The high definition disc format war has turned into a battle royale with the recent announcements of the exclusive support of the HD DVD format by Paramount and Dreamworks animation. Depending how you want to do the studio count (inclusion of only major studios, “adult” studios and the minor or independent releases), the split is now roughly about 50-50 between the two formats. In other words, if you want to get into the high def disc game today, you have to choose a single format player and neglect about half the releases, buy a HD DVD player and a Blu-ray player (with the associated two HDMI cables and double the real estate on your shelves) or settle for the current “limited” function combo player from LG. This will no longer be the case! The HD Guru has just received the first pre-production sample the Samsung BD-UP5000 and it may be the answer to the format war. Samsung has loaded performance and functionality into a light compact attractive package.

The BD-UP5000’s feature list is impressive. It has (for either format) Ethernet connector for firmware updates and interactive content, BD-Java (BD-J) for Blu-ray and HDi for HD DVD. The HDMI 1.3 connection will support the lossless formats TrueHD and DTS-MA (through a firmware upgrade that will occur before or shortly after product launch), 1.3 Deep Color (though no discs use it yet) and HDMI-CEC for command and control over HDMI (if your HDTV is so equipped). The 5000 has output selections when using HD or Standard definition discs that include 720p/1080i/1080p. 1080p can be selected as 24Hz or 60 Hz. In addition, the BD-UP5000 comes equipped with the Silicon Optix’s Reon scaler chip (it is the same one used in the Samsung BD-1200 and their upcoming BD-2400 as well as the Toshiba (HD DVD) HD-XA2). This chip provides the best upconversion of standard definition content to HD I have evaluated.

As pictured above the BDP-5000 ($999 retail) has a glossy black finish with a soft-lit display. It measures a mere 16.9” x 3.1” x 12.8” and weighs in at 13.2 pounds. The rear panel contains optical and coaxial audio outputs as well as the HDMI connection, 7.1 analog audio connections with conversion for all the Dolby digital formats and DTS including DTS-MA. It also has component video and standard def S-Video and composite video outputs.

With a limited time with the player, I ran through as many video tests and functions as I could, concentrating on its Blu-ray and HD DVD functionality. Timing the boot-up from off to the point where the player comes to life with the Samsung screen that reads HD DVD and Blu-ray on a blue background (see photo above) takes a respectable 35 seconds. Once the disc is loaded either HD format will produce the first image in about 25 seconds. Standard Def DVD first view was quicker at about 15 seconds.

The Digital Video Essentials HD DVD confirmed full bandwidth output at 1080p (60) reproducing the single pixel on/off vertical and horizontal lines on the 1080p 50” (TH-59PZ750) Panasonic plasma used for this evaluation. The Blu-ray version of the Silicon Optix HQV test disc confirmed perfect deinterlacing of 1080i content (found in music videos) as well as perfect 3:2 cadence for film based sources, producing an artifact free image. This is important, as the vast majority of 2007 HDTVs tested (74 to date) still do not properly convert 24 fps content to 60 fps. Using the Samsung BD-UP5000 at 1080p/60 output connected to a display 1080p display that accepts this signal should eliminate this issue by bypassing the displays inferior internal scaler.
Color bars were accurately reproduced with proper saturation. There are no player picture controls (color, tint, contrast etc.) but considering the accuracy of its output, I do not feel they are necessary.

I sampled a variety of HD DVD and Blu-ray discs including 300 (HD DVD), Casino Royale (BD) Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift (HD DVD), Wild Hogs (Blu-ray) and, The Fifth Element (TFE) Blu-ray It is the new remastered edition. The BD-UP5000 revealed there are still specks of dirt in certain scences in the new print used for the Blu-ray transfer of TFE, though it is much cleaner than the dirt and scratch infested first edition. (Perhaps Sony Pictures should use the same 1080p plasma and Samsung player combo I used for its quality control monitoring, whatever the Sony Studio is using now does not appear to be up to the task).

All discs viewed all looked spectacular, with every image appearing clean, crisp and sharp as a tack. Anyone who claims unconverted DVDs look just as good as HD DVD and Blu-ray needs to get over to their nearest eyewear center right away. It is more than resolution that makes these formats so appealing, it is the image free of visible compression artifacts that provides a film-like look when viewing a top quality HDTV and using a high definition disc in a player as good as the BD-UP5000.

The functionality in the BD-UP5000 is an improvement over previous generation products with faster chapter changes and quicker entry into other menu functions. I particularly liked the new time bar on the top of the image (seen in the bottom photo). The new GUI is clean and easy to read. The only crude graphic is a series of “ disc loading” dots, though they are an improvement over the Samsung first generation hour glass.

I briefly checked the standard DVD performance. The player aced the Silicon Optix HQV’s test discs jaggies, 3:2 (and other cadence) pulldown tests and noise reduction tests, but some pre-production glitches prevented me from performing a complete evaluation

The BD-UP5000 interactive capabilities were confirmed with the HD DVD version of 300. By connecting my router via the Ethernet port in the back the player I was able to download exclusive web enabled features off the internet with the 300 HD DVD disc inserted. The only HD DVD feature the BD-UP5000 seems to lack is a USB port to expand the player’s memory with a thumb drive. According to a Samsung spokesperson the BD-UP5000 has 256MB internal memory.

The BD-UP5000 currently retails for $999. I consider the price/performance ratio a home run, as the cost is just a $100 higher (at retail) than purchasing the current BD-1200 Samsung Reon equipped Blu-ray and the lowest cost HD DVD player, the Toshiba HD-A3. Of course you get more Blu-ray features, a better GUI and soon all the audio formats plus 7.1 analog output. The BD-UP5000 will be available in the 4th Qtr, according to a Samsung spokesperson. Lets hope it’s is closer to October than December.

With the format war continuing with no end in sight, the Samsung BD-UP5000 it is the logical choice for HDTV viewers that want the best performance no matter which DVD, Blu-ray or HD DVD discs they choose to view. The BD-UP5000 is my new reference standard for a high definition player and it is awarded the HD Guru’s™ top rating of ♥♥♥♥.

Update-1080p/24 output has been confirmed. It works beautifully. The player puts up a confirmation screen that must be acknowledged with an “accept”, if not the player will automatically revert back to the 1080p/60 setting to avoid a blank screen with displays that will accept 1080p/60 but not 1080p/24

Copyright ©2007 Gary Merson/HD Guru™. All rights reserved. The content and photos within may not be distributed electronically or copied mechanically without specific written permission.