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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: Since this review was originally published, the BD-P2550 received firmware updates to enable HD Netflix streams and onboard DTS-HD Master Audio decoding. The review has been updated accordingly.
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-P2550 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 some additional functionality, like Netflix and Pandora streaming, that give it a significant leg up over your standard DVD player. On the other hand, we're still a little skeptical given Samsung's troubling history when it comes to Blu-ray Disc compatibility. However, those issues are mostly overshadowed by the excellent feature set and performance, which make the BD-P2550 strong competition for the highest-rated standalone player, Panasonic's DMP-BD55. 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-P2550 is an excellent choice for Blu-ray buyers looking for some additional media options.
Samsung seems addicted to glossy black designs and the BD-P2550 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 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-P2550 has nice high-definition menus (although the company logo has its share of jagged edges). The main menu features options to directly access both Netflix and Pandora. 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-P2550 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, including HD content, 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.)
Pandora, the free streaming music service, is also available on the BD-P2250. While units such as the LG BD300 and even the Xbox 360 can stream Netflix, the Samsung BD-P2550 is the first Blu-ray player with Pandora. Setting it up was as easy as entering our Pandora account code. We had access to all our stations and it was possible to add new ones on the BD-P2550 using an onscreen keyboard. We preferred to handle those functions using our laptop, however, and just use the BD-P2550 to stream music. Our only complaint is that some basic functions, such as giving a track a "thumbs up" took a while to register. But those are nitpicks on what is generally a great bonus feature.
The BD-P2550 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-P2550 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-P2550 has 1GB of internal memory. While it's easy to add memory to other players, we appreciate that the BD-P2550 "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-P2550 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.