Editors' note June 9, 2008: The rating of this player has been changed since its initial publication to reflect changes in the marketplace.
Editors' note: The rating of the BD-P1400 has been lowered since its initial publication 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.
Even though Sony is the most well-known force behind the Blu-ray format, Samsung was actually the first company to roll out a Blu-ray player--the BD-P1000, which arrived in the summer of 2006. Now Samsung has another first: its BD-P1200 is the first second-generation Blu-ray player on the market. First-gen standalone Blu-ray players had all sorts of quirks--some couldn't play CDs, many had lackluster support for high-resolution soundtracks, and they all lacked HDMI 1.3, which promises a range of possible improvements. Worst of all, their selling prices hovered somewhere north of $1,000. Many early adopters and enthusiasts, who still represent the only real market for dedicated high-def disc players, couldn't help but notice that Toshiba's HD DVD players were cheaper and that Sony's PlayStation 3 offered Blu-ray playback and high-def gaming for $600.
The BD-P1200 corrects many of the flaws of the first-gen players. It can play CDs, and has an HDMI 1.3 port, although despite the newer connection the BD-P1200 still has disappointng next-gen audio support. Its image quality on Blu-ray discs and DVDs is excellent, however, it has a slick new design, and we didn't run into nearly as many operational bugs as we did with the BD-P1000. On the other hand, the BD-P1200 is still very expensive, with a street price of $800. Unfortunately, that means the BD-P1200 comes with a similar caveat we put on the Toshiba HD-XA2 review--it's an excellent choice for enthusiasts willing to spend the money, but for everyone else, it's still probably best to wait.
You'll also note that we rated the BD-P1200 slightly higher than Toshiba's flagship HD-XA2 player. While we think they're virtually equal in terms of performance--and the HD-XA2 might even have a very slight edge in features--we rated the BD-P1200 slightly higher for a few reasons. First off, we preferred the design of the BD-P1200, and its remote is clearly superior for those not replacing it with a universal remote. We also felt that the BD-P1200 offers slightly more stable performance, with less freezing and annoying bugs than on the HD-XA2. Lastly, we had to give the BD-P1200 a slight edge because there are simply more movies available on Blu-ray than on HD DVD, and it looks like that will remain the case for the foreseeable future--unless something major changes in the ongoing format war. Granted, the number of available titles has nothing to do with the actual players themselves, but it has a significant impact on how they're used.
Like many Samsung designs, the BD-P1200 looks shiny, sleek and high-tech. The front panel features a glossy black finish that's prone to fingerprints, although you probably won't be touching it too much. There are just three buttons on the front panel: power, output resolution, and disc open/close. A directional-pad-like circle to the far right allows access to four functions: play/pause, stop, chapter forward, and chapter backward. To the left of those controls is the LED display, which is a little small, but we like that it includes the current output resolution. There are three light sources on the front panel: a blue ring around the power button, a blue light emanating from beneath the player, and the LED display. Unfortunately, only the LED display is dimmable, so home theater enthusiasts who strive for completely darkened rooms may want to break out the electrical tape.
We're often harsh critics of the remotes included with electronics gear, but the clicker that ships with the BD-P1200 outclasses most of the competition. Important buttons are clearly separated from each other, and there are even little tactile bumps on the play and stop buttons to make it easy to find them by feel. Furthermore, the main control buttons--stop, start, chapter skips, and so forth--glow in the dark, so they can be seen in a darkened home theater. There's still room for improvement of course--we'd like to see larger buttons for the main controls and a better layout for the fast-forward/rewind and chapter-skip buttons.
The BD-P1200 can play back both Blu-ray and standard DVD discs, as well as standard audio CDs. There's no support for either of the niche high-resolution audio formats, DVD-Audio or SACD. Of course, the BD-P1200 cannot play HD DVD discs. For a complete overview of the two competing next-generation disc formats, check out CNET's Quick guide to HD DVD vs. Blu-ray.
Soundtrack support is adequate for a Blu-ray player, but somewhat disappointing when compared to Toshiba's HD DVD players. The BD-P1200 has built-in decoding for standard Dolby Digital and DTS, as well as Dolby Digital Plus, which is a slightly higher resolution format of Dolby Digital. What it lacks is built-in decoding of the new highest-resolution soundtrack formats, namely Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD-Master. For comparison, even Toshiba's entry-level HD-A2 ($400 MSRP) can handle Dolby TrueHD.
(Update 05-11-07): We originally reported that the presence of HDMI 1.3 might mean that the BD-P1200 can pass the bitstream of Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD-Master soundtracks to forthcoming compatible receivers, but according to Samsung it cannot. The BD-P1200 has no support for those highest-resolution next-gen audio formats, so audiophiles should look at the Panasonic DMP-BD10A, the Sony BDP-S1, or the PlayStation 3 for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD High Resolution soundtrack support.
HDMI 1.3 also allows for "deep color" and expanded color gamuts, two other features associated with HDMI 1.3 that should improve picture quality (more info). The BD-P1200 is compatible with these features, but for now they're strictly marketing hype. To fully take advantage of these features, they need to be present not only in the player, but also in the display and the content itself. To see the benefits of deep color, for example, it has to be present on the Blu-ray disc and your HDTV--and as far as we know, no such discs or displays are currently available.