Editors' note: We recently posted a follow-up story regarding low ratings from CNET users on Samsung's Blu-ray players.
Whether you go for an entry-level Blu-ray player or a more expensive midrange model mostly comes down to whether you need one feature--built-in Wi-Fi. Samsung's BD-C5500 lacks built-in Wi-Fi (although it can be added with an $80 USB dongle), but comes in about at $65 cheaper than the step-up BD-C6500 and still offers up the same excellent image quality. The BD-C5500 also features Samsung Apps, the company's expandable platform for streaming media and other Internet services like Twitter. While it may not achieve the same popularity as Apple's App Store, the platform is already well-stocked with names like Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, and YouTube. The BD-C5500 is also one of the few entry-level players to also be DLNA-compliant; both the LG BD550 and Panasonic DMP-BD65K lack the ability to stream digital media over a network.
On the other hand, the BD-C5500 lacks many of the extra features that give the more expensive BD-C6500 its edge over the competition, such as 7.1 analog audio outputs and onboard memory. It also shares its step-up's other flaws, namely sluggish operational speed and the fact that last year's Samsung Blu-ray player seemed to have reliability issues. Overall, the BD-C5500 stands out from the entry-level pack with Samsung Apps and DLNA-compatibility, but if those features are not a priority for you, you might be happier with a faster entry-level player.
The BD-C5500 has a glossy black finish on its front panel, augmented by a silver strip in the upper right that marks the playback controls. The look isn't one of the company's best, with the silver strip reminding us more of the Vizio VBR200W than Samsung's traditionally slick style. There's a large LCD display in the center of the unit and underneath the front panel controls is a pull-away tab revealing a USB port. The front panel controls are actually touch-sensitive buttons, which we found to be plenty responsive. The design is certainly more functional that the top-located buttons on the BD-C6900 and even though we like the look of other Samsungs more, it's still better than the boxy aesthetics of Panasonic's players.
Samsung has redesigned its Blu-ray remote this year, opting for a wider, flatter clicker that lacks much of the glossy finish that collected fingerprints on the old remotes. The new button layout straightforward, with the most important buttons, like the directional pad and playback controls, falling easily under the thumb. The number pad is a bit oversized for our tastes (who uses the number pad frequently?) and the eject button could be more prominent, but those are minor issues. The remote can also control a TV.
Samsung has completely redesigned its user interface, and we like the new look. It's visually appealing, with a wood-grain background and large icons for different media types (Internet@TV, music, video, photos). There are also five large icons at the top for popular streaming services (Rovi TV listings, Blockbuster, Netflix, Vudu, and Pandora), so you can quickly access them without jumping into the more involved Samsung Apps interface. Unfortunately you can't customize which icons show up at the top, so if you're not a fan of, say, Rovi TV listings, you can't replace that with Picasa. Overall, it's an upgrade of prior Samsung user interfaces that makes it easier to jump into whichever service you'd like to use.
If you want to dig deeper into Samsung's online offerings, you can access the Samsung Apps platform (aka Internet@TV; Samsung uses the terms interchangeably). Here you can browse and download new apps, which are categorized into genres like video, game, sports, and lifestyle. All of the current available apps are free, but Samsung said that premium apps will be available in the future. We haven't seen any new apps pop up since we've had the player, so it's tough to gauge how much additional functionality the platform will provide. We also would have liked to see the option to rate apps, which would make it easier to find quality programs.
In addition to streaming content, the BD-C5500 can also browse digital media files on a connected USB drive. We found the method of navigation for digital media files to be a little geekier than the other menus, but that's understandable since it's more of an advanced feature in the first place. On the other hand, the layout could use work; for instance, when browsing an album, there are two columns of tracks and it can initially be difficult to determine which is the first track.
|Key Blu-ray features|
|3D Blu-ray||No||Onboard memory||No|
The BD-C5500 has a basic feature set, but that's the norm for entry-level Blu-ray players. There's no built-in Wi-Fi, although Samsung does offer am $80 USB Wi-Fi dongle if you want to add wireless connectivity later. However, note that it only costs $65 more for the step-up BD-C6500, which has built in Wi-Fi; in other words, if you want Wi-Fi, just get the BD-C6500, which has other additional features as well.
|Streaming media features|
For 2010, Samsung has taken a different approach to streaming media services than its competitors, with Samsung Apps. Likely modeled after the iPhone's App Store, Samsung Apps allows developers to create programs that can be downloaded by compatible Samsung products, enabling owners to add whichever programs they like. To be fair, other manufacturers have added features via firmware updates, but Samsung's platform appears more easily expandable, which means buyers may benefit from additional services added as time goes on.
Even if no new services get added to Samsung Apps, the initial selection of streaming media services is excellent. All the major bases are covered, including subscription-based streaming movies from Netflix, pay-per-view streaming movies from Vudu and free streaming music from Pandora. Our only slight disappointment is that the BD-C5500 still uses the somewhat older Netflix interface, rather than the newer, more capable interface available on the LG BD550 and the PS3 Slim.
The BD-C5500 is also DLNA-compliant and capable of streaming video, audio, and photo files from a network-connected PC or viewing them from USB drive. The DLNA compliancy is a big step-up from the "PC streaming" feature offered last year that was difficult to set up, even for tech enthusiasts; we had no problem streaming files this year. We also had no trouble playing a couple MKV and DivX HD files off an attached USB drive; a full list of supported formats is available in the manual on page 10.
|Audio decoding capabilities|
|Dolby TrueHD||Yes||DTS-HD Master Audio||Yes|
|Dolby Digital Plus||Yes||DTS-HD HR||Yes|
Like nearly every Blu-ray player available now, the BD-C5500 offers onboard decoding for both high-resolution Dolby and DTS formats. If you're looking to play back SACDs and DVD-Audios, you'll need to look to Oppo's competing players; Sony's competing BDP-S370 also offers SACD playback.
|HDMI version||HDMI 1.3||Stereo analog||Yes|
|Component video||Yes||Multichannel analog||No|