Video on demand is massively popular, but that’s not to say that optical disc players have had their day. Blu-ray disc sales remain strong, plus of course many of us have extensive collections of DVDs and CDs, while the future may yet yield a 4K disc format.
But what makes the Samsung BD-F6500 Blu-ray player so intriguing is that its £120/AU$190 (around US$183) price tag gives you a bountiful feature set that includes a smart TV experience that makes many TV screens look shabby.
Further cutting-edge benefits include dual-core processing, wireless networking, multi-media file streaming, screen mirroring, Wi-Fi direct and 3D playback.
Design-wise, the Samsung BD-F6500 has plenty going for it. It’s compact – measuring just 40mm deep, 196mm high and 360mm wide (1.6 x 7.7 x 14.2 inches) – with a distinctive curved corner and touch-sensitive transport controls on the top. The fascia boasts nothing more than a camouflaged USB port, disc tray and an LED window that has a large, legible display.
The back panel is more boring than Avengers Assemble, with just three sockets on show, all of which are digital with HDMI, Ethernet and an optical audio output. Analogue is now the exclusive preserve of high-end enthusiasts.
What the deck lacks in sockets it makes up for in terms of logos, with a trail of them festooned across the top to reassure you about its ability to output 1080p video, DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby True HD.
There’s also an Anynet+ HDMI-CEC logo, which tells us that you can operate the Blu-ray player using a compatible TV screen’s remote control. The best interaction comes when using a Samsung screen, with for example BD Wise appearing as a new picture mode on the Samsung UE46F7000 only when it’s selected as the output on the deck. Any CEC-compatible screen will provide basic playback control, which is a handy feature.
Owners of Samsung Galaxy smartphones can throw content with the flick of a finger on to a TV via the Samsung BD-F6500, too.
The Samsung BD-F6500 is the Korean giant’s entry-level Blu-ray deck for 2013, with just one other model, the Samsung BD-F7500, pitched at hardcore AV enthusiasts. The step-up model adds 4K upscaling, dual HDMIs, improved DVD upscaling and error correction, and multi-channel analogue audio outputs to the Blu-ray party. Hence, a much heftier price of £250/US$250 (around AU$385).
Elsewhere in the mid-range Blu-ray 2013 market, the Samsung BD-F6500 competes with 3D-capable, Wi-Fi-toting smart TV decks such as the Panasonic DMP-BDT130, Sony BDP-S5100 with Triluminos Colour, Pioneer BDP-150 and Toshiba BDX4300.
Switch on the Samsung BD-F6500 and you’re confronted with an eye-popping home screen, split into eight panes. This places the deck’s smart capabilities to the fore with movies and TV shows, apps and multimedia given prominence.
Below are icons for accessing three apps, the web browser and the settings menu. It all feels utterly modern, with multimedia files especially well presented with large, legible letters and jumbo-sized thumbnails.
File support impressively includes FLAC, MKV with subtitles, XviD, AVCHD, DivX, M2TS, M4A, WMA, WAV and MP4, with DLNA streaming from our Netgear router limited to FLAC, MP3 and M4A.
Head to the settings menu to tinker with options for the display, audio, network, smart features and system support. Based on Samsung’s TV screen GUI, the operating system is slicker than Don Draper’s pomade collection.
Some decks can tie you up in knots as you navigate from menu to menu inputting information, but the Samsung BD-F6500 has got it nailed. When searching online, the on-screen keypad intelligently presents the letters you’re most likely to need next in a sort of T9 way.
Picture output options include HDMI Deep Colour, the usual raft of screen resolutions (plus BD Wise), DVD 24fps conversion, aspect ratio, 3D settings and progressive mode. Audio settings include options to output as PCM, unencoded bitstream or encoded as Dolby Digital or DTS. There are plenty of controls for optimising the deck, presented in a logical and easy to use way.
The Movies and TV Shows portal displays recommendations from video on demand services including Netflix and Acetrax. It can be frustrating not knowing the provenance of each title, nor can you do a search.
So although its recommendations are based on your viewing habits, we suspect the Apps portal will get a lot more use, where you can browse the 150-odd apps, split into six genre folders. This is an impressive number for a Blu-ray player, and includes BBC Sport, BlinkBox, iPlayer, 4OD, BFI Player, YouTube, Lovefilm and PictureBox among the Video On Demand section.
The Samsung BD-F6500 has an inelegant but comfortable remote, featuring rugged, rubberised buttons, including glow in the gloom playback controls. A handy Tools button provides a quick way of navigating a disc, changing subtitles or audio, and so on.
The deck is quick out of the traps when it comes to disc loading, but it’s not all exemplary, since the disc tray shudders like a rattlesnake as it closes, and while spinning a platter it can sound like there’s a demented fly inside trying to escape.
Take any mid-range Blu-ray deck these days and you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference in terms of picture quality. The Samsung BD-F6500 fits neatly into that category.
Our Spears & Munsil HD Benchmark test disc reveals the limits of the deck’s capabilities, with the 24p wedge pattern breaking up as it swirls. Horizontal scrolling titles stutter more than vertical ones, and there are minor artefacts and smudging with edge adaptive material.
In the real world, though, Argo on Blu-ray is grainy but strongly detailed with realistic colours and natural skin tones. Night time scenes hold up well, with reasonable clarity during a driving sequence.
Sully’s facial features are blisteringly well presented in Avatar, which looks effortlessly sparkling throughout. The 3D performance is especially good, with Monsters vs Aliens showing convincing depth to the wedding scene and a near absence of cross-talk, including the pan down of the church tower.
DVD upscaling on the Samsung BD-F6500 is also good. BBC comedy drama Rev, for example, looks free of artefacts, with minor levels of unwanted noise and slightly soft skin.
Multimedia files all look excellent, especially JPEGs, which have levels of detail to make a Retina display-toting iPad envious. We experienced no problems with a variety of on-demand services. Masterchef in HD on BBC iPlayer and House of Cards on Netflix, for example, both scrubbed up nicely.
The Samsung BD-F6500 is an attractive deck with a user interface that is a total delight. Its bright, contemporary GUI is a pleasure to use and makes setting up and multimedia playback an absolute doddle. The video on-demand portal is primed with just about the best selection of apps on any Blu-ray player. Picture performance is also bang on.
The Movies and TV Shows portal would be better if you could specify which on-demand services it featured. The deck is also noisy in operation, and the disc tray shakes like a belly dancer. The remote control could also do with a makeover.
Jettisoning analogue outputs seems reasonable enough on what is a straightforward all-digital deck. By favouring and refining the smart TV side of things, Samsung seems to have its finger on the pulse and has delivered an excellent all round Blu-ray deck for today’s rapidly evolving home entertainment market.
In terms of sheer picture quality, Pioneer’s BDP-150 actually edges it over the Samsung, but has limited smart TV and requires an optional Wi-Fi dongle. Sony’s BDP-S5100 ups the social ante with a TV SideView app for interacting with iOS and Android devices, while Panasonic’s DMP-BDT130 is almost the same price as the Samsung BD-F6500 but lacks built-in Wi-Fi.