LAUNCH OF AGES When the original BD-P1000 arrived, I excitedly hunkered down in our lab with Sound & Vision Senior Reviews Editor Al Griffin and a dozen of the first Blu-ray titles. As we swapped them out one by one, we grew increasingly concerned. They sounded great on our system, with a refreshingly clean, unstrained openness not typically heard on DVD. But the picture was suspect. Video quality mostly looked high-def - but not always. Close-ups had that remarkable detail we've grown accustomed to on good HDTV broadcasts and HD DVDs, but medium and wide camera shots tended to look soft.
The images also failed to display the eye-popping contrast and range of light that was evident with our HD DVD player. Perhaps most disturbing, though, was that many scenes - sometimes whole discs - randomly exhibited a subtle video noise in portions of the picture. The player wasn't noisy overall: Its static setup menus looked clean as a whistle, as did the FBI warnings on the discs. And when we tapped into the hidden high-def test patterns on the Sony Blu-ray titles (dial 7669 from the main menu) or the THX patterns on Lionsgate's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, they looked crisp and smooth.
Instead, this effect seemed related to the movie content - in particular, the inherent film grain. Our first instinct was to wonder if the grain was simply being revealed for the first time by the transparency of the Blu-ray format. But we'd experienced the lifting of that veil with HD DVD, which maintains a solid, film-like quality while exposing the character of the grain.
The same did not hold true for the Samsung. For example, some dark scenes or objects within scenes that would normally exhibit more grain in the movie theater were notably noisy on our HDTVs, such as in a scene from Hitch in which Alex (Will Smith) tries unsuccessfully to hail a cab at night under Big Apple streetlights. Yet, dark scenes in films such as Underworld: Evolution - a vampire/werewolf saga shot almost entirely in shadows and dim interiors - could look excellent.
Second Opinion: Blu's Clues
|I'd been eagerly looking forward to the arrival of a Blu-ray Disc player at Sound & Vision since - well, ever since the rival HD DVD format launched last April. But our first round of Blu-ray movie watching ended with executive editor Rob Sabin and I walking away disappointed and confused. After Samsung supplied with us a revised player with its noise reduction turned off, we spent considerable time doing A/B comparisons of discs on both machines. All in all, it was too many hours logged in the dark, but ultimately well worth it since the new player gave us a more transparent take on the current crop of Blu-ray discs. - by Al Griffin
Depending on the movie, even bright scenes could show evidence of this subtle noise, which Al dubbed - fairly, I thought - "the crawlies." In a scene from Lord of War, for instance, Yuri (Nicolas Cage) stands on the deck of a tanker on the open sea. As the camera zooms in from a distance, the white side of the boat's pilot tower exhibited a patchiness and busyness that seemed to go beyond film grain. It was almost as if the grain were being exaggerated, or made more obvious by its instability.
The end result is that the Blu-ray images, disc to disc and even scene to scene, were all over the place quality-wise and generally lacked that solidity that has been the hallmark of HD DVD. It called to mind the detailed but somewhat flattened look of movies broadcast in HD, although it was free of the compression-related mosquito noise (halo-like ripples around objects) common to broadcasts. I just couldn't get past the fact that it still looked like video.
On top of that, parts of some discs had been transferred from less than pristine film assets, exhibiting the kind of dirt and scratches seen in a worn print. Sony has now committed to rereleasing The Fifth Element for just this reason.
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