Well… I’ve had my first experience with Blu-ray Disc, and Samsung’s BD-P1000 Blu-ray Disc player. For the record, I have four titles on hand… The Fifth Element and The Terminator (from Sony and MGM) and Lord of War and Crash (from Lionsgate).
You know how I keep saying that these formats are being rushed to market about a year before they’re ready? And you recall how hard I was on the HD-DVD camp for their klutzy launch and buggy hardware? And you know how I said that Blu-ray Disc looked like the superior format, at least on paper? Well… unfortunately, the Blu-ray camp has dropped a dud with their big launch too. Every bit as klutzy as HD-DVD. Think Clark Kent klutzy, or Gerald Ford klutzy, or Chevy Chase playing Gerald Ford klutzy.
Let’s start with the Samsung player. Nice box, nice packaging. You pull the BD-P1000 out of said packaging and it looks pretty badass. Love the lines. It’s a much nicer looking player than Toshiba’s HD-A1, though it’s lighter and feels a little less solid. The BD-P1000’s remote is nicer too… not backlit unfortunately, but it feels better in your hand and the buttons are laid out more conveniently.
Connection via HDMI is pretty easy. You fire the BD-P1000 up and the first thing you notice is a sexy blue glow from the various openings on the player. Nice… except I have yet to find a dimmer. And it’s just a little too bright, you know? Anyway… the player fires up very quickly. You get a welcome screen within about 5 seconds of power-on. BIG improvement over the Tosh HD-DVD player. You can load a disc after less then 30 seconds, also an improvement over the Tosh. I also like that when it’s loading or thinking, you get a little onscreen icon to let you know, rather than just nothing. At least you feel like the thing is doing something. For whatever reason, the player defaults to 720p output via HDMI… you have to go into the setup menu to select 1080i. Okay, so that’s what I did.
Now it’s time to look at my first Blu-ray Disc. Naturally, my hand swerved towards The Fifth Element. The title was an amazing bit of reference work on standard DVD, and that Superbit version was awesome. Obvious choice, right? Should look amazing in HD. Yeah… it should. But it doesn’t. In fact… I’m not going to come out and say it looks like crap, but it is easily the worst looking high-definition title I’ve seen yet, and I’ve seen 30+ titles now. The image is muddy looking, lacking in crisp, clean detail. The colors don’t quite pop off the screen like they should. Just a mess. Okay… I will say it. It looks like crap. Sony should never have released this title like this. In fact, they should be embarrassed about this disc. Seriously, if you compare the upscaled Superbit standard-definition DVD to this, the Blu-ray Disc looks only marginally better. This should have been a reference title in high-def and it’s not even in the ball park. My brow furrowed in troubled surprise at this point. Wow… and not the good kind.
Next, I tried The Terminator. A big improvement. This is easily the best quality I’ve ever seen The Terminator looking before. Still… it’s a little bit soft and gritty looking, but then it’s an older film and that’s the nature of the film stock used. The disc is very good looking, but not blow-you-away good. In any case, this is probably not the best title to test the video quality of Blu-ray Disc, so let’s move on.
Now these two Lionsgate titles… they’re much better looking. Crash and Lord of War have significantly improved clarity, crisp yet clean detail, vibrant color… they’re much more like what I expected Blu-ray Disc would look like. Both have a more film-like image. And yet…
There are some problems I’m seeing right away with all of the Blu-ray Disc titles on the BD-P1000. First, when I switch to 1080i, I’m noticing some very obvious scaling issues that I don’t see when the player is set to 720p. I also don’t see anything like this on the Toshiba HD-A1 at any resolution, so this is specific to THIS player, which may be why Samsung ships it with 720p set by default. Second, I’m noticing a very slight “studdering” problem. About once a second, or maybe once every few seconds, the video seems to hesitate for just a instant - a tiny fraction of a second. You notice it most when the images on screen are moving quickly, or when the camera is panning. It may be that this issue is related to the first. Still trying to figure out what I’m seeing here. Lionsgate’s Lord of War was the title where I noticed it first, and I’ll have to check them all before knowing whether it’s just this title or all of the discs. Again, it’s not something I’ve seen on any HD-DVD titles thus far.
By the way, I haven’t tested the Samsung’s standard DVD upconversion capability to any real degree yet. Just FYI.
If I had to compare my initial impressions of Blu-ray Disc to those of HD-DVD… well, I certainly need to see more Blu-ray titles and spend more time with the player. I’m really just giving you my initial, off-the-cuff comments, based on less than 10 hours of viewing time with the Samsung. It’s worth noting that we’ve only seen one player for each format, so it’s hard to say what issues are specifically related to the players, and what are format related. But right now… I think I may end up giving Round One of this format war to HD-DVD, and that surprises the hell out of me. Sure, that Tosh HD-DVD player was a lemon until the firmware upgrade, but it’s worked like a charm since. And the first 25 or so HD-DVD discs I’ve viewed just look better overall than the first 4 Blu-ray Discs I’ve seen. The HD-DVDs also have a LOT more extra features than the Blu-ray Discs (even if you consider that most of the extras are recycled from standard DVD). For the record, Terminator on Blu-ray has 7 deleted scenes and 2 featurettes, recycled from standard DVD. Fifth Element has a pop-up trivia track, again from the standard DVD. The Lionsgate titles have nothing. I keep hearing these comments (both official and unofficial) from Blu-ray execs saying that they’re leaving off the extras so they can give all the extra disc space over to the best video quality possible. Which tells me that Blu-ray is having major disc space problems. I’ve heard from more than a few industry sources that Blu-ray is having trouble getting the dual-layered BD media to work, which means that discs with lots of extras and good video quality aren’t an option now. It also means that longer movies aren’t an option now either. Both are problems for this format that don’t seem to be troubling HD-DVD at the moment - at least not at first glance, based on the initial title offering.
What all of this goes to prove, of course, is just what I’ve been saying all along: These formats are being rushed to market before they’re ready. And it also proves that the best option for the vast majority of you out there is just to save your money. Don’t even bother with Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD for at least a year, because there are significant bugs to be worked out yet. Wait until better hardware and software is available at a better price, and the early adopter types have dealt with the problems and getting the manufacturers and studios to fix them. Anyway, I’ll have more to say about Blu-ray Disc and the Samsung player in the next few days, as I spend a little more time with it. But so far, I’m less than impressed.