Samsung BD-UP5000 review

Ben Drawbaugh
B. Drawbaugh|01.29.08

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Samsung BD-UP5000 review
BD-UP5000 Dual-format HD media player
The biggest complaint about Blu-ray is that it's a work in process, and while that is hard to argue, the manufactures aren't making us wait for revisions. With each new generation of player, Blu-ray fans wait with baited breath to see if it'll satisfy all their needs, but until Profile 2.0 players emerge, it's likely they'll be left at least partially unsatisfied. The BD-UP5000 is the latest player to try to be everything to everyone by not only playing both HD media formats, but also by enabling a few firsts for Blu-ray like internal decoding of all the latest codecs. While the BD-UP5000 does have a lot of promise, we feel it's not quite there yet.

The BD-UP5000 is no doubt a higher-end model, and has the fit and finish you'd expect for the price. The remote is very familiar to anyone who owns Samsung products, with our only big complaint being the lack of any backlight like some of the firm's other remotes -- and if you're quick to blow off any complaints about remotes because you like universals, keep in mind that Samsung Blu-ray players don't support any discrete IR codes.

If you like the way the BD-UP5000 looks, the connections on the back won't disappoint you either, as it includes just about every connection you could want. The most notable is the inclusion of 7.1 discrete analog outputs, which only
one other current Blu-ray player shares. Sadly, they're practically useless as of now, but we'll get into why in a minute.

We also applaud Sammy for not dropping coaxial Toslink as we're sure there are a few out there who still rely on this type of connection. The only socket we'd like to see on any HD media player with an MSRP of $999 is an RS-232 control port which can be used by systems integrators for home automation setups. As you'd expect, there are still SD outputs such as S-video, and of course there is component -- which works at the same time as 1080p (non 24p) output via HDMI.

The setup was a breeze and having the network on by default was a nice change from the HD DVD players we've tested. There were plenty of options as well as a few we had to look up the meaning of, like "Screen Message" and "PCM down sampling" for example, but they were easy enough to grasp after doing a little digging. The only real complaint we had with the setup was the firmware update; not only did it take 25 minutes to complete over our FiOS connection, but afterwards we are back at square one in regards to setup.

So time, language, etc. all had to be reset -- too bad there isn't a way to make use of the player's persistence storage to save us the grief. The only other problem we saw was the same as just about every other player: you can't access the player's menu without hitting stop first, and many times, it takes quite awhile to finally resume playback. Although our lab has a new Pioneer PDP-6010FD, we are still using an older AV Receiver, so we connected the video with HDMI and used 5.1 of the discrete 7.1 analog outputs for audio. A nice addition is the configuration of the speakers that gives you some control over the internal decoder. The only options were to turn off speakers -- for using a 5.1 system instead of 7.1 -- and to set a 100Hz filter for smaller speakers when the sub is enabled.

One option we tried to setup (but failed) was AnyNet (aka HDMI-CEC). It wouldn't work at all with our TV despite the fact that we've used it with other Blu-ray and HD DVD players in the past. To be fair, the manual does say it only works with Samsung products, which seems quite bogus, to be frank. We asked around on the AVS Forums' BD-UP5000 owners thread, and the consensus seemed to be that although it does work with Samsung TVs, it's more trouble than it's worth.

We absolutely love the new user interface, from the main image to the scrub bar, it's far and away better than the BD-P1000 and BD-P1200 that we've used in the past. Not only is it attractive, but everything is well laid out and easily accessible.

The scrub bar is also a welcomed addition, as unlike most HD DVDs, not many Blu-ray discs include a scrub bar, and only having times to get an idea of where you are in the movie isn't ideal. That being said, on the rare occasion the title does have a scrub bar, now you have two; one at the top and one at the bottom -- yeah, lame right?

Scrub bar

Luckily, it's possible to turn off the players scrub bar -- remember the "Screen Message" feature we mentioned earlier? The fact that HDMI and component both work at the same time is cool, it really makes it easy to see how well the component outputs work, as we were easily able to do a quick A/B comparison between the two. Unfortunately both outputs don't always work; as soon as you enable 24p output, a warning is issued letting you know that the component outputs are disabled. Still, this really isn't that big of a deal as the 24p feature is almost unusable anyways.

While most players have problems with lip-sync issues and 24p, the BD-UP5000 does not, but its problems are actually far worse. The biggest issue is that like a few other players, when you try to play 1080p30 content there is judder, but we didn't know what judder was till we watched "Autobots roll out" on Transformers' disc 2 -- but don't worry, all you have to do to switch off 24p during the movie is hit stop, menu, choose display, then 24p and switch to 'off' and hit play and finally navigate the disc menus to resolve, so yeah, it's a pain.

It wouldn't be as bad if the title would resume where you left off like the Blu-ray version of The Unforgiven. If 30p content was the only problem, it wouldn't be that big of a deal, but we saw all kinds of really weird digital artifacts when trying to watch Transformers at 24p, and like others with this player, we learned this is a feature of the BD-UP5000 that isn't worth the trouble it brings. If you have the impression that this review is headed south and fast, just wait, we're just getting started. All Blu-ray players have disc compatibility issues, which is expected with so many specs changing, but the BD-UP5000 takes it to the next level. Users had to wait until January 15th to watch titles like Resident Evil:Extinction that were released on January 1, which, in the grand scheme isn't that bad -- but in some cases are stuck with 2-channel audio. But we were having problems with a whole array of older titles; in fact, we weren't able to see any menus on a number of flicks including Die Hard, HQV test disc, Planet Earth (BBC), and worst of all, we couldn't see the english subtitles on Letters from Iwo Jima which doesn't contain a English sound track -- doh!

HQV disc with and without menus, obviously not very useful without menus.

Luckily a reboot seemed to do the trick, but it is still very concerning that the main disc menu wouldn't work, even once -- effectively making it so the disc wouldn't play. The most troubling thing we learned from lurking around the owners thread at AVS was either no one was reporting these issues or Samsung wasn't admitting others had called. The problem here is of course that if no one reports problems, Samsung will assume everyting is working great, and while the issues concern us, based on Samsung's track record we have faith that eventually the bugs will be worked out. The last issue we expereinced that seems to happen on multiple titles was some sort of distorted audio.

We're not sure why or when it starts, but it seemed sporadic and luckily switching audio tracks and switching back resolved the issue. While some have complained about audio drop outs, we didn't notice one while using the six discrete analog outputs. One of the biggest gripes we have about HD media players is speed, who knows why it takes so long for them to turn on and load discs, but it has become common practice for us to time these things when we do a review. The BD-UP5000 is faster than some players, but it's right on track with the BD-1200.

    Eject tray from off.
    14 seconds
    1 minutes 5 seconds
    15 seconds
    The time it took to load a disc.
    39 seconds (Bourne) 25 seconds (Bourne)
    52 seconds (Home of the Brave)
    Turn on time with pre-loaded disc 1 minute
    1 minute, 30 seconds
    1 minute

Picture and Sound Quality
When it comes to HD DVD and Blu-ray, our expectations are very high. Both formats offer the ultimate in quality in both picture and sound and the BD-UP5000 lived up to our expectations. In fact, when the discs were playing back glitch free, things were really nice. As you'd expect in any player with an HQV REON chip, the UP5000 easily passed the processing tests on the HQV test disc.

HQV Test pattern

Now, keep in mind that here at Engadget HD, we don't have hordes of fancy high-end testing equipment, but we do have a discerning set of eyes and ears and we had no complaints. Although the sound quality was good, the only lossless audio we could enjoy was LPCM, because despite what you may have read, the player doesn't support any multi-channel next-gen audio codecs, but Samsung is very adamant that a update will be released in the second quarter of '08 to enable both bitstream output and internally decoded (output via HDMI or discrete analog) multi-channel TrueHD and DTS-HD (MA & HR).

Garbage in, Garbage out
Although we never usually test an HD movie player's upconverting capabilities -- because we think it's a gimmick -- with all the buzz around the REON chip, we decided to give it a go. We were quickly reminded of why we hate DVD so much. Don't get us wrong, a good DVD can look very good when upconverted -- the problem is that most are just bad transfers and no matter how great the REON chip is, the old adage rings true; garbage in, garbage out. So before you run out and buy a player just because it has a REON chip, we'd suggest you spend $20 on a HQV test disc to see if the upconverter included with your TV can pass the tests.

Can you tell which picture is the upconverted DVD, and which is the Blu-ray disc?

A nice looking player with great build quality. 7.1 channel discrete outputs, good looking scrub bar and UI, lots of promise of updates.

Playback bugs, HDMI-CEC incompatibilities, invalid specifications (TrueHD), ultimately disc compatibility firmware updates,

We really, really want to love this player, but with more bugs than any other HD media player we've ever tested and no internal or bitstream support for any of the next-gen audio codecs, we just don't see how we could recommend this unit to anyone considering the price (and looming discontinuation). That being said, if a few quirks don't bother you and you don't have the audio equipment to appreciate the latest codecs anyway, then this is a great solution that will allow you to watch the best HD titles no matter which format they're released on -- until all the Profile 2.0 players hit the streets, that is.

We'd like to extend a special thanks to the participants of the AVS forum's BD-UP5000 owners thread for all their help with this review.
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