Editors' note: Although our testing of the Samsung BD-P4600 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 likes to say its "Touch of Color" design scheme elevates products to become a "work of art," but really it comes down to three main principles: rounded corners, translucent red highlights, and a glossy black finish. The Samsung BD-P4600 is the epitome of that design philosophy. It looks like no other Blu-ray player we've tested--reminding us of nothing so much as a thin plate balanced on a stand. The BD-P4600 has a feature set that bests most of its competitors, including Netflix and Pandora streaming, Wi-Fi compatibility with an included USB dongle, and 1GB of onboard memory. In all, we had very few complaints with the BD-P4600's functionality, but its $500 list price will probably scare of most consumers, especially when the step-down Samsung BD-P3600 ($400 list price) offers all the same functionality, albeit in a more conventional design. The BD-P4600 is an excellent Blu-ray player if you have no qualms about paying an extra $100 for its peculiar look or wall-mount capability, but most buyers will be perfectly satisfied with the cheaper BD-P3600.
Since the step-down BD-P3600 has all the same features and performance, the only reason to buy the BD-P4600 is its unusual design. Looking like a rectangular UFO, the BD-P4600 is relatively flat (1.6 inches thick) with round corners and a red, translucent finish. Perched on the included stand, it sits on an angle sloping downward, which exposes its touch-sensitive buttons. When the BD-P4600 is unplugged, it appears to have a completely buttonless, smooth design, but when you turn it on, the buttons light up seemingly from nowhere, along with a red LCD display right in the middle of the unit. Because the BD-P4600 is so slim, there's not enough room for a standard disc tray; instead, it features a slot-loading design similar to the PS3, with the opening on the side of the unit.
Flip the BD-P4600 over to its bottom and some design compromises become apparent. Beneath a plastic cover is the BD-P4600's input/output bay, with the ports angled into the unit. Snaking cables into the compartment is a tight squeeze, and if you've got a thick HDMI cable (like the premium Monoprice cables we have in the lab) you may find that it just won't fit.
There's also a USB port in this compartment, which is skillfully designed so you can plug into the included USB Wi-Fi adapter and still have it concealed by the plastic cover. The power port is also found in the compartment, which leads to the external power supply--another reason why the main unit is able to be so slim. There's an opening at the back, so you can snake the cables out in an orderly fashion.
The BD-P4600 includes hardware for wall mounting, and to us, that's the application where its slim design makes most sense. Of course the BD-P4600 requires at least two wires (HDMI and power), so you'll need to hide those wires in the wall. Otherwise the slickness of your setup will be marred by a couple of dangling cables.
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-P4600'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.
Editors' note: This review originally mentioned issues with the included USB Wi-Fi adapter when connected to the BD-P4600's internal USB port. Subsequent testing indicates that the problem was a faulty Wi-Fi adapter included with our review sample, as a replacement Wi-Fi adapter works perfectly. We have had no issues with the new USB Wi-Fi adapter, and the review and rating have been updated accordingly.Like almost all 2009 Blu-ray players, the BD-P4600 is Profile 2.0-compatible, which means it can handle the Internet-enabled BD-Live special features 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-P4600 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 wired connection, which is typically more stable than wireless.