Samsung’s latest entry level Blu-ray player offers significant advantages over its predecessor model (the BD-P1400 that we reviewed earlier of this year). For audio fans, the BD-P1500’s singular most interesting new feature is the ability to pass both Dolby Digital TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio multi-channel bitstreams via the player’s HDMI output, which the earlier model couldn’t do.
While many early BD releases provided multi-channel wideband PCM soundtracks in addition to so-called “lossy” compressed Dolby Digital and/ or DTS soundtracks, some recent releases are switching instead to one or the other of these new lossless codecs (a contraction of “coder-decoder”). These codecs are two to four times more efficient than wideband PCM bitrate- wise but promise identical bit-for-bit accuracy compared to the original multi-channel studio PCM soundtrack. And, with the recent emergence of sub-$600 A/V receivers from the likes of Denon, Onkyo and others that feature TrueHD and HD-MA decoders, the option of hearing the absolute best possible multi-channel music and movie soundtrack quality is now more cost-effective than ever before.
One of the key benefits, although not widely publicized, of these lossless codecs is that due to their significantly reduced bitrates, compared to wideband PCM, more Blu-ray disc data space is available for improved picture quality (higher video encoding bit-rates) as well as additional space for extra features/featurettes, longer runtimes (extended or director’s cut versions) and the like. Wideband multi-channel PCM audio is ridiculously inefficient, as the bitrate (and the relatively large chunk of disc space that it requires) remains exactly the same from one moment to the next, whether the soundtrack is simple or complicated, whisper quiet or bombastic, or whether one or more channels are exercised (in dialog-driven movies, for instance, it is fairly common for just the center channel to be used, with occasional, limited music and sound effects accompaniment).
Relative to previous models, the new BD-P1500 offers faster disc loading, improved menu handling, and includes the Blu-ray format’s “Bonus View” functionality— essentially a picture-in-picture capability that is also referred to as BD Profile 1.1. This means the viewer can, on titles that support Profile 1.1 functionality, watch a movie and at the same time see and hear the filmmakers’ commentary in a window. A director might explain how he or she was able to construct and capture a specific scene in a film, for example.
The player’s slender remote control is 100 percent standard issue Samsung, which isn’t a bad thing, although the newly-added Bonus View button is relegated to the lowest row of tiny buttons at the bottom. The main function buttons are of the glow-in-the-dark variety, a step up from your typical unlit remote. The Samsung’s setup menu is as clear and concise as you can find. Blu-ray disc loading is quicker than past models, and the menu response time is likewise more speedy.
But first, it’s off to the test patterns, to determine the player’s basic video competency. After all, Samsung has set the bar pretty high with earlier models such as its BD-P1200 (now discontinued, but which I had on hand for comparison). That player sported Silicon Optix’s highly regarded HQV deinterlacer/scaler chip and was especially noteworthy for its exceptional DVD upconversion performance.
Here the BD-P1500 both stumbles and shines. As I ran the player through a variety of test patterns with multiple DVD and Blu-ray test and evaluation discs, it handily passed some deinterlacing trials, but maddeningly failed on others. If a player has a good video processor, it should pass all tests from any test disc. But, the BD-P1500’s video processor seems to have something of a personality here, performing well on some tests but poorly on others.
Moving on to real program material, I tried the coliseum flyover scene in chapter 12 of Gladiator on DVD, which, if a player’s video processor isn’t up to snuff, will exhibit very noticeable and objectionable jaggies and moiré. And, that’s exactly what I saw with the BD-P1500. I also tried other DVDs that have been poorly mastered, such as comedienne Kathy Griffin’s Allegedly and Roy Orbison’s Black & White Night. With the Griffin DVD, players with poor deinterlacing and scaling present very noticeable “tearing,” where streaks of lines appear anywhere there’s quick motion. Surprisingly, the BD-P1500 had no problem with this disc. The Orbison DVD is also similarly poorly mastered and exhibits with some players the same kind of tearing and streaking artifacts. Once again, the BD-P1500 did just fine with this disc.