DVD Players

Samsung BD-P1400 Blu-ray Player

ARTICLE INDEX


front view

 

 

 

Introduction

This is the third Samsung Blu-ray player that I've evaluated. Samsung was the first on the block to release a Blu-ray player with the BD-P1000. This first model had a few hiccups in design, but ultimately after a few firmware updates, it provided decent performance. They followed up that model with the BD-P1200, which featured Silicon Optix's Reon video processing, making it a formidable Blu-ray player and an excellent solution for standard DVD playback. The new model, the BD-P1400, is an extension of the original BD-P1000 and drops the Reon processing but adds a few new Blu-ray playback features.

The BD-P1400 is a third generation Blu-ray player. Throughout my time with various Blu-ray players (I've used just about all of them), I've been really impressed with the build quality and features that most of them bring to the table. Compared to the rival HD DVD format, Blu-ray players have been consistently bringing true 1080p support, 24p support, and a wide variety of other features. The price point is a bit higher, but ultimately I've felt it was justified given the features and playback experience.

What I'm not so pleased to see is a continuation of the sluggish interface and load times, as well as other usability issues. As this format progresses, it seems that only a few of the hardware companies are truly trying to improve on the user experience and instead justify their costs on small advancements in capabilities that are at times a bit underwhelming. We still have not reached the point where I feel the hardware has truly matured enough that mass market consumers would have a truly seamless and otherwise painless transition from the SD DVD format. I see this as one of the biggest stumbling blocks for both competing high definition formats.

at an angle

Specifications

  • Codecs: Blu-ray, DVD-V, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD-RAM, CD, CD-R, CD-RW
  • Built-in audio decoding for Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, and DTS-HD, plus multi-channnel uncompressed PCM
  • Outputs: Composite, S-Video, Component Video,HDMI 1.3a
  • 720p/1080i/1080p Video Scaler for DVD (through HDMI output only)
  • Dimensions: 16-15/16"W x 3-3/16"H x 14-3/8"D
  • MSRP: $499.99 USA
  • Samsung

The Design

The BD-P1400 is an average size player that is only slightly larger than what you normally see from the DVD market. The front panel is a glossy piano black and in line with the styling that has become a trademark of the Samsung brand. You won't see a lot of buttons or lights from the front. Instead, Samsung has included a single multi-function interface with controls for play, pause, skip, and stop.

The back panel is also the same as most of the Blu-ray players on the market. All of the requisite audio/video connections are included. You'll find an HDMI output, component video output, and legacy composite and S-Video outputs. Keep in mind that the HDMI output is required to take full advantage of this player's video output capabilities, including 1080p60 and 1080p24 playback. The component outputs are limited to 1080i while all other video outputs are limited to 480i video playback.

back view

On the audio side, Samsung has included a Toslink and digital coaxial outputs and a 5.1 analog output. The HDMI output is the latest version (1.3) and supports bitstream transmission of all of the new audio formats including DTS-HD Master Audio. This is one of the very few players on the market that support this feature and is probably one of the biggest selling points of the player now that we're seeing more and more receivers and processors with advanced audio decoding from Dolby and DTS. I was a bit disappointed to see that the analog outputs only support 5.1 audio. This player can decode the new Dolby Digital Plus format. Unlike HD DVD, Dolby Digital Plus is used strictly for soundtracks with more than 5.1 channels, including 7.1. If you are using a receiver or processor that doesn't support 7.1 via HDMI or doesn't have HDMI to begin with, this limits your opportunity to hear these new soundtracks with full 7.1 support.

The BD-P1400 also has a LAN connection on its back panel. This serves as a means to update the player via the Internet when firmware updates are available. The player can also be updated with CDs by downloading ISO images of the latest firmware from the Samsung support website. During my time with the 1400, I did update the player using this method and found it fairly simple, though I would like to see both formats get their hardware and software to the level where firmware updates are rarely if ever needed. While an A/V enthusiast and veteran such as myself stays on top of things like this, the average consumer may not balways be on the lookout for updates. It is a ridiculous proposition to require the players to be updated constantly as new software is released with small differences in their playback experience.



Blu-ray Video Performance

The Blu-ray camp has always been the most consistent when it comes to video playback quality. Toshiba has delivered quite a few HD DVD players onto the market, but their video output features and quality have been vastly different from each other, and in my opinion, not nearly as impressive across the board as the Blu-ray camp.

The 1400 does not feature a standalone video processing chip like its predecessors did and instead relies on the Sigma Designs HD decoder chip for its video processing duties. This has its pluses and minuses depending on what you want this player to do at the end of the day.

The player supports output resolutions of 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p60, and 1080p24, with the latter two requiring use of the HDMI output. All resolutions are derived from the decoding chip. Like all of the Blu-ray players with a 1080p24 output, you will only see this output resolution if the software is encoded as such. Some Blu-ray discs are not encoded as 1080p24. The Samsung does not have a forced 1080p24 output either, so it must see support for this resolution from the EDID information of the attached display in order to enable it. This has caused some frustration with some end users in previous models, as the HDMI interface doesn't always cooperate when it comes to EDID information.

As I mentioned before, I recently reviewed the Samsung BD-P1200, which featured onboard Silicon Optix Reon video processing. That was the only Blu-ray player with a high-end video processing chip, and its video performance was quite impressive compared to the majority of the Blu-ray players out there. To date it is still the only Blu-ray player to do well with both DVD playback and Blu-ray playback with video based content.  Samsung dropped support for this feature with the BD-P1400, and this took its toll in several areas of video performance.

angled view

On the Blu-ray side, the 1400 cannot derive a true 1080p image from 1080i based content. While this does not affect the majority of Blu-ray software, there is an increasing number of Blu-ray software titles mastered in 1080i60, including concert videos, TV series, and nature documentaries. Using two different test patterns from our custom Blu-ray test disc, this player could not properly convert 1080i to 1080p with material having a 2-3 or 2-2 cadence. If you have this player set to 1080p60 for playback and view 1080i based material, it instead does a "bob" style de-interlacing which truncates the on-screen resolution and results in a softer resolution. You can read more about this in our 1080p article found in the Technical Articles section (linked from the home page).

Another issue I found with this player is its 1080p24 output. After updating it to the latest firmware, it was plagued with a stuttering issue when I selected 1080p24 for playback. Currently I am using a Marantz VP15S1 1080p DLP projector that is fully capable of displaying 24p material with no issues at all. I played back several Blu-ray discs from various studios, and all exhibited minor stuttering and skips throughout playback when it 24p mode. If I switched the player to 1080p60, the issues went away. Hopefully Samsung will address this issue with a future software update, but until then, I recommend using the 1080p60 output if your player exhibits the same issues.

With film-based Blu-ray discs, the 1400 does a great job with its 1080p60 output. It has no signs of Y/C delay via its HDMI output, and there are no active pixels cropped from the image. The decoder does not have any chroma upsampling error (CUE), an issue that has continued to show up on quite a few HD players out there.

The 1080p60 output is pure 1080p from the decoder, with no I/P conversion being done after the chip. The BD-P1000 used the new Genesis/Faroudja “Cortez” chip to derive its 1080p60 output, while the 1200 used the previously mentioned Silicon Optix Reon chip.

The full dynamic range of the video signal is intact. It passes both above-white and below-black information from the video signal. Using a luma burst, I did notice a slight exaggeration of high frequency detail compared to some of the other Blu-ray players on the market, resulting in a slightly edgier onscreen image. A chroma burst pattern showed the full resolution of the chroma signal being delivered, with no apparent softening of the image.

Overall, I would give the Samsung BD-P1400 an average rating for Blu-ray playback. Its performance is almost identical to most of the players with the exception of the issues I saw with the 24p output. I would like to see Samsung return to its support of higher end video processing with future designs similar to what they delivered with the 1200, as this provides the best overall viewing experience regardless of the content being played back.

 

DVD Video Performance

There is no doubt that DVD is still the preferred video playback medium for consumers right now. Even the best selling Blu-ray titles haven't managed to make much of a dent if any in standard DVD sales, and it will probably stay that way for a while. Consumers who end up purchasing a Blu-ray player like this one will probably transition their DVD playback to their Blu-ray player to alleviate having to use separate players for their movie watching experience.

The Sigma Designs decoder also handles all of the DVD video processing duties, and unfortunately doesn't do that great of a job. The BD-P1200 did an outstanding job with de-interlacing and scaling duties with DVD playback due to its Reon processing, but the 1400 doesn't offer that kind of support.

I performed our entire suite of DVD Benchmark tests on the 1400, and the results were in line with what we've seen from most flag-based progressive scan DVD players. The 1400 does do proper 2-3 pulldown on film-based DVDs so long as the flags are perfect in the 480i video stream. Any break in cadence results in combing or the player switching to video based processing that softens up the picture quite a bit.

For DVD playback, this player does exhibit CUE issues with alternating 2-3 based content like we've seen from many Disney DVDs. You will probably see a slight flickering in fine detail around solid pronounced colors such as red, blue, and green. The 1400 does have a chroma filter though for interlaced chroma signals, but it does not apply it for any other cadence.

If you are looking for top flight DVD playback in your system, I would either recommend using a separate DVD player with better video processing capabilities or looking at other Blu-ray player options.



Audio  Performance

The BD-P1400 is a full HDMI v1.3 compliant Blu-ray player. It is one of only a small handful of Blu-ray players that support all of the advanced audio formats available to the format via bitstream out. This means that the player does not decode the advanced audio formats but rather passes them along in raw bitstream form to a receiver or surround sound processor for decoding. This is what most of us are used to from the DVD format. If you plan on taking advantage of this feature, make sure the rest of your equipment supports this feature. There are a lot of receivers and processors out there with HDMI inputs, but that doesn't mean that they will support advanced audio decoding. Most AVRs and SSPs are either HDMI v1.0 or 1.1 compliant, with some of the newest models offering 1.3 support. If the front of your equipment has silkscreens for the new Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio formats, you're probably in good shape.

For those of you with HDMI v1.1 compliant sources, this player will decode Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, and DTS-HD High Resolution soundtracks, along with the legacy DTS and Dolby Digital formats. These formats are converted to PCM for transmission via HDMI and passed along to the rest of your equipment chain. DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks are limited to the core 1.5 Mbps stream and passed along accordingly. Right now, 20th Century Fox is the only Blu-ray studio that is supporting DTS-HD Master Audio predominantly, but we're starting to see some titles from Lionsgate, Sony, and New Line with these soundtracks as well.

For those of you lucky enough to have the newer HDMI v1.3 compliant AVRs and SSPs with internal decoding, this player offers you the full gamut of audio capabilities. I used the new Integra DTC-9.8 surround sound processor with the 1400 and took advantage of its advanced audio decoding capabilities. This was a seamless integration, and the experience was more in line with what I'd become accustomed to with DVD playback. This was also my first chance to hear the collection of DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks from my Fox Blu-ray collection and various demonstration discs I'd acquired from DTS. The big question is, was there really much of a difference? Personally, I'd say maybe. DTS has long delivered some outstanding audio processing, and I was in no way disappointed with the legacy full bitrate DTS soundtracks I'd been enjoying on Blu-ray and the D-Theater format before it. Doing some A/B comparisons with several Blu-ray discs resulted in some slight changes in overall perceived loudness, soundstage, and dynamics, but not enough to say it was night and day. This was more of a refined sound I was hearing with a bit more spatial quality and the soundstage became a bit more transparent from loudspeaker to loudspeaker. This is similar to the listening experience I was getting accustomed to from uncompressed PCM soundtracks and some of the better Dolby TrueHD selections. Overall though, I think the differences that end users will hear will vary greatly depending on the capabilities of their playback chain and room.

In Use

As much as I enjoy watching high quality high definition video and superb reference quality soundtracks, the usability and interface of a player contributes greatly to the overall experience. There is nothing worse than a sluggish player when you pop in your newest Blu-ray disc, or having lock-ups during playback. Unfortunately, I've had my fair share of these occurrences, and it bugs me and my wife every time. A lot of this I blame on the HDMI interface we've grown so accustomed to, but which continues to be plagued with communication issues between devices. But player manufacturers are also to blame. We are now seeing third generation Blu-ray players that have not improved much if at all in terms of load speeds and general navigation. People are not looking at moving into the next generation of home video playback only to find out it is slower and more cumbersome than the old one. That wasn't the case when we moved from VHS to DVD or from cassette to CD. People are looking for a faster experience that is easier to use and offers at a bare minimum the user experience they were offered before.

The BD-P1400 has made progress in some areas but definitely has room for improvement in a few others. The 1400 doesn't take nearly as long as some other players I've used for powering up, but it's still slower than most of the DVD players I've used. Users can expect about 20 or so seconds from powering up until they are loading a disc. Once you get past that though, things tend to slow down, such as loading discs, especially if they are advanced profile Blu-ray discs with Java features. Using some of the newer titles from Fox and Disney, I was seeing some pretty ridiculous load times, especially in comparison to my Sony Playstation 3 which continues to set the bar for usability for the Blu-ray format. It is pretty sad when a console gaming device continues to be the leader in Blu-ray playback. This was something we never saw with SD (Standard Definition) DVD playback devices where even the average DVD player trounced most console game systems with DVD playback.

The general setup menus are very simple and easy to use. There is no searching for random settings, and everything is presented in a cut and dry method that makes setup a breeze. Once you have a disc playing, general navigation is also a bit on the slow side. Menu navigation is fine, but simple operations like chapter skipping tend to take longer than we'd like. On another note, this player will not play back some BD-RE discs. We ran into this problem with one of our Blu-ray test discs. This was the only player we had on hand with this problem. While this doesn't affect the general user much, it is something to keep in mind if you are thinking about archiving to blank BD discs in the future. Again, we are hoping Samsung will address this with a future update.

Silver Surfer Once we got past the usability and actually started watching movies, most of our gripes went away. The 1400 provides an exceptionally clean picture with the majority of the content out there. I had this player in my system for a couple weeks, and during that time, I watched quite a few titles from various studios and never had any playback issues during a movie as long as I had the player outputting 1080p60. It was a real treat to hear some of the new Fox titles in full DTS-HD Master Audio ,including the recent release of Fantastic Four Rise of the Silver Surfer. While I didn't care for this movie in terms of plot points or subject matter, I couldn't deny how great the picture and audio presentation were. This is an outstanding example of sound design and dynamic range. The 1400 was the first player I've used that could deliver the full audio experience this soundtrack could offer.

mr. brooks Another highlight was the recent MGM release of Mr. Brooks. This is a very stylized thriller with great atmosphere and one of the best performances I've seen from Kevin Costner in recent years. The image quality delivered by the 1400 was nothing short of outstanding, with excellent shadow detail, depth of image, and clarity. We really have been spoiled with Blu-ray so far, as it truly delivers a picture and audio presentation that are leaps and bounds above what we've been experiencing from the SD DVD format before it.

Conclusions

Samsung has included some nice features with this third generation player, but I can't help but feel that consumers should expect more from players at this stage. General usability isn't nearly as good as most DVD products on the market, and we're still missing some audio decoding. I was happy to see full audio bitstream support finally, but I don't think its enough to justify an upgrade from existing players. Had they added this feature to the BD-P1200 with its better video processing I might have sung another tune, but for now I think there are some better options out there for consumers than the BD-P1400.