Editors' note: We recently posted a follow-up story regarding the low ratings from CNET users on Samsung's Blu-ray players.
It seems like as soon as Blu-ray became a definitively mainstream home theater format, manufacturers scrambled to find a new format to charge extra for--3D. Samsung's BD-C6900 ($360 street price) is the first 3D Blu-ray player we've reviewed so far, and the 3D price premium is steep. The step-down BD-C6500 is nearly identical except it lacks 3D and costs about $135 less. Not to mention the fact that you'll need to buy a new HDTV and pricey 3D glasses, as well as 3D content--which is exceedingly rare at the moment. We also didn't find the 3D Blu-ray experience to be all that satisfying with the Samsung UN55C8000 3D HDTV we used for this test, although we suspect our issues in that area had more to do with the TV than the BD-C6900's 3D performance.
3D-pricing gripes aside, we found the BD-C6900 to be an excellent Blu-ray player. Its outstanding feature set is highlighted by built-in Wi-Fi, the expandable Samsung Apps platform (which already includes services like Netflix, Vudu, and Pandora) and 7.1 analog audio outputs. Its Blu-ray image quality is in the top ranks of Blu-ray players we've tested and its speedy operational performance is bested only by the Sony BDP-S570. If a 3D HDTV is in your future and you're willing to pay the price premium, the BD-C6900 is one of the best Blu-ray players on the market. But if you're taking a wait-and-see approach to 3D--which we'd recommend--save your cash and go with the BD-C6500.
Samsung has a knack for eye-catching designs and the BD-C6900 is no different. Its main gimmick is an illuminated window on the top of the player that lets you see the spinning disc, adding a dimension of depth to the physical design of the player (luckily you can turn the illumination off). Also on the top are touch-sensitive buttons; unfortunately, that location makes them inaccessible if you stack another device on the BD-C6900. From the front, the design features Samsung's standard glossy, black finish, with the disc tray hidden behind a small automatic door on the far left. There's no denying the BD-C6900 looks slick, but the top-positioned buttons are less functional than we would have liked.
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 is simple and straight forward, with the most important buttons, like the directional pad and playback controls, falling easily under our 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-C6900 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||Yes||Onboard memory||1GB|
As you'd expect from a flagship Blu-ray player, the BD-C6900 is well-stocked in the features department. It's 3D Blu-ray compliant out-of-the-box (i.e. it doesn't need a firmware update like the Sony BDP-S570), although you'll need to purchase a 3D HDTV, 3D glasses, and 3D Blu-ray movies to take advantage of the third dimension. (See our 3D TV FAQ for more information.) Again, our main issue is pricing, since the BDP-S570 ($250 street) and PS3 Slim ($300) will both offer 3D compatibility after firmware updates and cost considerably less.
The BD-C6900 also has built-in Wi-Fi, which is a nice upgrade over Samsung's players from last year that required a USB dongle for Wi-Fi. There's 1GB of internal memory, so you won't need a USB memory drive to access BD-Live features, although that 1GB is also used to store downloaded programs from Samsung Apps.
|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-C6900 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-C6900 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 11.
|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-C6900 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-S570 also offers SACD playback.
|HDMI version||HDMI 1.4||Stereo analog||Yes|
|Component video||Yes||Multichannel analog||7.1|