Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray Disc player
The first consumer Blu-ray machine lands in the UK
Review Around a decade ago I witnessed my first demo of a DVD player. I stupidly then proceeded to tell a room of fellow journos that it would never take off as a format until it was recordable. Well, as you can imagine, certain people have never let me forget that indiscretion. So when faced with the first sample of Blu-ray - the next generation DVD/high definition DVD (you decide) chances are I am going to play it safe. Well, alas no. In my opinion optical disk systems really are on their last legs and the future is hard disk and flash based storage and beyond.
So while there is a lot to like about Blu-ray and Samsung's player in particular, I'm not entirely sold on the format becoming anywhere near as ubiquitous as DVD. But for the time being if you want a high-definition movie player under your TV set it's going to be Blu-ray or Toshiba's HD DVD.
Choosing which to back is a tricky business too. Blu-ray clearly has the support of a larger section of the consumer electronics industry, but HD DVD is cheaper - the UK players could sell for as little as £600 - and some critics claims it has better picture quality.
Although there is huge number of Blu-ray supporters Samsung has done the smart thing by getting its models to the UK first. Sony, Philips, LG et al will deliver their players shortly but it is likely that this is the model that will grab all the early headlines. So what do you get for your money?
The main and in fact possibly the only reason to invest in a Blu-ray player is picture quality - watching Hollywood movies in the highest resolution possible. While I personally have been sold on HD from day one - I love sports and documentaries in HD - I have been less impressed with the HD movie offerings from both Sky and Virgin Media (née Telewest). Maybe that's because the difference between the output of a decent DVD player and an HD satellite signal is much less than that of, say, a standard-definition satellite signal and an HD one. The films in HD look fine, but to be honest they don't blow you away.
What though of Blu-ray's pictures? Samsung supplied us with two discs, SWAT and Legends of Jazz, both of which have excerpts which highlighted just why Blu-ray has massive potential. For SWAT it was more of an overall feel. There is obviously a huge difference in terms of resolution between Blu-ray discs and standard DVDs, and yes there is greater detail when compared with Sky's HD movie transmissions. However, the clincher for me were the colours which were rich and striking without ever being saturated.
For the jazz disc, the big issue was the resolution of the picture, which once again was way superior to DVD and had the edge over Sky HD. Filmed in a fairly bland-looking studio, the camera focuses on the faces and the instruments of the musicians revealing incredible levels of detail from pock-marked skin through to specks on jackets.
One rather clever feature is that the player automatically works out the maximum resolution of the TV and then tailors its performance to suit. We tested the player using Samsung's 46in 1080p LE46F71B 46 LCD TV, so it was straight 1080p output to 1080p monitor. If, however, the TV only has a resolution of up to 1080i - the maximum for many HD sets - it works to output at that level. To be honest I'm not entirely sure what level of difference it makes. There is a frothy debate online about the merits of 1080p sets over 1080i ones, with some reviewers claiming you can't see the difference.
As for sound quality, I didn't get the chance to hook up the player to a surround-sound system to test out its Dolby Digital capabilities, but its stereo performance admittedly through the TV's speakers was reasonable. The Samsung will also play a variety of other discs and most usefully it will upscale your existing DVDs to the 1080p format. Of course they don't rival Blu-ray discs in terms of image quality and resolution but as a standalone DVD player this delivers very high quality performance.
Good too is the menu system, which is not only simple to use but also has a 3D feel. Finally, the BD-P1000 is very smart looking player. The player is finished in a very strokable black piano shine - watch out for smudges! - with a front-mounted control that has a tasteful blue backlight.
You'd expect a £900 player to be rammed with features but sadly the BD-P1000 is not. You get a smart-card reader for playing your JPEGs, MPEGs and MP3s, but that's about it. And Samsung doesn't seem to have spent too much time on the remote control. It works reasonably well, but isn't especially comfortable to hold, and the menu control buttons are oddly sited.
The worst part though is that there is only a very limited range of Blu-ray titles on sale at the moment. So this player is very much for early adopters who are going to commit to the format no matter what. Unless you have to be first on the block with Blu-ray, it surely is far better to see over the next 12 months whether one of the two competing formats establishes itself as a clear winner.
One thing is for sure: with Toshiba now not launching its HD DVD players in the UK until mid-December and this player only available in fairly limited quantities, the new optical disc formats aren't going to make much impact in the UK this Christmas.