Samsung BD-P1200 Blu-ray Player 
Home Theater Video Players Blu-ray Players
Written by Ken Taraszka, MD   
Saturday, 01 September 2007

Introduction
I’m sure you are all aware of the format war between Blu-ray and HD DVD. Both sides seem to be dug in for a hard-fought and lengthy battle. Some consumers, still bitter over the last format war between SACD and DVD-Audio, are choosing to sit this one out. Others, myself and other AVRev.com writers included, are taking a drastically different approach. I personally have purchased more than five players from each of the two HD formats since they have been released and have been enjoying both formats to their fullest. There is simply no substitute for the increased resolution these discs offer over even the best scaled standard-definition DVDs. Samsung was the first company to produce a player with true 1080p output, the BDP-1000, and is now shipping their second-generation Blu-ray player, the BD-P1200. Carrying a retail price of $599, the new BD-P1200 promises to significantly improve on load times and the generally clumsy operation of the first-generation players, as well as offering full HDMI 1.3 support. The BD-P1200 also will scale standard-definition DVDs up to 1080p, in addition to as playing CDs, MP3s and photo discs.

The BD-P1200 is loaded with goodies. It has an HDMI 1.3 output capable of Deep Color and HQV video processing for maximizing your standard- definition DVDs. It offers internal decoding of Dolby Digital Plus and outputs uncompressed 7.1-channel audio via its HDMI output. Allowing the use of the new Blu-ray Java system and also functioning as a CD player, the new Samsung BD-P1200 seems to have all the bases covered. It will even play your MP3 and photo CDs or DVDs, as long as they are on CR-R/CD-RW/DVD-R or DVD-RW formats. It will not play CR+R, CD+RW, DVD+R or DVD+RW discs.

The BD-P1200 comes packed in a basic blue and white box, held securely in place with Styrofoam blocks and wrapped in a foam sheet to protect its smooth finish. Included in the box is the remote (with batteries), manual, quick set-up card, information for registering the player online and a composite video and stereo analog RCA interconnect. I must say, with all the press surrounding this so-called format war and the seemingly endless sales growth of HDTVs, why oh why are companies not including HDMI cables with their players? Seriously it’s 2007, people, get with the program.

Opening the box and unwrapping the player reveals a Blu-ray player that is cleaner-looking than the first-generation unit. The front is a shiny black that slopes back slightly for the upper three-fourths, while the lower portion slopes in steeply to the bottom of the player. The majority of the top portion is flat, but the lower edge bends down and seems to sag in the middle, with a deep groove between the two areas. A blue light in the middle of this groove comes on when the player is on. The top and sides are finished in a matte black and the player rests on small rubber feet that are permanently connected to the base. The BD-P1200 measures as near as makes no difference 17 inches wide, three inches tall and 13 inches deep, and weighs roughly six pounds.

The player is pretty simply laid out. The power button, which lights blue when on, is to the far left of the face, with a standby indicator light next to it. The disc tray is on the upper left side of the face, with the small open/close button to its right. The majority of the right side of the face is used for the display and on the far right is Samsung’s round, four-way tilt switch that controls transport functions. A small button on this controls the lower left side and selects video output type. The rear of the player has 5.1 channel analog outputs, a pair of stereo analog outs, composite, S-Video, component and an HDMI video output, as well as an Ethernet port and both optical and coaxial digital outs. A small fan is just to the right of midline on the rear and is always on when the player is powered up. A permanently attached two-prong power cord comes off the top right of the rear.

The remote included is basically the same as the remote from the BDP-1000, except slightly larger. Backlighting is still missing, though the channel, volume, mute, and transport buttons glow in the dark. The remainder of the remote’s face is black, with black buttons. The rear is silver. The remote is tough to use in the dark, as the buttons are small, everything is black and there is no backlighting. It can be programmed to control your TV for simple installations, and the Samsung BD-P1200 has the ability through Samsung’s Anynet+ system to be controlled by a mated Samsung TV when using the HDMI connection.

The player offers all the basic features you’d expect from such a device, with six speeds of searching both forward and back, slow motion and stepped-motion playback, A-B repeat, book-marking, access to multiple camera angles and slideshow picture viewing. Set-up menus allow you to assign the default language, subtitles and/or digital output of PCM or bit stream with PCM down-sampling should your processor or receiver not handle 96kHz digital signals. Dynamic compression can be switched on or off, depending on your needs. The video output can be set for the various displays currently available and can even be set to output 1080p/24 frames per second if your display can handle this format for the best picture quality possible. Basic speaker set-up is present for the 5.1 analog outputs.

Set-up
Setting up this player was very easy in each system where I used it. I initially broke the BD-P1200 in with my bedroom system, connecting it to the Marantz SR8001 receiver (review forthcoming) via the HDMI interface. While I really liked the player there and found its functionality to be the best I’ve seen from a high-definition disc player, it had to go to my reference rig for me to do a serious evaluation. I moved the player to my main system and connected it to my Meridian 861v4 via the coaxial digital and stereo analog outs, ran the HDMI video output through my Meridian HDMax 421 switcher and the 121 signal amplifier to my Sony KDS-R70XBR2 1080p-capable RPTV. Something didn’t quite work with this combination; I would occasionally get a bright purple hue to the screen that required me to go into the player’s menus to switch the HDMI output to fix it. I assumed the player was defective, and contacted Samsung. I was told that I would need to send the player back. Impatient as I am, I instead purchased another BD-P1200 and had the same issue. I ran the player directly to my TV set and on one occasion still had this happen, so it was likely due to an HDCP compliance issue. It was an easy fix and, once connected directly to my set, this became a rare occurrence, so I didn’t worry much about it. The advent of HDMI has simplified connecting components like this in my bedroom; I literally connected one cable and plugged in the unit. In my reference system, I had also added coaxial digital and stereo analog cables. Either way, I was up and running in minutes.

The first thing I noticed was lack of the delay any early adopter suffers through with first generation HD DVD or Blu-ray players. The time from the insertion of a Blu-ray disc to first image was less than 25 seconds. With a disc loaded, first image from power on came up in under 45 seconds, which is still a little slower than most standard DVD players, but it’s tolerable. The first time the player is powered up, it prompts you to select your preferred language, and then you are ready in seconds to play your discs. This is a huge improvement over previous players and was a welcome change for me. I was also pleasantly surprised to find the unit defaulted to HDMI and immediately recognized my TV’s 1080p potential. Unlike first-generation players, I never had to reboot the BD-P1200 during all my time with it. Halfway through my review, I did update the firmware, but noticed no change in its performance or functionality after the upgrade.

Music and Movies
Once the BD-P1200 was in my reference system, I immediately dropped in the new Nicolas Cage film Ghost Rider (Sony Home Entertainment) on Blu-ray to see just how good the video was from this player; while the movie’s content disappointed me, the player and its picture didn’t. The detail and textures the BD-P1200 displayed were some of the best video I’ve ever seen at home. You could easily appreciate the grain of the leather in Cage’s jacket. Close ups of his face revealed every pore in detail, while the smooth skin of Eva Mendes was perfect; you could even discern the elevation of the mole on her face. This film has a lot of sharp contrast, and the Samsung did exceptionally well with both the light and dark areas of the screen during these scenes. I think what impressed me the most was the way it portrayed the light from the sun coming through a doorway during the final battle and the way it reflected off the dark surroundings; it seemed utterly real. Colors were bright and vivid, while the subtle variations in the dark scenes remained equally impressive. Much of the film occurs during the dark hours and, even in these scenes, the smallest details, such as falling dust, can be seen with an almost three-dimensional quality. The sound was equally impressive, with explosions exhibiting huge dynamics and the subtleties of the crackling flames realistically reproduced.

To truly test this player’s merit, I chose a torturous Blu-ray disc, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (Buena Vista Home Entertainment). This disc has been problematic for many older players, but the Samsung cued it up on the first try. I was able to play the Liar’s Dice game on the disc, even before I updated its firmware. The load time for this disc was the fastest of any player I’ve used it in to date and, when the menu came up, I was again treated to video beyond reproach. Early in the film, as Keira Knightley is standing out in the rain, abandoned at the altar, you could see every droplet of water on her face and every strand of her hair in larger than life detail. The colors of the British uniforms seemed to pop off the screen. Every bit of dirt on the pirates’ faces was clear and the smoke exhibited a depth that was hard to explain. During the brightest scene on the beach, when the pirates dig up the chest, the individual grains of sand and their varied textures could be seen. Despite the sharp contrast of the dark costumes and white sand, all the rich detail still came through, making for an amazing hi-def experience and demo. The Samsung did a great job sonically as well, giving an eerie feel from the creaking of the ships and clearly demonstrating the clash of the swords; voices were always clear and distinct throughout the film.

To test the scaling ability of the Samsung, I dropped in the standard-definition DVD version of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (Buena Vista Home Entertainment). The Samsung did a good job with the details in the dark and light scenes, but there is no substitute for bits and, despite being markedly better than when viewed in standard definition, it was no match for the detail and texture offered by the Blu-ray version. If you haven’t tried to compare these two formats yet and are still waiting it out, as you don’t believe they are this much better, you need only set a scaled DVD against a true high-definition disc. The video the Samsung put out from this standard DVD would have blown me away just 14 months ago, but now I am spoiled. Compared to the details from Blu-ray discs, the picture was slightly grainy, fast motion wasn’t as smooth and the edge detail was softer. I used this pair of discs to demo this player to many of my friends and everyone who saw it had to admit the difference was huge. This is not to say the Samsung was bad at scaling DVDs. Quite the contrary, it did a respectable job. This demonstrates how much better the video is from a true 1080p source.

The BD-P1200 is capable of playing CDs as well, so to test it, I put in the Arctic Monkeys’ Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (Domino). This is a new favorite band if mine that seems to defy description. They remind me of many different genres from the ‘80s with attitude. On “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor,” the BD-P1200 did a good job of conveying the emotion of the song, but had weaker bass, and the guitar and cymbals lacked the weight that my Meridian G98DH has on this disc. On “Still Take You Home,” the fast pace of the song was well displayed, but the control and depth of bass again was less. This is not a surprise, as the Meridian costs eight times the price of the BD-P1200, but all in all, the BD-P1200 was an adequate CD player and was smoother in the highs and mids than many DVD players I’ve heard.

The Downside
While tough, if not impossible, to pick on the video or audio with Blu-ray discs, the BD-P1200 is not the best CD player I’ve ever heard, but it is not designed to be. Load time is a little slower than on standard DVD players, but I feel this is the closest to standard DVD player load speeds I have encountered and I found it reasonable. The remote Samsung supplies with this player is similar to, if only a little larger than, the one included in the BDP-1000, and it is pretty cheesy, given the price of the player. I would have liked a better remote with backlighting, but as most of us use a universal remote nowadays, this isn’t a huge complaint. I would have also liked a detachable IEC-style power cord to allow for upgrading cords and varying lengths of cords. For those of you with high-end control systems like AMX or Creston, no RS232 port exists on this player, so it will need to be controlled by IR.

My biggest complaint is the included cable. If you buy a Blu-ray player and use stereo analog and composite video to connect it to your theater or display, then you need to return the player at once! The included cable is ridiculous and frankly useless for a player like this. I would rather no cable came with it at all. I would love to see high-definition players come with an HDMI cable, but alas, that doesn’t seem to be the trend, so be prepared to pony up some more cash for the necessary cable to get the most out of this player.

Conclusion
Samsung’s second-generation Blu-ray player, the BD-P1200, is quite simply one of the best video sources I have ever seen. I think the thing that stands out most to me is this player’s ability to portray the texture of items in films. Be it during bright daylight or dark dingy scenes, you can truly appreciate not only what is there, but what it would feel like to touch these things if you were there. This is something you have to see on a good 1080p display to appreciate, and believe me, once you do, you won’t want to go back to standard-definition DVDs again. The fan that is always on during use of the player is so quiet that unless you put your ear right up to the player, you will never notice it.

Samsung has significantly refined this second-generation player and the work really shows. They have improved on disc load times and have produced a high-definition disc player with the best control response and scan functions to date. Scan functions have been faulted on many of the earlier high-definition players, but the Samsung BD-P1200 does this amazingly. Offering six speeds forward and backward, the video is still well portrayed, and the sixth level is so fast that you can miss the entire movie in minutes. This is truly a huge advance in these formats, where the massive amount of data that must be processed during such scanning has caused other earlier players to be jumpy and frankly slow with their scans.

This player is the closest I’ve seen to standard-definition DVD player functionality, and so close everyone but the most impatient person will never even notice the load times. How much do I like it? Well, I am keeping this one. My Pirates of the Caribbean demo convinced several of my “wait and see” friends that it is time to buy a high-definition disc player, and they bought this one. It is simply that good. You can sit on the sidelines in this format war or dive in as I have and revel in the best video available on your HDTV. Now is the time to dive, and this is one player to seriously consider.
Manufacturer Samsung
Model BD-P1200 Blu-ray Player
Reviewer Ken Taraszka, M.D





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