THE GOOD: Excellent Blu-ray image quality; Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, and Pandora media streaming, plus the expandable Samsung Apps platform; built-in Wi-Fi; 7.1 analog audio outputs; 1GB onboard storage.
THE BAD: Sluggish operational speed; competing Sony players offer 3D for about the same price; last year's Samsung Blu-ray players had questionable reliability.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Samsung's BD-C6500 Blu-ray player has excellent image quality, outstanding features for the price, and a slick design--we just wish it were a little faster.
Now that Wi-Fi and extensive support for streaming media services like Netflix has become commonplace on midrange Blu-ray players, manufacturers have struggled to find ways to stand out from the pack. Samsung's differentiating feature on the BD-C6500's is Samsung Apps, the company's expandable platform for streaming media and other Internet services like Twitter. While it may not achieve the same popularity as Apple's App Store, the platform is already well-stocked with names like Netflix, Vudu, Pandora and YouTube.
Aside from Samsung Apps, the BD-C6500 is also one of the few players to also keep 7.1 analog audio outputs, which is a bonus for anyone with an older non-HDMI AV receiver. On the downside, the BD-C6500 operational speed was in the lowest tier of players we've tested this year, coming in even slightly behind the Vizio VBR200W. We'd also keep our eye on the BD-C6500's user reviews, as last year's Samsung players seemed to have reliability issues, although we didn't experience any issues during our test period. The Samsung BD-C6500 wouldn't be our first choice for speedy playback, but it's the most feature-packed non-3D player we've tested at this price level.
The BD-C6900 might be the flagship model in Samsung's lineup, but we think the BD-C6500 is the best-looking player. The BD-C6500 has a more refined look, eschewing the all glossy black style for a brushed-metal look, although the cabinet is actually made of plastic. There's a LCD display in the center of the unit and to the right are a few illuminated touch-sensitive buttons. We found the touch sensitive buttons responsive and liked that the power button stayed lit when the player was turned off, unlike the completely dark (and confusing) design of the Vizio VBR200W. The far right also features a USB port behind a pull-away tab, for quick hookups. On the top of the player is an illuminated Blu-ray logo, which luckily can be turned off in the settings menu.
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 straightforward, with the most important buttons, like the directional pad and playback controls, falling easily under the 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-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.
The BD-C6500's features are strong for its price class. Built-in Wi-Fi is an upgrade over last year's BD-P3600, which needed an external USB dongle. We also appreciate the built-in 1GB of memory, as many competitors, like the LG BD570 and Panasonic DMP-BD85K, are stingy and include no internal memory. The BD-C6500 lacks 3D compatibility, with Samsung only offering the feature on BD-C6900 for $130 more. While the lack of 3D is common at this price, it's worth pointing out that 3D is included on several relatively affordable Sony products, including the BDP-S570 ($250) and the PS3 Slim ($300).
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-C6500 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-C6500 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 10.
Like nearly every Blu-ray player available now, the BD-C6500 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 BDP-S570 also offers SACD playback.
The BD-C6500's connectivity is a step above most competing players thanks to its inclusion of 7.1 analog outputs. That's a nice plus for people using older, non-HDMI AV receivers, as you'll still be able to take advantage of both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio at their full resolutions. We were surprised the BD-C6500 only offers an optical digital audio output--many Blu-ray players also offer a coaxial output--but most AV receiver should be able to accommodate one of the BD-C6500's audio output options.
Like virtually every other player, the BD-C6500 also includes an Ethernet port if you prefer the stability of a wired connection. We would have liked to see an additional USB port on the back panel, like there is on the Sony BDP-S570, Oppo BDP-80, and even the step-down BD-C5500, but it's a minor quibble.
Blu-ray image quality
Like the step-up BD-C6900, the BD-C6500's Blu-ray image quality is in the top tier of player's we've reviewed this year. It passed all of our program material tests and the majority of test patterns we threw at it, indicating that it should provide pristine playback on nearly every Blu-ray you throw at it. Only the most dedicated videophiles will appreciate the minute benefits offered by our image quality king, the Oppo BDP-83.
All our testing was conducted via HDMI at 1080p/60, with the Samsung PN58B650 display and Oppo BDP-83 and LG BD570 for comparison. If your display supports and correctly handles 24 frames per second output (also known as 1080p/24), you can largely ignore these tests as we find all players to have virtually identical 1080p/24 performance. For more information on our testing procedure, consult our full guide to how we test Blu-ray players. Home theater enthusiasts can also see more detailed testing results in our 2010 Blu-ray players comparison chart.
The BD-C6500 was a strong performer on our test pattern suite, passing all of the most important patterns, including the "Film Resolution" and "Video Resolution" tests. The BD-C6500 also did better than expected on the cadence tests, passing seven out of eight cadences, although we'd stress that it's rare that any cadence other than 3:2 is used on actual program material. The BD-C6500 did fail a test with text overlaid on film--the text looked fine, but there were comblike artifacts in the background--but it's not something we ended up seeing in program material.
Ultimately, performance with program material is all that really matters and the BD-C6500 passed all our program material tests. Standard film-based movies like "Ghost Rider" and "Mission: Impossible: III" looked crisp, without any moire in sight. We've seen some players at this price point, such as the Sony BDP-S570 and Vizio VBR200W, have minor issues with video-based titles, but the BD-C6500 handled "Tony Bennett: American Classic" and "Nine Inch Nails Live: Beside You in Time" perfectly. Our reference Oppo BDP-83 did pass a few extra test patterns and has more image tweaking options than the BD-C6500, but the truth is that both players are going to have nearly identical image quality on the vast majority of movies.
We were surprised to find the BD-C6500 to be such a sluggish Blu-ray player, especially considering that its step-up BD-C6900 was one of the fastest players we've tested this year. The good news is that the BD-C6500 is pretty speedy if you've already got the player turned on and you're watching a movie with basic menus, like "Mission: Impossible: III," which loaded in a quick 11.74 seconds. However, if the player if off, the load time spikes to 32.01 seconds, almost twice as slow as the step-up BD-C6900. The BD-C6500 was also pretty pokey with movies with more complex menus, like "Spider-Man 3" and our chapter skip test, which indicates overall operational sluggishness. While the BD-C6500 is still faster than the PS3 Slim, it's the slowest standalone Blu-ray player we've tested this year, coming in slightly behind the Vizio VBR200W.
We didn't encounter any major operational issues with our review sample of the BD-C6500 (it did freeze up once while setting up the Wi-Fi), but it's worth pointing out that last year's line of Samsung Blu-ray players fared poorly in CNET's user reviews--with many people complaining of operational problems. We didn't have significant issues during our review period, however, we'd recommend buyers to keep an eye on CNET's user opinions, as well as popular shopping sites like Amazon and Newegg, to see if there are widespread issues with this year's crop of players.
The BD-C6500 performed well with our suite of DVD tests. Test patterns were a breeze for the Samsung, acing traditional tests like Film Resolution, but also passing eight out of eight cadence tests, which means it should handle relatively uncommon program material well. Most importantly, the BD-C6500 passed all our program tests, which wasn't a surprise considering its test pattern performance. As always, we felt the Oppo BDP-83 looked subjectively better when flipping between the two, but the difference is relatively subtle and only real home theater enthusiasts would notice the difference.
Streaming video image quality
As with most Blu-ray players, we saw no major issues with Netflix streaming on the BD-C6500. That gives the BD-C6500 an edge over the Sony BDP-S570, which suffers from some streaming image quality issues.
Unlike some other new Blu-ray players, the BD-C6500 lacks a quick-start mode and therefore by default uses very little power in standby mode. In comparison, the Sony BDP-S570 has an annual cost of $7.35 with its quick start feature enabled. While we didn't mind the lack of a quick start feature on the step-up BD-C6900--since it's speedy booting up with out quick start--the feature is missed more on the BD-C6500, which is relatively slow to boot up. We would have preferred the option to use a little more juice to reduce the initial boot-up time.