THE GOOD: 3D Blu-ray compatibility; excellent Blu-ray image quality; Netflix, Vudu, YouTube and Pandora media streaming, plus the expandable Samsung Apps platform; built-in Wi-Fi; very fast operational speed; 7.1 analog outputs; 1GB onboard storage.
THE BAD: 3D price premium is high; buttons on top of the player are inconvenient; last year's Samsung Blu-ray players had reliability issues.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung BD-C6900 has excellent Blu-ray performance and is loaded with features, but you pay a lot for the 3D functionality.
It seems like as soon as Blu-ray became a definitively mainstream home theater format, manufacturers scrambled to find a new format to charge extra for--3D. Samsung's BD-C6900 ($360 street price) is the first 3D Blu-ray player we've reviewed so far, and the 3D price premium is steep. The step-down BD-C6500 is nearly identical except it lacks 3D and costs about $135 less. Not to mention the fact that you'll need to buy a new HDTV and pricey 3D glasses, as well as 3D content--which is exceedingly rare at the moment. We also didn't find the 3D Blu-ray experience to be all that satisfying with the Samsung UN55C8000 3D HDTV we used for this test, although we suspect our issues in that area had more to do with the TV than the BD-C6900's 3D performance.
3D-pricing gripes aside, we found the BD-C6900 to be an excellent Blu-ray player. Its outstanding feature set is highlighted by built-in Wi-Fi, the expandable Samsung Apps platform (which already includes services like Netflix, Vudu, and Pandora) and 7.1 analog audio outputs. Its Blu-ray image quality is in the top ranks of Blu-ray players we've tested and its speedy operational performance is bested only by the Sony BDP-S570. If a 3D HDTV is in your future and you're willing to pay the price premium, the BD-C6900 is one of the best Blu-ray players on the market. But if you're taking a wait-and-see approach to 3D--which we'd recommend--save your cash and go with the BD-C6500.
Samsung has a knack for eye-catching designs and the BD-C6900 is no different. Its main gimmick is an illuminated window on the top of the player that lets you see the spinning disc, adding a dimension of depth to the physical design of the player (luckily you can turn the illumination off). Also on the top are touch-sensitive buttons; unfortunately, that location makes them inaccessible if you stack another device on the BD-C6900. From the front, the design features Samsung's standard glossy, black finish, with the disc tray hidden behind a small automatic door on the far left. There's no denying the BD-C6900 looks slick, but the top-positioned buttons are less functional than we would have liked.
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 is simple and straight forward, with the most important buttons, like the directional pad and playback controls, falling easily under our 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-C6900 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.
As you'd expect from a flagship Blu-ray player, the BD-C6900 is well-stocked in the features department. It's 3D Blu-ray compliant out-of-the-box (i.e. it doesn't need a firmware update like the Sony BDP-S570), although you'll need to purchase a 3D HDTV, 3D glasses, and 3D Blu-ray movies to take advantage of the third dimension. (See our 3D TV FAQ for more information.) Again, our main issue is pricing, since the BDP-S570 ($250 street) and PS3 Slim ($300) will both offer 3D compatibility after firmware updates and cost considerably less.
The BD-C6900 also has built-in Wi-Fi, which is a nice upgrade over Samsung's players from last year that required a USB dongle for Wi-Fi. There's 1GB of internal memory, so you won't need a USB memory drive to access BD-Live features, although that 1GB is also used to store downloaded programs from Samsung Apps.
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-C6900 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-C6900 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 11.
Like nearly every Blu-ray player available now, the BD-C6900 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 competing BDP-S570 also offers SACD playback.
The BD-C6900'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. It's also a plus for anyone with existing HDMI-capable AV receivers that lack HDMI 1.4 compatibility. This way you can send 3D video straight to your HDTV and use the analog outputs to connect to your AV receiver.
Like virtually every other player, the BD-C6900 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 and Oppo BDP-80, but it's a minor quibble.
Blu-ray image quality
Overall, the Samsung BD-C6900's Blu-ray image quality is excellent. It passes all of the most important Blu-ray test patterns, as well as all of our program material tests. Though our reference Blu-ray player, the Oppo BDP-83, performs better on a few test patterns, its very difficult to see those differences in actual program material; the vast majority of movies will look identical on the BDP-83 and BD-C6900.
All our testing was conducted via HDMI at 1080p/60, with the Samsung PN58B650 display, and the 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-C6900 ran into no major issues in our suite of test patterns. It easily passed both the film and video resolution tests, indicating it should handle the vast majority of Blu-ray titles well. The BD-C6900 actually came close to passing quite a few of the cadence tests and many of them were judgment calls; it just wasn't clear cut as to whether or not the BD-C6900 passed. That being said, we're aware of virtually no program material that uses uncommon cadences, so these test patterns have little real world value.
We consider program material tests to be even more important than test patterns, and the BD-C6900 passed all our standard program material tests. That gives it a slight edge over other Wi-Fi-connected players like the Sony BDP-S570 and Vizio VBR200W, which have minor issues on relatively uncommon video-based movies. Though we'd still give the overall image quality nod to the reference Oppo BDP-83, the truth is that you're going to get identical performance on the vast majority of movies from the Samsung BD-C6900 and Oppo BDP-83.
We spent plenty of time looking at 3D content with the BD-C6900, but there's not much we can definitely say about its performance. The BD-C6900 is the first and only 3D Blu-ray player CNET has had in its labs, which means we didn't have any competing models to compare it against. Even worse, we had only one 3D TV in-house at the time of this review, and there's only one 3D movie currently available ("Monsters vs. Aliens").
Though we can't directly compare the BD-C6900's 3D performance yet, we can describe our experience with the BD-C6900 directly paired with the Samsung UN55C8000, Samsung 3D's Starter Kit, and "Monsters vs. Aliens." As we mentioned in the UN55C800 review, Samsung's 3D setup definitely creates a credible 3D effect, but ultimately we felt like we just saw too many double images (also known as "crosstalk"). Every time we'd notice the crosstalk, it would take us out of the movie-watching experience, which ironically made the 3D effect feel less immersive. That's unfortunate, because we're not exactly 3D skeptics; we've been impressed at many of the 3D movies we've seen at the theater and the 3D demos companies have been showing in recent years.
Furthermore, we'd emphasize that our criticisms are most likely due to the 3D TV, rather than the BD-C6900, although we have no way of knowing that now. When we get 3D TVs and 3D Blu-ray players in from other manufacturers, we'll be better able to determine the performance of each individual piece of equipment.
The Samsung BD-C6900 is one of the fastest Blu-ray players we've tested this year, bested only by the Sony BDP-S570. In fact, the BD-C6900 was by far the fastest player to load a movie with simple menus, like "Mission: Impossible III," coming in at 9.33 seconds. We were also impressed with the Samsung BD-C6900's boot-up times; even without a "quick start" mode, it was able to load movie in 15.95 seconds, which is just as fast as the BDP-S570's quick start mode. The BD-C6900 wasn't quite as quick on movies with more complex menus and it was a little slower than expected on our chapter-skip test, but overall the BD-C6900 is one of the fastest Blu-ray players you'll be able to buy this year.
We didn't encounter any major operational issues with our review sample of the BD-C6900, 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 any problems 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.
If all we did was look at test patterns, we'd say the BD-C6900's DVD image quality is subpar. It failed the most important test pattern we have, the film resolution test, which indicates the BD-C6900 should struggle with film-based DVDs. However, when we looked at actual program material, the BD-C6900 didn't have problems; we can usually easily see jaggies on the introduction to "Star Trek: Insurrection" if a player can't properly do 2:3 pulldown processing. Digging a little deeper into the issue, we noticed that the BD-C6900 did pass the film resolution test on the older HQV Benchmark DVD (version 1.4).
We've contacted both Samsung and HQV about the discrepancy, and we'll update the review when we find more information. We're not sure who's at fault--no other Blu-ray players have struggled with the new HQV disc, but the BD-C6900 does handle other 2:3 pulldown test patterns fine--but the bottom line is that the BD-C6900 doesn't have any issues with actual program material. Anecdotally, we found the BD-C6900's to be on par with the LG BD570, but a touch behind the Panasonic DMP-BD85K.
As with most Blu-ray players, we saw no major issues with Netflix streaming on the BD-C6900. That gives the BD-C6900 an edge over the Sony BDP-S570, which suffers from some streaming image quality issues.
Unlike some other new Blu-ray players, the BD-C6900 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. The BD-C6900 loads up just as fast as the BDP-S570 without a power-hungry quick start mode, so we didn't miss any speed and appreciated the BD-C6900's low-power-consumption design.