When it comes to Blu-Ray, Samsung has always been ahead of the pack, though the South Korea-based electronics conglomerate may not be the best known name, among the various vendors supporting this format.
Samsung was first to market with a Blu-Ray player (BD-P1000) last Summer, and now the company is also the first vendor to release a second-gen Blu-Ray device (BD-P1200).
In my 2006 review of the Samsung BD-P1000, I had indicated that – despite the player’s many attractive features – its steep price (at the time it retailed for $1,299.99 at Futureshop.ca) was likely to place it out of the range of all but the really serious videophiles.
The good news is the price of the second generation player has dropped quite a bit.
Despite the price drop, that’s still quite a sizeable chunk of change to fork out for a single AV device so the question is: do the features of the BD-P1200 justify the cost?
Let’s investigate further before we proffer an opinion.
When it comes to Blu-Ray players, video and audio quality are by far the most crucial factors to consider when making a buying decision. Along with that you want to be sure the device is versatile – playing not just Blu-Ray discs, but most – if not all – of your existing media: your entire range of CDs, DVDs, for instance.
If that seems a no-brainer consider this: many first-gen Blu-Ray players don’t play CDs. The BD-P1200, however, does.
And on the issue of audio and video quality, all first-generation players don’t support the High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) version 1.3 specification that was released in June 2006.
But the BD-P1200 does; it has an HDMI 1.3 compliant port.
Why is that important? Or to put it another way: what’s so hot about HDMI 1.3?
Most of the hype surrounding this spec relates to its support of what in technical terms is referred to as “Deep Colour.”
Essentially, Deep Colour does away with previous interface-related restrictions on colour selection. So the interface no longer forces all content within a limited colour range. So – theoretically at least – HDTVs and other high-definition displays will have the potential to go from millions to billions of colours.
What this means is that taking advantage of HDMI 1.3 manufacturers are able to create devices that represent any colour in nature, displaying an incredible range of tonal transitions and extremely subtle variations in detail – all making for a tremendous viewing experience.
If this sounds too good to be true, you’re right – at present it is! Theoretically, while the presence of an HDMI 1.3 port in players such as the BD-P1200 could exponentially expand the colour spectrum, it’s going to be a while before this happens in practice.
That’s because to experience the benefits of deep colour, the capability has to be present not only in the player, but also on the display and on the media – in this case, the Blu-Ray disks themselves. As of now, to my knowledge, so far there aren’t any disks or displays that offer deep colour.
So I guess the most we could say for now is that the BD-P1200 is “deep colour” ready. HDMI 1.3 also supports the passing of HD lossless audio formats (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio). So an HDMI 1.3-enabled receiver with onboard Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding should theoretically enhance sound quality. But according to some observers, the improvement in sound quality is likely to be appreciated only by very discriminating audiophiles.
Vivid video, scintillating sound
While we may have to wait a bit for the true “deep colour” experience, the existing video quality of the BD-P1200 is certainly spectacular. I put the player through the paces to get a sense of how it handles colour.
Last year, I had tested the BD-P1200’s predecessor (the BD-P1000) – by hooking up the device up to a couple of displays: the Samsung LN-S4041D 40″ Wide HDTV at 1080i and then the Samsung HLS6187W TV, a 61-inch display that supports 1080p resolution.
This time around, I decided to use the HDMI jack on the device to marry the BD-P1200 to an Epson PowerLite Pro 1080 Cinema Projector. This high-end Epson projector offers native 1080p resolution and features Epson’s proprietary CrystalFine 3LCD technology. (Analog jacks on the BD-P1200 include a component video port, and for standard definition there are S-Video and composite video ports).
For audio, I used a digital coaxial cable to link the BD-P1200 to my Yamaha HTR-5630 AV Receiver. (In addition to the HDMI jack, the BD-P1200 also features both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs).
Bottomline – both the sound and visual quality were awesome.
That said, my AV experience was no different from what was delivered by the first-generation BD-P1000.
In fact, some reviewers suggest that most Blu-Ray players (whether from Samsung or other manufacturers) “essentially perform identically.”
Whether that assessment is true or not, the range of flicks I viewed on the BD-P1200 definitely showcased the superior video and audio capabilities of the device.
In Underworld Evolution (starring Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman) the visual style is consciously bleak, and includes inky greys, deep blues and purples, silver and rich blacks. The BD-P1200 rendered these with pristine clarity, sans noise or any noticeable inconsistency. Then from Casino Royale to Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, from Hitch to D