Samsung BD-P4600 - Blu-ray disc player review:

Samsung BD-P4600 - Blu-ray disc player

All of Samsung's 2009 Blu-ray players include Netflix Instant streaming. 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. (CNET Reviews is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS.)

In addition to streaming content off the Internet, the BD-P4600 is also capable of streaming media from a connected PC. Supported file formats include MP3, JPEG, and DivX; we would have liked to have seen at least iTunes-friendly AAC also supported. As of press time, we have not been able to get this functionality working on our network, even though we have no problems using similar streaming products, like the Apple TV, in the same network environment. We will update this section to include further testing.

The BD-P4600 has onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. That means it can decode those soundtrack formats so they can be played back on almost every HDMI-capable AV receiver. Bit-stream output is also supported, if you'd rather the decoding be done in your AV receiver. Those looking to play DVDs with legacy DTS formats, like DTS 96/24, ES, ES Matrix, and Neo:6, will be happy to note the BD-P4600 has decoding for these formats, unlike players that feature DTS-HD Master Audio Essential.

The BD-P4600's connectivity is bare-bones. The main connection is the HDMI output, which is capable of handling 1080p HD video and high-resolution multichannel audio. There's no component-video output, with only a standard composite video available for analog video. For audio, you can use the aforementioned HDMI output, but there's also an optical digital-audio output and a stereo analog output. The rest of the connectivity is rounded out by an Ethernet port and two USB ports (one on the side, one in the connectivity compartment).

Blu-ray performance
Editors' note: The BD-P4600 uses the exact same video processing chip as the step-down BD-P3600, and we observed identical performance, therefore the image quality sections are nearly identical.

Last year's BD-P2500 featured excellent image quality, thanks to HQV processing, so we were interested to see how the BD-P4600 performed without the HQV chip. We started off with Silicon Optix's HQV test suite, with the BD-P4600 connected to a Sony KDL-52XBR7 via HDMI.

The BD-P4600 outperformed our expectations on the test disc. It aced the Video Resolution Test, showing the full detail of Blu-ray without any jaggies showing up on the rotating white line. Next up were two video-based jaggies tests and the BD-P4600 performed well again, with crisp image quality free of jaggies. It passed the Film Resolution Test as well, depicting both the initial test pattern and the long panning shot of Raymond James Stadium without major image defects.

We switched over to actual program material, and the BD-P4600 didn't let up. We fired up "Mission: Impossible III" and the panning sequence at the beginning of Chapter 8 looked perfect, lacking any moire visible in the stairs. It also handled Chapter 16 well, with the trimming of the limo looking jaggy-free as it approaches Tom Cruise. Next we looked at "Ghost Rider" and the end of Chapter 6 was properly rendered, with the BD-P4600 showing no moire in the grille of the RV as the camera pans away. Last up was the video-based "Tony Bennett: An American Classic" and the BD-P4600 did an acceptable job, with only a few jaggies visible in the striped shirts of the dancers. It's worth pointing out that we got nearly identical performance on all these scenes from the entry-level BD-P1600, as well the Panasonic DMP-BD60.

One of the biggest letdowns of Blu-ray compared with DVD so far has been how much slower and less responsive standalone Blu-ray players are at loading and navigating discs. Samsung's BD-P4600, like the step-down BD-P3600, is a huge step ahead for standalone players, as it's the first one we've used that feels just as responsive as the PS3, and in some cases it also loads discs faster. The BD-P4600 loaded "Mission: Impossible III" in a blazing 11 seconds with the player on; the same disc took the PS3 13 seconds, and the Panasonic DMP-BD60 21 seconds. With discs with more elaborate menu systems, the BD-P4600 easily bested other standalones, getting the movie section of "Pirates of the Caribbean" in a minute and 23 seconds, compared with a minute and 53 seconds on the DMP-BD60; the PS3 took a minute and 22 seconds to load this disc. While a dozen seconds here or there may not seem like much, it goes a long way toward making the player more enjoyable to use.

Standard DVD performance
There are still many more movies available on standard DVD than Blu-ray, so standard-def performance still matters. We started off looking at test patterns from Silicon Optix's HQV test suite, with the BD-P4600 upscaling to 1080p.

The BD-P4600 started off strong, resolving all the detail of the initial resolution pattern without any of the image instability that we sometimes see on lesser players. Next up were two video-based jaggies tests, and the BD-P4600 stumbled, failing both tests; jaggies were visible on both the rotating white line and three pivoting lines. On the other hand, it had no problems with the 2:3 pull-down test, as we couldn't see any moire in the grandstands as the race car drove by.

We moved onto program material, starting with "Star Trek: Insurrection," and the BD-P4600 deftly handled the introduction, rendering both the hulls of the boats and the curved bridge railings smoothly. We flipped over to the difficult introduction of "Seabiscuit" and the BD-P4600 performed well again, lacking the jaggies and other image distortions that so frequently show up on this disc. That being said, we had the Panasonic DMP-BD60 onhand to directly compare, and we'd give the nod to the Panasonic for DVD playback, as it had a slightly cleaner and sharper look to it.

What you'll pay

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