|Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray Player|
|Home Theater Video Players Blu-ray Players|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Saturday, 01 July 2006|
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The title I was most looking forward to seeing on the Samsung Blu-ray machine was the wacky sci-fi adventure “The Fifth Element” (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment). I was very familiar with the recent super-mega-deluxe remastered edition on DVD that I have always used in order to wow my friends with my home theater set-up. On my JVC 61-inch HD-ILA set that has been professionally ISF calibrated, the scene where Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) is formed in the lab has always been spectacular-looking when played through my Integra DTR-10.5 DVD player, which upscales DVDs to 1080i.
I had never really sat through the opening credits on the DVD version, so playing the Blu-ray disc from the beginning was a shocker to me, but not in a good way. The initial menus of the Blu-ray player are a little drab, but the picture onscreen using the HDMI video output is rock solid. No dot crawl and the gradient patter from dark blue to light blue looks very good. However, during the opening credits of “The Fifth Element,” the limitations of my TV’s black-level reproduction capabilities were put to the absolute test. Blu-ray is capable of putting so much video information on the screen that it will highlight the flaws in your display. As the stars fly by the screen, the darkest patches of the screen became washed out and faded in the background. Turning a setting on the Blu-ray layer called “Black Level” to “on” helped this a little bit and re-calibrating my TV’s video input (it was originally calibrated using some of the output settings on my Integra DVD player) gained me back a little bit of the very dark details in this opening scene, but I had not seen this level of splotchy blacks even on the darkest scenes in outer space sci-fi HD DVDs, such as “Doom” (Universal Studios Home Video).
I fully realize that older rear-projection D-ILA TVs suffer from relatively light black levels, so some of this can be blamed on my display, but even when watching the film via the component video outputs and the DVI video outputs on my calibrated 19-inch Dell LCD TV, which has a much better contrast ratio and black levels, this splotchy black space background was still evident.
As the movie transitions to the first scene set in the Egyptian desert, with blue skies and yellow/tan sand, something my TV set is a champ at handling, a new flaw became quite apparent. Blu-ray is so accurate that you are going to see virtually ever bit of grain and dirt flecks on the film print. It was unbelievable that the first two scenes I viewed in this highly-touted video format were so disappointing. The amount of graininess on screen made me wonder if perhaps something was wrong with the player. The level of detail behind this coating of grain was spectacular, however, and absolutely a large improvement over the DVD version, as my player and TV did not have to work together to up-convert the signal, leading me to realize how important the film transfer process is going to be in achieving the results that consumers are going to demand of these high-definition disc formats.
Sitting back from the display a tad farther than I normally do helped to allow the picture to take on a smoother image and, by the time the film got into the scenes that were filmed indoors on sets, the grain of the film was much less evident and the picture took on a more lifelike quality. It was perhaps the stock location footage that was grainier. In my favorite demo section, the creation of Leeloo with her shocking orange hair and crazy white strap dress in the laboratory, I was starting to feel better about Blu-ray. One of the scientists in the lab has a particularly bad complexion and comparing the DVD version to the Blu-ray version was a striking demo. It almost looked like an ad for Oxy 10 face cream, as his pitted cheeks looked noticeably more cratered on the Blu-ray version. More zit marks on the face means more video information, which equals more detail. To get more detail out of a DVD, you will generally add a lot of noise to a picture with a setting called “edge enhancement,” which adds dot crawl and other unwanted noise to the picture. Leaving my set’s edge enhancement at its lowest setting, I was able to get crisp lines, such as those on the computer screen that shows an outline of Leeloo’s body as she is being formed. On the DVD version, a small amount of white flicker flanks each side of these red lines. It’s the little details like this that don’t immediately strike you at first but become more evident after getting used to the higher resolution of Blu-ray, then moving back to the DVD equivalent.
I had a feeling I was going to be in for the same film grain amd poor video transfer problem with the Blu-ray version of the original “Terminator.” Not only did it have the same whitish, hazy, washed-out look that older HD DVDs such as “Full Metal Jacket” and “Goodfellas” (both Warner Home Video) have, but it features a 16x9 non theatrical aspect ratio that makes the picture look bigger and more unnatural than it should be. Most people’s first instinct when watching TV and movies on a 16x9 set is to want to fill up every inch of the screen with picture, but by doing this, you end up getting less of a theatrical presentation of the film, with the left and right ends chopped off, even on a widescreen set. After watching many films in 2.35:1 on the Toshiba HD DVD player, the squarer 16x9 enhanced version of “The Terminator” seems like it overcrowds the screen. This again is a function of how the disc is mastered and not the player; it’s a matter of personal preference.
I was having a 50 percent success rate with Blu-ray discs so far, as I felt like I was watching an HDTV home video transfer with “The Terminator” and the beginning of “The Fifth Element,” so I wanted to find a movie made in the last few years to see if I could get past all that dang film grain and those dirty prints. Moving to “xXx” (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment) starring Vin Diesel, I was relieved to find that there are Blu-ray discs that do live up to their hype in terms of picture quality. As the band Orgy rages on at a concert in front of thousands of Gothed-out kids, I started to really see the capabilities of Blu-ray. This scene, with a frenzy of young moshers dancing as the lead singer from the band breathes fire out into the crowd, is sensory overload and this Blu-ray version looks simply spectacular.
The uncompressed analog audio tracks have perhaps a hint more noise during the quietest parts, so dramedies, such as the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore chick flick comedy “50 First Dates,” was a film I felt held up better with the pure digital connection, but the uncompressed audio track of “xXx” simply rocked the house with its fast-paced energy and huge explosions. Most people will set the player on one audio setting and forget about it, but for you geeks out there, have fun with comparing both of the audio mixes. They all sounded quite good, so you can’t go wrong.
The gem in the first batch of Blu-ray disc releases is the modern-day martial arts masterpiece “The House of Flying Daggers” (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment). The demo scene to use to blow your friends and family away and make them understand why you had to drop $1,000 on a new player is the battle in the bamboo forest. Our heroine (Ziyi Zhang) takes on a band of ninjas who float among a bamboo forest, swinging from tree to tree and hacking off sharp pieces of bamboo at an angle to make pointed spears. This transfer is so clean, vibrant and beautiful, all of my doubts about my set-up and display that I dealt with on the previous discs dissolved. When a tripwire buried in the leaves of the forest triggers a large booby trap of bamboo knives that flip up from out of the leaves, the detail in the close-up shot of the bamboo is shockingly clear. Every spine that runs around the green bamboo is crystal clear and the color saturation of the player, combined with my HD-ILA set, was nothing short of spectacular.