Introduction and Tests
It seems that the time for hi-def player has definitely arrived. Discs can be easily found for buying at any Wal-mart and you can easily rent the latest releases on any Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. And the greatest news is that this month Blu-Ray players have finally dropped below the $300 mark, with players from Samsung (BD-P1400, the one we are going to cover in this review) and from Sony (BDP-S300) costing $299.99 at any Best Buy. In this short review you will see why we don’t recommend this model from Samsung.
Connecting Samsung BD-P1400 to our setup – which consisted of a 47” 1080p HDTV set from LG (47LC7DF) and a Sony STR-DG510 receiver – was really easy.
One of the features from BD-P1400 is the auto detection of the maximum resolution your screen can support and automatically configure the player to use it. The idea behind this feature is to prevent the Average Joe from configuring the unit at a resolution his display doesn’t support, which would cause the unit to be “locked,” as it would be sending an unsupported signal to the TV and you could easily reverse the last configuration as you can’t see the menu on the screen. If this unit didn’t have this function you would need to reset your unit, which on Samsung BP-P1400 is a very easy procedure: just press the skip chapter forward key for 5 seconds.
The player recognized the full resolution of our TV, so the installation process was really plug and play.
Also, this unit sends audio signal through the HDMI connector, which is really convenient if you receiver has an embedded video switcher. This feature, present on several home theater receivers, allows you to simultaneously switch your audio and video by the press of a button. For example, when you press “DVD” on the receiver, it will automatically play the audio being sent by your DVD player (in our case, the Blu-Ray player) and send the DVD video (Blu-Ray video, in our case) signal to your TV, at the same time. By selecting “Video 2,” for instance, it will switch both audio and video to whatever equipment is connected to that input (your cable decoder, for example). On receivers without this feature you can only select the audio input, not the video, so you have to switch the audio input on the receiver and the video input on your TV.
If you don’t have a receiver with a video switcher then you will need an extra audio cable, since you will need to connect the player to your TV using a HDMI cable and use an audio cable to connect the player to the receiver, preferably an optical SPDIF cable (a.k.a. Toslink cable), if your receiver has an optical SPDIF input available. Otherwise you will need to use a coaxial SPDIF cable (a.k.a. RCA mono cable).
Talking about cables, you will need to buy them as this unit doesn’t come with any cable at all. If your receiver has an embedded video switcher you will need to buy two HDMI cables, one to connect your player to your receiver and another to connect your receiver to your TV. If it doesn’t, then you will need to buy one HDMI cable to connect your player to your TV and one audio cable (optical or coaxial SPDIF, depending on what you have available on your receiver) to connect your player to your receiver.
From what we’ve been seen on the market, the most common HDMI cable lengths are 3 feet, 6 feet and 12 feet. We tried them all and three feet proved to be too short to connect the player to the TV, but if you are using a receiver with an embedded video switcher and you will place the player on top of it, this length is adequate. To connect your player or receiver to your TV you will need a 6-feet cable if the player or receiver is right below or right above your TV. If they are more distant than that, then you need to buy a 12-feet cable.
A final tip for buying cables: research carefully for prices. HDMI cables can be easily found being sold by USD 40, while the same cable costs less than USD 10 at Newegg.com.
Before playing a Blu-Ray disc we decided to play a DVD. After all even if you don’t have a huge DVD collection the number of movies available on any high-def format is still too low, so you will probably still play a lot of DVDs. Here we found the major flaw of this unit. As you can clearly see in Figure 1, DVD discs do not fill the full screen. We are not talking about the traditional black bars that appear on the top and on the bottom of widescreen movies, but an entire black frame around the movie, making the movie play inside a window, if you will.
As we pressed the pause key, we could clearly see that the unit was sending 1080p signal to the TV filling up all the screen, because the status bar on the top of the screen was perfectly filling up the top portion of the screen, as you can see in Figure 1. This wasn’t an issue with the screen aspect ratio configuration either, as we played with all possible configurations on both player and TV. By using the TV’s zoom function we could have a better aspect, but we still had a little bit of black border and the player menu would go out of sight. It is also important to say that with other players our DVDs played just fine filling up the whole screen.
Apparently this problem was being caused by the lack of a function to manually set the 4:3 mode to be used. We had the exact same problem with Sony BDP-S300, but this unit from Sony has an option called “4:3 Video Out” that after we changed from “normal” to “full” solved our issue. Unfortunately we couldn’t solve this problem on this unit from Samsung.
We stopped our tests here. It wasn’t worthwhile seeing how this unit played Blu-Ray discs. If a new unit cannot play our DVD collection the way it supposed to be, then the unit pretty much worthless.
Another problem with this unit is that you may need a firmware upgrade to play the latest Blu-Ray movies. On Blu-Ray discs the menus are written in Java and the latest movies are using a version that is newer than the one used by the player, causing this incompatibility. This same problem happens with units from other brands as well.
The firmware upgrade process on this unit is very easy to be performed. You can either download a CD image from Samsung’s website, burn it to a CD and then put this CD to play on your unit or simply connect your player to your broadband Internet connection (the unit features an Ethernet port) and choose the firmware upgrade option from the player menu. This Ethernet port is really handy and this feature is not found on its main competitor, Sony BDP-S300.
Unfortunately we cannot recommend a unit that has so many flaws. The bottom line is: don’t buy this unit.