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Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray DVD Player

Part II

October, 2006

Kris Deering

 

Blu-ray

The Samsung BD-P1000 is the first Blu-ray player to hit the market. Blu-ray is a new advanced optical disc format that combines a new disc construction with a blue laser to allow for vastly higher storage capabilities than traditional DVD. Single layer Blu-ray discs hold a whopping 25GB of data! That is nearly 5x the capacity of a single layer DVD disc. There is also a dual layered version that will start coming into the market later this year that holds 50GB (called BD-50). That is over 5x the capacity of the dual-layered DVD discs we have now. The Blu-ray consortium has also said that eight-layer discs have been produced in lab conditions but whether or not we'll actually ever see this disc in the consumer market remains to be seen. Dual layered BD discs were supposed to enter the pre-recorded market at launch and so far no titles have been released that utilize them yet.

Blu-ray brings more to the table than storage space though. The format was truly designed to be the next big thing in pre-recorded entertainment. BD-J is a java based HD interactivity feature that allows for interactive HD menus and overlays during feature films or as supplements. Interoperability using BD-J promises to be far more advanced than what we are seeing with DVD right now. There is a caveat though: BD players are not required to support all of the functionality of BD-J, and you will see different players over time that will support more features than others in this respect. Some of these features include support for live content.

Like HD DVD, Blu-ray movies have pre-recorded high definition content with the film stored on the disc as 1080p24, just like the original HD masters. Also like HD DVD, Blu-ray authoring houses can choose from a variety of video compression encoders, including MPEG-2, VC-1,and MPEG-4 (AVC). So far we have seen releases mastered in all of the various codecs from different studios, and the results have been really mixed.

I am really hoping that Blu-ray-supporting studios will utilize the newer advanced video codecs more often as the format pushes on and start moving away from MPEG-2. MPEG-2 has demonstrated that it can be a phenomenal compression format if care is taken and good masters are used (just look at the stunning HD provided by the D-Theater format), but it takes up considerably more space than VC-1and AVC and demands higher bitrates to achieve the same level of quality. Moving to the newer codecs provides more room on the disc for advanced audio and features. HD DVD has demonstrated that using advanced video codecs (VC-1in their case) can provide stunning picture quality without taking up a lot of space. As BD-50 becomes more prevalent, the need for this compression won't be as pressing, but with limited availability being an obvious concern right now it would be nice to see the studios maximize what they have to work with currently.

Blu-ray also brings better audio to the table compared to the current DVD format. High bitrate Dolby Digital and DTS support are mandatory in the spec, and newer advanced formats such as Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, and DTS-HD Master Audio can be supported if the hardware and software companies desire it. We are also seeing uncompressed PCM multi-channel soundtracks on the majority of Blu-ray software hitting the market. This is the best audio any format can offer if the masters are indeed the same as the originals (as long as the bit depth and sampling rate are the same as the studio master), but it just requires more space than the lossless codecs available today (Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD Master Audio).

Audio for Blu-ray is handled slightly different from the HD DVD format. Most HD DVD releases so far have included either Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 soundtracks or the occasional Dolby TrueHD lossless 5.1 soundtrack. Dolby Digital Plus is only required for soundtracks that use more than 5.1 channels in the Blu-ray spec. For HD DVD, Dolby Digital Plus is utilized for mixing in other things such as menu noises and other supplemental audio. Most Blu-ray titles have been authored with 640kbps DD soundtracks, which is far better than DVD or D-Theater offered and the equivalent to a lot of the DD+ soundtracks on HD DVD. Sony and Disney have delivered even better than that with uncompressed PCM 5.1 mixes on the majority of their titles. 20th Century Fox has already announced plans to support some of new formats from DTS including their lossless DTS-HD Master Audio format. Hopefully uncompressed or lossless 5.1 mixes will become the standard as the format grows.

Internal Processing and Performance

Like the Toshiba HD-A1, the Samsung BD-P1000 is really more of a PC than a standard SOC based DVD player. It also uses the same Broadcom decoder chip for high definition content that the Toshiba uses, limiting the native video output resolution of the decoder to 1080i. Samsung provided a workaround for this that I'll talk more about later. For standard DVD playback, Samsung uses a completely different decoding chip, the LSI Domino. So the performance between DVD and Blu-ray playback is quite different.

We put the BD-P1000 through our rigorous benchmark tests for standard DVD playback, and its performance wasn't very commendable. The decoder did a fairly good job with our core tests. There was some minor pixel cropping, but otherwise that side of the house was okay. This player did a miserable job with our de-interlacing tests though. It is unclear whether it is taking advantage of the Genesis video processor for its de-interlacing and scaling or just relying on the Domino chip. Either way, it is doing a poor job in both departments with standard DVDs. You can find the original Benchmark results here.

Samsung has not done very well in our tests in the past, and this player is no exception. Its de-interlacing capabilities are mediocre at best and not nearly as good as most progressive scan or up-scaling DVD players on the market, including players at a fraction of this player's cost.

Benchmark Results for Standard DVD

BD-P1000 Blu-ray/DVD Player (Component) - Default

Passed Borderline Failed Not Tested
Chroma, 3-2 Film Flags
Chroma, 3-2 Alt. Flags
Chroma, 2-2 Film Flags
Chroma, 4:2:0 ICP
Video Levels
Blacker-than-Black
YC Delay
Image Cropping
Sync Subtitle to Frames
3-2 Cadence, Video Flags
2-2 Cadence, Film Flags
Film Mode High Detail
Bad Edit
Incorrect Progressive Flags
Motion Adaptive
 
Responsiveness
 
Layer Change
3-2 Cadence, Film Flags
3-2 Cadence, Alt. Flags
3-2 Cadence, Mixed Flags
Video to Film Transition
Recovery Time
 
 

BD-P1000 Blu-ray/DVD Player (HDMI) - Default

Passed Borderline Failed Not Tested
Chroma, 3-2 Film Flags
Chroma, 3-2 Alt. Flags
Chroma, 2-2 Film Flags
Chroma, 4:2:0 ICP
Video Levels
Blacker-than-Black
Image Cropping
Sync Subtitle to Frames
3-2 Cadence, Video Flags
2-2 Cadence, Film Flags
Film Mode High Detail
Bad Edit
Incorrect Progressive Flags
Motion Adaptive
 
Responsiveness
 
Layer Change
YC Delay
3-2 Cadence, Film Flags
3-2 Cadence, Alt. Flags
3-2 Cadence, Mixed Flags
Video to Film Transition
Recovery Time
 

For HD decoding, the Broadcom chip is performing about the same as it is for the HD-A1, short of a few inconsistencies. There is some minor pixel cropping regardless of the output resolution, plus the decoder is repeating a video line at the bottom of the screen from the top, which is very odd. However, most displays overscan at least 3% of any active image so it is doubtful anyone would ever see this.

On the video side, this player's HDMI output uses a YCbCr 4:4:4 color space and conforms to the proper video output levels. This means that the player does not clip head or toe room. The end user can select from several output resolutions, including 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. The component output also supports the full resolution of the Blu-ray format. The player will gray out 1080p if it doesn't think your display will accept it (remember, HDMI has two-way communication, so the player gets info fed back to it from the display about its capabilities). It has been reported that this has happened to several users, even if their display does accept 1080p.

Personally, I would have liked the option to select output colorspace. Blu-ray is mastered as 8 bit 4:2:2 YCbCr video, and I would have preferred the option to keep it as 4:2:2 when sending it to my display or any video processor. Most DVD players support this type of control, especially at this price point. This was also a gripe I had with the HD-A1. Blu-ray also supports an output of 1080p24 in its spec, but alas there is no option for support of it here.

1080p

One of the big selling points of Blu-ray is mandatory support for 1080p output. While both HD DVD and Blu-ray movies are stored as 1080p on disc, Blu-ray is the only format that made 1080p mandatory for output on their players. The Samsung offers this support but goes about it in a rather strange way.

The BD-P1000 utilizes the newest Genesis video-processing chip, the FLI-8638-LF, which incorporates Faroudja's latest video processing enhancements. This includes the ability to properly de-interlace 1080i, a capability that has only been recently introduced to the video processing market. The BD-P1000's Broadcom decoder decodes the 1080p video stream from the Blu-ray disc and then re-interlaces it to 1080i. This is the same thing that the Toshiba HD-A1 did for HD DVD. That 1080i stream is then fed into the Genesis chip and de-interlaced to 1080p for output via HDMI or component.

Since the Genesis chip does do proper inverse telecine de-interlacing, there is nothing really wrong with this solution; the issue is the player does not allow the end user to bypass this Genesis chip in any way. So owners who already have high end video processors capable of doing the same thing are still limited to the other byproducts of the Genesis chip. Currently, this includes noise reduction that is constantly on, as well as Faroudja's chroma filter, which is forced on as well. This limits the chroma resolution of the output, and there is really no telling how much the noise reduction filter is tampering with the image. In my past experience, I know of only one noise reduction filter that did a good job, the one utilized in the Realta HQV chip from Silicon Optix, and even it contributed to some issues when applied. Hopefully, Samsung's upcoming firmware update will resolve some of these issues and turn these filters off.

After this player's release, there has been a lot of speculation as to how much this noise reduction filter is affecting the overall image. The initial Blu-ray software failed to impress most people, and consumers (and industry types) were quick to point the finger at the player. Since then there have been a few BD titles that have provided extremely impressive visual quality, which makes me very skeptical as to how much blame this player should take. Of course, if this noise reduction chip is actually doing a good job (again, rare in my experience), then the BD-P1000 could actually be hiding even more flaws inherent in the material. While I hope this is not the case, it is very possible. We will just have to wait and see what the next hardware offerings show us by comparison.

Audio Support

The BD-P1000 is a bit limited in regards to audio support. It is fully capable of handling Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, but it lacks support for any of the new Dolby or DTS formats. Blu-ray movies that support any of the new Dolby or DTS formats will have to be down-converted to their older sibling, as the Samsung cannot decode onboard (currently what the Toshiba HD DVD player does) or pass the raw bitstream via HDMI.

Future players will either decode the audio and pass it as PCM, or pass the raw bitstream via an HDMI output that is 1.3 compliant to a receiver or surround sound processor that is capable of decoding them (they have to be HDMI 1.3 compliant as well). While I am excited by what HDMI 1.3 brings to the table, I would prefer that players handled the decoding to PCM internally. There are plenty of HDMI capable receivers and processors that could take advantage of the decoded PCM stream, allowing people to listen to the best audio available today. Since the majority of Blu-ray software has been authored using either 640kbps Dolby Digital, 1.5Mbps DTS or uncompressed PCM, the Samsung has not had any drawbacks in terms of performance. 20th Century Fox has announced that all of their upcoming software releases will feature DTS's new DTS-HD, and some will even include DTS-HD Master Audio, so the Samsung will not be able to decode these properly to take full advantage of the software. It will simply down-convert to standard high bitrate DTS.

Consumers who have the capability to use HDMI for their audio and have gear that is 1.1 compliant (see your product's owner's manual for information) should use this connection for all of their needs. This will allow you to take advantage of the uncompressed PCM soundtracks found in most of the movies. The analog multi-channel outputs also support this soundtrack but they lack the ability to do time alignment and channel level balancing. The only option available is bass management. This is a HUGE oversight by Samsung. Proper channel balancing and time alignment are CRUCIAL for proper playback of multi-channel sound. Not only can you create phase issues due to distance differences between channels to the main listener, but channel levels can be grossly different and completely destroy the intended mix in regards to soundstage. Again, if your receiver or processor allows for audio via HDMI, I highly recommend sticking with that. If you have to use analog, I recommend receivers or SSPs that allow for analog-to-digital conversion so proper time alignment and channel balancing can be achieved.

Click Here to Go to Part III.

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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