Well, I tried out the HD-DVD, so I really wanted to take home one of these new Blu-ray players to see how they compared. Thanks to BEST BUYs 30 day return policy, I had nothing to lose. The Units went on sale on June 25th, 2006, and I found three at my local Best Buy in Brockton. The Blu-ray DVD player sells for $1,000.00, and the movies range from $25.00 to $29.00. I was pleased because I got FOUR movies for free with the purchase of the Blu Ray player. I chose four movies that I like that I have in my collection, so that I could make comparisons. The movies that I purchased for my tests are House of Flying Daggers, Underworld-Evolution, The Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Fifth Element. I talk a lot about 1080p and i,and if you don't understand, skip to the bottom and read my explanations.
Set Up I have to admit, setting the unit up was pretty easy. I opened up the box, gently removed the wrap, and set it up above my cable box. I unplugged my cable box's component video cables, and optical input cable and plugged them into the Blu-ray player. (That way I didn't have to worry about the other ends, as the video was already plugged into my Westinghouse HDTV, and the optical audio was already plugged into my Denon Receiver). I was also pleased to see that the Unit comes with an HDMI cable, component cables,and regular Composite video cables and analog audio cables. The HDMI cable will carry both video and audio signal, however, unless you have an HDMI input on your receiver, you won't really have a one stop solution for sound and vision. I say this because even though many newer HDTV's have HDMI inputs, they have very poor audio, and the audio outs of a DVD player really should be routed to your Receiver. Realistically for the OPTIMAL output with a Blu-Ray player, you need an HDTV with HDMI input, and one capable of 1080P. I would note that most HDTVs do NOT have 1080P capability. My own Westinghouse is 720P compliant, and that is what I set it at. All the Blu-ray discs I got output 720p over the component video cable. For optimal audio out, use your receivers 5.1 analog inputs, and use the Blu-ray's 5.1 analog outputs. The Blu-Ray will output uncompressed Audio. I had to unhook my DVD-Audio/Video players 6 cables to the back of the Blu-Ray player to test the uncompressed audio. My receiver, and every receiver I know of, including very expensive receivers only have ONE set of multichannel analog inputs. If you also want DVD Audio and SACD, you either have to choose between one, or get an elaborate switch box. Blu-Ray doesn't play SACDs or DVD-Audios.
Inputs / Outputs, and what you need!
With HDMI compatible equipment and a 1080p monitor, you can enjoy the full video resolution. You need HDMI or multichannel analog inputs on your receiver to enjoy full audio capability. Otherwise the optical and digital outs will give you Dolby Digital or DTS formats.
With Component cables you can enjoy all but 1080p video, the component cables (that's the set of 3) you get 1080i, 720p, 480p or 480i. My tests were all done using 720p, because my HDTV monitor has resolution of 1280 x 720.
With only S-Video or composite video inputs, don't waste your money!, you will only get 480i which ANY DVD player will deliver. (and I would add, a progressive scan DVD player needs at least Component cables to deliver 480p)
So, the Blu Ray has HDMI output (and includes an HDMI cable!), component cable outs (and component cables included), S-Video out and composite video out.
For Audio, the Blu Ray has 6 analog outs (so anyone with multichannel inputs can enjoy the new audio formats, because the Blu-Ray does the D/A conversion), optical digital out, and coaxial digital out for Dolby Digital, DTS and other digital formats and regular stereo analog outs.
Looks Well for a grand and the latest in technology, all we have is a not that heavy DVD player that has a wheel for FF Rewind, Play and Stop that lights up BLUE and the Blu-Ray logo that lights up BLUE! Oh, and the power button lights up BLUE! I get it, Blu-Ray - Blue, okay. There is also a small button you press to let the Unit know if you are using HDMI, component cables or composite cable. For a grand, can't the machine tell? Aside from that, you have the open button, which causes the tray to come out for the DVD. I still say my Meridian CD player has, by far, the coolest transport mechanism, but then again, Meridian CD players cost a lot more (unless you find a great price used, like I did). In short, it looks cheap, and I don't really like the button lay-out.
Start UP / Directions I had a slight snag in start up, I loaded House of Flying Daggers and was greeted with a blank screen. I then decided perhaps to read the directions, and after pushing a button to indicate TV OUT component cables, and set the menu settings to 720p, I was then able to watch my HoFD BD. I would note that the directions are clear and easy to use! I put in my regular DVD of House of Flying Daggers in my Pioneer Elite 45A, which was hooked up via component cables and set to 480P. So for my comparisons, I had the Blu-Ray hooked up via component cables, because I don't have an HDMI input, and I had the output set to 720p, because my HDTV doesn't support 1080P. A slightly larger Westinghouse, the 42 inch does support 1080P and is only $2000.00, but I don't have that to spend at the moment, I only tell you, if you want the cheapest alternative to view the full 1080P output of the Blu-Ray player.
Let the Tests Begin
House of Flying Daggers On this disc, I could clearly see the superiority of Blu-Ray. I watched the bean scene. The costumes of the woman performing the bean dance and everyone watching are very elaborate. The room is also full of colorful items. The costumes looked slightly better and things looked a bit crisper. One particular detail I noticed a large difference in was the group of women watching the spectacle. On my DVD player, the women looked a bit out of focus in the background. On the Blu-Ray, every detail of their faces was very clear. In this movie, several scenes all just looked crisper and cleaner. For example, when the master of the house tosses all the beans against the drums, you can see the individual flight of each bean on the Blu-Ray disc, but on the DVD they are slightly blurred. In the action scenes the resolution difference is more noticable, there is less blur. Blu-Ray is also noticably crisper in scenes with lots of color, and House of Flying Daggers abounds with these scenes.
HoFD- audio The sound of the uncompressed audio is like DVD-Audio is to regular CD. It is just cleaner, a bit louder and clearer. Maybe Blu-Ray doesn't support DVD-Audio because if Music concerts are released on Blu-Ray, we would have the best of both worlds, 1080p video and uncompressed pure audio bliss. I didn't see any audio releases when I picked up the player, but I would imagine that they would be somewhere down the line. The uncompressed audio track was noticably louder and just as clean and crisp as the Dolby Digital track, if not a bit crisper. I could hear every bean! Even little details like when the master of the house goes through the doorway and brushes aside the hanging beads, the beads can all be heard as they are pushed aside.
Underworld - Evolution I picked my favorite scene in this movie to compare my rented DVD to the Blu Ray DVD. I was rather unimpressed this time by the difference in 720P v. 480p. (keep in mind, I didn't get to enjoy full 1080p because my HDTV doesn't support it). Michael Speedman unzips Kate Beckinsale's leather jumpsuit and makes love to her in the harsh blue light. Beckinsale's skin tone looks really about the same on the DVD and the Blu-Ray disc. (Oh, what scene did you think I was going to pick?) Blacks aren't any deeper, and flesh tones aren't any more accurate. In fact, I found that the Blu-Ray disc was actually a bit DARKER. In a later scene, Beckinsale and Speedman go to visit an exiled vampire for information. He is making out with a vampire lady, and another vampire lady approaches his bed in a black bra and panties. On the DVD, her form and outfit are clearly visible from the moment we see her until she lays down on the bed. On the Blu-Ray, we see the woman approach in shadow, and don't realize what she is wearing until she is near the bed, and in the light. Then we see that she is wearing black bra and panties. I double checked my HDTV monitor to make sure that the contrast and brightness settings were the same for both inputs and watched the test again. The regular DVD was actually noticably clearer than the Blu-Ray! For clarity, I also watched Kate Beckinsale's love scene again (and again), just to be sure that I was able to present you with an informed opinion of Blu-Ray. The Blu Ray disc wasn't any clearer, unless I sat almost on top of the TV, and in many instances was actually DARKER!
The Fifth Element I own this DVD in Superbit, which is a great mastered DVD in DTS Surround with superbit video. Yet, it is still only 480p. So why did my superbit look better than my Blu-Ray Disc? I don't know, but in most scenes it did. Blu-Ray looked darker with less contrast, and the Superbit actually won out. I watched side by side the scene in which Lelu (Mila Jovavich) falls off the building and into Bruce Willis's cab. Sorry to say Blu-Ray, but I liked my Superbit DVD better! Regrettably, I think this may be a product of the movie rather than the player, because I also own some CDs that are superior to the poorly mastered SACD title. If you think that EVERY Blu-Ray movie will be better than your regular DVD, you may well be wrong.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day Again, the video is just a bit crisper. Here, I didn't have the problem with the Blu-Ray being darker. Terminator 2 didn't have uncompressed audio, but it did have DTS-ES and Dolby Digital EX. One thing I noticed is that the Blu-ray player does a better job with the decoding. When I used the six analog inputs, allowing the Blu-Ray player to decode the DTS-ES signal, it was louder and a bit cleaner than with the optical digital feed (which allows the Receiver to decode the DTS-ES signal). Bottom line, I am very impressed with the Blu-ray's audio qualities!
Remote control I don't like it! There I said it. For a thousand dollar player, why do I have a remote that feels so insubstantial in my hand? The buttons are so small, I have to turn on my lights to look at the button. On my Pioneer Elite remotes, the buttons are big and fat, and nice for my fingers, on the Samsung, they are small, and not easy to locate. I realize that some of this is due to the fact that I am used to my Pioneer remotes, but some of the blame is the button size. Have these folks heard of backlit Remotes? or at least glow in the dark?
Menus on DVDs Like your cable TV box, you can look at the menu and select other stuff while still watching the program that you were watching when you hit menu. On a regular DVD player, if you hit the menu button, it takes you out of the program. Blu-Ray lets you access the menus, overlayed on the playing program. (HD-DVD allowed you to do this as well)
Other Stuff Blu Ray holds more info than HD-DVD. Lossless audio is, to me a good thing. The big problem with MP3s is that to get a file size so small, you lose quality. I enjoy DTS more than Dolby Digital, and from what I have read, I beleive it is largely because DTS is a less compressed audio format than Dolby Digital. DVD-Audio is a less compressed version of audio than a Compact Disc. Eventually I think Blu Ray could be good. To really enjoy it, somewhere down the road, I would like to get Westinghouses 1080P HDTV with HDMI inputs to really enjoy the full resolution. At least it is in the realm of afforability. A few other companies make them, but you really have to pay attention, many HDTV's including my own support 720p, but not 1080p. (look at the resolution, is it 1280 x 720 or 1980 x 1080?). However, my biggest complaint is that a true 1080p projector (my preferred way to watch movies!) is still 10 Grand! That's a huge chunk of change! My 480p projector looks great with component video inputs. 720p projectors have approached the 2,000 price point however, and 720p is an improvement. I wish I had a Receiver with an HDMI input though, because I don't want to have to choose between my DVD-Audio player and Blu Ray for the multi channel analog inputs to enjoy the advanced resolution tracks or the uncompressed audio tracks.
Understanding Progressive v. Interlaced
In HDTVs and DVD players people talk about 480p and 480i or 1080i, and you may not understand. Quick lesson, the number is the number of lines going horizontally down your TV! 480 means 480 lines of video information from top to bottom of your TV. 1080 means 1080 lines of info on your TV. P means progressive. That means all the lines show at all times! I means interlaced, that means first all the odd lines show up, then a split second later, all the even lines are displayed, then odd, then even etc. Progressive is more film like and 480p is better than 480i. The higher the number of lines, the better. 720 is better than 480, and 1080 is best of all. Blu-Ray is impressive because it can deliver 1080p, which is even better than HDTV which is usually 1080i.
Summary Blu-Ray has the potential to rock, but only if you have all the latest gear. I still don't have a true 1080p monitor, and can't even hope to afford a true 1080p projector, so this units full potential is unrealized. I do have the analog inputs necessary for the full audio potential, it is like DVD-Audio quality. Price no object, Blu-ray gets 5 stars. However, we live in the real world, and you only get full potential with a select few HDTVs, it is expensive, movies are limited and expensive, and in some instances, DVDs of the regular variety were clearer and brighter than the Blu Ray DVD. However, I did feel that it was better than Toshiba's HD-DVD, and give Blu Ray 4 stars. I haven't decided yet whether Best Buy will get this back or not, but I do think that I will eventually buy and keep a Blu-Ray player (assuming I decide to keep this one, which I purchased to review and see for myself how Blu-Ray performed)
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Amount Paid (US$): 1,000.00