Like it or loathe it, BD Live is here to stay and there's a growing number of decks that support it.

Some come with full Profile 2.0 support from the box. Others start life as Profile 1.1 and can be upgraded to support BD Live using a firmware update.

The Samsung BD-P1500 falls into the latter camp, having been bumped up to BD Live via last October's firmware update, but if you buy one that isn't already updated, you can download the patch from the Samsung website.

However, you'll need to plug a USB flash memory drive into the port on the back to provide the local storage needed to download extras from the internet.

Dolby decoding

Design-wise, Samsung has radically tweaked the design of its predecessor, the BD-P1400, replacing the curved fascia and chunky dimensions with an altogether slimmer, flat-fronted casing, with a sleek black finish and minimal panel. The result is one of the most stylish Blu-ray decks ever built.

This player has a few other tricks up its sleeve: it can decode Dolby True HD and Dolby Digital Plus into hi-res PCM and output the signal from its HDMI v1.3 socket, or simply output the raw bitstream to a receiver that can decode it. The lack of 5.1 or 7.1-channel analogue outputs means you'll miss out on these hi-res formats if your receiver lacks HDMI input.

The player can re-encode the primary and secondary soundtracks of BonusView discs into a single DTS bitstream from the optical digital output – also useful for receivers without HDMI.

Spec omissions

However, there are some glaring holes on the feature list. The deck won't play DiVX, MP3, WMA or JPEG files, which is truly bizarre in this multimedia age, and there's no DTS HD Master Audio decoding
either (although it can output the raw bitstream).

It does feature Movie Frame 1080/24fps output and it upscales DVDs to 720p, 1080i or 1080p. You can play AVCHD content with x.v.Colour and control the deck using a Samsung TV remote that supports the Anynet+ feature.

Easy to set up

The deck's excellent main menu system is presented with gorgeous hi-def graphics and the options are arranged in a neat and logical structure. You can change the output resolution, audio output
options and configure the network settings in no time.

Network setup is easiest if you have a DHCP router but the onscreen prompts and clearly written manual make it easy to configure if you don't.

The most time consuming part of the setup procedure is upgrading the firmware but it's plain sailing after that.

Compared with Samsung's two-year-old BD-P1000, disc loading times are lightning fast, but compared with your average DVD deck, the 57 seconds it takes to boot up Transformers still seems decidedly snail-like. During playback, the deck is also frustratingly slow to activate the scan mode and even slower to step up to the faster scan speeds.

Pin-sharp picture

Any concerns over operating speeds melt away when you clap eyes on the unit's hi-def pictures. The 1080p transfer of The Shining is an absolute joy to behold, delivering the stark, chilling visuals with searing sharpness and killer clarity.

Take, for instance, the shots of the Overlook Hotel's exterior: the fine texture of the walls is crystal clear, and the surrounding scenery is so crisp and three-dimensional that it feels as if you're stood next to the cameraman. The clearly visible stubble on Jack Nicholson's face during close-ups and the pin-sharp textures of his clothing ram home how good the deck's detail reproduction is.

The hotel's interior décor also provide this Samsung with loads of bold hues to get its teeth into, and it does a grand job of making the clashing carpets and walls look deep and rich. Skin and other delicate tones are also perfectly judged, lending the image a natural, realistic look.

When firing out images at 24fps, motion is smooth and fluid – best demonstrated by the tracking shots of Danny cruising the corridors on his trike.

Upscaled DVD playback isn't bad either, but the presence of some edge artefacts and crawling noise is a shame. It's nothing serious and won't bother everyone, but if you want the very best DVD quality then you might want to hang on to your dedicated player.

Booming sound

We let the Samsung rip with The Shining's uncompressed PCM soundtrack, and it conveys the tense score and eerie effects with loads of detail and pin-point accuracy, but it's equally assured with high-octane Dolby True HD tracks bitstreamed to a suitably equipped receiver.

The only chink in its audio armour is the quiet volume level of Transformers' BonusView secondary audio track, which makes the commentaries hard to hear over the primary audio.

A few sacrifices are necessary, such as DTS HD Master Audio decoding, multichannel analogue outputs and limited multimedia support, but if you shop around online you can find the Samsung BD-P1500 for under £200, which is great value in anyone's book, even if you do have to faff about with firmware updates.