Editors' note: Although our testing of the Samsung BD-P3600 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.
In almost every standalone Blu-ray player we review, you're likely to find a comment about its disc-loading speed and how it inevitably doesn't compare with the Sony PlayStation 3. For once, that's not the case, as the Samsung BD-P3600 is flat-out faster than the PS3 at loading most movies and its operational speed is just as quick. The BD-P3600's feature set is also impressive, including Netflix and Pandora streaming, 7.1 analog outputs, 1GB onboard memory, and an included Wi-Fi USB dongle. Mix in its excellent image quality on Blu-ray Discs and its sleek design, and you've got one of the best Blu-ray players we've laid our hands on. The biggest drawback is the $400 list price, and we'd still urge anyone interested in high-def gaming and media streaming to consider the PS3 instead. For everyone else, the BD-P3600 is one of our top choices for standalone Blu-ray players.
If you get a thrill out of people looking in your home theater stack and asking, "What's that?" then the BD-P3600 is right up your alley. Bathed in a glossy black finish, with round corners and a trapezoidal shape when viewed from the side, it looks like no other Blu-ray player we've tested. The glossy look is cool, but it really shows fingerprints and dust, so expect some upkeep to always have it looking slick.
There are absolutely no buttons on the front of the unit, with playback controls relegated to a series of touch-sensitive controls on the top. That means you pretty much can't stack other components on the top of the BD-P3600, and we occasionally had misfires with the touch-sensitive buttons, too. But in terms of pure wow factor, the BD-P3600 delivers. (If you want to go really unconventional, Samsung also offers the wall-mountable BD-P4600.)
The included remote is a substantial redesign over previous players, but in some ways it's a step back. Most of the buttons are logically positioned, but important buttons--like Popup Menu, Disc Menu, and Title Menu--are stuck at the bottom of the remote. We also would have liked to see easy-access buttons for Netflix and Pandora, but that's more of a nitpick.
The BD-P3600'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-P3600 is Profile 2.0-compatible, which means it can play back the Internet-enabled BD-Live feature available on some new Blu-ray movies. It also features 1GB of onboard storage, so you don't need to connect a USB flash drive to download BD-Live content. Even better, the BD-P3600 comes packaged with a USB Wi-Fi dongle, for which Samsung normally charges $80, so you won't need an Ethernet connection in your living room to take advantage of the Internet-enabled content. Of course, an Ethernet connection is available if you prefer a more stable wired connection.
All of Samsung's 2009 Blu-ray players include Netflix Instant streaming. The user experience is nearly identical to that of the Netflix Player by 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.)
In addition to streaming content off the Internet, the BD-P3600 is also capable of streaming media from a connected PC. Supported file formats include MP3, JPEG, and DivX; we would have liked to have seen at least iTunes-friendly AAC also supported. As of press time, we have not been able to get this functionality working on our network, even though we have no problems using similar streaming products, like the Apple TV, in the same network environment. We will update this section to included further testing.