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In 2014, after selling millions of iPads, Apple found that sales are starting to peter out. One reason, according to CEO Tim Cook, is that people don't tend to upgrade their tablets as often as other electronics.
If Apple sold Blu-ray players it would have said the same thing about the disk spinners a few years ago. If you already have a player there is little reason to upgrade, but Samsung and its BD-H6500 provide one compelling improvement. While disk playback quality has stayed consistent across different players regardless of price for several years, the focus is now on features and interface speed.
The BD-H6500 is the quickest player we've ever seen -- with some caveats -- and also one of the most feature-laden for the money. The Sony BDP-S6200 is also a speedy player and can beat the Samsung in some tests, but can't match the Samsung for usability or disk loading from "Off".
While few will use the Samsung's 4K upscaler -- 4K TVs have perfectly good ones for the most part -- the ability to almost instantly switch between playing a Blu-ray and Netflix is eminently useful. Additionally if you have Samsung's Shape multiroom system the BD-H6500 can act as a source, which might be cool if you have a concert Blu-ray or DVD you want to stream around the house.
As good as it is, if you want to save some money then the BD-H5900 does without a couple of these features and goes for an even more palatable $90, likely making it the superior value. Look out for our review of the follow-up to last year's Editors' Choice soon.
Editor's note (11/17/2014): The Samsung BD-H6500 has had a small price drop in the US to $139 from $150, and is also the winner of our speed test roundup. As a result of these developments it has now had an increase in value from 7 to 8 and scores our Editor's Choice Award. Meanwhile, the UK pricing is £109 and Australia is a $199 RRP.
While most Blu-ray players look the same, just as with DVD players and VHS decks before them, Samsung puts enough of a twist on its players to stand out. The most identifiable tweak is the single curved edge which doesn't look much from front-on but is more impressive viewed from above. Given that the controls are on the top of the unit this is how it should be displayed: on top of a cabinet or TV unit and not under other components.
The player is a little smaller than the standard "full rack width" of 17.75 by 14.2 inches (0.45 meter by 0.4 meter), but still wider than the almost half-height Sony players, like the BDP-S3200 . The Samsung's size is otherwise typical at 1.6 inches high and 7.7 inches deep (4.1cm by 20cm).
The remote control is friendly and sensibly set out, but interestingly missing the Netflix shortcut of last year's model. Even using the older remote's Netflix button doesn't work on this Blu-ray player any more.
The menu system is unchanged from other Samsung electronics -- white text on a blue backgrounds -- but the Home interface is different from last year. It's now a little busier and in many ways mimics the company's Smart TV interfaces, but the added complexity doesn't translate to better user-friendliness. While there are now shortcuts to apps on the main page these aren't as easy to configure as LG's own smart interface.
Most Blu-ray players these days are at the sub-$100 mark, with the few that do pop above charging for the privilege of 4K upscaling. At $130, it's a given that the BD-H6500 will upscale Blu-rays and other sources to 4K resolution. (The H6500 is also available in the UK for £120 and in Australia for AU$170.) But whether you want this or even need it is another matter: all 4K TVs include some form of upscaling, and mostly of a better quality.
The Samsung player can decode all forms of both DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks, and helpfully can also transcode DTS soundtracks into Dolby if you have a system that can't do DTS, such as the otherwise excellent Pioneer SB03 and most other sound bars.
The H6500 is able to perform as a Shape source for movies or CDs,which means you can listen to the H6500 throughout the house if you want. However, I think it would be much more useful if it could also become a client, so it can actually stream music from other sources. This would then enable the H6500 to upgrade any hi-fi to Shape on the cheap (the existing Link Mate is a semi-prohibitive $299).
The app store offers most of the apps you could ask for including Netflix, Amazon Instant and YouTube for video in addition to Pandora and Spotify on the audio side.
The Samsung boasts the bare minimum of connections required of a modern disk player: namely a single HDMI output, an optical digital audio output and an Ethernet port. Wireless internet connectivity is also available in addition to Screen Mirroring in the form of Miracast.
Speed is the name of the game for this player. It is simply the quickest machine I've seen in the CNET labs, with or without the Quick Start function enabled. Quick Start is designed to be a slightly lower power-down mode with an instantaneous startup. If you use it Quick Start you'll shave off a little time in Netflix startup -- 10 seconds versus 15 -- but both are still quicker than last year's already speedy BD-F5900 . Blu-ray start-up time from power off is about the same with or without Quick Start, at an average of 5.47 seconds.
Image quality was generally good especially with Blu-ray material as the player passing most tests easily, equaling last year's excellent Sony BDP-S5100. In our scene from Mission Impossible III two priests descend a staircase in the Vatican, and this is a real test for some players as they can cause the individual steps to shimmer. However the Samsung was able to resist this artifact successfully.
If there was one problem I found it's that the BD-H6500 occasionally suffers from faint jaggies on straight edges. While it was evident in HQV test images, on the 3:2 pulldown section, it was also visible in DVD material. At the opening of "Star Trek: Insurrection" the camera pans across rooftops of a medieval village and the image exhibited some jaggies on the diagonal lines of the buildings. These artifacts seem to be a familial problem as last year's Editors' Choice-winning Samsung F-5900 exhibited similar issues.
When this player was first announced the integration with the Shape Multiroom system was its most intriguing feature, and it's not quite as interesting as I'd hoped it would be. Yes, it can squirt out audio to all of the speakers on your system regardless of the source -- it worked for Blu-rays Spotify and CDs. However there were some occasional cut-outs, and it's difficult to imagine what you might use it for in the long term. Streaming the audio from MLB.TV, maybe? For my money the PC audio streaming application for Play-Fi, for example, is much more versatile.
Lastly, there were a couple of niggles with noise on the Samsung. The cooling fan can be audible from across the room; quieter than a game console but louder than a laptop. In addition the disk mechanism is also a little loud as well.
While it would have been considered a bargain several years ago, at $130 (or £120 or AU$170) the Samsung BD-H6500 is now considered to be on the high side and only offers a couple more features than the cheaper BD-H5900. Streaming CDs around the house is charmingly "old-hat" and 4K upscaling is not something most people will ever need. That said, this is the fastest performing player I've ever seen, particularly for streaming tasks, and as we transition from silver disks to Internet pipes, this player should handle the changeover better than most.