Samsung holds the distinction of being the first company to introduce a Blu-ray player to the American market about a year ago (see our BD-P1000 review in Issue 70). Unfortunately, one of its internal settings softened the picture—hardly what the new format needed during its launch. A few months later, the company issued a firmware update that corrected the problem. Now comes the second-generation BD-P1200 at a much lower list price ($650 vs. $1000). Does it improve on the original? Mostly yes, with a few caveats.
The big buzzword in high-def these days is “1080p,” a confusing term that can refer to a TV with 1920x1080 resolution or a specific type of 1920x1080 signal. Like all Blu-ray players, the BD-P1200 can send a 1080p signal from its HDMI output, but unlike its predecessor, that signal can be delivered at 60 or 24 frames per second. (The BD-P1000 could only send 60fps.)
Because movies are shot and stored on the disc at 24fps, players that can send that frame rate should produce a better picture, assuming your TV can properly handle 24fps—not many can. Why is 24fps better? Because it skips the conversion from 24 to 60fps, which results in smoother motion and an overall better picture.
Another big buzzword is “HDMI 1.3,” referring to the latest version of the one-cable digital A/V connection used on all high-def disc spinners and TVs these days. Version 1.3 includes many new features compared with previous versions, including CEC (Consumer Electronic Control), which allows multiple HDMI-connected devices (TVs, DVD players, receivers, etc.) to be controlled with a single remote. The BD-P1200 implements HDMI 1.3 with CEC, which Samsung calls Anynet+ (more useless marketing mumbo jumbo), and it works only with other Samsung products, not CEC-enabled products from other companies.
You’d think a player capable of delivering a glorious high-definition image would also be able to decode the “studio-quality” soundtracks made possible by advanced codecs (coder-decoders) such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD. However, most Blu-ray players do not support these codecs because they are optional under the official Blu-ray spec that manufacturers must follow. The BD-P1200 is no exception—other than Dolby Digital Plus, it handles only DVD-standard Dolby Digital, DTS, and PCM (uncompressed) audio, all of which offer excellent sound. But if we’re going top-shelf here, why not go all the way?
One big improvement over Samsung’s first-generation player is the addition of an Ethernet port, which facilitates online firmware updates and other Internet-based interactivity—online games, access to movie trailers, and so on—which the movie studios plan to offer on future Blu-ray discs. In fact, I was informed that a firmware update was available for the BD-P1200 before I even unpacked it, so the first thing I did was connect the player’s Ethernet port to Grayscale Studio’s router and run the update procedure, which is initiated from the Setup menu and went without a hitch. The update is designed to correct the player’s incompatibility with the Blu-ray titles Aeon Flux and Pirates of the Caribbean 1 and 2; I loaded these discs after the update, and they played fine.
The remote is almost identical to the BD-P1000’s—it’s a bit longer, a couple of buttons are different, and the transport buttons are now glow-in-the-dark along with the Channel Up/Down, Volume Down, and Mute buttons. However, that glow doesn’t last long in a dark room, and the handset is otherwise not illuminated.
The menu system is well-organized and easy to get around, though it takes a few button pushes to change things such as resolution. Still, once the player is set up for your system, you shouldn’t have to make many changes. And the HDMI settings are now in their own submenu, which makes it easier to tweak them.
As I played various discs in the BD-P1200, it froze once in a while, requiring me to turn the power off and on. This was an intermittent problem, never repeating at the same spot on a given disc. Also, the audio sometimes cut out—again, intermittently and not predictably. When I informed Samsung of these difficulties, they sent a second player, which seemed to work fine—although it did lose the audio once while displaying the menu of Mission: Impossible III on Blu-ray.
Speaking of M:i:III, it looked fantastic overall—the bricks in the outer wall of the Vatican were super sharp and crisp, and the scene in which Ethan creates a mask of the kidnap victim in order to impersonate him was remarkable in the detail of the flying debris, causing me to duck when bits of it flew in my direction. Watching on an Olevia 747i LCD flat panel (see our review in Issue 75), the picture achieved that elusive “looking through a window” effect. The color was gorgeous, with completely natural skin tones and terrifyingly orange explosions.