A Failure to Communicate

What we have here is one of those HDMI "features" that drives both consumers and reviewers crazy. I discovered it after my reviews of both the Samsung BD-P1200 Blu-ray player and the Toshiba 52HL167 flat panel LCD display had been turned in, ready for publication.

The player had functioned without this glitch in my main system. There it had been linked to the JVC DLA-RS1 projector by way of the HDMI switching in a Denon AVR-4306 AV receiver. The HDMI link provided both the audio and video for movies. But I used a separate coaxial digital connection to the receiver for CD, music only, playback —a setup I prefer until I'm convinced that HDMI for audio alone, with no video, involves no sonic compromises.

The problem arose when I moved the Samsung player to a system in another room for use with the Toshiba LCD. The connections were similar, but this time the HDMI was connected directly to the Toshiba. The setup here included an older Outlaw 1050 receiver that lacks HDMI switching, so a separate digital link to the 1050 was not merely a preference in this case, it was mandatory.

When I first popped a CD into the Samsung player, with the Toshiba display plugged in but turned off, the music began normally. I could also hear the clicking of relays inside the television, possibly indicating that the player was trying to communicate with it through the HDMI cable. After a few seconds the player turned itself off. It didn't just mute the music through the coaxial audio cable. It didn't just stop. It shut down completely. The entire operation, from music start to player shutdown, took only a few seconds.

If I turned the set on first, then put on a CD, it would play through without interruption (it also displayed a CD playlist on the Toshiba's screen).

If I disconnected the HDMI cable, the Samsung would also play the audio from the coaxial digital link with no problems—whether the Toshiba was on or off.

And if I unplugged the set, the Samsung played back the coaxial digital source without a hitch, with or without the HDMI cable connected.

Here's what I believe was happening. With the Toshiba TV plugged in but not turned on, it is in a low power standby mode. But in this mode it is still able to respond to a query from the player through the HDMI link, telling the player that the display is turned off. Apparently, if the Samsung player, receives this response, it concludes, "Your display is off and it's obvious you don't need me. So I'm going to sleep now." Thanks, HAL.

But if the player receives either an "On" message from the set, or no response at all (the situation with either the set unplugged or the HDMI link disconnected), it stays on and will play audio via its digital outputs.

It's by no means certain that all sets will respond this way to the Samsung. My JVC projector did didn't have this problem, possibly because it has no standby mode. It was either on or completely off.

But I did not have this problem when I tried the Sony BDP-S300 Blu-ray player into the Toshiba. This suggests that Samsung might want to look to its firmware to analyze why this occurred. Other set and player manufacturers might also want to check into it such potential interoperability issues.