Samsung was the first manufacturer to introduce a Blu-ray player in the U.S., so it should come as no surprise that the company is now on its third generation. The BD-P1400 has a lot going for it, and it’s tied with the 40GB Sony PS3 as the least expensive Blu-ray player on the market, at least as of this writing. Good and cheap? This I gotta see.
The BD-P1400 has all the bells and whistles you’d expect—well, almost all. Because it was introduced before Nov. 1, 2007, it does not conform to Full Profile, which means it can’t take advantage of the PIP features on any titles that offer them. Other than that, though, it’s got a full slate of offerings.
Unique among the players in this issue, the Samsung provides an Ethernet port that allows firmware updates by connecting the player to a broadband Internet access point such as a home-network router. This is much more convenient than having to download the update to a computer and burn a disc that you then insert in the player.
Common to just about every Blu-ray player these days is the ability to output 1080p at 24 frames per second (fps) via HDMI. I’m glad to see this becoming ubiquitous in players, but TVs that can handle it properly are still rare. With a player that can send 1080p/24 and a TV that can display it correctly, onscreen motion is noticeably smoother, so I hope TV manufacturers get the message sooner rather than later.
Unlike its predecessors, the BD-P1400 can decode all audio formats except DTS-HD Master Audio—but no player can do that at this point because it requires more processing power than is currently available. Even more interesting is that the player can send all audio formats as a digital bitstream via HDMI, which is good news for anyone with an A/V receiver that can decode them.
The remote is a long, skinny affair that’s reasonably well-organized and uncluttered. The transport and TV volume and channel up/down buttons are glow-inthe- dark, but the glow doesn’t last very long, and the remote is not otherwise illuminated.
The menu system is well-organized and easy to get around, with an updated look and feel compared with the previous generation. The A/V controls are still three layers deep, but all three layers remain visible on the screen, which helps you keep your bearings.
Looking at the Blu-ray version of HQV Benchmark, the video resolution-loss test was solid as a rock, while the film resolution-loss test exhibited a bit of flickering, though it was much less than the Sharp BD-HP20U also reviewed in this issue. Jaggies were very mild but not entirely invisible.
As with the other players in this issue, the Samsung displayed the HQV Benchmark DVD in a 4:3 window, and it has no setting to correct this, unlike the Panasonic DMP-BD30. As a result, I could not use this disc to evaluate the player’s processor on standard-def material. Interestingly, the BD-P1400 was able to play an unpublished test disc on BD-RE (rewritable Blu-ray), even though the specs do not claim this capability.
Spider-Man 3 on Blu-ray looked stupendous—crystal clear and richly drawn. The New York skyline was crisp, all the way down to individual windows on distant buildings, and the texture of brick walls was almost three-dimensional. Colors were also gorgeous, with natural skin tones, green foliage, and yellow cabs. The uncompressed PCM soundtrack was a bit brighter via HDMI compared with the 5.1-channel analog output, and the dialog was slightly clearer as well.
The audio from The Fifth Element on DVD was more dramatically different via HDMI and analog— the Dolby Digital soundtrack was significantly lower in volume from the analog output, but the DTS track was actually louder. In both cases, the HDMI audio was a bit clearer, while the analog output was richer, but the difference in tonal quality was minimal.
Images from the DVD looked great, with sharply defined textures in the rock walls and pillars of the Egyptian temple as well as a clearly delineated cityscape as Leeloo jumps into Korben’s cab. Again, skin tones were quite natural, and the blue of diva Plava Laguna’s complexion matched the planet around which Fhloston Paradise orbits during her performance.
Turning to CD, I listened to Synchronicity by The Police [A&M], and it was immediately apparent that the HDMI output was much brighter than analog, which sounded very dull and lifeless. Quickly switching back to HDMI, this classic album sounded great, with Sting’s distinctive voice cutting through the wall of guitars, bass, and drums with ease.
It is said that practice makes perfect, which is clearly illustrated by the BD-P1400. Okay, so it’s not quite perfect—it does not conform to Full Profile, and the analog audio output leaves something to be desired. But it certainly bests its predecessors, and at $400, it’s easy to forgive these shortcomings while reveling in its beautiful picture and sound conveyed via HDMI. Add to that the ability to update the firmware through an Ethernet connection, and you’ve got a real winner.