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We take Blu-ray playback for granted these days, with the vast majority of players pumping out nearly identical image quality, no matter the price. The Philips BDP5506 is an exception, failing many of our basic Blu-ray and DVD image quality tests, and it's the first player we've tested this year to do so. It also carries a premium price ($165 street), but is missing many of the premium streaming services available on competitors, like Hulu Plus, MLB.TV, and Amazon Instant. The Philips BDP5506 does offer its unique MediaConnect screencasting feature, but we found it difficult to get working properly and its usefulness limited. For $165, we think buyers will be better off with midrange competitors, especially the Panasonic DMP-BDT210 and LG BD670.
Philips generally has a knack for unique designs, but the BDP5506 looks like a generic Blu-ray player. The only design flair of note is a gray notch under the disc drive, but it doesn't do much to make the player stand out. The front-panel buttons are all touch-sensitive, but they work well enough that we didn't mind them. On the far right is a USB port, but otherwise the front panel is unadorned.
The included remote is mostly well-designed. The directional pad is centrally positioned, Blu-ray-centric buttons like "pop-up menu" surrounding it. The large home button at the top is also appreciated, letting you escape back to the main menu no matter what you're doing. The playback buttons are tiny, and the eject button is strangely buried toward the bottom of the remote, but overall it's a decent remote.
The home menu screen on the BDP5506 is one of the more straightforward we've seen. "Play disc," "Browse USB," and "Browse Net TV" are the simple options on the home screen, which are more descriptive than on most Blu-ray players.
Once you select the Net TV streaming-content portal, the design isn't quite as nice. While competitors like Panasonic and LG feature jumbo-size icons that are easy to read while leaning back on the couch, Philips has a more cluttered look, with many smaller icons for streaming services. There are also tons of services of dubious quality, which mostly get in the way of finding content you actually want. We were happy that the included Netflix app has an updated interface, allowing for extensive browsing options and search.
The BDP5506 does also offer the ability to access Vudu's suite of apps, which includes some solid services such as full episodes of PBS shows like "Nova" and "Nature." We're less enthused about the social media apps, since they don't work as well in the big-screen environment. Of course, it's confusing that some apps are available on the main Net TV screen and some are only available within Vudu, and overall that makes Net TV feel more slapdash than the content portals of other manufacturers.
Editors' note: Senior Editor David Katzmaier covered Philips' MediaConnect software extensively in his review of the Philips PFL5706 series of HDTVs. We're reprinted his experience, adapted for the BDP5506, as the functionality is the same and because of the frustrating fact that MediaConnect does not work with our network equipment in the lab.
Philips' main differentiating feature is MediaConnect, which allows the BDP5506 to display the contents of a laptop PC screen wirelessly. The appeal of this feature is pretty limited, however. First off, with numerous streaming-video sources built into the Blu-ray player already, using a laptop as a source seems kludgy and inconvenient. If you need to, however, you can get the same functionality by wiring any laptop via HDMI or VGA to any TV, or wirelessly via products like Veebeam and Intel Wireless Display. MediaConnect is for someone who wants to watch Hulu.com or other free Web-only video sources, or display video files stored on a PC, frequently enough to demand a built-in wireless approach.
Having installed the MediaConnect software, which is only available for PCs and comes with robust hardware requirements, we found that using the feature was a mixed bag. When it worked, the experience was good: picture quality was basically identical to what we saw on the PC's screen, audio was in sync, and playback was stable as long as we remained in range. The only issue was a 2-second delay in the TV's response that--similar to Veebeam--makes performing input-dependent tasks on the big screen well-nigh impossible.
Unfortunately the system only worked with one of the two routers we tried, a new Apple AirPort Extreme, and failed when used with an older SMC Barricade--our current AV lab workhorse that works flawlessly with many other Wi-Fi home theater products. While Philips doesn't provide an official list of recommended routers, a company contact gave us a list of models his lab has tested and confirmed to be compatible. Others may work fine, but then again, they may not.
Distance was also a major factor. We couldn't get MediaConnect to work from the next room, about 40 feet away, even though the TV's other streaming services like Netflix worked fine from there via Wi-Fi. Philips claims a maximum range of 70 feet with no obstructions, and says the closer the PC and TV are to the router, the better. We experienced better stability and range when we connected the TV via Ethernet instead of using the TV's Wi-Fi connection. See Philips' FAQ for more information.
As with any such system, your mileage will vary depending on local conditions and hardware, and our testing lab is a pretty unforgiving location. Overall, however, we prefer Veebeam or Intel Wireless Display if you're looking for this kind of functionality, both of which use dedicated hardware that doesn't depend on your home network's wireless router.
|3D Blu-ray||Yes||Onboard memory||No|
The BDP5506 has the two key features we expect from a player in this price range: built-in Wi-Fi and 3D compatibility. While there isn't 2D-to-3D conversion or onboard memory, we don't consider either feature to be a major loss, as converted 3D usually doesn't look very good and onboard memory is only useful for BD-Live features that generally aren't that engaging. Philips also doesn't offer a smartphone app for controlling the player, which can occasionally be useful for controlling streaming-media services.
Philips' Net TV suite of services covers many of the major services we care about (Netflix, Vudu, Pandora), but it's a little skimpy compared with major Blu-ray manufacturers like Samsung, LG, Panasonic and Sony. If you're interested in streaming services like Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, and MLB.TV, you'll have to look at competing players. The BDP5506 also lacks DLNA compatibility, which is available on most other players in this price range.
For more information on the streaming-media services available on competitors, check out our extensive hands-on review.
|HDMI outputs||Single||Analog outputs||Stereo|
|Component video output||No||Digital audio outputs||Coaxial|
|USB ports||1||SD card slot||No|
The Philips BDP5506 has a basic connectivity package, and its HDMI output and coaxial digital audio output should be enough to cover most home theaters. There's no component video output, but that's not a major loss since 2011 Blu-ray players are limited to 480i resolution over component, because of annoying AACS rules.
|Blu-ray disc load times and player speed|
|Average seconds||Composite score|
|Disc loading||43.61||Disc loading||92|
|CNET speed rating||86|
|Higher composite scores indicate faster performance, with an average 2011 Blu-ray player having a composite score of 100. For more information, see our guide to how we test Blu-ray players.|
The Philips BDP5506 has a CNET speed rating of 86, which means it's somewhat slower than an average 2011 midrange Blu-ray player. It does the best on arguably the most important speed tests: disc-loading and Netflix loading. It also offers a quick start mode, which shaves about 6.5 seconds off standard load times when the player is off. It suffered the worst on our navigation tests, especially when skipping multiple chapters on a Blu-ray. The BDP5506 won't impress you with its speed, but it's fast enough to not be frustrating.
If you're interested in all the details about the BDP5506's speed compared with other 2011 players, check out our full 2011 Blu-ray player comparison chart and scroll down to the load times section.
In 2011, we've typically started our discussion of Blu-ray player image quality with a caveat that pretty much all Blu-ray players offer similar image quality these days, so it shouldn't be a major part of your buying decision. With the Philips BDP5506, that's not quite true. Not only does it fail quite a few of our standard test patterns, it also failed with many of our program material tests on both Blu-ray and DVD. Whether you're a videophile or even just a casual movie fan, there's really no reason to put up with substandard image quality, since the vast majority of Blu-ray players offer nearly perfect Blu-ray playback.
If you're into the nitty-gritty image quality details, check out our full 2011 Blu-ray player comparison chart and scroll down to the performance section. For more information on our testing procedure, consult our guide to how we test Blu-ray players.
|Film resolution||Fail||"Ghost Rider"||Fail|
|Video resolution||Pass||"Mission Impossible: III"||Fail|
|Text overlay on film||Pass||"Sunshine"||Fail|
|Cadence tests||0/8||"Tony Bennett: An American Classic"||Pass|
|Chroma zone plate||Fail||"NIN Live: Beside You In Time"||Pass|
The Philips BDP5506 failed quite a few test patterns, and more troubling, all of our film-based program material tests. That means you'll potentially run into image quality issues on typical Hollywood movies. These issues will typically looking like jaggies or moire on thin angled lines, which we saw on both "Mission Impossible: III," "Ghost Rider," and "Sunshine." Considering that we rarely see any major differences in Blu-ray image quality these days, it was surprising to find the Philips fail these basic tests.
Though the image quality of Netflix streaming video varied a little bit last year between players, we haven't observed any differences so far among this year's models. The BDP5506 provides the same Netflix image quality as other players, but remember that streamed image quality varies a lot on a title-by-title basis, and also depends heavily on the quality of your broadband connection and home network.
|Video resolution||Fail||"Star Trek: Insurrection"||Fail|
|Text overlay on film||Pass||"Invite Them Up"||Pass|
Again, the BDP5506 performed well below average on our DVD image quality tests. It's been a long time since a player has failed our stalwart "Star Trek: Insurrection" test, but the BDP5506 filled the screen with jaggies. The artifacts and jaggies are even more obvious on DVD than Blu-ray, so even casual viewers will notice the diminished image quality.
With so many superior Blu-ray players available at the same price, we can't think of a good reason to get the Philips BDP5506 over its competitors.