Editors' note: We recently posted a follow-up story regarding the low ratings from CNET users on Samsung's Blu-ray players.
As much we liked last year's slew of Blu-ray home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems, they still involved some features compromises, such as missing built-in Wi-Fi and HDMI connectivity. This year, Blu-ray HTIBs are filling in a lot of those holes and Samsung's HT-C6500 ($550 street price) is one of the most fully featured we've seen, including built-in Wi-Fi, two HDMI inputs, and 1GB of onboard storage. The HT-C6500 also has Samsung's expandable Apps platform, which includes streaming-media services such as Netflix, YouTube, Vudu, and Pandora. If only features mattered, the HT-C6500 would be less of a standout choice; for example, the LG LHB535 ($400 street price) includes much of the same functionality for $150 less. What puts the HT-C6500 over the top is its outstanding sound quality, coming much closer to the sound of a separates-based system than any other HTIB we've tested recently.
Most of our complaints come on the design side, such as the buttons on the top of the player, the need for a separate iPod dock dongle, rather than a dock integrated into the system, and a graphical user interface designed more for a standalone Blu-ray player. We also still have some concerns about Samsung's Blu-ray player reliability (last year's HT-BD1250 was not spared from reliability issues, according to user opinions), but we didn't run into any issues during our testing. Those issues aside, its excellent mix of features and superior sonics make the HT-C6500 the best Blu-ray HTIB we've tested this year.
Every part of the HT-C6500 features Samsung's signature glossy black finish on its front-facing side. The speaker set is made up of two relatively large (for an HTIB) front speakers, small rear speakers, a sizable center channel, and a subwoofer. If you're looking for the fine craftsmanship you'll find on separate speakers, you won't find it in Samsung's plastic speaker cabinets, but that's no different from other affordable HTIBs. Unlike Samsung's HW-C450 sound bar HTIB, the HT-C6500's subwoofer isn't wireless, although it doesn't need power.
The main unit houses both the amplification and the Blu-ray player, which is why it's larger (16.9 inches wide, 2.4 inches high, 13 inches deep) than any of Samsung's standalone Blu-ray players. The main unit also features a window on the top of the player that lets you see the spinning disc tray, like the standalone BD-C6900. There's a flip-down panel on the lower right that houses a USB port and the automatic speaker calibration mic port. There are volume up/down buttons on the front, but unfortunately the rest of the front-panel controls are relegated to the top of the unit, making them inaccessible if you stack anything else on the HT-C6500. In all, as long as you like the glossy black look (and the inevitable fingerprints and dust that come along with it), the HT-C6500 is a slick-looking system.
Samsung has redesigned its standard 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 straightforward, with the most important buttons, like the playback and volume controls, falling easily under the thumb. Of course, with a system with this much functionality, there are a lot of competing interests for layout priority--the directional pad feels too far toward the bottom--but for the most part we had no major issues. The remote can also control a TV.
Samsung has completely redesigned its user interface from last year, 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.
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 many 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.
As much as we liked the user interface for streaming functionality, we would have liked a more specialized interface for the HT-C6500, which is largely the same as Samsung's standalone Blu-ray players. There's not an easy visual way to select the different inputs available on the HT-C6500; the LG LHB535 has a separate menu where you can browse your available options. It won't be a problem for tech-savvy users, but it makes it harder for non-techies to use.In addition to streaming content, the HT-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.
|Number of speakers||5.1||"Tall boy" speakers||No|
|Wireless rear speakers||No||iPod dock||Dongle|
|Auto speaker calibration||Yes|
Though the HT-C6500 is generally well-featured, it lacks a few features compared with competing flagship HTIBs. Both the Panasonic SC-BT730 and the LG LHB975 offer "tall boy" speakers and wireless rear speakers. They both also feature built-in iPod docks, which we prefer to the HT-C6500's separate dongle, which adds to the clutter. On the other hand, it's worth pointing out that the LHB975 costs significantly more and doesn't have automatic speaker calibration.
|Key Blu-ray features|
|3D Blu-ray||No||Onboard memory||1GB|
The HT-C6500's Blu-ray feature set is strong. Like most Blu-ray HTIBs at this price range, the HT-C6500 has built-in Wi-Fi, which makes it easier to access its suite of streaming-media features. It's also one of the few Blu-ray HTIBs to have 1GB of onboard storage, which mean you won't need to connect a USB memory drive when you want to access BD-Live features. We're not that concerned that the HT-C6500 doesn't support 3D Blu-ray--as the format is still its infancy--but those who are interested in 3D should check out Sony's competing BDV-E770W and BDV-E570, which offer 3D support. Samsung also offers the similar HT-C6900W with 3D Blu-ray functionality.