Editors' note: Although our testing of the Samsung BD-P4600 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 likes to say its "Touch of Color" design scheme elevates products to become a "work of art," but really it comes down to three main principles: rounded corners, translucent red highlights, and a glossy black finish. The Samsung BD-P4600 is the epitome of that design philosophy. It looks like no other Blu-ray player we've tested--reminding us of nothing so much as a thin plate balanced on a stand. The BD-P4600 has a feature set that bests most of its competitors, including Netflix and Pandora streaming, Wi-Fi compatibility with an included USB dongle, and 1GB of onboard memory. In all, we had very few complaints with the BD-P4600's functionality, but its $500 list price will probably scare of most consumers, especially when the step-down Samsung BD-P3600 ($400 list price) offers all the same functionality, albeit in a more conventional design. The BD-P4600 is an excellent Blu-ray player if you have no qualms about paying an extra $100 for its peculiar look or wall-mount capability, but most buyers will be perfectly satisfied with the cheaper BD-P3600.
Since the step-down BD-P3600 has all the same features and performance, the only reason to buy the BD-P4600 is its unusual design. Looking like a rectangular UFO, the BD-P4600 is relatively flat (1.6 inches thick) with round corners and a red, translucent finish. Perched on the included stand, it sits on an angle sloping downward, which exposes its touch-sensitive buttons. When the BD-P4600 is unplugged, it appears to have a completely buttonless, smooth design, but when you turn it on, the buttons light up seemingly from nowhere, along with a red LCD display right in the middle of the unit. Because the BD-P4600 is so slim, there's not enough room for a standard disc tray; instead, it features a slot-loading design similar to the PS3, with the opening on the side of the unit.
Flip the BD-P4600 over to its bottom and some design compromises become apparent. Beneath a plastic cover is the BD-P4600's input/output bay, with the ports angled into the unit. Snaking cables into the compartment is a tight squeeze, and if you've got a thick HDMI cable (like the premium Monoprice cables we have in the lab) you may find that it just won't fit.
There's also a USB port in this compartment, which is skillfully designed so you can plug into the included USB Wi-Fi adapter and still have it concealed by the plastic cover. The power port is also found in the compartment, which leads to the external power supply--another reason why the main unit is able to be so slim. There's an opening at the back, so you can snake the cables out in an orderly fashion.
The BD-P4600 includes hardware for wall mounting, and to us, that's the application where its slim design makes most sense. Of course the BD-P4600 requires at least two wires (HDMI and power), so you'll need to hide those wires in the wall. Otherwise the slickness of your setup will be marred by a couple of dangling cables.
The included remote is a substantial redesign over previous players, but in some ways it's a step back. Most of the buttons are logically positioned, but important buttons--like Popup Menu, Disc Menu, and Title Menu--are stuck at the bottom of the remote. We also would have liked to see easy-access buttons for Netflix and Pandora, but that's more of a nitpick.
The BD-P4600'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.
Editors' note: This review originally mentioned issues with the included USB Wi-Fi adapter when connected to the BD-P4600's internal USB port. Subsequent testing indicates that the problem was a faulty Wi-Fi adapter included with our review sample, as a replacement Wi-Fi adapter works perfectly. We have had no issues with the new USB Wi-Fi adapter, and the review and rating have been updated accordingly.Like almost all 2009 Blu-ray players, the BD-P4600 is Profile 2.0-compatible, which means it can handle the Internet-enabled BD-Live special features available on some new Blu-ray movies. It also features 1GB of onboard storage, so you don't need to connect a USB flash drive to download BD-Live content. Even better, the BD-P4600 comes packaged with a USB Wi-Fi dongle, for which Samsung normally charges $80, so you won't need an Ethernet connection in your living room to take advantage of the Internet-enabled content. Of course, an Ethernet connection is available if you prefer a wired connection, which is typically more stable than wireless.
All of Samsung's 2009 Blu-ray players include Netflix Instant streaming. 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, 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.)
In addition to streaming content off the Internet, the BD-P4600 is also capable of streaming media from a connected PC. Supported file formats include MP3, JPEG, and DivX; we would have liked to have seen at least iTunes-friendly AAC also supported. As of press time, we have not been able to get this functionality working on our network, even though we have no problems using similar streaming products, like the Apple TV, in the same network environment. We will update this section to include further testing.
The BD-P4600 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-P4600 has decoding for these formats, unlike players that feature DTS-HD Master Audio Essential.
The BD-P4600's connectivity is bare-bones. The main connection is the HDMI output, which is capable of handling 1080p HD video and high-resolution multichannel audio. There's no component-video output, with only a standard composite video available for analog video. For audio, you can use the aforementioned HDMI output, but there's also an optical digital-audio output and a stereo analog output. The rest of the connectivity is rounded out by an Ethernet port and two USB ports (one on the side, one in the connectivity compartment).
Editors' note: The BD-P4600 uses the exact same video processing chip as the step-down BD-P3600, and we observed identical performance, therefore the image quality sections are nearly identical.
Last year's BD-P2500 featured excellent image quality, thanks to HQV processing, so we were interested to see how the BD-P4600 performed without the HQV chip. We started off with Silicon Optix's HQV test suite, with the BD-P4600 connected to a Sony KDL-52XBR7 via HDMI.
The BD-P4600 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-P4600 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-P4600 didn't let up. We fired up "Mission: Impossible III" and the panning sequence at the beginning of Chapter 8 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 6 was properly rendered, with the BD-P4600 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-P4600 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 entry-level BD-P1600, 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 BD-P4600, like the step-down BD-P3600, is a huge step ahead for standalone players, as it's the first one we've used that feels just as responsive as the PS3, and in some cases it also loads discs faster. The BD-P4600 loaded "Mission: Impossible III" in a blazing 11 seconds with the player on; the same disc took the PS3 13 seconds, and the Panasonic DMP-BD60 21 seconds. With discs with more elaborate menu systems, the BD-P4600 easily bested other standalones, getting the movie section of "Pirates of the Caribbean" in a minute and 23 seconds, compared with a minute and 53 seconds on the DMP-BD60; the PS3 took a minute and 22 seconds to load this disc. While a dozen seconds here or there may not seem like much, it goes a long way toward making the player more enjoyable to use.
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-P4600 upscaling to 1080p.
The BD-P4600 started off strong, resolving all the detail of the initial resolution pattern without any of the image instability that we sometimes see on lesser players. Next up were two video-based jaggies tests, and the BD-P4600 stumbled, failing both tests; 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 pull-down 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-P4600 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-P4600 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 onhand 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.