We take Blu-ray playback for granted these days, with the vast majority of players pumping out nearly identical image quality, no matter the price. The Philips BDP5506 is an exception, failing many of our basic Blu-ray and DVD image quality tests, and it's the first player we've tested this year to do so. It also carries a premium price ($165 street), but is missing many of the premium streaming services available on competitors, like Hulu Plus, MLB.TV, and Amazon Instant. The Philips BDP5506 does offer its unique MediaConnect screencasting feature, but we found it difficult to get working properly and its usefulness limited. For $165, we think buyers will be better off with midrange competitors, especially the Panasonic DMP-BDT210 and LG BD670.
Philips generally has a knack for unique designs, but the BDP5506 looks like a generic Blu-ray player. The only design flair of note is a gray notch under the disc drive, but it doesn't do much to make the player stand out. The front-panel buttons are all touch-sensitive, but they work well enough that we didn't mind them. On the far right is a USB port, but otherwise the front panel is unadorned.
The included remote is mostly well-designed. The directional pad is centrally positioned, Blu-ray-centric buttons like "pop-up menu" surrounding it. The large home button at the top is also appreciated, letting you escape back to the main menu no matter what you're doing. The playback buttons are tiny, and the eject button is strangely buried toward the bottom of the remote, but overall it's a decent remote.
The home menu screen on the BDP5506 is one of the more straightforward we've seen. "Play disc," "Browse USB," and "Browse Net TV" are the simple options on the home screen, which are more descriptive than on most Blu-ray players.
Once you select the Net TV streaming-content portal, the design isn't quite as nice. While competitors like Panasonic and LG feature jumbo-size icons that are easy to read while leaning back on the couch, Philips has a more cluttered look, with many smaller icons for streaming services. There are also tons of services of dubious quality, which mostly get in the way of finding content you actually want. We were happy that the included Netflix app has an updated interface, allowing for extensive browsing options and search.
The BDP5506 does also offer the ability to access Vudu's suite of apps, which includes some solid services such as full episodes of PBS shows like "Nova" and "Nature." We're less enthused about the social media apps, since they don't work as well in the big-screen environment. Of course, it's confusing that some apps are available on the main Net TV screen and some are only available within Vudu, and overall that makes Net TV feel more slapdash than the content portals of other manufacturers.
Editors' note: Senior Editor David Katzmaier covered Philips' MediaConnect software extensively in his review of the Philips PFL5706 series of HDTVs. We're reprinted his experience, adapted for the BDP5506, as the functionality is the same and because of the frustrating fact that MediaConnect does not work with our network equipment in the lab.
Philips' main differentiating feature is MediaConnect, which allows the BDP5506 to display the contents of a laptop PC screen wirelessly. The appeal of this feature is pretty limited, however. First off, with numerous streaming-video sources built into the Blu-ray player already, using a laptop as a source seems kludgy and inconvenient. If you need to, however, you can get the same functionality by wiring any laptop via HDMI or VGA to any TV, or wirelessly via products like Veebeam and Intel Wireless Display. MediaConnect is for someone who wants to watch Hulu.com or other free Web-only video sources, or display video files stored on a PC, frequently enough to demand a built-in wireless approach.
Having installed the MediaConnect software, which is only available for PCs and comes with robust hardware requirements, we found that using the feature was a mixed bag. When it worked, the experience was good: picture quality was basically identical to what we saw on the PC's screen, audio was in sync, and playback was stable as long as we remained in range. The only issue was a 2-second delay in the TV's response that--similar to Veebeam--makes performing input-dependent tasks on the big screen well-nigh impossible.
Unfortunately the system only worked with one of the two routers we tried, a new Apple AirPort Extreme, and failed when used with an older SMC Barricade--our current AV lab workhorse that works flawlessly with many other Wi-Fi home theater products. While Philips doesn't provide an official list of recommended routers, a company contact gave us a list of models his lab has tested and confirmed to be compatible. Others may work fine, but then again, they may not.
Distance was also a major factor. We couldn't get MediaConnect to work from the next room, about 40 feet away, even though the TV's other streaming services like Netflix worked fine from there via Wi-Fi. Philips claims a maximum range of 70 feet with no obstructions, and says the closer the PC and TV are to the router, the better. We experienced better stability and range when we connected the TV via Ethernet instead of using the TV's Wi-Fi connection. See Philips' FAQ for more information.
As with any such system, your mileage will vary depending on local conditions and hardware, and our testing lab is a pretty unforgiving location. Overall, however, we prefer Veebeam or Intel Wireless Display if you're looking for this kind of functionality, both of which use dedicated hardware that doesn't depend on your home network's wireless router.
|Key Blu-ray features|
|3D Blu-ray||Yes||Onboard memory||No|
The BDP5506 has the two key features we expect from a player in this price range: built-in Wi-Fi and 3D compatibility. While there isn't 2D-to-3D conversion or onboard memory, we don't consider either feature to be a major loss, as converted 3D usually doesn't look very good and onboard memory is only useful for BD-Live features that generally aren't that engaging. Philips also doesn't offer a smartphone app for controlling the player, which can occasionally be useful for controlling streaming-media services.