Even in an age when media is increasingly streamed to mini boxes like Roku and Apple TV, a disc player is still a must-have for those who already own a cache of discs. Thankfully, all Blu-ray players double as streaming-media boxes, too, so you can have your cake and eat it too.
To that end, the Samsung BD-F5900 is an affordable machine ($120) that offers almost everything you need in a disc player and a "smart" set-top box, with overall performance being a standout. This is the quickest player CNET has seen up until this point with the trade-off being that it also uses more electricity in its fastest, Quick Start mode. You do get to choose between pure brawn and power-saving brains, though.
Picture quality is very good and the interface is uncluttered and easy to use. The player comes chock-full of features and many of them are quite useful. In essence, it gets most everything right.
There is very little to dislike about the attractive BD-F5900. It's one of the best Blu-ray players available at the price, and should serve disc and streaming-media fans equally well.
From the earliest CD players to the latest Blu-ray players the designs haven't changed that much: a disc drawer on the left side with controls on the right. Cosmetic touches go in and out of fashion -- drawers that cover the fascia of the player, trapezoidal shapes -- but the basics are the same. While Samsung did experiment with pebblelike players, the BD-F5900 is back to the basics, though with a couple of twists.
The first is that rounded corner on the right-hand side which gives it a sophisticated, almost Art Deco appearance. The second is the circular control panel borrowed from swanky Samsung Bluetooth docks such as the DA-E750. The panel includes a Play/Pause button, Stop, and Eject, in addition to a power button that is closest to the user, though this could be annoying initially as this is usually where the Stop button is.
The onscreen menu seemingly takes inspiration from the tiled Windows 8 user interface with its large rectangles, but it's nowhere near as annoying. The three main boxes -- Movies & TV Shows, Apps, and Photos, Videos & Music -- are fairly self-explanatory and a small icon in the corner advises that you can simply press Play if there is a disc in the tray.
The remote control is compact but features plenty of shortcuts and commands. The directional pad is a little cramped, and it's easy to hit Exit instead of Left or Right. The Netflix shortcut is welcome.
The F5900 comes with a gaggle of features that rank from mandatory all the way down to "use once and forget about."
This player fits in the middle of Samsung's Blu-ray lineup and offers better value than the one below it (the BD-F5700). The BD-F5900 reviewed here has a better suite of apps (compared with just 11 on the F5700) and adds 3D playback as well.
The apps offered by the F5900 range from Netflix to Amazon Instant to YouTube; the only major item that is missing that other players have is NHL. The player doesn't have HBO Go, but the onboard Web browser supports Flash, so adventurous techies can try their luck on the Web.
As an aside, if you choose to go further up the line, the only additional feature the $10-more-expensive BD-F6700 offers is 4K upscaling, but I'd wager the scaler in your very expensive 4K TV would be better than the one in a $130 Blu-ray machine.
Back to the F5900: it also includes screen mirroring through AllShare Cast (Intel WiDi 3.5) and a ridiculously fast Quick Start mode (0.5 second). The F5900 has a dual-core processor, and as a result the Samsung is surprisingly zippy.
The BD-F5900 offers an intriguing CD ripper that allows you to connect a USB disk and rip 192Kbps MP3s to it from the disk drive. Nifty, but users may want the option to rip to higher bit rates or other formats such as FLAC.
The player's S-Recommendation feature is designed to aggregate recommendations from the different services that you use -- Hulu Plus, Netflix -- and put them on one screen under "Movies & TV." In practice it didn't offer much else past kids' movies despite my watching "Lost" and other "grown-up" content.
As with other Blu-ray players at this price, connectivity is pretty limited, with only a single HDMI and optical digital output. For content you have the option of a front-mounted USB slot and a rear Ethernet connector. Wi-Fi is also onboard, of course.
While the performance of the device you connect a Blu-ray player to -- a television -- can still differ markedly from others offered at the same price, this isn't always the case with Blu-ray players. Among the competition at around $100, this Samsung offers very similar imaging performance with some subtle differences, and while besting the Sony BDP-S5100 it wasn't quite as good as the Panasonic DMP-BDT230 in some tests.
In fact, the Samsung passed all of the picture quality tests with only the slightest amount of moire in the pull-down tests. This test displays a race car going around the corner of a track with a grandstand behind it. With the Samsung there was some noise in the uppermost stands of both the 2:2 and 3:2 tests and this was consistent across both Blu-ray and DVD.
As with the Sony before it, this kind of digital noise wasn't as evident in "real-world" material, with the staircase that opens the "Mission: Impossible III" banquet scene in the Vatican being mostly free of moire or shimmering artifacts. The other video tests, from "Star Trek: Insurrection" on DVD to the Nine Inch Nails test disk, were all passed successfully. As a result, I conclude that this player should be able to replay most disc-based media without a problem.
The Samsung does so much more than play discs and so I put the player's many features to the test, from the speed of its CD-ripping feature to the screen-mirroring function.
One of the things that struck me when using the BD-F5900 was how quick it was, and based on my testing, it is the quickest I've seen yet at loading media and even just simply powering on. However this "power" can come at a price. The Quick Start feature may offer instantaneous on, which is altogether amazing, but it uses quite a bit of electricity. While playing a DVD it used 10W -- which involves spinning a physical disc and outputting video -- but turning the player off completely still resulted in a draw of 8W! Disabling Quick Start lengthened the startup time from 0.5 second to 8 seconds but reduced the power draw to practically zero. You decide which you'd prefer.
Compared with a refrigerator, though, the Blu-ray player pulls almost no power and favoring performance over prudence I conducted the remaining speed tests with Quick Start on. Our Netflix test initially took 45 secs from "cold" as the player also loaded Smart Hub, but subsequent loads were very fast, with an average of 16.3 seconds to load the menu after the Netflix button was pushed. Most of the other players took 20 seconds or more to load and the difference was noticeable. The craziest speed differential though was the "Mission Impossible: III" test, which measures how long it takes the player to go from a cold start to playing the movie. The Samsung halved the time of the nearest competitor, the Sony BDP-S5100, with a score of only 5.9 seconds.
AllShare Cast is probably the newest feature on this player that will garner some interest, and used in conjunction with a Samsung Galaxy 4 I found that it was one of the least laggy screen-mirroring technologies I've used yet. While the lag time is under a second, it is still noticeable enough that it was difficult to play a twitch game like Angry Birds. If you want to share video then Google's Send to TV (YouTube, Netflix, and so on) is still more reliable.
Lastly I tested the CD-ripping capability and found it a little more hassle than it's worth. First the player wouldn't access track metadata and so rips would only come out named "Track 01" and so on. Secondly, for a player that is so quick elsewhere, here it was almost tediously slow, taking 6:06 minutes to rip a copy of Thundercat's "Apocalypse" whereas a PC only took 3:08 minutes, with the added benefit of keeping ID3 track data in place.
Though there are tradeoffs with power usage, taking advantage of Quick Start with the BD-F5900 gives you one of the quickest Blu-ray players you could ever buy. Waiting around for your player to turn on and load a disc can now be a thing of the past.
The Blu-ray player's picture quality is very good and the interface is very simple, and while some of the features aren't all that useful -- CD ripping, for example -- at least it gets the basics right.
The Samsung BD-F5900 is an excellent Blu-ray player offering a mix of usability, performance, and speed, making it a very good value. This unit should be at the top of the list for anyone seeking a Blu-ray player in 2013.