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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 October 2006, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Blu-ray player put to the test
By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

High definition movies have finally arrived in the UK in the shape of the first Blu-ray player from Samsung, the BD-P1000.

For more than two years we have been tantalised with promises of knockout picture quality that would make ordinary DVD video look tired and monochromatic. But does the reality match the hype?

Samsung's first UK Blu-ray player is a sleek unit that outwardly resembles an ordinary DVD player.

Samsung Blu-ray
Capacity: 50GB (dual-layer)
Scratch resistant coated disks
Video resolution (max): 1920*1080 (1080p)
Players are backwards compatible
Supported by seven of the eight major film studios
On Friday the BBC News website will be answering your questions about Blu-ray and high definition video

Blu-ray DVDs are capable of holding 50GB of information, almost 10 times that of ordinary DVD discs. That ability to hold much more data means movies with much greater resolution can be stored on the disc.

The Samsung player can output movies in 1920*1080 (1080p) resolution, the highest quality that today's high definition TVs can offer.

Those are the raw numbers but what is the visual experience actually like?

We were watching movies on a Samsung HDTV (high definition television) and the leap from DVD to high definition was immediately obvious.

Colours seemed richer, everything on the screen had a tangible sharpness and the range of light from the sun of a pavement to the shadows of an alleyway was rendered beautifully like a high dynamic range photo.

High definition picture quality is sumptuous although my television, like many other HDTVs, struggled in darker scenes.

HD-DVD player
Rival HD-DVD players are released in the UK later this year

I had a few problems with the Samsung player, however. I could not get the player to output audio in 5.1 surround sound.

The player told me it was sending 5.1 audio to my amplifier but it was resolutely telling me that the sound was mere 2.1 surround sound. After an hour of trying to solve it I gave up.

The other problem, and one that is rather more worrying, is that despite being advertised as backwards compatible, I could not get the machine to play ordinary DVDs.

Time and time again it told me to either "check the disk" or "check the TV screen".

All Samsung's advertising states the machine can indeed play ordinary DVDs so I must assume this is a one-off problem with the player I was testing.

The first batch of Blu-ray videos have had their pictures encoded in Mpeg 2, a codec that is shared by ordinary DVDs.

That has led to some complaints about picture quality when compared to rival HD-DVD, which is encoding movies using a more advanced codec.

Unfortunately we have not been able to compare the two rival formats side by side yet.

I could also see no discernible difference between watching movies in 1080p (the best quality resolution) and 1080i, which is used by the majority of high definition TVs.

There is no doubt that high definition is a leap forward in picture quality and that the results from the first Blu-ray players is very impressive.

But the BD-P1000 is on sale for about 1,000 almost twice the cost of a rival HD-DVD player, which goes on sale in the UK next month.

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