I attended Samsung's Blu-ray Disc player launch this evening at the Samsung Experience in New York and came away disappointed. There were several things wrong with the launch, starting with the fact that it was off by ten days (the players won't actually be available for sale until the 25th):
- Samsung's prepared remarks were overwraught, telling us over and over again how much we would be blown away by Blu-ray, and to prove this they showed a cheesy video and a few movie previews that, quite frankly, weren't all that impressive on the pair of Samsung DLP TVs at the front of the venue.
- Samsung boasted - several times - about how they were the first in the world to launch the product. This may be true (though, technically, the actual launch is still 10 days away). But Blu-ray follows HD-DVD's launch in the market. There was no discussion of that elephant in the room whatsoever. No comparisons, no predictions, no explanations of why consumers will choose Blu-ray. Nada. It was like HD-DVD not only didn't beat Blu-ray to market, but that HD-DVD doesn't exist in the first place.
- Finally, we were shuffled off to a side area that was intended to look like a living room. Nothing was done to acoustically isolate the "room" - actually just curtains - so the sound bled in from both the Terminator 2 demo in the other "living room" and the loud music in the main area. Thus, audio quality was impossible to evaluate. This was a shame, because the super-exciting video clip we saw earlier had promised AMAZING sound!!! demonstrated in the video by little helicopter outlines flying out of the speakers and INTO THE GUY'S EARS!!! AMAZING!!!
- The "living room" was equipped with another 50" (or perhaps 60") Samsung DLP. On the one hand, this is the sort of setup a consumer might have in their home. On the other hand, if you're really trying to create an immersive experience to show off the player's capabilities, wouldn't you want to go with a larger, more immersive image from a front projector?
- Finally, the demo... The demo group I was in was shown a segment from 50 First Dates. I like the movie, so I had high hopes, especially since this is not standard T2/Fifth Element/Anything-By-Pixar demo material - it's a romantic comedy. If 50 First Dates is better in HD, then anything is.
It started off well - Adam Sandler by himself on a boat with beautiful Hawaiin scenery in the background, all in clearly higher resolution than DVD and more saturated colors than is typical for DVD. Then, the sound mysteriously went out (the Samsung rep blamed the glitch on a Samsung A/V receiver). By the time sound was just as mysteriously restored, the cinematography had moved to a close up of Sandler's face, then flashbacks, then a soft-focus shot of Drew Barrymore. None of this was enhanced by HD. Then a longer sequence leading to Mr. Sandler asking Drew whether she recognized him at all. This sequence, too, did not appear to be much improved from a DVD. While the background scenery really popped in one scene, based on this experience, I'd have a tough time recommending the Blu-ray "experience" at all.
Now, it's certainly possible that the sound glitch was just a glitch. And that in a controlled environment, there would be audible benefits to the enhanced bit rate version of Dolby Digital used on Blu-ray. And that, over the course of an entire movie - we saw just a few minutes - the higher resolution video would have altered the experience. It's even possible that while romantic comedies such as 50 First Dates do not benefit from Blu-ray, an epic film, animation, or sci-fi really would. I have been on the record saying that most consumers will not be excited by a new disc format - you need several real enhancements to sell a new format, and the only thing Blu-ray offers is higher video resolution for videophiles. Nonetheless, I always assumed that videophiles - and I am one - would be excited by Blu-ray.
But I got none of that from the launch. Samsung's clearly artificial excitement bled away any possibility of the real thing. This was the official launch of a product I've been following and looking forward to for several years - there should have been no way for me to have felt like heckling during the presentation. I have been to product launches where Steve Jobs made me excited about a sneaker/iPod combo for hard core runners, and I have not run anywhere since I was in fifth grade. I've been to product launches for televisions - Samsung televisions, in fact - that made me want to pull out my credit card. I have been to product launches for high definition audio formats that I knew were dead on arrival, but at least they made you believe, for a little while, that they might succeed.
The actual Blu-ray experience may be a lot better than Samsung's launch of the first Blu-ray player. I certainly hope it is.