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My husband was a huge fan of new technology and had wanted to embrace HD TV quite early on, however a combination of late delivery of our HD ready TV and Sky being short of HD boxes when HD launched meant we never quite got round to it.
He had dragged me into stores to show me how amazing HD pictures were but I never really "got" it - to me it was nothing like the improvement in picture quality you got when switching from analogue to digital TV - so I didn't really bother with it.
Any further thoughts we had on getting Sky HD died when he did, and I had been quite happy with my current TV set up until quite recently.
As usual, it was my daughter, who seems to have inherited a love of new technology from her father, who suggested it would be good to get a Blu-ray player and at first I resisted on the basis of cost alone.
However in the autumn of last year I noticed prices were starting to come down on Blu-ray players and this made me a bit more interested. What tipped me in favour of buying one was the release of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", the Disney classic on the format - this is one of my daughter's favourite films and it was available in a DVD and Blu-ray combi pack which seemed a good option when I went to buy it.
So it came to pass that my Christmas present to myself in 2009 was the Samsung BD-P1580 Blu-ray player and what follows is the idiot's review of it...the idiot being me!
~~What is Blu-ray?~~
Put simply, a Blu-ray disc has far more storage space than a regular DVD, meaning there is little or no need for compression or compromise on picture and sound quality. As a result the quality levels are quite obviously improved upon that experienced on a regular DVD.
Blu-ray however will only work fully if connected to a HD ready TV and Blu-ray discs will only play on a Blu-ray player.
Like ordinary DVD, there are region codes for Blu-ray, and the code for Europe is B.
~~What's in the Box?~~
Apart from the player itself you get a Composite Audio cable, a remote control and batteries for same and the user manual.
Crucially, an HDMI cable is not included and you will need this to connect the player to your TV. You can also connect the player using a DVI cable for HD pictures or if you merely want better quality pictures you can use a TV Component lead or a bog standard TV Video lead.
HDMI cables can vary wildly in price and my recommendation would be to shop around for one if you have decided to buy a Blu-ray player and wish to connect using one as you can find yourself being charged £15 for something that turns up in Poundland.
~~First Impressions and Set Up~~
I chose this Blu-ray player because I needed a player that I could hook up to my home cinema system.
Had I had a bigger budget, my dream Blu-ray player would have been part of a Blu-ray home cinema system, but at £400 this was totally off limits.
I have a Panasonic home cinema system which is about five years old now and sadly predates HDMI slots, meaning I can't get the full benefit of the improved sound quality Blu-ray offers, however having done some research I realised that the Samsung BD-P1580 should connect quite easily using a traditional composite audio cable.
I also liked the look of this player - it is black and has a sleek appearance.
Of course aesthetics aren't all - there are other functions Blu-ray offers which drew me to this player and one of them is Blu-ray Live. This enables you to connect your Blu-ray player to the internet via an Ethernet cable for regular firmware updates. If a player doesn't have a LAN socket you can't do this so it's worth checking for one before you buy.
Similarly this player has a USB socket at the front, which offers another way to add firmware updates to the player but also enables you to view JPEG pictures on your TV and also to view DIV-X video files.
Setting this up was a piece of cake - as time goes on it seems technology is designed to be easier to deal with. I used to dread getting a new video as tuning them in was a nightmare back in the days of analogue TV, but nowadays everything seems to be self tuning and almost plug in play in design.
The Samsung BD-P1580 is no different - I merely connected the player to the TV via an HDMI lead and then connected the audio cable to my home theatre systems and voila - it was up and running. My TV even automatically detected I wasn't running the player via an AV channel and went directly to HDMI.
During the set up process you set the time and date, the language required, ensure audio is set to digital output, add the player to a network and place parental locks on the player if required. This is very easy to do using the remote control.
~~Using the Player~~
There are some controls on the front panel of the Blu-ray player - such is the design they can be hard to see however - they seem to be embossed making it easier to find by touch.
All the controls you need are on the remote control however.
To begin you insert a compatible Blu-ray disc and wait for it to load. Blu-ray machines take a little longer to read the disc so be patient - I find discs load on this player within about 30 seconds.
After you have done that you operate the player as you would with a traditional DVD player, choosing either to play the entire film or select specific scenes or watch extras.
The first film we watched was "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and the first thing that struck me when the film loaded was how clear the lettering was on this.
My daughter is addicted to subtitles and refuses to watch anything without them either on DVD or TV, and there can quite often be a small, but visible, "shadow" around the subtitles, and also on credits on the screen.
This "shadow" had vanished on the Blu-ray player, leading to the clearest lettering I have ever seen on my TV.
The second thing I noticed was how vibrant the colours were on the screen, giving a film that is over 70 years old an almost "new" look to it.
The sound quality on this old film isn't up to the standards we expect from more recent releases however and I didn't notice any particular improvement as a result.
I have since picked up some more films on Blu-ray and it's on some of the more recent releases I have really noticed a marked improvement in both picture and sound quality.
"Bridge to Terabithia" includes a lot of CGI effects, and much of the film is set in a woodland environment.
The special effects were particularly impressive on Blu-ray but I was also struck at how clear leaves on trees were and how vibrant the rural locations appeared with lush green grass and sparkling blue skies. This was something I really picked up on the Blu-ray edition of "Dirty Dancing" - another film which features a rural location and had individual blades of grass clearly visible.
On both of these films the sound quality is dramatically improved upon what has gone before too - we own both these discs on regular DVD and the clarity of sound is far better on the Blu-ray discs.
I have yet to try watching a DIV-X video through the player via a flash drive in the USB socket but I have viewed photos and was very impressed at how easy it was to do this.
You can also play CDs and regular DVDs along with a selection of rewritable DVD/CD discs on this player. If you play a regular DVD it automatically "upscales" the picture quality and while it isn't in true HD, the picture quality is improved from what you get in your normal DVD player.
I have used this a couple of times but the problem I have is that I have a lot of Region 1 discs and the Samsung BD-P1580 only plays Region 2 discs and I am also unaware of any hack available for it. If you have a lot of Region 1 DVDs and are interested in purchasing this player my advice would be to keep your regular DVD player hooked up to the TV too.
I haven't done any firmware updates yet either - there seems to be some debate about whether you should update your firmware via the Blu-ray live feature and ensure it is always up to date. Some Samsung users have experienced what they call "bricking" - which basically means your player is rendered useless by a firmware update containing errors.
Samsung do have good customer service should this happen but the advice is to ensure you keep your receipt safe as they will only help you if you have one.
It's also worth bearing in mind that your player may stop functioning without firmware updates so it's not something you can avoid really with a system that is evolving all the time.
I have been really impressed with this player - it is easy to set up and easy to use.
Picture and sound quality are definitely a step up from regular DVD on Blu-ray and this increase in quality makes moving up to High Definition worth doing if you enjoy films and buy or rent a lot to watch at home.
It is the ease of use which makes the Samsung BD-P1580 a real winner for me however - as a complete novice to Blu-ray when I bought this player I was a little concerned that set-up might be too complicated for me, even though I do try to keep up with advances in technology as much as possible.
However there were no problems - this really is a plug and play device which doesn't present any obstacles for the novice.
Another nice touch offered is the remote control can be programmed to work on some TVs. It will automatically work on a Samsung TV, and codes are available to programme it to work with other brands. This isn't guaranteed to work but it's easy to try by simply holding down the "TV power" button and entering the code for the brand of your TV. Sadly this didn't work with my Panasonic TV - it registered the code but still didn't work unfortunately.
So the Samsung BD-P1580 gets the thumbs up from me as a starter to High Definition and it won't break the bank either - I got mine in Currys for £129.99.