Samsung BD-C6500: Great Image Quality, a Few Design Quirks
At a Glance
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A few annoying design quirks can’t take the shine out of the otherwise excellent, reasonably priced Samsung BD-C6500.
Just about any way you look at it, the Samsung BD-C6500 is a first-rate Blu-ray player. The picture quality is among the best we've seen to date, it has audio options that are particularly friendly to older home theater surround-sound systems, and it brings Internet services such as Netflix, Pandora, Vudu, and YouTube to your television, too. And at $225 (as of December 6, 2010), this model won't empty your wallet.
Our image-quality judges gave it grades of Superior (our highest mark) throughout our tests in the PCWorld Labs, with only a smattering of Very Good scores. The colors in the computer-animated Cars were exceptional. We noted better white balance (when compared with our reference player, a Sony PlayStation 3) and extremely sharp and reflective water glasses in the first scene from the black-and-white Good Night and Good Luck. And the contrast was superb in chapters 4 and 20 of The Searchers: Skin tones looked especially dramatic, with the tanned, brown skin of the men marking a contrast against the paleness of the women.
It even managed to impress us at the more difficult job of upscaling DVDs. These didn't look as good as Blu-ray discs, naturally, but we noted excellent facial details and dimensionality (by DVD standards) in a crowd scene from Phantom of the Opera (2004 version, chapter 3).
Great pictures should be accompanied by great sound, of course. Any Blu-ray player can send high-quality audio to a modern, HDMI-equipped surround receiver--it just has to send the bitstream down the wire. But older, pre-HDMI receivers can't decode the newer formats; and besides that, their optical S/PDIF inputs can't handle that much data. Most Blu-ray players support older hardware by converting Dolby TrueHD to Dolby Digital, DTS-HD Master Audio to DTS, and surround PCM to downmixed, two-track PCM.
The BD-C6500 can do all that, but it also offers the option to reencode everything to DTS--the best-quality surround format that older receivers can handle. This means that your Dolby TrueHD soundtracks will likely sound better than Dolby Digital, and your PCM soundtracks will still surround you. This feature would have been even better if the player allowed you to assign which audio formats get converted--reencoding Dolby Digital to DTS couldn't help, and might hurt the sound.
Like so many of today's Blu-ray players, the BD-C6500 does more than play discs. Hook it up to the Internet via ethernet or Wi-Fi, and you have access to Netflix, Pandora, Vudu, and YouTube. Netflix image quality was reasonably good (by Netflix standards), although the BD-C6500 doesn't offer the newer Netflix user interface (found on the Vizio VBR200W) that allows you to add movies to your queue at the player rather than only on your PC. Samsung's YouTube interface is simple and straightforward, but entering search text can be a bit clumsy.
Vudu, a pay-per-view and pay-to-own service, allows you to stream from a large selection of movies and TV shows, including big-name titles just released on DVD and Blu-ray. Many titles are available in standard definition, HD, and what Vudu calls "HDX," which is 1080p just as a Blu-ray disc is. But is it as good as a Blu-ray? That depends on the speed of your Internet connection.
Other Internet-streaming offerings on this player include Accu Weather, Blockbuster OnDemand, GettyImages, and Picasa. It even has Google Maps, although that application makes a lot more sense on a PC or a phone than on a Blu-ray Disc player that you'll be using with a remote control.
Setting up Wi-Fi is reasonably easy and intuitive, considering the inherent difficulty of entering a strong password into a device without a true keyboard. Depending on your home's setup, you may not be able to get decent streaming quality over Wi-Fi.
However you get the BD-C6500 onto your network, once it's connected you can use it to enjoy media stored on your computers. According to the otherwise very good manual, setting this up requires you to download and install special Samsung software. But it's not actually required--any DLNA server, such as Windows Media Player, will do.
The interface for selecting your PC's media can be klutzy, though. For instance, after you pick Music, Videos, or Pictures from the main menu, you're asked to pick Music, Videos, or Pictures again. The first time, the BD-C6500 is asking what kind of media you want to view; the second, it's asking where to look for the files. If you don't give the same answer each time, you'll be told that it can't find, for instance, videos in your Music folder.
Even so, the interface has its good points. You can browse tunes by genre, artist, and other criteria. And if you organize your photos by tags, the BD-C6500's "keyword" browsing will help you find what you're looking for.
You can also view photos, and play music and videos, off a USB storage device, such as a flash drive. The player supports .jpg images, .mp3 and .wma audio, and several video formats, including XviD and DivX .avi files and MPEG-1 and -2.
And if you just want to watch a Blu-ray disc, you won't have to wait long. The BD-C6500 loaded the Independence Day disc in 33 seconds; only the Sony BDP-S570 did better (26 seconds). It also responded quickly to the remote's Pause and Skip buttons.
Speaking of the remote, it's well designed and easy to use. Although its size and shape aren't exceptional, its buttons are few, large, and simple to differentiate and press. It's programmable. Nothing is backlit, but the play-control buttons (Play, Pause, Skip, and so forth) glow slightly in the dark. The buttons for bringing up and navigating menus are directly below the play-control buttons, and almost as easy to reach.
The on-screen menus those buttons control have an attractive, wood-grain look to them. More important, they're largely intuitive (the above-discussed problem with network-based media is a rare exception). They're also informative, explaining the options in what is usually helpful language. The first time you turn the BD-C6500 on, a wizard guides you through the setup.
You can press either the remote's Info button or its Tools button for information on what you're watching (the Tools button also provides menus for changing the chapter, soundtrack, and other options). But some important information is still missing. For instance, the window won't tell you the time remaining (it gives you the time elapsed and the total time, so you can do the math), nor will it tell you the current audio format.
While the remote is excellent, the buttons on the player itself are anything but. Simply pressure-sensitive spots on the front panel, they give no tactile feedback. When inserting a flash drive, I accidentally shut off the player without realizing it.
Such disappointments are few in the Samsung BD-C6500. Superb images, very good audio options, Internet and multimedia capabilities, and a first-class remote make this Blu-ray player an excellent choice.