better. Its cabinet is smaller (16.9 by 3.1 by 12.8 inches) than the Toshiba's (17.7 by 4.3 by 13.4) and--although this is purely personal taste--more attractive to my eye, with a higher-tech, less boxy look. I preferred Samsung's medium-size remote, and while I did feel cheated by the lack of illumination and found the closely spaced transport keys easy to confuse, it's much easier to use than Toshiba's clicker.
    • Video quality? It's just too early to tell, and both decks produce beautiful pictures. Ideally, I would want to compare the same movie released to both HD-DVD and Blu-ray, and that's just not going to happen anytime soon. Failing that, I could talk about one title vs. another, the fact that Blu-ray uses MPEG-2 encoding for initial releases versus HD-DVD's MPEG-4, the relative capacities of the two formats, and so on, but that's all pure speculation, and ultimately what matters most is the way the individual titles are authored.

    That's it for the initial tests. We should receive a review sample of the BD-P1000 next week, soon after which we'll post a full review. We intend to look at other displays, connections, and, most importantly, Blu-ray movies. While I love the film, Memento isn't the best choice for video-quality evaluation; it's half black-and-white, and it features too many close-ups and not enough action. Thankfully, the June 20 releases also include a couple titles that made reference-quality DVDs, namely The Fifth Element and House of Flying Daggers.

    I'll reserve value judgments and a rating for the final review. It's worth remembering that this player costs about $1,000 in stores and online, twice as much as the Toshiba. At those prices, most of us will want to wait anyway.

    More resources:
  •'s BD-P1000 product page
  • CNET's quick guide to Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD
  • Prepare for launch: Blu-ray players revealed
  • Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player review
  • DVD 2.0: Complete Blu-ray and HD-DVD coverage