Thursday, January 03, 2008

Samsung BD-UP5000 Mini-Review

I got this player in from Crutchfield sooner than expected. Rumors had it shipping in mid-January but it showed up on December 19 while I was away. I finally had time to hook it up last weekend. I'm calling this a mini-review because I didn't test the player completely. I had no HD or Blu-ray discs on hand. I decided to do a thorough test using Avia Pro patterns and some familiar DVD content.

This is a dual-format optical disc player. It supports HD-DVD, Blu-ray and DVD as well as CD audio. It features HQV video processing via the Silicon Optix Reon VX chip. It is advertised to support the Blu-ray Final Profile 1.1 as well as Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS, DTS HD, Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio. It features output at every resolution from 480i (analog only) to 1080p and it will output 1080p/24 to a compatible display. It will scale DVDs to 1080p over HDMI only. The component output will play HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs up to 1080i if the Image Restraint Token is not present (no current titles have this). It has an Ethernet port for interactive content and firmware updates. The chassis is identical to the Blu-ray only BD-P1400 player. A shiny black finish (which shows fingerprints if you even think about touching it) covers the entire box, front, top and sides. Interestingly, my player had many fingerprints on it when I unpacked it. There were no other signs that it was used however. I guess the factory worker who boxed it didn't wear gloves that day! Rear-panel connections include HDMI, Component Video, Composite Video and S-Video. There are optical and coaxial digital audio outputs and stereo and 7.1 channel analog audio outs. The overall look is attractive and would certainly look good in any rack.

In this section I'll only report what I tested. There are some other issues which I'll highlight later that I didn't test but are well documented on the AVS Forum in this thread. I hooked up to my Samsung DLP via HDMI and connected a coax cable to my Denon 3806 for audio. I powered on the player after the TV to be sure of a correct HDMI handshake. I had read this player was fussy about the EDID of the display so I didn't want to cause any problems. The player correctly reported all my available resolutions. I set it for 720p and set the audio to Bitstream audiophile. This ensured a direct bitstream of Dolby Digital for decoding in the receiver. I began with Lost Season 3 on DVD. I chose this because my wife and I had just spent the last 2 weeks watching this (our favorite show) so it was familiar and fresh on the brain. I immediately noticed a difference from my reference player, the Denon 2930CI. Unfortunately it was for the worse. Blacks appeared somewhat crushed, color was a bit flat and the overall image seemed a tad soft. This surprised me as both this player and my Denon use the same HQV video processor! Sound quality was excellent. I detected no difference in audio from my Denon player.

After about 20 minutes of Lost, I reached for Avia Pro to view some test patterns. My suspicions about black crush were confirmed. The bottom end was mostly gone. I also noticed the grayscale was not a uniform color of gray. There were color errors at several IRE levels. A smooth ramp pattern showed this even more. At least 15% of the grayscale had a noticable color shift. Some parts were blue, some red and some green. I ran a luma pattern that shows black pluge bars on the left and a steadily increasing field on the right. By the 50% level, the pluge bars had disappeared. My TV does float black levels normally but this player seemed to intensify the effect! I was able to cure the black crush by raising Brightness 5 clicks. This did not affect the color shifts in the grayscale. To the player's credit, it aced all the HQV tests for motion processing and noise reduction. Silicon Optix really does make an excellent product. I just don't think it was implemented well in this player.

Another issue which I found inexcusable was the player's lack of an Auto-Squeeze aspect mode. Even cheap players have this. When playing a 4:3 DVD on a 16:9 TV, the player will automatically change the output aspect ratio so as not to stretch 4:3 content. This player will stretch whether you want it to or not! You can change the aspect on your display if you want but not all TVs support a 4:3 mode over HDMI. It's also very inconvenient when you're watching mixed content like DVD featurettes which change aspect ratios midstream.

After verifying the test patterns again with my Denon player (they were fine and dandy), I decided to return the player to Crutchfield. They are an excellent company to deal with. Their 30-day return policy includes return shipping on their dime so I wasn't out a cent.

Other Things I've Learned
There's a great FAQ on this player compiled by a poster on AVS. Click here to check it out. I'll give you a few of the more important points. DTS HD Master Audio is not yet supported. Dolby TrueHD is only output over 2 channels. Final Profile 1.1 is not supported in firmware. These issued are supposed to be addressed with the first firmware update coming in the next few weeks. There have been reports of various Blu-ray titles not working properly with this player. It is interesting to me (and others) that only Crutchfield, Circuit City and Best Buy seem to have this player for sale. Amazon is telling pre-order customers February 15. Could this be some sort of soft launch or public beta? Who can say?

Needless to say, I am disappointed in this player. I really wanted a one-box solution for all movie formats. I've spent the last 2 days re-thinking my new system and I've come to the realization that I'm going to have to live with 3 players going through a Lumagen video processor to achieve the imaging nirvana I'm seeking. The last straw was the discovery that the 5000 doesn't output 480i over HDMI. This is a must if I'm to use it as a transport for DVD. My new plan is to use an Oppo 970 and separate HD and Blu-ray players. I'm leaning toward the Panasonic BD-30 for Blu-ray and the Toshiba HD-A35 for HD. The cost of the Panny/Toshiba combo is about the same as the Samsung 5000 so no loss there. I have plenty of HDMI switching capability with my new Onkyo 805 receiver and the Lumagen HDP. For now, Samsung still has some work to do to make the BD-UP5000 ready for prime time.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the view!

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