Editors' note (March 30, 2009): The rating of this player has been changed since its initial publication to reflect changes in the marketplace.
Buying any piece of electronics gear is an investment, but the analogy is even more apt if you're buying a Samsung Blu-ray player. When the Samsung BD-P1500 was first released, it was a somewhat risky pick due to its $400 list price, disc compatibility issues, and long list of promised firmware upgrades. Since the initial release, however, its value has risen. The BD-P1500's online price has plummeted and it has received several firmware upgrades, making it Profile 2.0 compatible and ironing out compatibility issues. It's still not in the top tier of Blu-ray players--its image quality is a step below the best and it lacks DTS-HD Master Audio--but with the street price as low as $220, it's one of the best Blu-ray values available.
We've knocked Samsung's excessively glossy designs in the past, but we're suckers for the BD-P1500's look. The front faceplate is still glossy black, but it's completely flat and doesn't have a bezel, unlike its predecessor, the BD-P1400. On the far right are some front-panel controls, including play, stop, and chapter forward/backward, but otherwise the aesthetic is minimalist. In our opinion, the BD-P1500 is the most stylish Blu-ray player we've seen.
Samsung fans will recognize the same remote the company has packaged with most of its products for the last couple years. There are playback controls just north of the center of the remote, and there's some slight differentiation--including Braille-like nubs--that make it possible to navigate in the dark. Overall, it's a good remote, but we'd really like to see Samsung give it an update since it's been unchanged for so long and there's still room for improvement.
While the menu of Panasonic's DMP-BD50 still features blocky standard-def graphics, the BD-P1500 has nice high-def menus. They're easy enough to navigate, and we had no issues with routine tasks like changing the output resolution or audio output format.
Out of the box, the Samsung BD-P1500 is a Profile 1.1 player, but owners can make the player Profile 2.0 compatible by installing the latest firmware update. Profile 2.0 compatibility means it will be able to play back Internet-enabled BD-Live features available on some Blu-ray movies. We haven't been impressed with BD-Live features so far, but there have been some promising early attempts, such as director Christopher Nolan's live chat on The Dark Knight.
Soundtrack support is pretty good, although not flawless. The BD-P1500 has onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD, but not for DTS-HD Master Audio. While the lack of DTS-HD Master Audio decoding is annoying, we wouldn't stress about it too much--even the experts have trouble hearing the differences between soundtrack formats in ideal environments. All soundtrack formats are supported in bit stream output mode.