As announced in March, yet another generation of Samsung Blu-ray players is upon us. Chris Boylan recently shared his experiences with the mid-level (below the new flagship BD-P4600) Samsung BD-P3600 Blu-ray Disc Player and entrusted the new entry-level model, the Samsung BD-P1600 Blu-ray Disc Player, to me. The entire three-player lineup is now Profile 2.0, making it compatible with both BD-Live online interactive content and Bonus View picture-in-picture, still two of the next-generation format's most buzzworthy features. Also common to the line is DVD upscaling all the way to 1080p output, plus onboard decoding for the most advanced Dolby and DTS high-definition audio. As is becoming more popular on a variety of video components, they also stream movies from the Netflix subscription service in high-definition as well as offering free music from Pandora, both owing to the internet port around back.
The BD-P1600 can also access the internet wirelessly, albeit with the additional purchase of Samsung's USB/WiFi adapter, which, at $80, is not particularly inexpensive. Several features--or lack thereof--differentiate this model from its step-up brethren, although even at this affordable level, the player includes the VQE video processor, Samsung's answer to the Silicon Optix's now-famous HQV solution for optimal image quality from both standard- and high-definition sources. The BD-P1600 also offers multi-format disc playback (BD, DVD, CD, MP3, JPEG, AVCHD) and the convenience of front and rear USB ports. Style-wise, the deck greets the world with a sleek full-width front door, which opens automatically whenever the disc tray is ejected.
Crunching Those Zeroes and Ones
So what does VQE mean to ME? Beginning as we usually do with the HQV Benchmark DVD assessment tool and with the player set to upconvert to 1080p output to my Samsung HL-T5087S 50-inch DLP HDTV, our tests revealed the BD-P1600 to be strong out of the gate: The Color Bar/Vertical Detail test pattern flaunted flicker-free image detail in the tiny horizontal lines at Marker 1, with a smooth transition in the color bar from dark to light. "Jaggies" Test Pattern 1 (the single big rotating bar) showed the faintest bit of flicker but no stair-stepping per se, while "Jaggies" Test Pattern 2 (the three shifting short bars) suffered from just enough action on the bottom line to be a concern, but the results were still impressive. The edges of the red and white stripes in "Jaggies" Flag Test weren't perfect, but quite good, while the fine nuances in the brick building in the background were acceptable.
Detail Test (the bridge scene) revealed crisp, natural detail on the gold statue, the stones of the bridge itself, and the grass along the roadside. Noise Reduction (nature footage) was plagued by very noisy skies, and the trees flickered more than I'd have liked. Fortunately noise like this is more prevalent in HDTV broadcasts, not so much in actual Blu-ray Discs or DVDs. On the Motion Adaptive Noise Reduction scenes, the images were definitely, y'know, noisy, but with minimal smearing at least.
On the Film Detail Test/3:2 Detection (the Super Speedway clip), the player locks to the underlying film-based cadence super-quickly and delivers a dependably sharp image from then on. Heading into the Film Cadence steeplechase, there was frequent flickering on the coffee cups in many of the video formats, although the jaggies on the newspaper were less of an issue. And in Mixed 3:2 Film Mixed with Added Video Titles, both the horizontal and vertical text crawls were solid. So except for some persistent video noise issues, upconversion of standard DVD is downright respectable.
On the Diagonal Filter "Jaggies" Test - Pattern A (the trio of lines), even the difficult bottom bar was wonderfully smooth, and on "Jaggies" Test - Pattern B (single bar) the ends of the big bar too were rendered plenty good, with only the slightest hint of jag. The Film Resolution Loss Test (moving test pattern) showed pleasingly strobe-free corner boxes with clear horizontal lines, but the troublesome Film Resolution Loss Test - Stadium exhibited definite flickering in the grandstands which did eventually give way to a full-blown moiré pattern in the upper deck, on the right side of the screen. Bummer, the player was having a very good run on high-quality Blu-ray content. Of course, this will only affect 1080i content, which is a fairly small portion of what's available on Blu-ray Disc and it's still better than many other players in this respect.
Technical tests behind me, I switched to some favorite, familiar movie discs. First up was the Blade Runner Blu-ray, and the BD-P1600 exquisitely renders the ugly beauty of Los Angeles, 11/2019 with a crisp, natural look that perfectly balances all the elements of a demanding image, imparting a really warm, filmic appearance, the omnipresent BD-busting rain and smoke notwithstanding. My kids and I have been watching The Incredibles, a real A-List DVD, quite a lot lately, and it's been making me Jones for the day of the inevitable Blu-ray. When upconverted to 1080p, the difference is not so much an increase in perceptible detail, which has always been above average for this DVD, rather a marked reduction of the hazy, blocky distractions which we used to ignore in the standard-def era but which are harder to overlook now that we've lived in HD for a few years, so kudos there.
33 Seconds to Johnny Depp
Loading times are of course a strong indicator of performance and so, stopwatch in-hand, I tried a variety of discs. From the time I inserted the Bug's Life Blu-ray until Johnny Depp appeared ("We have our heading!" at the beginning of the Walt Disney promo, all-too-familiar to frequent buyer/renter/reviewers) 33 seconds had elapsed, and then another 22 seconds to launch the BD-Java menus. The countdown graphic for this title is a series of seeds on screen, and more of them appeared with the BD-P1600 than with the PlayStation 3, my reference standard, which took only 15 seconds to launch the menus by comparison. The PS3 did however need an additional eight seconds to achieve Johnny Depp, 41 versus 33, on the same disc compared to the PlayStation 3. Worth noting is that the BD-P1600 maintains the jaw-dropping image quality of A Bug's Life, with only a bit of unfortunate strobing in the opening shot as the virtual camera tilts up from the water to the tree.
Taking a page from the book of Boylan, I used the Gladiator DVD to gauge the player's nimbleness on previous-gen content. The 12 seconds to start playing was certainly not problematic, and the aerial establishing shot of Rome (actually a scale model borrowed from a local museum) was solid and sharp despite the many different hard angles and the camera move, plus the cloud layer. In between was a first-round, non-BD-Java title, Underworld Evolution, which started playing in 16 seconds, another four for the menus to load, versus 24/4 on slower PS3.
BD-Live worked smoothly on a variety of discs from different studios, but only after I plugged a one-gigabyte USB flash memory drive into one of the two ports. (The BD-P1600 has no local storage built-in.) Bonus View picture-in-picture worked fine on multiple titles. Sonically, we know from my review of the Samsung HT-AS730ST Home Theater Receiver with 5.1 Speaker System that the audio prowess of the BD-P1600, which I used as my source component, is enjoyable and issue-free when the decoded multichannel PCM signal is fed to a compatible receiver.
Flicks, Via the 'Net
Setup and functionality for the touted Netflix video and Pandora music features was the same as Chris Boylan touched upon in his Samsung BD-P3600 review, and in greater detail in his Netflix Streaming story. I did encounter two minor frustrations, one less than the other. Firstly, every supported device is different and so the final setup process is not standardized, although it is pretty simple, with straightforward instructions. With my newly opened Netflix account, I walked a four-digit code proffered on screen by the player back to my PC, where I enter it at Netflix.com/activate. Seconds later I was ready to rock, needing only to begin adding titles to my Watch Instantly Queue, again at the computer.
This is where the other bump occurred: During the selection process on the computer, there is no clear indication as to which titles are available in HD and which not. If we have chosen wisely, once a title appears in the queue on the player however, there is a little "HD" icon below the poster art. In only about 30 seconds, the Blu-ray player was actively synched to my account, my first selection (Wall-E) was ready to view, and another half-minute later it had buffered and began playing. This is such a gorgeous movie, I assumed--mistakenly as it turned out--that it would be offered in high-def. It appeared to be the full-wide aspect ratio and even packed a digital soundtrack, but the video quality was severely compressed and nowhere near what I would consider "HD." A "Quality" status indicator fills up with vertical lines during the buffering process, but without some official reference standard, that counter is essentially meaningless.
Thankfully, The Other Chris recommended the Oscar-winning documentary feature Man on Wire, which was available in high-definition via Netflix streaming as confirmed by the little "HD" logo I got on screen in the quality bar while the film began buffering. At the HD standard aspect ratio of 1.78:1, the film looked quite a bit like one of my Dish Network HD channels, except with an undeniable layer of visible compression, but striking nonetheless. I must admit that this fast, affordable, all-you-can-eat business model (almost like a microwave buffet) is extremely compelling, even without the coming and going of physical discs in the mail.
Although positioned at the lower-end of their current crop, the Samsung BD-P1600 is still a versatile player offering the latest features (Netflix, Pandora, BD-Live, DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD decoding) and performance that the competition would be hard-pressed to beat.
Where to Buy:
Features/Specifications of the BD-P1600:
Samsung Electronics America, Inc.
105 Challenger Road
Ridgefield Park, NJ 07660