Editors' note June 9, 2008: The rating of this player has been changed again to reflect changes in the marketplace.
Editors' note, updated 2/14/08: The rating of the BD-P1000 has been again lowered to reflect the disc compatibility issues that have occurred since we reviewed it. While many of the issues were eventually fixed by firmware upgrades, the new rating reflects our decreased confidence, based on the company's delays in the past, that Samsung will offer timely firmware upgrades for newly released movies.
Editors' note, updated 12/18/06: This review has been re-rated once again to accord with re-testing against the Toshiba HD-A1 as well as newer Blu-ray players, such as the Philips BDP9000, the Panasonic DMP-BD10 and the Sony PlayStation 3. With the latest firmware update, the Blu-ray video playback performance of the Samsung was identical to the other Blu-ray players we tested.As the sole set-top representative of the Blu-ray camp, the Samsung BD-P1000 currently stands as the only unit that can play back Blu-ray movies. If that matters to you, then you might be in the tiny portion of the HDTV-owning population to whom this $1,000, first-generation player could possibly appeal. For everyone else, this review is less buying advice than a referendum on an emerging format war. Which is better, Blu-ray or HD-DVD? Well, after comparing the image quality of both the Samsung BD-P1000 and the Toshiba HD-A1 using the highest-performance 1080p display we had available (see Performance), we can say the nod goes to HD-DVD for consistency of picture quality. Most Blu-ray titles still look spectacular compared to DVD, and others less so, and since both formats are in their infancies, we expect the video quality of both HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs to keep getting better. In other words, the battle is just beginning, and the Samsung BD-P1000's performance in this review has almost nothing to do with which one, if any, disc format will eventually succeed DVD.
With all that said, the Samsung BD-P1000 is in many ways less satisfying than a regular DVD player. Discs still take a long time to load, we encountered more than our share of operational hiccups, and to really enjoy its considerable capabilities, you'll need a large-screen, high-resolution display. If you have such a display and a good deal of disposable income, then you might as well add the BD-1000 to your rack next to your Toshiba HD-DVD player. If not, do yourself a favor and wait until generation two.
The Samsung BD-P1000 is one slick-looking component. Its midsize case is glossy black on all sides, and its face is split in half with black on top and an angled silver strip below, similar to the one found on the company's televisions. The LED display remained completely hidden in the black area until we turned on the unit. When we hit the power key--one of two buttons on the face in addition to a four-way play/pause-stop-skip toggle--it and the toggle became illuminated in blue, as did a Blu-ray logo on the disc drawer. While the light show certainly enforces the color associated with the Blu-ray format, we found it annoying after a while, and although the LED display can be dimmed, there's no option to ease or turn off the blue lights.
A front-panel button cycles between HDMI, component-video, and standard-definition outputs, but to change resolutions, you'll have to go into the onscreen menu. This isn't a big deal--we expect most people will set the resolution once, according to the capabilities of their displays, and forget it. There's also a memory card reader on the front panel, hidden behind a hatch in the silver section at the bottom.
Samsung's remote doesn't have much style, but it's easier to operate by feel than the cooler-looking silver wand bundled with the Toshiba HD-A1. Sure, we would have appreciated more than five glow-in-the-dark keys on a player that costs $1,000, but by the same token, we expect most of the player's well-heeled audience to quickly replace the included clicker with a universal model. One other annoyance: The prominent menu key at the upper left of the cursor control should conjure the pop-up Blu-ray disc menu, but it actually accesses the player's setup menu.
Blu-ray disc playback is the major feature of the Samsung BD-P1000. Blu-ray discs deliver higher audio and video quality than standard DVDs, and they should outperform broadcast HDTV sources, including over-the-air, cable, and satellite high-def. Another appeal of Blu-ray is the format's potential for more interactive features and advanced menu systems than traditional DVDs. The rival HD-DVD format offers pretty much all of the same enhancements as Blu-ray, and the Samsung BD-P1000 cannot play HD-DVD discs--just as the rival HD-DVD player, Toshiba's HD-A1, cannot play Blu-ray discs. For a complete overview of the two next-generation disc formats, check out CNET's quick guide to HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray.
The pop-up menu is one of the cooler features of Blu-ray and the Samsung BD-P1000. It overlays the action without stopping playback, so you can browse scenes and special features while the movie continues playing. Other Blu-ray features include a scene search, which is designed to let you easily find actors, characters, and scenes in a film. None of the Blu-ray discs we had on hand had this feature activated, so we couldn't test it. There's a marker key that creates a bookmark, so you can quickly return to particular scenes; HD-DVD also has this feature.
Unlike other (as yet unreleased) Blu-ray players, the Samsung BD-P1000 has two card readers on the front panel, which enable it to display digital photos and play MP3 files from 10 types of flash media (Compact Flash; Micro Drive; Memory Stick; Memory Stick PRO, Duo, and Pro Duo; SD; MMC; Mini SD; and RS MMC). We tried an SD card with photos from a 5-megapixel camera, and the Samsung displayed them at high resolution, although it took an agonizing five seconds or so to switch from one photo to the next.
Otherwise, the Samsung BD-P1000 has a feature set similar to that of any upconverting DVD player. Its output bay includes an HDMI output, a component-video output, and an S-Video and composite-video output. Naturally, you'll need to use the component-video or HDMI output to get the high-def resolutions that make Blu-ray discs look best. Unlike current HD-DVD players, the Samsung BD-P1000 can output 1080p video via its HDMI output. While 1080p is technically a better format than 1080i, it's very difficult in practice to tell the difference between the two. As with the Toshiba player, the Samsung's component-video outputs are subject to image constraint, a copy-protection scheme that give studios the option to limit resolution on titles they choose. So far, no discs in either format exercise image constraint.In terms of audio, the Samsung BD-P1000 includes both optical and coaxial digital outputs and a set of 5.1-channel analog audio outputs. For some strange reason, the 5.1-channel audio outputs will only pass two-channel stereo from the Dolby Digital soundtracks of DVDs. The HDMI output can also pass digital audio. Like HD-DVDs, Blu-ray discs can include improved versions of standard surround soundtracks. These Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, and DTS-HD soundtracks offer improved bit rates, lossless compression, and as many as 7.1 channels of discrete audio tracks, providing the potential for much more realistic and lifelike sound than DVD's Dolby Digital and DTS tracks. Of course, you'll need an audio system that can handle such soundtracks, and most current A/V receivers aren't quite ready yet.
Update 12-18-2006: According to Samsung, however, the BD-P1000 cannot play those soundtracks. When they're present on the disc, the player converts them into standard Dolby Digital or DTS soundtracks before sending them to any connected device. The only newer format the player can handle is so-called "DTS: Encore," which has lower audio resolution than any of the new formats mentioned above.
The Samsung BD-P1000 delivered an excellent picture via HDMI and component-video outputs with Blu-ray discs, all of which surpassed the quality of DVD as well as broadcast HDTV. That said, we weren't as impressed by the video quality of the first wave of titles as we were by their HD-DVD counterparts. It's very important to remember, however, that these initial Blu-ray titles are only single-layer discs of 25GB and use MPEG-2 compression, same as DVD. Future Blu-ray titles could--and almost certainly will--look a lot better, thanks to dual-layer discs and/or better MPEG-4-based compression schemes.