|Samsung BD-P1500 Blu-ray Player|
|Home Theater Video Players Blu-ray Players|
|Written by Adrienne Maxwell|
|Saturday, 01 November 2008|
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With Profile 2.0 players like the $400 Sony PlayStation3 and the $600 Panasonic DMP-BD50 now on the market, one might think that all other manufacturers would feel compelled to only release players that rivaled those two models in terms of functionality. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Even at the recent CEDIA show, manufacturers were displaying soon-to-be-released Blu-ray models that are only Profile 1.1. It seems counter-productive to me, but then again, so have a lot of the decisions related to Blu-ray since it’s release.
A couple of manufacturers – namely, Samsung and Sony – chose to bridge the gap between Profiles 1.1 and 2.0 by offering models that were originally designated as “BD-Live-ready.” These players were Profile 1.1 upon their release, meaning they contained the needed audio and video decoders to display picture-in-picture (or BonusView) content but lacked BD-Live Web functionality. However, both models sport an Ethernet port, and both manufacturers promised to issue firmware updates to make the players Profile 2.0 compliant. Sony’s BDP-S350 update came at the end of September, and Samsung’s update for the BD-P1500 arrived on October 7, just as I was finishing my review of the player. Excellent timing.
Of course, BD-Live compatibility is just one tiny aspect in the bigger Blu-ray picture. A player’s overall worth is also dictated by its connectivity, ergonomics, audio decoding, and a mildly important thing we call performance. So how does the BD-P1500 ($400 MSRP) compare with its competition in the entry-level Blu-ray marketplace? Let’s find out.
Clean and simple are the best words to describe the BD-P1500’s appearance. This basic black box doesn’t boast many visual adornments, but it is classy in its understatement. The box weighs just 12.6 pounds and has average build quality. The front panel features a disc tray, black power/eject buttons, a transport control wheel (with forward, reverse, play/pause, and stop buttons), and a fairly informative display that indicates, among other things, the type of disc being played (BD, DVD, or CD) and the output resolution. There’s no dedicated button on either the front panel or remote to change the player’s resolution; you must go into the setup menu to make this adjustment.
Compared with the other Blu-ray players that have passed through my doors this year, the BD-P1500’s back panel is somewhat lean. The video end is well covered, with HDMI 1.3, component video, and composite video outputs. On the audio side, you get HDMI, optical digital, and stereo analog. The player lacks a coaxial digital audio output and, more importantly, multichannel analog audio outs. As I mentioned, the back panel also has an Ethernet port, as well as a USB port. In addition to allowing for quick firmware updates, the Ethernet port grants the needed Internet access and the USB port allows you to connect the necessary storage device for BD-Live features.
The remote is similar in form and layout to those of previous Samsung players. It puts a few too many black buttons on the black background, but at least the transport controls and TV channel/volume/mute buttons glow in the dark (after you’ve held the remote near a light bulb for a few seconds). I was also happy to see a BonusView button that allows you to easily open PIP windows when playing discs with PIP content. The transport controls are a little too far away from the directional keypad, and the inclusion of three menu buttons (Menu, Disc Menu, and Title Menu) could cause some confusion. The general Menu button provides access to the player’s onscreen navigation menu, which includes options for video, audio, and setup. This is one of the more attractive GUIs I’ve seen, with higher-quality graphics that befit a high-definition display and give the player an added touch of class. It’s also easy to navigate: The video and audio options basically just launch playback of the disc in the drive, while the setup menu pulls up seven setup categories: System Setup, Language Setup, Audio Setup, Display Setup, HDMI Setup, Network Setup, and Parental Setup.
The setup process is pretty quick and painless, in part because the BD-P1500 doesn’t have as many options as other players. In the Display Setup menu, you can select the appropriate aspect ratio and resolution to suit your display. The output-resolution options for HDMI are 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p, with a separate option to enable Movie Frame (24fs) if your TV will accept a 1080p/24 signal. Once this feature is enabled, the BD-P1500 will always output 1080p/24 when that format is available on a Blu-ray disc. There is no source direct or native mode to output the native resolution of every disc, nor does this player provide any advanced picture adjustments, like preset picture modes, progressive output options (like auto, film, or video), noise reduction, and the like. The menu doesn’t include a separate option to select a resolution for the component video output; the same resolution menu applies to both HDMI and component. The complete list includes 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p; 480i is only available for component, and 1080p is only available for HDMI. If you try selecting 1080p for component, the player defaults to 1080i output for Blu-ray and 480p for SD DVD. It’s worth noting that the BD-P1500 will output 1080i or 720p through HDMI and component video simultaneously.
The Audio Setup menu provides three options that allow you to configure the player’s digital audio output to suit your system’s capabilities. The PCM setting utilizes the player’s internal decoders -- Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby TrueHD – and can output up to 7.1-channel PCM audio over HDMI. Secondary audio cues, like menu sound effects and PIP audio, are mixed in, so you do get to hear the complete audio package. However, the player doesn’t have an internal DTS-HD Master Audio decoder; so, when you select PCM, the player decodes the core DTS stream in a DTS-HD MA soundtrack and passes it over HDMI. This choice is best for someone who has an HDMI-equipped receiver that lacks high-resolution audio decoding but will accept uncompressed PCM. The second option, called Bitstream (re-encode), decodes the primary and secondary audio as PCM, mixes them together, and re-encodes the stream as basic DTS. This option is suitable if you plan to use the player’s optical digital audio output instead of HDMI, but you don’t get the benefits of high-resolution audio. Finally, the Bitstream (audiophile) option sends the native bitstream signal (including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio) to your receiver to decode, but it does not play secondary audio cues. It’s the best choice for someone who has a newer receiver with high-resolution audio decoding and doesn’t care about having secondary/PIP audio by default (of course, you can change the setting when you pop in a PIP-enabled disc). The Audio Setup menu also includes options to enable PCM downconversion and dynamic compression.
Because the BD-P1500 has an Ethernet port, network setup is required. Happily, the player’s default settings allow it to automatically obtain the needed information from a DHCP server, so you only need to make changes if you want to manually input your network information. I simply ran an Ethernet cable from my DSL modem to the BD-P1500’s back panel and was set to go. When I learned that the Profile 2.0 update was available, I quickly headed to the System Setup menu to perform a firmware update; the process was simple, but the upgrade did take about 28 minutes. The Network Setup menu also includes a BD-Live parameter that lets you dictate whether you want to allow only valid BD-Live content, allow all BD-Live content, or allow no BD-Live access; the default is Allow (Valid Only), but you’ll want to set it to Allow (All) to ensure access to any feature you might encounter.