POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 35
BD-UP5000 Blu-Ray player
as reviewed by Clay Swartz
New Hope for Recorded Music on Disc
This player shows what might be able to save recorded music on disc. CD sales are dropping every year. SACD discs are being produced only for a few jazz and classical titles in the US. DVD-Audio is basically dead. LP sales are minuscule and plagued with the high price of software and hardware. There are also problems with titles and convenience. Current DVD sound, with DTS or Dolby Digital, is hopeless for music. The audiophiles are left hoping that some decent sounding CDs will be made. The problem there is that the industry has little reason to care about sound quality. Most people listen to iPods or small stereo units that can not play high quality sound. Most music is also downloaded in a compressed form over the internet. Also when most people listen to music they are doing something else at the same time. The reasons for this are our busy lives and the fact that music alone is not that involving. With live music concerts you get a visual and aural sense that you canít get from stereo audio. Most people that go to live concerts, go for the atmosphere and visual of the live concerts. The sound of live concerts, if amplified, is usually very poor, but people still go. The new high definition medias offer hope that we will be able experience concerts with a high definition pictures and high quality sound. DVD can offer a decent picture quality of a concert, but the sound quality of DVDs robs the music of life and excitement.
The AV Industry has however shot themselves in the foot, again, with a format war. The adoption of the high definition format has been very detrimentally affected by the competing formats. People are afraid of buying another Beta Vision or DVD-Audio like format that may die. There is also the problem of if you choose one media player, you will be limited in what titles you can buy. LG made a vague attempt to make a player that would play both media, but came up short on quality. Along comes Samsung with a fully functional Duo player. Duo players will hopefully help the acceptance of the high Definition formats and make buyers feel safer in buying a unit. Unfortunately it may also prolong the format war.
I have been very interested in getting a high definition player for over a year, but was not going to invest in only one format or the other. My biggest interest was in the audio capabilities of the players, not the video. I bought into this player some what blindly. Almost no dealers in the Portland area had any kind of an audio setup for the Hi-Def medias. If they did have audio setup, it was usually of very mediocre quality. There were also a lot of reports of discs not playing and machines not recognizing each other through HDMI 1.3. Dealers also had a strong tendency to be demo-ing movies that were not very useful for evaluating picture quality.
Arrival and Setup
The player has a nice glossy black face plate. The build quality seems to be a little above average for mass market consumer electronics. The supplied hookup wires were immediate throw away material. No HDMI cable was provided. The power cord was hard mounted to the player. The remote was of the non-universal type, but fairly good. The player has a HDMI 1.3, 7.1 and stereo analog audio outputs. It also has a coaxial and optical digital audio out. It has an Ethernet connection for future software upgrades. Setup was easier than I expected. I was up and running in about 5 minutes. I hooked up the HDMI output directly to my Sony XBR television. There are only a few receivers or preamp/processors that have HDMI 1.3 and decoding for new audio formats. They are the Onyko Pro 885, Integra 9.8 and some other receivers. None of these are going to get much interest from the audiophile world. I hooked up an analog stereo output to my preamp. My 5.1 inputs on my preamp are being used by my Marantz universal player for SACD and DVD-Audio use. I also hooked up a coaxial digital output to my preamp. I hooked up an Ethernet connection to my cable Ethernet hub. No free discs came with the player, where most Blu-Ray and HD-DVD players come with free discs.
Samsung BD-UP5000 in Use
I have had a lot of problems taking HD discs into stores to test players. There has also been lots of complaints that HDMI equipment has problems seeing each other. This player has recognized and played every disc that I have put in it. Load time is much faster than other players I have seen. In the range of 20 seconds until the first screen appears on video discs. About 10 seconds on CDs. Skipping tracks and track access are fairly quick. One thing is there is no track access by track number. On CDs you must hit next track until the track you want is selected. On Video you must go to the menu, select scenes and then click on the scene you want. This is what happens in most video discs. Navigating the video tracks can be a bit time consuming. One thing I really like is the disc pop up menu that you can reach while playing a disc. With this you can change audio formats, subtitles, and other video parameters on the fly. You used to have to stop playing disc, go to the menu, change the setting and restart the disc. This makes comparison of the different audio tracks much easier. The player played HD-DVD, Blu-Ray, DVD, 96/24 audio DVDs (non DVD-Audio), CDs and CDRs with no problems. There were a few glitches with the start The Fantastic Four Ė Rise of the Silver Surfer however it played fine after the movie started. The player up converts DVD video to 480P, 720P, 1080I or 1080P. I have already done one firmware upgrade through the Ethernet connection. Once you're hooked up to the internet it was flawless at doing the update. Warning! Upon updating, your settings will be reset. It solved The Fantastic Four glitchiness. It also made the player recognize DTS Master sound.
The third generation HD machines have come a long ways since the first generation players. Pictures can look amazingly good with good source material. It is quick to reveal video quality problems. New digital recordings are the top tier of HD video. Next is HD television sources, after that there is big format film. Video and regular TV arenít good sources of quality pictures.
Lighting is very important to picture quality. If there isnít enough light there isnít much color or detail. Cameras and our eyes have problems with low lighting. It is amazing to me that you see a lot of demos using darkly shot movies. Many modern movies are shot with low lighting for effect.
Distance and motion are also problems for video. With distance, there are fewer pixels to describe any object. If it is a fairly constant background like sky or sand, then itís not too bad. If there is a lot of detail and texture, the video has more problems. There are also physical problems with distance. They include haze and air motion.
Speed is also a problem. Like a still camera, if the shutter speed is not fast enough, the picture will be blurred. In video if the frame rate is not fast enough, there will be blurring. On some of the newest HD-TVs there is a feature called 120 Hz technology. When the TV senses motion it doubles the frame rate it is showing. This gives the picture a smoother motion image.
The DVD up conversion was slightly better than my reference up sampling Oppo DVD player. A good DVD can have a very good picture, especially if there arenít much distance shots. The movie The Fifth Element is a good example of what HD can do. The Super Bit DVD version is about as good of a picture as any DVD, and looks great, especially when up sampled. The Blu-Ray disc is even better. In the scene where she is cloned the facial detail is amazing. There is also a much better sense of space to the room they are in. In the scene, where she jumps off the building, the sense of depth when she looks down is even greater. There seems to be more fine detail also. In the scene where they are greeted at the space resort, there is more color intensity, the images just pop out, and there is a better sense of space and detail.
In Star Gaze II the HD-DVD has a more solid picture than the DVD. There is also more detail and color. There is also a better sense of the texture within the expanses of space. This sort of comparison carried on for many discs. HD definitely showed that all discs are not created equally in quality, however. Even within the same disc video quality can vary from scene to scene. The Planet Earth series is a good example. Sometimes the video was very good and at other scenes you wished for a better picture. This is not because of the discs themselves, but the problems with video mentioned above.
As good as my picture was it could have been better. My TV would only accept a1080I or 720P signal, except thru FireWire connection. It did up sample to 1080P. My TV also doesnít have the new 120Hz. technology. It also doesnít have the 24 frames per second capability. Films are shot at 24 frames per second and video changes it to 30 frames per second, which causes some distortion. Only certain models of this year's TVs have all three capabilities. My picture would most likely be even better with one of these sets.
I am using a digital out from the Samsung to my heavily modified Outlaw AV pre amp. My AV sound setup is more like an audiophile audio setup, than a usual AV setup. I am hoping to get a new AV Preamp within the next several months that can decode the new Audio formats thru HDMI connection. These formats are down converted for the regular digital or analog outputs.
My biggest surprise with this player was the audio quality. On playing audio CDs the sound was definitely improved over the Oppo. Imaging was more solid and three dimensional. There was more intelligibility to music. The music was also more dynamic. On PCM uncompressed video discs the sound was very good. One friend felt it was as good as most SACDs. Dolby Digital HD and DTS HD sounded very good.
On Chronos the audio was very good, with shimmer that I have never heard on a videodisc before. I canít wait to hear the DTS Master audio track on this disc. On the Tony Bennett, Chris Botti, and Eagles HD discs all sounded much better than the DVDs. They all had a higher sound quality to them, which you could not get on the DVD. The player even made regular DD and DTS sound better. I really look forward to hearing these discs in HD audio once I get a preamp. I will be issuing an update on the sound at that time.
What are the differences between the audio formats? The answers are compression rates and data transfer rates. First Dolby Digital can transfer about 0.4 megabits per second (mbps) of sound compressed 11 to 1. DTS can transfer 1.5 mbps of sound compressed 4 to 1. Often however they only use half the data transfer rate to save space. Both of these are usually 5.1 channels. The following have 7.1 channel of possible output. Dolby Digital (DD) Plus allows for 6 mbps on BR and 3 mbps on HD-DVD of compressed data. DTS HD offers the same for each media but less compression. DD True HD has up to 18 mbps of 7.1 channel 96/24 uncompressed sound. DTS Master HD has up to 25 mbps of 7.1 channel 192/24 uncompressed sound. This stems from the maximum total (sound and video) data transfer rate of 54 mbps for Blu-Ray and 36 mbps on HD-DVD. HD-TV has a total data transfer rate of about 19 mbps, which is why it does not sound very good. They highly compress audio to get the video out, which is still somewhat compressed.
Manufacturers may not use all the possible band width. The highest data transfer rate I have seen is about 9.6 mbps on a DTS Master Blu-Ray disc. There is a wild card format of various forms of PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) sound. Manufactures sometimes use this to avoid paying licensing for DD or DTS. It is usually stereo, but sometimes 5.1 channel. It varies from 44.1/16 to 192/24 per channel. This can sound very good but takes up a lot of disc space, because it is not as efficient at storing data as Master HD or True HD. The end audio sound depends on a lot more than this for quality however. Quality of recording equipment and recording methods are huge influences on sound quality. Close micing of sound has always been a bad idea. Especially sticking mikes inside the instruments output, such as the bell of a trumpet. In live concerts there are problems with interference with stage monitor and sound amplification systems. There are also room acoustical problems.
One big question is will one or both of the HD Medias die like SACD and DVD-Audio have? The new HD formats are superior to DVD by quite a ways. But so were SACD and DVD-Audio better than CD. The next question is if only one survives, which one will remain? Right now, I feel it will probably be Blu-Ray. It has the most studios backing it. It has a greater storage and data transfer rate. It has a problem with higher cost machines and a thinner layer over the disc that may make it more prone to scratching. Lately BD titles have been selling much better than HD-DVD titles. BD seems to have more and better sales on discs, better distribution and more rental titles. HD-DVD has the advantage of having cheaper machines. This player however makes the second question irrelevant, because it will play either format. One good thing about this player is that if HD-DVD loses the war, you can probably buy new or used discs cheaply and play them.
The case for HD video discs succeeding is strong. The picture quality is definitely better than DVD and slightly better than HDTV. HDTV has several problems that limit its usefulness. First it is at best 1080I or 720P, which is usually compressed. Many of the programs have commercials and are edited for TV. You have to watch programs on their schedule, not yours. Many supposed HD channels only broadcast HD part of the time. Many HD programs are repeated over and over again. Many shows are repeats of past programs from the major networks. Satellite subscription prices are also creeping up fast in the last year. Satellite TV used to be cheaper in cost and better in quality, than cable. Now it is just better.
A monthly bill without premium channels is about $90 dollars with basic HD. You can use a DVR to record programs, but you still have commercials, network logos and mediocre sound. Sound quality is an also a problem with HDTV, they either have compressed Dolby Digital or compressed PCM. DVD has definite sound problems, although it can have better sound than HDTV. Just last night I watched Farm Aid 2007 on HD Net. It was one of the best looking concerts I have seen. Luckily, the sound was decent PCM. This was much better than giving us, highly compressed DD. If this concert would come out on HD disc, I would definitely buy it at a reasonable price to get better sound.
The next discussion area is what HD Video needs to succeed. First of all, the format war needs to be settled or more dual players need to come out at the $500 or less price range. Single format players need to go down to below $300 for the masses to buy them. Disc makers are not excited about putting out discs for only tens of thousands of buyers. The HD rental market needs to be greatly expanded. Most people only want to watch a movie once, and do not want to spend $30 to buy it. Disc prices need to go down to under $20. There is very little I would pay $30 to own. HD discs need to have either DTD Master, DD True HD or at least 96/24 uncompressed soundtracks. The disc Manufactures need to keep a high standard of quality for discs. Many of the movies out now are C and D rated movies. Many discs only have DD, DD-HD or DTS sound. Movies like this will be sold new for $5 on DVD, within a year. I am sure that one of the reasons the Industry uses to justify the high price of discs is to make up for low selling discs. My suggestion is donít make these discs, let DVD handle them. I feel the industry should consider movie, picture and sound quality before they make a disc. If a buyer spends a lot of money on a disc, and itís not good quality, they may be reluctant to buy other discs. I already see a number of this type of discs on the used market. The distribution of concert and nature discs right now is very poor and these are the discs I am most interested in. No local stores carry this type of disc. Even deepdiscount.com has a poor selection. Only Amazon.com has a decent selection. The industry needs to stop asking what is the least they can get by with and ask what is the most they can give a buyer.
The Samsung UP5000 is a very good consumer grade player. It plays almost all major media except SACD and DVD-Audio. It plays them very well. It reduces the apprehension about the format wars. It produces a very good picture for Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, and DVD. As a digital sound transport it is better than anything I have tried at anywhere near its price. Analog outputs, as with all consumer grade electronics, is more of a question mark. Analog sound is much more expensive to do well than digital. Parts numbers and quality, wiring and power supply become very important. The player does not exhibit the problems that I have seen with other players. It does have HDMI 1.3 outputs. It is faster loading than other players I have seen. The only things I would like to see added to the player are number access on CD tracks and the ability to play SACD and DVD-Audio. It would also have been nice to see some free discs with the player. It will be very interesting to see companies like Oppo, Outlaw and Emotiva, with their high quality per dollar ethic, use this technology in players or preamps. It will also be interesting to see audiophile companies get a hold of this technology. This will be my drive unit for a while. For the first time there is hope for the ultimate goal of the audiophile. To be able to recreate a concert in your home with high quality sound and video. Clay Swartz