Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray Disc Player

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COURTESY OF SAMSUNG

After months of spear shaking on both sides, the first skirmishes in the high-definition disc format wars have begun. In early May, I looked at Toshiba’s chosen format, HD DVD. Today, I present the very first Blu-ray disc player, Samsung’s significantly more expensive BD-P1000.

With so much build-up, it's funny to finally sit down with the product and realize that, at best, it is what it's supposed to be: a glorified DVD player. Don't get me wrong — even if you have high-definition cable or satellite TV service, it's exciting to pop in a good movie and see how much clearer it is than a standard-definition DVD. With a picture resolution of 1920 x 1080 lines (over 2 million pixels) rather than DVD's 720 x 480 (nearly 350,000 pixels), it can't help but look nicer. In fact, it is possible that our eyes really couldn't benefit from anything higher in quality than Blu-ray or HD DVD.

Still, when I got the Samsung Blu-ray, and loaded the first of a handful of currently available Blu-ray discs from Sony Pictures and Lionsgate, the player took very little skill to evaluate. It would either play, or it wouldn't. At first — to my dismay and to Samsung's — it wouldn't.

For some reason, the first Blu-ray discs I tried in the player were spat out as unreadable. I tossed in a regular DVD, and it played just fine. Only after a day or so did the player inexplicably begin to recognize Blu-ray media. After its change of heart, I had no trouble with any discs, even ones it had previously rejected. Samsung assures me this problem can be solved with a firmware upgrade, administered via disc. The company also stated that its review samples were not from the same production run as the ones now in retail, but I still urge caution. The BD-P1000 is first-generation equipment, and it, like Toshiba's HD DVD player, may be buggy. (Toshiba recently told me that it too was offering a firmware update disc for its player.)

Bugs aside, the dude-friendly movies ranging from sci-fi fantasies like Ultraviolet and Underworld: Evolution to big brooders like Crash and Lord of War (plus Hitch, for some reason) looked smooth and flawless on my 42-inch plasma TV, and captured an even more cinematic brilliance on Samsung's 50-inch DLP TV. The DLP has a screen resolution of 1920 x 1080 (known in the biz as 1080p), not accidentally the same resolution as Blu-ray disc content itself.

When I told a friend of mine about the high-definition movie viewing afforded by Blu-ray (and by HD DVD), he wasn't impressed. He said, “This is how it's supposed to be.” Standard DVDs may sell big, but their content is simply the wrong size for the high-definition TV sets finding their way into more and more homes across the country. One high-def disc format must win, though it's still too early to know which. There will likely be a balanced roster of titles on each side by Christmas — HD DVD anchored by Universal and Warner Bros, with additional movies from Paramount, with Sony, Lionsgate, Fox and Disney leading the Blu-ray lineup. Paramount and Warner have pledged to make Blu-ray discs, too, but I'll wager that the two studios' respective aces, the Star Trek box set and The Matrix Trilogy, appear in HD DVD first. Once again, tables may turn when the $600 Blu-ray-equipped PlayStation 3 launches this November, but for the moment, Samsung's Blu-ray player costs twice as much as Toshiba's HD DVD player, and just isn't twice as good.