Samsung BD-P1500 Blu-ray Disc Player

The Short Form
$399 / SAMSUNG.COM / 800-726-7864
Snapshot
Samsung's fourth-gen Blu-ray Disc player delivers superb performance at a realistic price
Plus
• Fine video performance • Glitch-free disc handling • Decodes Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus soundtracks
Minus
• No multichannel analog output • No DTS-HD Master Audio decoding • No BD-Live capability
Key Features
• Plays Bonus View features on Blu-ray Discs • 1080p video upconversion • 24-fps video-output option • AVCHD disc playback • Outputs: HDMI 1.3; component- and composite-video; optical digital audio; stereo analog audio

With the high-def format war between Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD finally relegated to the past, the makers of Blu-ray players have been able to concentrate on smoothing out the rocky path that early adopters encountered with some of the first models. The days when you couldn't just assume that a given player would play your old CDs (let alone some of your new Blu-ray Discs!) might finally be gone. The good news is that the manufacturers are now focusing on adding features, lowering prices, and eliminating the various compatibility issues that cropped up with some discs on certain players.

Even though it dabbled in making dual-format Blu-ray/HD DVD players, Samsung has always been one of Blu-ray's strongest supporters, and with the BD-P1500, it's now on its fourth generation of standalone machines. Originally designed to share its basic architecture with the company's planned second-gen dual-format player, the BD-P1500 has some telltale empty spaces on its video board where the HD DVD circuitry would have been if that version hadn't been deep-sixed along with the entire HD DVD format.

Smaller and lighter than any Blu-ray player preceding it, the BD-P1500 is one of the first I've encountered that doesn't have a cooling fan. Its sleek, black acrylic front panel has only a bare minimum of controls, including ones for power and tray load, and a four-way button to operate the basic transport functions. Everything else is handled using the remote control and the player's onscreen menus. The remote is similar to others that Samsung has provided in the past, with a button layout that I found to be refreshingly logical and intuitive. Even though a few of the buttons do glow in the dark, a proper backlight would have been a welcome addition.

BD-Live (a.k.a. Profile 2.0) Blu-ray players are finally starting to appear. (Panasonic's new DMP-BD50 is a Profile 2.0 model, while a software update that Sony made available last March bumps the PlayStation 3 up to 2.0.) But the Samsung foregoes that profile's Internet-based features in favor of the now-mandatory Bonus View (a.k.a. Profile 1.1). This typically means that the player can enable the picture-in-picture features provided on compatible discs, along with an associated commentary.

The BD-P1500 also includes onboard decoding for the Dolby Digital Plus and TrueHD formats, although curiously not for DTS-HD Master Audio. Samsung says Master Audio decoding will become available in a future firmware upgrade. For now, however, you'll need to deliver those signals in bitstream format to a suitably equipped A/V receiver over the player's HDMI 1.3 connection. With only a 2-channel analog output provided on the player, you will absolutely need an HDMI digital-audio-capable receiver to experience these new high-rez audio formats in full surround, although regular Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks can still be passed through the Samsung's TOSlink optical output. The player can also downsample the digital output if your surround processor can't decode a 96-kHz PCM signal.

SETUP

I used an HDMI cable to connect the BD-P1500 to an Integra DTR-8.8 receiver, and I had no problem playing all of the various audio formats, either by using the player's onboard decoding or by sending out a bitstream signal so the receiver could decode the high-rez soundtrack. The audio setup menu gives you three basic options for the digital-audio output format. The main catch is that only the setting called Bitstream Audiophile lets you send a native DTS-HD Master Audio signal to your receiver, although this setting won't allow you to hear the picture-in-picture commentary track on Blu-ray Discs with Bonus View features. Sure, you can always go back into the menu and change the output option when needed, but that could easily become one of those little things that results in some head-scratching.

The Samsung's video setup is pretty basic, with none of the picture or noise-reduction adjustments you find on some other players. Other than basic output-resolution and aspect-ratio settings, there's a 24-frame-per-second (fps) film-mode option that eliminates the need for 2:3 pulldown processing - as long as you're using a TV that can accept a 24-fps signal and display it at a multiple of that frame rate. The HDMI output can also carry Samsung's Anynet+ CEC control signals, which allow you to hide the player in a cabinet and still operate it from a Samsung TV's remote.

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