Samsung BD-P1500 Blu-ray Player 
Home Theater Video Players Blu-ray Players
Written by Adrienne Maxwell   
Saturday, 01 November 2008

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.

Blu-ray and DVD Performance
The BD-P1500 supports BD, DVD, CD audio, and AVCHD video playback, but it does not support the MP3, WMA, JPEG, or Divx formats. Upon initial power-up, the player reaches the “no disc” screen in about 30 seconds. This model didn’t cue up Blu-ray or DVD discs quite as quickly as my Panasonic DMP-BD50 review sample (which is the fastest player I’ve tested), but it was very close, even with Java-heavy titles like War (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) and the Pirates of the Caribbean discs (Buena Vista Home Entertainment). The BD-P1500 responds quickly to remote commands; disc navigation is fairly speedy, and the status bar that appears along the top of the screen when chapter-skipping makes it easier to jump past all the annoying trailers at the start of so many Buena Vista discs.
I began my video tests with the BD-P1500 set for 1080p/24 output, using demo scenes from some gorgeous Blu-ray discs: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Shooter (Paramount Home Video), Black Hawk Down (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), and The Prestige (Buena Vista Home Entertainment). All of the scenes had excellent detail and color, and the player ably handled black and white reproduction. In all, it did nothing to interfere with the inherent quality of each disc, which is exactly what you ask of a Blu-ray player. Next, I switched to 1080p/60 output to test the player’s video processing. With the Mission Impossible III Blu-ray disc (Paramount Home Video), the BD-P1500 cleanly rendered the staircase at the opening of chapter eight, as well as other potentially troublesome spots. That staircase can be filled with moiré when a player’s internal processing is sub-par, but that was not an issue here. The BD-P1500 consistently performed well when outputting 1080p/60, so it’s not crucial that you mate this player with a TV that can accept 1080p/24.

My reference disc for BonusView content is the Sunshine Blu-ray disc (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment), which offers both picture-in-picture content and a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. With the audio set for Bitstream (audiophile) output, the BD-P1500 passed the native DTS-HD bitstream to my Denon AVR-4308 receiver to decode, but I could not hear the menu’s navigation sound cues or PIP audio. When set for PCM audio, the player served up the core DTS audio stream as 5.1-channel PCM and mixed in the menu’s sound cues and PIP audio. As the film progresses, the BD-P1500 presents a BonusView icon at the top left corner of the screen whenever a PIP bonus feature is available, a convenient feature that I haven’t seen with other BonusView players. A quick press of the remote’s BonusView button opens the PIP window. The only problem is, if you don’t want to watch a particular BonusView feature, you can’t simply press a button and make the icon go away. You can disable the feature entirely by turning off the Screen Message in the Display Setup menu.

I also tested the player’s handling of Dolby TrueHD soundtracks on The Fifth Element (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) and Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio City (Sony BMG Music Entertainment). When set for Bitstream (audiophile), the player passed the high-resolution soundtracks to my Denon receiver without incident; when set for PCM, it decoded the format and output it as 5.1-channel PCM. Using The Fifth Element’s Diva scene and Dave Matthews’ “Don’t Drink the Water” for comparison, I could discern no blatant differences in audio quality between the internal and external decoding. Both sounded good, although perhaps not as rich and spacious as I’ve heard from the best high-end players on the market.

Next, I switched to standard-definition DVD, starting with The Prestige (Buena Vista Home Entertainment). In the detail department, there was certainly no confusing the SD version with the HD disc I viewed earlier, but the BD-P1500 did a solid job upconverting 480i to 1080p. Likewise, with Into the Wild (Paramount Home Video) and Lost: The Complete Second Season DVD (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), the Samsung produced a generally detailed image, although the best upconverting players could likely eke out more fine detail. Unfortunately, the BD-P1500’s deinterlacing, or conversion from interlaced to progressive, is less reliable. When it came to casual viewing of DVD movies, I didn’t see too many artifacts from scene to scene; however, the player was unable to pass my most rigorous deinterlacing tests. It failed many of the tests on the HQV Benchmark DVD (Silicon Optix), and it failed both of my real-world 480i deinterlacing tests: the Coliseum flyover in chapter 12 of Gladiator (DreamWorks Home Entertainment) and the Venetian blinds in chapter four of The Bourne Identity (Universal Home Video). In chapter four of Into the Wild, the scene in which Chris abandons his car is poorly encoded, and no Blu-ray player I’ve tested can fully clean it up. However, compared with Denon’s DVD-3800BDCI and Panasonic’s DMP-BD50, the BD-P1500 rendered the poorest image quality, with more artifacts than the others. It didn’t fare much better with the video-based bonus features on the Robot Chicken: Star Wars DVD (Warner Home Video), creating many jaggies. On a positive note, the picture had a little less noise than the Panasonic DMP-BD50 I just reviewed, which makes for a generally cleaner SD DVD experience. Still, if you already own a good upconverting DVD player, I would hold on to it.

To try out the BD-Live function, I used the Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) and Ironman (Paramount Home Video) Blu-ray discs. From the get-go, I found Samsung’s implementation to be more intuitive than that of the Panasonic DMP-BD50. Accessing BD-Live content requires both an Ethernet connection and the insertion of a USB drive (not supplied) for storage; try to move forward without either of those pieces in place, and the BD-P1500 will tell you which piece you’re missing, as opposed to simply not working. The BD-P1500’s download speeds also seemed faster than the Panasonic’s, and I was generally pleased with the overall BD-Live experience, although I still think the BD-Live content offered to date is less than worthwhile.

The Downside
As I just described, the BD-P1500’s deinterlacing of 480i isn’t as consistent as it could be, and the situation does not improve with 1080i content. The player failed the video and film resolution tests on my 1080i HD HQV Benchmark Blu-ray disc (Silicon Optix), which means it does not correctly deinterlace 1080i content or pick up the 3:2 sequence in film-based sources. Since most Blu-ray content is natively 1080p, this will seldom be an issue, but you might occasionally encounter a 1080i concert disc, in which case you could see jaggies and other digital artifacts. The BD-P1500’s questionable deinterlacing causes me to repeat my mantra about the benefits of a source direct or native mode that bypasses the player’s internal processing and outputs every disc at its native resolution -- that way, you can let your display or external video processor handle all deinterlacing and upconversion. Not many players offer this feature, but I appreciate the ones that do.

The BD-P1500’s audio-decoding options are not as thorough as those of the PlayStation3 or DMP-BD50. Samsung originally indicated that it would add DTS-HD Master Audio decoding to the BD-P1500 via a future firmware update, but the company has since backed away from that claim (it does plan to add DTS-HD High Resolution decoding in a future upgrade, but that format isn’t as common). So, the only way you can enjoy the full complement of high-resolution audio options is to mate this product with a receiver that has onboard Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding. More so, the player’s lack of multichannel analog audio outputs is an issue for anyone who has an older, non-HDMI-equipped A/V receiver and desires the ability to listen to high-resolution audio tracks. Again, you’ll have to upgrade to a new receiver, which adds to the bottom line.

Compared even with other entry-level players, the BD-P1500 is surprisingly limited its playback of diverse media formats. While Divx and WMA playback aren’t a given, just about every player I’ve auditioned at least supports MP3 and JPEG playback, through its disc drive, USB port, or SD card slot. The BD-P1500 supports none of these formats.

Playback was generally reliable but not without a few glitches. The Fifth Element Blu-ray disc froze once. Twice, when I switched from a Blu-ray disc to an SD DVD, the picture completely broke up into a fuzzy, distorted mess, requiring me to reboot the player. The disc drive brings down the overall build quality, as it’s fairly loud during start-up, disc load, and shutdown; occasionally, it also emitted an audible high-pitched ringing.

All in all, the Samsung BD-P1500 is a solid Blu-ray player offered at a great price. With a street price as low as $250, it's one of the least expensive Profile 2.0 players you can currently buy.. I’d like to see the BD-P1500 behave with a bit more stability, but perhaps that’s something Samsung can address with future firmware updates. The BD-P1500 isn’t the best choice for someone with an older, non-HDMI receiver; however, if you’ve already upgraded your audio system or plan to upgrade soon, the BD-P1500 delivers good video and audio quality with Blu-ray movies and, thanks to the October 7 upgrade, now has all the features that a Blu-ray fan will want.
Manufacturer Samsung
Model BD-P1500 Blu-ray Player
Reviewer Adrienne Maxwell
Output Resolutions 1080p • 1080i • 720p • 480p
HDMI Version 1.3
Audio Format Support DTS-HD Master Audio (Bitstream) • Dolby TrueHD (Bitstream) • Multi-Channel PCM
Supported Media Formats BD-R • CD • CD-R • CD-RW • DVD • BD-RE • DVD+R • DVD-R • BD-ROM • DVD-ROM • DVD-RW • DVD+RW
BD Profile 2.0
Recordable No

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