As much we liked last year's slew of Blu-ray home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems, they still involved some features compromises, such as missing built-in Wi-Fi and HDMI connectivity. This year, Blu-ray HTIBs are filling in a lot of those holes and Samsung's HT-C6500 ($550 street price) is one of the most fully featured we've seen, including built-in Wi-Fi, two HDMI inputs, and 1GB of onboard storage.
The HT-C6500 also has Samsung's expandable Apps platform, which includes streaming-media services such as Netflix, YouTube, Vudu, and Pandora. If only features mattered, the HT-C6500 would be less of a standout choice; for example, the LG LHB535 ($400 street price) includes much of the same functionality for $150 less. What puts the HT-C6500 over the top is its outstanding sound quality, coming much closer to the sound of a separates-based system than any other HTIB we've tested recently.
Most of our complaints come on the design side, such as the buttons on the top of the player, the need for a separate iPod dock dongle, rather than a dock integrated into the system, and a graphical user interface designed more for a standalone Blu-ray player. We also still have some concerns about Samsung's Blu-ray player reliability (last year's HT-BD1250 was not spared from reliability issues, according to user opinions), but we didn't run into any issues during our testing.
Those issues aside, its excellent mix of features and superior sonics make the HT-C6500 the best Blu-ray HTIB we've tested this year.
AV receiver/Blu-ray player combo
Touch sensitive buttons on the top
Samsung has completely redesigned its user interface from last year, and we like the new look. It's visually appealing, with a wood-grain background and large icons for different media types (Internet@TV, music, video, photos). There are also five large icons at the top for popular streaming services (Rovi TV listings, Blockbuster, Netflix, Vudu, and Pandora), so you can quickly access them without jumping into the more involved Samsung Apps interface. Unfortunately you can't customize which icons show up at the top, so if you're not a fan of, say, Rovi TV listings, you can't replace that with Picasa.
As much as we liked the user interface for streaming functionality, we would have liked a more specialized interface for the HT-C6500, which is largely the same as Samsung's standalone Blu-ray players. There's not an easy visual way to select the different inputs available on the HT-C6500; the LG has a separate menu where you can browse your available options. It won't be a problem for tech-savvy users, but it makes it harder for non-techies to use.