Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray Disc Player Page 4
The quality of the new audio formats offered on HD DVD, even though they aren't complete and are converted to high data rate DTS at the player's digital output, have been for me the most unexpected surprise of that format.
So far, Blu-ray players, including the BD-P1000, offer only standard Dolby Digital and sometimes DTS from their digital outputs. Nothing I heard from the Samsung on these legacy formats sounded either better or worse than what I typically hear. In other words, they're just like DVDs, soundwise. That isn't bad, just a lost opportunity that HD DVD has seized.
The only other option is the uncompressed PCM tracks offered on the Sony releases. When I connected my system to the 5.1-channel analog outputs on the player, I found (as mentioned earlier) that there were no level settings for the individual channels, only test tones to help you set levels using the level settings in your receiver or pre-pro (assuming it has level adjustments for each channel with the multichannel analog inputs. Some do, some may not).
I spent so much time analyzing the video performance of the BD-P1000 that the time I needed for a review of its audio in time for this report slipped away. And in any event, since this review is already mounting a serious challenge to War and Peace in length, I'll have more to say about the audio, particularly both the uncompressed PCM from both the analog 5.1-channel outputs and multichannel via HDMI, in a future Take 2.
As mentioned at the beginning of this report, a few days before this review was posted I had the opportunity to visit Pioneer in Long Beach and get a sneak peak at their upcoming Blu-ray player. They had a sample of the Samsung, as well. I watched excerpts from several BDs using duplicate titles on both players, viewed side by side on matched Pioneer 50-inch 1080p plasmas.
In every case, the Pioneer produced a more detailed image. The difference was not night and day, but it did make the difference between merely acceptable and superb high definition. While there were a few instances where I felt that the Pioneer might actually have been a little too sharp (it will take test patterns to determine if this was the case), overall it did not appear to be. Rather I was starting to see the same sort of resolution from Blu-ray on the Pioneer that I expect to see from a premium HD format, and which looked like it could, with top grade program material, equal what I've seen from HD DVD in image quality.
And what about the possible limitations of MPEG-2? We were shown an excerpt from an upcoming BD from a studio which has not yet announced any Blu-ray releases. If I revealed the title here I'd have to kill you. But I've never before seen such incredible resolution of tiny details on video. And while we didn't have the DVD on hand to compare it with, there's no doubt in my mind that the DVD could never come close to matching this sort of resolution, not even on a modestly-sized, 50-inch plasma.
While this experience was not necessarily conclusive—at the end of the day I always like to make such judgments on my own systems—it did strongly suggest two things. First, MPEG-2 can exceed the best image quality we've seen from it up to now. And second, the Samsung BD-P1000 may need some revisions in order to realize its potential—though keep in mind that the Pioneer will cost half again as much and won't be available for at least two months. But it's also possible that a firmware update to the Samsung might be all that it needs. We'll just have to wait and see.
My early impressions of Blu-ray, based on this evaluation, are hopeful but not yet fully positive. If HD DVD did not exist, we'd probably all be happy just to have high definition on an optical disc. If the high definition Blu-ray I see now on the BD-P1000 is sometimes bettered by the best HD I can get from cable or over-the-air (I don't have satellite), at least it's high definition that promises to give us what we want, when we want it—at least when we get more titles!
But I want more than conventional HD sources offer. And unfortunately for Blu-ray (but fortunately for the consumer) better images than anything you can get from any other consumer sources are available right now- on HD DVD.
I'm not taking sides in this format war. Two months ago, if I had to name the eventual winner, the obvious choice would have been Blu-ray. More storage, more studio support, and more hardware companies behind it, including several computer industry giants.
But Blu-ray has gotten off to a shaky start. If I had to spend my money today assuming the title selection was to my liking (and that's always a priority), I'd lean toward HD DVD.
That may well change, and the race is far from over. From what I saw on that visit to Pioneer, Blu-ray at its best is not yet available to the consumer. Better quality is coming. Soon we'll see better software, though I have to ask why we don't already have at least a couple of titles to challenge the quality of that "mystery" title I saw, or the best on HD DVD. Better players are coming, too, hopefully including updates to the Samsung.
But Samsung has stuck its neck out to be the first, and deserves a lot of credit for that alone. For now, it's the only Blu-ray game in town.
Highs and Lows
• Good performance overall, but does not currently produce the best pictures we've seen from Blu-ray discs
• Functionality comparable to a good DVD player
• Easy setup and straightforward operation
• Plays CDs
• Images look softer than they should
• Possible QC concerns (our component output did not work)
• New audio formats not yet offered
• Limited setup options on the 5.1-channel output
• Non-dimmable blue lighting on the front panel is attractive but intrusive