So. . .This Is Blu-ray?
It's rare that a product will get journalists from different publications all calling each other—and by rare I mean never. But that's what happened with Samsung's BD-P1000. There have been calls back and forth between different magazines, then different manufacturers. Even content providers have been keeping the phone lines busy for the past few weeks. At first, it was to see if everyone was seeing the same things, stemming from disbelief. Then, it was thoughts on what was going on. Next, it was trying to find answers. And it all started with this little DVD, er, Blu-ray player. (See my full review on page 126.)
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Peeking under the hood of the BD-P1000 is far less interesting than looking inside the Rube Goldberg–designed Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player. In fact, it looks rather mundane. If you look at the pictures, you'll see the BD-P1000 (Figure 1) next to the HD-XA1 (Figure 2) and a far more similar-looking standard DVD player that scales DVDs to 1080p (Figure 3). What you perhaps can't see in Figure 1 is the Broadcom BCM7411 MPEG decoder. This is the same chip that is in the two Toshiba HD DVD models. But the Toshiba only outputs 1080i, you say? Then how does the Samsung output 1080p? Well, that's interesting, too. It seems that the BD-P1000 takes the 1080p/24 off the disc, decodes it, adds the 3:2 sequence to make it 1080i/30, then deinterlaces that to output 1080p/60. Sound a bit convoluted? Well, if you remember, Samsung said at CES that this player would only output 1080i. All of a sudden (a few weeks later), they started saying 1080p. Adding a feature like that so close to ship is difficult, costly, and easy to mess up. That seems to be what happened here.
Apparently, a noise-reduction feature on the Genesis chip was activated, and this is what softens the image. According to Samsung, they are working on revising the settings on the chip, and future production models will have these revised settings. Ideally, this will also mean that there will be a downloadable firmware update for current players. As of this writing, though, there were no firm dates on either.
As for the 1080p-to-1080i-to-1080p stages, if the Samsung does it correctly, the only real casualty will be the lack of a 1080p/24 output. But, without visual confirmation that the softness issue is just this noise-reduction "feature," we can't take anything for granted. I guess the irony here is that the people who coughed up the extra money to get a TV with 1080p inputs still have the same number of conversions in the chain as the people who own 1080p displays that can only input 1080i (because, with the former, deinterlacing occurs in the player versus in the TV, as with the latter).
Despite its painful ergonomics, the Toshiba HD DVD player puts out a better image—at least for now. If a firmware update is released that fixes the issue, I'll post a new review in my blog on HT's Website. At that point—and if we get better discs—we're sure to see the image-quality gap between the formats disappear. Then it will be a picture-quality fight on a title-by-title basis, the way it should be.