Editors' note: Although our testing of the Samsung BD-P1600 was largely positive, Samsung Blu-ray players have consistently scored low with CNET users. We examined this issue extensively in this blog, and it's worth considering before making a buying decision.
Samsung was the first manufacturer with a standalone Blu-ray player, but in 2008 it often felt like the company was struggling to keep up with Panasonic. When Panasonic released the first Profile 2.0 player, Samsung was still shipping Profile 1.1 players, with promises that future upgrades would make its player up to snuff. Now, just a few months into 2009, it appears the tables have turned.
The Samsung BD-P1600 comes complete with all the features we now expect on Blu-ray players, including Profile 2.0 compatibility and onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. But the BD-P1600 goes beyond the basics, adding improved operational speed, Netflix and Pandora streaming, and the ability to add Wi-Fi functionality with a USB dongle (sold separately.) By far, the BD-P1600's biggest fault is its annoying flip-down panel that occupies the entire front of the unit. However, if you can live with the design misstep, the BD-P1600 offers an excellent value for its performance and features.
The BD-P1600 features a sleek and seamless front-panel design, which at first left us wondering where the disc tray was. That's because the entire front panel actually flips down, similar to Panasonic's early Blu-ray player, the DMP-BD10. Luckily, the Samsung's tray opens and closes when you eject a disc using the remote control, but we still didn't like it. One reason is that the buttons--even open/close and power--are hidden under the panel, so you'll have to flip it down by hand to make any other adjustments. Also note that there's a USB port under the panel, so if you plan on using that port for BD-Live storage (perhaps because the back port is occupied by the Wi-Fi adapter), you'll have to leave the panel down permanently--which isn't a nice look. Lastly, the door feels flimsy and we wouldn't be surprised if it broke and stopped popping back up automatically after a while.
Of course you'll be using the remote, and not the buttons on the unit, for most commands. The included clicker is a substantial redesign over previous players, but in some ways it's a step back. Most of the buttons are logically positioned and there's good button separation, but important buttons like Popup Menu, Disc Menu, and Title Menu are stuck at the bottom of the remote and confusingly labeled. We also would have liked to see easy-access buttons for Netflix and Pandora--you'll have to dive into the menu system to activate those services--but that's more of a nitpick.
The BD-P1600's user interface is visually appealing, with vibrant colors and HD graphics. While the eye-candy is nice, we weren't fans of the layout for the setup menus, as we found the vertical alignment confusing. (Those with high-end Denon receivers, like the AVR-3808CI, will notice a resemblance.) Luckily, you'll rarely need to access the deeper setup-menu system, so it's a minor issue.
The user interfaces for Netflix and Pandora are better. The Netflix interface is identical to the Netflix Player by Roku, with your instant queue arranged horizontally on the screen. You'll need to find and add movies to your instant queue using a computer, like all Netflix Instant Streaming devices so far. Pandora's interface is somewhat bare bones, but it's easy to use and you get essentially full Pandora access from the onscreen menu. We'd love if Samsung enhanced the functionality even further by offering up larger album art images and information about the artists.
Like almost all 2009 Blu-ray players, the BD-P1600 is Profile 2.0-compatible, which means it can playback the Internet-enabled BD-Live feature available on some new Blu-ray movies. You'll need to have the player connected via Ethernet or Wi-Fi (using the USB Wi-Fi adapter, not included), as well as connect a USB thumbdrive for storage.
All of Samsung's 2009 Blu-ray players also include Netflix Instant streaming, including the BD-P1600. The functionality is nearly identical to that of the Roku and we recommend you check out that review for more information. In short, you can stream anything in Netflix's "Watch Now" section and while there are some flaws--much of the SD content is not wide-screen, for example--it's a pretty great user experience overall. The initial catalog of movies and TV shows was fairly lackluster, but recent deals with CBS and Disney have significantly improved the content selection. (CNET Reviews is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS.) Although each service has its strengths, we prefer Netflix to Amazon Video On Demand, which is offered on the competing Panasonic DMP-BD60.
The BD-P1600 has onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. That means it can decode those soundtrack formats so they can be played back on almost every HDMI-capable AV receiver. Bit stream output is also supported, if you'd rather the decoding be done in your AV receiver. Those looking to play DVDs with legacy DTS formats like DTS 96/24, ES, ES Matrix, and Neo:6 will be happy to note the BD-P1600 has decoding for these formats, unlike players that feature DTS-HD Master Audio Essential.
The BD-P1600's connectivity is standard. The main connection is the HDMI output, which is capable of handling 1080p HD video and high-resolution multichannel audio. There's also a component-video output that can output Blu-ray at 1080i and standard DVDs at 480p. Audio connections are basic, including an optical digital-audio output and an analog-stereo output. There's also an Ethernet port on the back, plus a USB port that can be used with the Wi-Fi adapter. There's an additional USB port on the front panel as well.
While we appreciate the fact that the BD-P1600 is Wi-Fi ready, the benefit isn't that practical. The USB Wi-Fi dongle carries a list price of $80, bringing the overall cost of the BD-P1600 close to the step-up BD-P3600, which includes the Wi-Fi adapter in the box. Considering that the BD-P3600 has additional step-up features--like 7.1 analog outputs, onboard memory, and PC streaming--we'd suggest stepping up to the BD-P3600 if you want Wi-Fi access. Alternatively, you can implement your own solution using a PowerLine network for about $80 as well.
Image quality on entry-level Blu-ray players isn't always up to par, so we were interested in how the BD-P1600 would handle our tests. We started off with Silicon Optix's HQV test suite, with the BD-P1600 connected to a Sony KDL-52XBR7 via HDMI.
The BD-P1600 outperformed our expectations on the test disc. It aced the Video Resolution Test, showing the full detail of Blu-ray without any jaggies showing up on the rotating white line. Next up were two video-based jaggies tests and the BD-P1600 performed well again, with crisp image quality free of jaggies. It passed the Film Resolution Test as well, depicting both the initial test pattern and the long panning shot of Raymond James Stadium without major image defects.
We switched over to actual program material, and the BD-P1600 didn't let up. We fired up "Mission: Impossible III" and the panning sequence at the beginning of chapter eight looked perfect, lacking any moire visible in the stairs. It also handled Chapter 16 well, with the trimming of the limo looking jaggy-free as it approaches Tom Cruise. Next we looked at "Ghost Rider" and the end of Chapter six was properly rendered, with the BD-P1600 showing no moire in the grille of the RV as the camera pans away. Last up was the video-based "Tony Bennett: An American Classic" and the BD-P1600 did an acceptable job, with only a few jaggies visible in the striped shirts of the dancers. It's worth pointing out that we got nearly identical performance on all these scenes from the step-up BD-P3600, as well the Panasonic DMP-BD60.
One of the biggest letdowns of Blu-ray compared with DVD so far has been how much slower and less responsive standalone Blu-ray players are at loading and navigating discs. Samsung's new 2009 players, including the BD-P1600, have made a lot of progress in this regard. For example, the BD-P1600 loaded "Mission: Impossible III" in just 16 seconds, compared with 21 seconds on the Panasonic DMP-BD60. The differences are even greater on discs with elaborate menus; the Samsung loaded "Spiderman 3" in a minute and 3 seconds, compared with a minute and 27 seconds on the DMP-BD60. Beside just disc loading, we found the BD-P1600 to be considerably more responsive than most Blu-ray players--and nearly as speedy as the PS3--although just a tad slower than the step-up BD-P3600. If you like to demo your favorite action scenes for friends, the quick navigation is a blessing.
Standard DVD performance
There are still many more movies available on standard DVD than Blu-ray, so standard-def performance still matters. We started off looking at test patterns from Silicon Optix's HQV test suite, with the BD-P1600 upscaling to 1080p.
The BD-P1600 started off strong, resolving all the detail of the initial resolution pattern without any image instability that we sometimes see on lesser players. Next up were two video-based jaggies tests, and the BD-P1600 stumbled, failing both tests, as jaggies were visible on both the rotating white line and three pivoting lines. On the other hand, it had no problems with the 2:3 pulldown test, as we couldn't see any moire in the grandstands as the race car drove by.
We moved onto program material, starting with "Star Trek: Insurrection," and the BD-P1600 deftly handled the introduction, rendering both the hulls of the boats and the curved bridge railings smoothly. We flipped over to the difficult introduction of "Seabiscuit" and the BD-P1600 performed well again, lacking the jaggies and other image distortions that so frequently show up on this disc. That being said, we had the Panasonic DMP-BD60 on hand to directly compare, and we'd give the nod to the Panasonic for DVD playback, as it had a slightly cleaner and sharper look to it.