Editors' note: We recently posted a follow-up story regarding low ratings from CNET users on Samsung's Blu-ray players.
Whether you go for an entry-level Blu-ray player or a more expensive midrange model mostly comes down to whether you need one feature--built-in Wi-Fi. Samsung's BD-C5500 lacks built-in Wi-Fi (although it can be added with an $80 USB dongle), but comes in about at $65 cheaper than the step-up BD-C6500 and still offers up the same excellent image quality. The BD-C5500 also features Samsung Apps, the company's expandable platform for streaming media and other Internet services like Twitter. While it may not achieve the same popularity as Apple's App Store, the platform is already well-stocked with names like Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, and YouTube. The BD-C5500 is also one of the few entry-level players to also be DLNA-compliant; both the LG BD550 and Panasonic DMP-BD65K lack the ability to stream digital media over a network.
On the other hand, the BD-C5500 lacks many of the extra features that give the more expensive BD-C6500 its edge over the competition, such as 7.1 analog audio outputs and onboard memory. It also shares its step-up's other flaws, namely sluggish operational speed and the fact that last year's Samsung Blu-ray player seemed to have reliability issues. Overall, the BD-C5500 stands out from the entry-level pack with Samsung Apps and DLNA-compatibility, but if those features are not a priority for you, you might be happier with a faster entry-level player.
The BD-C5500 has a glossy black finish on its front panel, augmented by a silver strip in the upper right that marks the playback controls. The look isn't one of the company's best, with the silver strip reminding us more of the Vizio VBR200W than Samsung's traditionally slick style. There's a large LCD display in the center of the unit and underneath the front panel controls is a pull-away tab revealing a USB port. The front panel controls are actually touch-sensitive buttons, which we found to be plenty responsive. The design is certainly more functional that the top-located buttons on the BD-C6900 and even though we like the look of other Samsungs more, it's still better than the boxy aesthetics of Panasonic's players.
Samsung has redesigned its Blu-ray remote this year, opting for a wider, flatter clicker that lacks much of the glossy finish that collected fingerprints on the old remotes. The new button layout straightforward, with the most important buttons, like the directional pad and playback controls, falling easily under the thumb. The number pad is a bit oversized for our tastes (who uses the number pad frequently?) and the eject button could be more prominent, but those are minor issues. The remote can also control a TV.
Samsung has completely redesigned its user interface, 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. Overall, it's an upgrade of prior Samsung user interfaces that makes it easier to jump into whichever service you'd like to use.
If you want to dig deeper into Samsung's online offerings, you can access the Samsung Apps platform (aka Internet@TV; Samsung uses the terms interchangeably). Here you can browse and download new apps, which are categorized into genres like video, game, sports, and lifestyle. All of the current available apps are free, but Samsung said that premium apps will be available in the future. We haven't seen any new apps pop up since we've had the player, so it's tough to gauge how much additional functionality the platform will provide. We also would have liked to see the option to rate apps, which would make it easier to find quality programs.
In addition to streaming content, the BD-C5500 can also browse digital media files on a connected USB drive. We found the method of navigation for digital media files to be a little geekier than the other menus, but that's understandable since it's more of an advanced feature in the first place. On the other hand, the layout could use work; for instance, when browsing an album, there are two columns of tracks and it can initially be difficult to determine which is the first track.
|3D Blu-ray||No||Onboard memory||No|
The BD-C5500 has a basic feature set, but that's the norm for entry-level Blu-ray players. There's no built-in Wi-Fi, although Samsung does offer am $80 USB Wi-Fi dongle if you want to add wireless connectivity later. However, note that it only costs $65 more for the step-up BD-C6500, which has built in Wi-Fi; in other words, if you want Wi-Fi, just get the BD-C6500, which has other additional features as well.
For 2010, Samsung has taken a different approach to streaming media services than its competitors, with Samsung Apps. Likely modeled after the iPhone's App Store, Samsung Apps allows developers to create programs that can be downloaded by compatible Samsung products, enabling owners to add whichever programs they like. To be fair, other manufacturers have added features via firmware updates, but Samsung's platform appears more easily expandable, which means buyers may benefit from additional services added as time goes on.
Even if no new services get added to Samsung Apps, the initial selection of streaming media services is excellent. All the major bases are covered, including subscription-based streaming movies from Netflix, pay-per-view streaming movies from Vudu and free streaming music from Pandora. Our only slight disappointment is that the BD-C5500 still uses the somewhat older Netflix interface, rather than the newer, more capable interface available on the LG BD550 and the PS3 Slim.
The BD-C5500 is also DLNA-compliant and capable of streaming video, audio, and photo files from a network-connected PC or viewing them from USB drive. The DLNA compliancy is a big step-up from the "PC streaming" feature offered last year that was difficult to set up, even for tech enthusiasts; we had no problem streaming files this year. We also had no trouble playing a couple MKV and DivX HD files off an attached USB drive; a full list of supported formats is available in the manual on page 10.
|Dolby TrueHD||Yes||DTS-HD Master Audio||Yes|
|Dolby Digital Plus||Yes||DTS-HD HR||Yes|
Like nearly every Blu-ray player available now, the BD-C5500 offers onboard decoding for both high-resolution Dolby and DTS formats. If you're looking to play back SACDs and DVD-Audios, you'll need to look to Oppo's competing players; Sony's competing BDP-S370 also offers SACD playback.
|HDMI version||HDMI 1.3||Stereo analog||Yes|
|Component video||Yes||Multichannel analog||No|
The BD-C5500's AV output selection is basic, but that's to be expected for an entry-level model. There are no multichannel analog outputs, although Samsung does offer 7.1 analog outputs on the step-up BD-C6500. Many Blu-ray players also have both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, but it's not a major issue unless you're out of open optical inputs on your AV receiver.
|Ethernet||Yes||SD card slot||No|
|USB ports||2||RS-232 port||No|
Like virtually every other player, the BD-C5500 also includes an Ethernet port if you prefer the stability of a wired connection. We were happy to note that the BD-C5500's back panel USB port--labeled for the Wi-Fi adapter--can be used for a USB drive if you don't use the Wi-Fi adapter. Interestingly, both the step-up BD-C6500 and BD-C6900 are limited to one USB port.
Blu-ray image quality
Editors' note: We found the BD-C5500 to have identical Blu-ray and DVD image quality as the step-up BD-C6500. Therefore, the following sections will be largely the same.
Like the step-up BD-C6500, the BD-C5500's Blu-ray image quality is in the top tier of player's we've reviewed this year. It passed all of our program material tests and the majority of test patterns we threw at it, indicating that it should provide pristine playback on nearly every Blu-ray you throw at it. Only the most dedicated videophiles will appreciate the minute benefits offered by our image quality king, the Oppo BDP-83.
All our testing was conducted via HDMI at 1080p/60, with the Samsung PN58B650 display and Oppo BDP-83 and LG BD570 for comparison. If your display supports and correctly handles 24 frames per second output (also known as 1080p/24), you can largely ignore these tests as we find all players to have virtually identical 1080p/24 performance. For more information on our testing procedure, consult our full guide to how we test Blu-ray players. Home theater enthusiasts can also see more detailed testing results in our 2010 Blu-ray players comparison chart.
|Film resolution||Pass||Dynamic range high||Pass|
|Video resolution||Pass||Dynamic range low||Pass|
|Text overlay on film||Fail||Luma multiburst||Pass|
|Cadence tests||7/8||Chroma multiburst||Pass|
|Chroma bug test||Pass|
The BD-C5500 was a strong performer on our test pattern suite, passing all of the most important patterns, including the "Film Resolution" and "Video Resolution" tests. The BD-C5500 also did better than expected on the cadence tests, passing seven out of eight cadences, although we'd stress that it's rare that any cadence other than 3:2 is used on actual program material. The BD-C5500 did fail a test with text overlaid on film--the text looked fine, but there were comblike artifacts in the background--but it's not something we ended up seeing in program material.
|"Ghost Rider"||Pass||"Tony Bennett"||Pass|
|"M:I:III"||Pass||"NIN Live"; chapter 3||Pass|
|"Sunshine"||Pass||"NIN Live"; chapter 4||Pass|
Ultimately, performance with program material is all that really matters and the BD-C5500 passed all our program material tests. Standard film-based movies like "Ghost Rider" and "Mission: Impossible: III" looked crisp, without any moir&232; in sight. We've seen some players, such as the Sony BDP-S570 and Vizio VBR200W, have minor issues with video-based titles, but the BD-C5500 handled "Tony Bennett: American Classic" and "Nine Inch Nails Live: Beside You in Time" perfectly. Our reference Oppo BDP-83 did pass a few extra test patterns and has more image tweaking options than the BD-C5500, but the truth is that both players are going to have nearly identical image quality on the vast majority of movies.
|"M:I:III" | player on||11.23||"POTC" | until movie||85.85|
|"M:I:III" | player off | quickstart||n/a||"Spider-Man 3" | until movie||75.62|
|"M:I:III" | player off | no quickstart||11.23||"Sunshine" | chapter skip||26.83|
|"POTC" | past loading||27.65||CNET speed rating (composite score)||74|
We were surprised to find the BD-C5500 to be such a sluggish Blu-ray player, especially considering that the flagship BD-C6900 was one of the fastest players we've tested this year. The good news is that the BD-C5500 is pretty speedy if you've already got the player turned on and you're watching a movie with basic menus, like "Mission Impossible: III", which loaded in a quick 11.23 seconds. However, if the player if off, the load time spikes to 29.74 seconds, almost twice as slow as the step-up BD-C6900. The BD-C5500 was also pretty pokey with movies with more complex menus, like "Spiderman 3" and our chapter skip test, which indicates overall operational sluggishness. While the BD-C5500 is still faster than the PS3 Slim, it's the slowest standalone Blu-ray player we've tested this year, tying the Vizio VBR200W.
We didn't encounter any major operational issues with our review sample of the BD-C5500, but it's worth pointing out that last year's line of Samsung Blu-ray players fared poorly in CNET's user reviews--with many people complaining of operational problems. We didn't have significant issues during our review period, however, we'd recommend buyers to keep an eye on CNET's user opinions, as well as popular shopping sites like Amazon and Newegg, to see if there are widespread issues with this year's crop of players.
|Video resolution||Fail||"Star Trek: Insurrection"||Pass|
|Text overlay on film||Pass||"Invite Them Up"||Pass|
The BD-C5500 performed well with our suite of DVD tests. Test patterns were a breeze for the Samsung, acing traditional tests like Film Resolution, but also passing eight out of eight cadence tests, which means it should handle relatively uncommon program material well. Most importantly, the BD-C5500 passed all our program tests, which wasn't a surprise considering its test pattern performance. As always, we felt the Oppo BDP-83 looked subjectively better when flipping between the two, but the difference is relatively subtle and only real home theater enthusiasts would notice the difference.
Streaming video image quality
As with most Blu-ray players, we saw no major issues with Netflix streaming on the BD-C5500. That gives the BD-C5500 an edge over the Sony BDP-S570, which suffers from some streaming image quality issues.
|Standby | quick start off||0.09 W||Standby | quick start on||n/a|
|Power on | watching movie||12.09 W||Power on | idling||6.94 W|
|Annual cost; quick start off||$0.81||Annual cost; quick start on||n/a|
Unlike some other new Blu-ray players, the BD-C5500 lacks a quick start mode and therefore by default uses very little power in standby mode. In comparison, the Sony BDP-S570 has an annual cost of $7.35 with its quick start feature enabled. While we didn't mind the lack of a quick start feature on the step-up BD-C6900--since it's speedy booting up with out quick start--the feature is missed more on the BD-C5500, which is relatively slow to boot-up. We would have preferred the option to use a little more juice to reduce the initial boot-up time.