Editors' note (March 30, 2009): The rating of this player has been changed since its initial publication to reflect changes in the marketplace.
Editors' note: Since this review was originally published, the BD-P2550 received firmware updates to enable HD Netflix streams and onboard DTS-HD Master Audio decoding. The review has been updated accordingly.
One of the main criticisms against Blu-ray is that the technology just doesn't offer much of an advantage over DVD. While we'd argue that the superior image quality can be worth it, we'd agree that many of the other features, such as BD-Live or animated, pop-up menus, don't offer a compelling reason to upgrade to Blu-ray. The Samsung BD-P2550 addresses this criticism head-on. Sure, it has a robust set of Blu-ray features like HQV processing and 7.1 analog outputs, but it also adds some additional functionality, like Netflix and Pandora streaming, that give it a significant leg up over your standard DVD player. On the other hand, we're still a little skeptical given Samsung's troubling history when it comes to Blu-ray Disc compatibility. However, those issues are mostly overshadowed by the excellent feature set and performance, which make the BD-P2550 strong competition for the highest-rated standalone player, Panasonic's DMP-BD55. The Panasonic DMP-BD35, meanwhile, remains our basic Blu-ray favorite and the PlayStation 3 is a better value if you're into gaming, but the Samsung BD-P2550 is an excellent choice for Blu-ray buyers looking for some additional media options.
Samsung seems addicted to glossy black designs and the BD-P2550 feeds the company's beast. From head-on, the player looks strikingly minimalist. The left side is the busiest, with the Samsung logo in the upper left-hand corner, a disc tray with an open/close button to the right, and the power button in the lower corner. The right side of the player is almost completely blank, except for a black directional pad that subtly blends in with the unit. When you turn the power on, the playback controls become apparent on the directional pad--play, stop, chapter forward/backward--and the LCD screen in the center becomes visible. We liked the stylish look, but be warned, the glossy finish prone to collect fingerprints.
Samsung fans will recognize the same remote control the company has packaged with most of its products for the last couple of years. Toward the bottom is a directional pad for navigating menus, surrounded by oft-used buttons--although having three menu keys (menu, disc menu, and pop-up menu) becomes a little confusing. There are playback controls just north of the center of the remote, and there's some slight differentiation--including Braille-like nubs--that make it possible to navigate in the dark. It's a solid remote, but we'd really like to see an update.
While the menus of Panasonic's DMP-BD35 still feature blocky standard-definition graphics, the BD-P2550 has nice high-definition menus (although the company logo has its share of jagged edges). The main menu features options to directly access both Netflix and Pandora. Hitting the menu key brings up the more standard menu options, which are easy enough to navigate--we had no issues with routine tasks such as changing the output resolution or audio output format.
One of the premium features available on the BD-P2550 is its Netflix streaming capability. The user experience is nearly identical to that of the Netflix Player by Roku, and we recommend you check out that review for more information. In short, you can stream anything in Netflix's "Watch Now" section, including HD content, 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.)
Pandora, the free streaming music service, is also available on the BD-P2250. While units such as the LG BD300 and even the Xbox 360 can stream Netflix, the Samsung BD-P2550 is the first Blu-ray player with Pandora. Setting it up was as easy as entering our Pandora account code. We had access to all our stations and it was possible to add new ones on the BD-P2550 using an onscreen keyboard. We preferred to handle those functions using our laptop, however, and just use the BD-P2550 to stream music. Our only complaint is that some basic functions, such as giving a track a "thumbs up" took a while to register. But those are nitpicks on what is generally a great bonus feature.
The BD-P2550 is Profile 2.0 compliant, which means it's capable of accessing Internet-enabled features (often referred to as "BD-Live" features) available on some movies, such as Transformers and Walk Hard. To access the features, you'll only need to have the BD-P2550 connected to the Internet via its Ethernet port (sorry, no Wi-Fi). Unlike most Blu-ray players, you don't need to connect a memory stick because the BD-P2550 has 1GB of internal memory. While it's easy to add memory to other players, we appreciate that the BD-P2550 "just works" out of the box (and you can add additional memory via the port in the back).
So far, BD-Live features have been pretty underwhelming, but we expect the content to improve as more compliant players hit the market and disc makers get a handle on the new technology. As we've noted with other standalone Blu-ray players, the BD-P2550 still offers a significantly inferior experience to the PS3 on these interactive features--the PS3 just has more processing power and so responds more quickly.
The BD-P2550 has comprehensive soundtrack support, with onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as bit-stream output for both formats. Onboard decoding means that even those with older receivers will be able to enjoy Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio in full resolution over the HDMI output or the analog outputs.
Connectivity is excellent on the BD-P2550. The HDMI output is the most important connection, capable of outputting high-definition video up to 1080p resolution, as well as high-resolution multichannel audio. There's also a component-video output, which can output Blu-ray Discs at 1080i and DVDs at 480p, along with a legacy composite-video connection. Audio connections also include an optical digital-audio output, plus 7.1 analog audio outputs, which allows those with older non-HDMI receivers to take advantage of some of the high-resolution audio soundtracks. As mentioned before, there's an Ethernet port in the back, which can be used for firmware updates, Netflix and Pandora streaming, and downloading content for BD-Live-enabled discs. Rounding out the connectivity is the back panel USB port, which can be used for photos, MP3s, and storing BD-Live content that doesn't fit on the 1GB of internal memory.
For our Blu-ray tests, we compared the BD-P2550 with several standalone Blu-ray players, including the Sony BDP-S550 and the Panasonic DMP-BD35. We started off by looking at test patterns, each player connected to the Samsung PN50A650. The first disc we checked out was Silicon Optix's HQV test suite on Blu-ray, and since the BD-P2550 uses an HQV video processing chip itself, we expected the player to ace it. We weren't disappointed.
As most Blu-ray Discs are film-based, we started off with the Film Resolution Loss Test and the BD-P2550 performed well. A slowly panning resolution pattern was perfectly detailed, as was the slow pan over Raymond James Stadium, which was mostly devoid of moire and looked crisp. Next up were several video-based tests, on which we generally place less importance on because few current Blu-ray discs are video-based. That being said, the BD-P2550 aced the Video Resolution Loss Test, as well as the two subsequent tests, showing virtually no jaggies.
For more of a challenge, we put the BD-P2550 up against some real-world program material. We started off with our usual assortment of movies known to give players problems and Mission Impossible: III was first up. The BD-P2550 handled the beginning of Chapter 8 perfectly, with no moire in the marble stairs in the background. It also handled Chapter 16 perfectly, with no jaggies in sight as the limo approaches Tom Cruise. Next up was Ghost Rider, and the BD-P2550 looked good again at the end of Chapter 6, as the grille of the RV was jaggy-free as the camera pulled away. Finally, we also looked at Tony Bennett: An American Classic--a video-based disc, mastered at 1080i--and Chapter 6 looked great, matching the best performance we've seen on this scene. Clearly, the BD-P2550 is a top-tier performer, on par with the DMP-BD35 and Sony PS3.
We also tested the load time performance, and the BD-P2550 was a little slower than we were expecting. It took about 24 seconds to load Mission Impossible: III when the player was on and 47 seconds to load the movie with the player off, which is a little slower than most new Blu-ray players. Discs with more complicated BD-Java menus were predictably slower, as it took us 1 minute and 52 seconds to start the movie on Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest and one minute 42 seconds on Spiderman 3. What's more annoying, in our opinion, is that the BD-P2550 can occasionally get pretty loud when it's loading discs. We've noticed this on previous Samsung Blu-ray player as well, and while it doesn't happen during a movie, it's still annoying.
More frustrating is that we ran into some disc compatibility issues, similar to the ones that have been plaguing Samsung players for quite some time now. We tried to play the movie Thunderball, and 23 seconds into the movie, the player froze and we had to turn it off. It was the only movie we had a problem with, and if it were another company we'd be likely to let it slide, but given the history of Samsung players, we're not confident that the BD-P2550 will be glitch-free on future releases--or timely with the firmware fixes.
If you're interested in how streaming Netflix movies look on the BD-P2550, we covered it extensively in our review of Roku's Netflix player. The bottom line is that it's not quite as good as DVD at best, and the quality depends heavily on your Internet connection. Our biggest gripe, as we said before, is that much of the content is presented in standard 4:3 aspect ratio, instead of the proper wide-screen aspect ratio. (This is likely to change when Netflix HD is rolled out to the player.)
DVDs are still plentiful and cheap, so we tested the BD-P2550's performance with standard-definition DVDs as well. We started off with Silicon Optix's HQV test suite on DVD, and as before, we expected it to ace the disc since the BD-P2550 features an HQV video processor inside.
The player had no problem with the initial resolution test, clearly showing the full resolution that DVD is capable of. Next up were a couple of video-based test patterns, and the BD-P2550 was rock solid, with not a jaggy to be seen on a rotating white line or three shifting white lines. Further tests revealed more of the same with the Samsung kicking into film mode quickly on the 2:3 pull-down test and deftly handling content with scrolling text. In all, the BD-P2550 didn't have a problem with the test patterns.
We switched over to program material and started with the introduction to Star Trek: Insurrection. The BD-P2550 handled this well, rendering the curved edges of the bridges, and boats looked smooth and without jagged edges. Next up was the opening sequence to Seabiscuit, and as we've noted before, HQV's video processing struggles with this material, as we occasionally saw quite a few jaggies and image instability. Further testing, however, reveals that the Seabiscuit struggles were more of an anomaly, as we didn't notice anything askew looking through copies of The Matrix and Vertical Limit. So while we noticed some flaws on Seabiscuit, our overwhelming impression is that the BD-P2550 is an excellent DVD upscaler, although still a hair behind the Oppo DV-983H, for example.