Editors' note (March 30, 2009): The rating of this player has been changed since its initial publication to reflect changes in the marketplace.
Editors' note 01/14/09: Since this review was originally published, the BD-P2500 received firmware updates to enable HD Netflix streams and onboard DTS-HD Master Audio decoding. The review has been updated accordingly.
Editors' note: The Samsung BD-P2500 is nearly identical to the Samsung BD-P2550, the only exception being that the BD-P2550 is exclusive to Best Buy and adds Pandora streaming to the feature set. Otherwise the two products are identical and buyers should opt for the BD-P2550 unless there is a price difference.
One of the main criticisms against Blu-ray is that the technology just doesn't offer much of an advantage over DVD. While we'd argue that the superior image quality can be worth it, we'd agree that many of the other features, such as BD-Live or animated, pop-up menus, don't offer a compelling reason to upgrade to Blu-ray. The Samsung BD-P2500 addresses this criticism head-on. Sure, it has a robust set of Blu-ray features like HQV processing and 7.1 analog outputs, but it also adds additional functionality by way of Netflix's streaming movie service. On the other hand, we're still a little skeptical given Samsung's troubling history when it comes to Blu-ray Disc compatibility. The Panasonic DMP-BD35, meanwhile, remains our basic Blu-ray favorite and the PlayStation 3 is a better value if you're into gaming, but the Samsung BD-P2500 is an solid choice for Blu-ray buyers looking for some additional media options. That being said, there's no reason not to go for the extremely similar BD-P2550 if the two players cost the same, as the BD-P2550 adds Pandora streaming radio to the feature set as well.
Samsung seems addicted to glossy black designs and the BD-P2500 feeds the company's beast. From head-on, the player looks strikingly minimalist. The left side is the busiest, with the Samsung logo in the upper left-hand corner, a disc tray with an open/close button to the right, and the power button in the lower corner. The right side of the player is almost completely blank, except for a black directional pad that subtly blends in with the unit. When you turn the power on, the playback controls become apparent on the directional pad--play, stop, chapter forward/backward--and the LCD screen in the center becomes visible. We liked the stylish look, but be warned, the glossy finish is prone to collect fingerprints.
Samsung fans will recognize the same remote control the company has packaged with most of its products for the last couple of years. Toward the bottom is a directional pad for navigating menus, surrounded by oft-used buttons--although having three menu keys (menu, disc menu, and pop-up menu) becomes a little confusing. There are playback controls just north of the center of the remote, and there's some slight differentiation--including Braille-like nubs--that make it possible to navigate in the dark. It's a solid remote, but we'd really like to see an update.
While the menus of Panasonic's DMP-BD35 still feature blocky standard-definition graphics, the BD-P2500 has nice high-definition menus (although the company logo has its share of jagged edges). Hitting the menu key brings up the more standard menu options, which are easy enough to navigate--we had no issues with routine tasks such as changing the output resolution or audio output format.
One of the premium features available on the BD-P2500 is its Netflix streaming capability. The user experience is nearly identical to that of the Netflix Player by Roku, and we recommend you check out that review for more information. In short, you can stream anything in Netflix's "Watch Now" section and while there are some flaws--much of the SD content is not wide screen, for example--it's a pretty great user experience overall. The initial catalog of movies and TV shows was fairly lackluster, but recent deals with CBS and Disney have significantly improved the content selection, and the soon-to-come Netflix HD should improve image quality. (CNET Reviews is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS.)
The BD-P2500 is Profile 2.0 compliant, which means it's capable of accessing Internet-enabled features (often referred to as "BD-Live" features) available on some movies, such as Transformers and Walk Hard. To access the features, you'll only need to have the BD-P2500 connected to the Internet via its Ethernet port (sorry, no Wi-Fi). Unlike most Blu-ray players, you don't need to connect a memory stick because the BD-P2500 has 1GB of internal memory. While it's easy to add memory to other players, we appreciate that the BD-P2500 "just works" out of the box (and you can add additional memory via the port in the back).
So far, BD-Live features have been pretty underwhelming, but we expect the content to improve as more compliant players hit the market and disc makers get a handle on the new technology. As we've noted with other standalone Blu-ray players, the BD-P2500 still offers a significantly inferior experience to the PS3 on these interactive features--the PS3 just has more processing power and so responds more quickly.
The BD-P2500 has comprehensive soundtrack support, with onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as bit-stream output for both formats. Onboard decoding means that even those with older receivers will be able to enjoy Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio in full resolution over the HDMI output or the analog outputs.