Editors' note: Although our testing of the Samsung BD-P1600 was largely positive, Samsung Blu-ray players have consistently scored low with CNET users. We examined this issue extensively in this blog, and it's worth considering before making a buying decision.
Samsung was the first manufacturer with a standalone Blu-ray player, but in 2008 it often felt like the company was struggling to keep up with Panasonic. When Panasonic released the first Profile 2.0 player, Samsung was still shipping Profile 1.1 players, with promises that future upgrades would make its player up to snuff. Now, just a few months into 2009, it appears the tables have turned.
The Samsung BD-P1600 comes complete with all the features we now expect on Blu-ray players, including Profile 2.0 compatibility and onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. But the BD-P1600 goes beyond the basics, adding improved operational speed, Netflix and Pandora streaming, and the ability to add Wi-Fi functionality with a USB dongle (sold separately.) By far, the BD-P1600's biggest fault is its annoying flip-down panel that occupies the entire front of the unit. However, if you can live with the design misstep, the BD-P1600 offers an excellent value for its performance and features.
The BD-P1600 features a sleek and seamless front-panel design, which at first left us wondering where the disc tray was. That's because the entire front panel actually flips down, similar to Panasonic's early Blu-ray player, the DMP-BD10. Luckily, the Samsung's tray opens and closes when you eject a disc using the remote control, but we still didn't like it. One reason is that the buttons--even open/close and power--are hidden under the panel, so you'll have to flip it down by hand to make any other adjustments. Also note that there's a USB port under the panel, so if you plan on using that port for BD-Live storage (perhaps because the back port is occupied by the Wi-Fi adapter), you'll have to leave the panel down permanently--which isn't a nice look. Lastly, the door feels flimsy and we wouldn't be surprised if it broke and stopped popping back up automatically after a while.
Of course you'll be using the remote, and not the buttons on the unit, for most commands. The included clicker is a substantial redesign over previous players, but in some ways it's a step back. Most of the buttons are logically positioned and there's good button separation, but important buttons like Popup Menu, Disc Menu, and Title Menu are stuck at the bottom of the remote and confusingly labeled. We also would have liked to see easy-access buttons for Netflix and Pandora--you'll have to dive into the menu system to activate those services--but that's more of a nitpick.
The BD-P1600's user interface is visually appealing, with vibrant colors and HD graphics. While the eye-candy is nice, we weren't fans of the layout for the setup menus, as we found the vertical alignment confusing. (Those with high-end Denon receivers, like the AVR-3808CI, will notice a resemblance.) Luckily, you'll rarely need to access the deeper setup-menu system, so it's a minor issue.
The user interfaces for Netflix and Pandora are better. The Netflix interface is identical to the Netflix Player by Roku, with your instant queue arranged horizontally on the screen. You'll need to find and add movies to your instant queue using a computer, like all Netflix Instant Streaming devices so far. Pandora's interface is somewhat bare bones, but it's easy to use and you get essentially full Pandora access from the onscreen menu. We'd love if Samsung enhanced the functionality even further by offering up larger album art images and information about the artists.
Like almost all 2009 Blu-ray players, the BD-P1600 is Profile 2.0-compatible, which means it can playback the Internet-enabled BD-Live feature available on some new Blu-ray movies. You'll need to have the player connected via Ethernet or Wi-Fi (using the USB Wi-Fi adapter, not included), as well as connect a USB thumbdrive for storage.
All of Samsung's 2009 Blu-ray players also include Netflix Instant streaming, including the BD-P1600. The functionality is nearly identical to that of the Roku and we recommend you check out that review for more information. In short, you can stream anything in Netflix's "Watch Now" section and while there are some flaws--much of the SD content is not wide-screen, for example--it's a pretty great user experience overall. The initial catalog of movies and TV shows was fairly lackluster, but recent deals with CBS and Disney have significantly improved the content selection. (CNET Reviews is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS.) Although each service has its strengths, we prefer Netflix to Amazon Video On Demand, which is offered on the competing Panasonic DMP-BD60.