In June of 2006, Samsung introduced the world’s first Blu-ray player, the BD-P1000. Since, a handful more Blu-ray players have been introduced by companies including Sony, Pioneer, Panasonic and Philips. Earlier this year, LG introduced a dual format player capable of reading Blu-ray and HD DVD discs. Although things didn’t go very smoothly with Samsung’s first generation Blu-ray player, because the initial shipments had some issues, Samsung quickly addressed them with firmware upgrades. The initial wave of Blu-ray movies also suffered from poor quality transfers. To be fair, Toshiba had their own share of problems with the introduction of the HD DVD format. As with any new technology, it takes some time to work out the bugs.
By the time you read this, Samsung’s second generation Blu-ray player, the BD-P1200, will be on the store shelves. This is the first second generation Blu-ray player from any manufacturer and being the tech junkie that I am, naturally I was thrilled to get my hands on an evaluation unit. To meet my expectations for a second generation product, the BD-P1200 must carry a lower price tag and offer better performance than its predecessor. With a suggested price of $999 (Canadian) it’s about $300 less than its predecessor so it does meet my first expectation. But what about its performance? Well, you’ll have to keep reading…
The styling of the BD-P1200 is positively sexy. Its smooth front panel is slightly slanted and finished in a black gloss with only three buttons for power, open/close, video output select as well as a four-way navigation wheel (for disc play, stop, forward and reverse). Pressing the open/close button will likely “wow” you the first few times – the disc door comes out and down, unlike any other player I’ve seen. A blue halo around the power button together with a blue glow on the bottom lip of the front panel, give the BD-P1200 that unmistakable “Blu-ray feel”. The display on the front panel is not visible until the player is powered on.
The rear panel contains a full suite of video outputs including HDMI, component, S-video and composite. On the audio side, the player offers 5.1-channel analogue connections, optical and coaxial outputs, and a 2-channel RCA output. Of course, audio is also sent via the HDMI connection. A LAN port allowing for future firmware upgrades completes the rear connections.
The BD-P1200 offers the most advanced features and technology out of all the currently available Blu-ray players. It outputs the full 1080p (1920×1080) resolution from Blu-ray discs through its HDMI version 1.3 output. The component video connection delivers 1080i, 720p, 480p and 480i resolutions. The BD-P1200 is capable of 24 fps (frames per second) video output to match the latest video displays, for the smoothest possible motion. In addition to Blu-ray disc playback, the BD-P1200 also plays standard DVDs, CDs as well as mp3 and jpeg discs. Standard DVDs are up-converted to your choice of 720p, 1080i or 1080p through the HDMI output.
When it comes to audio, the BD-P1200 decodes Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS. Hopefully, a future firmware upgrade will also allow it to decode the latest Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD lossless formats.
The piece of technology that sets the BD-P1200 apart from other Blu-ray players is its Silicon Optix HQV Reon video processor. What importance does it play in a Blu-ray player? When a Blu-ray disc is encoded at 1080p, very minimal video processing is usually performed by the player – the 1080p signal is basically sent directly to the display. However, not all Blu-ray discs are encoded at 1080p, some are encoded at 1080i and there are also mixed 1080i/1080p discs. For example, 1080i content is almost always found on Blu-ray concert discs and documentaries. When 1080i content is output by a Blu-ray player, it has to be properly deinterlaced (converted to 1080p) either by the player or the display. The Silicon Optix HQV Reon chip is one of the latest HD video processing chips that promises to deliver some of the best processing available today. The highlights of this chip include motion-adaptive per-pixel HD deinterlacing, film cadance processing, multi-direction diagonal filter (for removing jaggies), detail enhancement, random noise reduction, and mosquite and block (CODEC) noise reduction.
The supplied remote is long, slim and has colour coded buttons, which help simplify its operation. Unfortunately, the remote is not backlit – only a few of the common buttons glow in the dark.
To perform my evaluation of the BD-P1200, I connected it to a Sharp LC52D62U 1080p display using an HDMI cable. As we’ve learned to expect from high definition disc players, the BD-P1200 wasn’t exactly quick at starting up. It took nearly 30 seconds for the player to power up (before I could insert a disc) and another 25 seconds before the movie started playing. This is pretty typical for a Blu-ray player.
Before watching any movies, I tested the player’s video processing ability by using a beta version of the new Silicon Optix HD HQV Benchmark (Blu-ray) disc. This disc features 1080i video-based patterns that can be used to determine how well a Blu-ray player or a display deinterlaces these signals. These test patterns verified that the BD-P1200 performed deinterlacing flawlessly at every step – eliminating jaggies and moire, reducing noise, and enhancing the picture detail.
Next, I moved on to watch familiar scenes from Blu-ray movies including Casino Royale, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Flyboys. Without question, the BD-P1200 delivered a crisp, highly detailed picture we’ve come to expect from well transferred Blu-ray releases. In back to back comparisons with the Pioneer Elite BDP-HD1 and the Sony PS3, the Samsung delivered an almost identical picture quality. It was with 1080i content like the Nine Inch Nails Live: Beside You In Time, that the Samsung showed its exceptional strength. The Samsung did a much better job of deinterlacing the picture thanks to its HQV Reon chip, than the Sharp display. This was not a surprise however, since most TVs don’t contain very high-quality video processors. I was unable to test the player’s 24 fps output because I did not have a display that supports this frame rate.
I should mention that the Samsung does have a small fan in the back that spins as soon as the power is turned on. It did however run pretty quietly and did not interfere with any of my movie watching. I’m glad to say that I did not experience any video dropouts or “snowy” screens while using the BD-P1200 – something frustrating that I have witnessed when using other high definition players.
However, not everything was peachy with the BD-P1200. While watching Casino Royale, the player completely locked up on me – I wasn’t even pressing any buttons on the remote. It simply locked up during the movie playback. I unplugged the unit from the wall and left it off for a couple of minutes but it kept locking up when powering back on. I left it unplugged for the night and strangely enough, it powered back on the next morning. Thankfully this happened only once during the seven days that the player spent at my house. I’m assuming that if this is a glitch with the player, that Samsung should be able to fix it with a firmware update, although it could have been just my evaluation unit.
The video output resolution of the BD-P1200 cannot be changed on the fly – this can only be done from the player’s menu with the disc playback stopped. This is somewhat unfortunate because it’s a feature that I really enjoy on the Pioneer player.
Regular DVDs were much quicker to load on the BD-P1200 – each disc took about 7 seconds. When up-scaled to 720p and 1080p by the BD-P1200, every movie looked noticeably sharper and more detailed. I must say though, it’s not nearly as satisfying watching regular DVDs after you get a taste of movies in 1080p. Perhaps, I’ve been a little spoiled!
Overall, I was very pleased with the Samsung’s BD-P1200’s performance and for the most part trouble-free operation. Samsung certainly appears to have addressed all of the quirks and performance issues associated with their first generation player. In my opinion the BD-P1200 is ready for primetime. If only its price tag was lower, it could also be ready for the mass market. Although considering that this player has improved vastly over the first generation player and comes with a $300 lower price tag, $999 is actually a pretty good deal. Now let me catch one more Blu-ray movie before I have to send this guy back to Samsung!
$999 MSRP (Canadian)