Editors' note: We recently posted a follow-up story regarding the low ratings from CNET users on Samsung's Blu-ray players.
Now that Wi-Fi and extensive support for streaming media services like Netflix has become commonplace on midrange Blu-ray players, manufacturers have struggled to find ways to stand out from the pack. Samsung's differentiating feature on the BD-C6500's is 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.
Aside from Samsung Apps, the BD-C6500 is also one of the few players to also keep 7.1 analog audio outputs, which is a bonus for anyone with an older non-HDMI AV receiver. On the downside, the BD-C6500 operational speed was in the lowest tier of players we've tested this year, coming in even slightly behind the Vizio VBR200W. We'd also keep our eye on the BD-C6500's user reviews, as last year's Samsung players seemed to have reliability issues, although we didn't experience any issues during our test period. The Samsung BD-C6500 wouldn't be our first choice for speedy playback, but it's the most feature-packed non-3D player we've tested at this price level.
The BD-C6900 might be the flagship model in Samsung's lineup, but we think the BD-C6500 is the best-looking player. The BD-C6500 has a more refined look, eschewing the all glossy black style for a brushed-metal look, although the cabinet is actually made of plastic. There's a LCD display in the center of the unit and to the right are a few illuminated touch-sensitive buttons. We found the touch sensitive buttons responsive and liked that the power button stayed lit when the player was turned off, unlike the completely dark (and confusing) design of the Vizio VBR200W. The far right also features a USB port behind a pull-away tab, for quick hookups. On the top of the player is an illuminated Blu-ray logo, which luckily can be turned off in the settings menu.
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-C6500 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||1GB|
The BD-C6500's features are strong for its price class. Built-in Wi-Fi is an upgrade over last year's BD-P3600, which needed an external USB dongle. We also appreciate the built-in 1GB of memory, as many competitors, like the LG BD570 and Panasonic DMP-BD85K, are stingy and include no internal memory. The BD-C6500 lacks 3D compatibility, with Samsung only offering the feature on BD-C6900 for $130 more. While the lack of 3D is common at this price, it's worth pointing out that 3D is included on several relatively affordable Sony products, including the BDP-S570 ($250) and the PS3 Slim ($300).
|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-C6500 still uses the somewhat older Netflix interface, rather than the newer, more capable interface available on the LG BD570 and the PS3 Slim.
The BD-C6500 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-C6500 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 BDP-S570 also offers SACD playback.
|HDMI version||HDMI 1.3||Stereo analog||Yes|
|Component video||Yes||Multichannel analog||7.1|
The BD-C6500's connectivity is a step above most competing players thanks to its inclusion of 7.1 analog outputs. That's a nice plus for people using older, non-HDMI AV receivers, as you'll still be able to take advantage of both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio at their full resolutions. We were surprised the BD-C6500 only offers an optical digital audio output--many Blu-ray players also offer a coaxial output--but most AV receiver should be able to accommodate one of the BD-C6500's audio output options.