It seems like Blu-ray has become the forgotten child in the home entertainment business. The technology that sat center stage just a few years ago now takes a back seat to Web/streaming services, at least in terms of manufacturer focus and media coverage. The major manufacturers did launch new Blu-ray players in 2012; we just haven't devoted much real estate to discussing them, since this year's lines pretty much follow last year's patterns.
One new player recently caught my eye, however: Samsung's BD-E6500. This is the top-shelf player in Samsung's 2012 Blu-ray lineup, and the company has added a couple of interesting features to help it stand out from the pack. First of all, the BD-E6500 has dual HDMI inputs--yes, inputs. The BD-E6500 can function as an HDMI switcher, allowing you to connect two additional HDMI sources and feed a single cable to your TV. Secondly, Samsung has announced plans to add a Disc to Digital service similar to the one recently launched by Walmart, only you can register your discs directly through the player. Of course, the BD-E6500 also has the standard Blu-ray amenities we'd expect in a company's top-shelf model: 3D capability, built-in WiFi, the Smart Hub Web platform, DLNA media streaming, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA decoding, and BD-Live support with 1GB of internal storage.
The BD-E6500's design is stylishly minimal. It measures 16.9 x 8.1 by 1.3 inches (WDH), weighs about 4 pounds, and has a gloss-black cabinet with a brushed-silver accent strip along the bottom front panel. Within that silver strip are touch-capacitance buttons for power, stop, play, enter, and eject, as well as a simple text screen. The player has a slot-loading disc drive that's barely evident when you first glance at the front face. Behind a small pull-out door sits a USB port for media playback. Around back, in addition to the aforementioned HDMI inputs, you'll find one HDMI output, one optical digital audio output, and one Ethernet port. The player lacks analog outputs of any kind.
After a quick startup and initial setup, the BD-E6500's colorful, simple Home menu appears. This menu includes five options: Settings, Smart Hub, AllShare Play, HDMI Input, and Disc to Digital. The Settings menu is clearly organized and easy to maneuver, and it includes the basic video and audio options we'd expect. The video menu itself does not include advanced picture adjustments; however, if you hit the remote's Tools button during disc playback, you'll find an option to choose between four picture modes (Standard, Dynamic, Movie, and a User mode with sharpness, noise reduction, contrast, brightness, color, and tint controls). The 3D Settings menu does not include the 2D-to-3D conversion found in previous Samsung players, nor does it offer some of the advanced 3D picture adjustments you get from companies like Panasonic.
Smart Hub is Samsung's Web platform, which includes Vudu, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Pandora, CinemaNow, YouTube, a full Web browser, Facebook, and much more. For more details, check out my full review of Smart Hub 2012 as it appears on Samsung's TVs. The Blu-ray version is pretty much the same, except that it lacks features like Skype, Virtual Mirror, and facial-recognition login that accompany the TVs that have a camera. As in the TV version, Smart Hub took awhile to cue up the first time I launched it and then immediately required an update. After that, everything ran smoothly.
AllShare Play is the place to access your personal media files. You can directly connect a USB drive or stream content from a DLNA server, PC, or compatible mobile device. I encountered no issues when streaming content from my MacBook Pro's PLEX DLNA software or from the AllShare app on a Samsung tablet. The BD-E6500 has solid format support, including MP4, MKV, AVI, WMV, AVCHD, MP3, WMA, and JPEG. It's worth noting that the setup menu includes a WiFi Direct option to connect compatible mobile devices to the player without requiring a wireless router, as well as a Soft AP mode that lets you connect other devices to your network through the player.
To test the HDMI switching, I connected my DirecTV HD DVR and Apple TV to the two HDMI inputs. Through the setup menu, you can enable HDMI pass-through for HDMI Input 1; so, if you connect your cable/satellite box to that input, you can watch the TV signal without having to turn on the Blu-ray player. This is a thoughtful perk that some A/V receivers fail to provide. To switch between HDMI inputs, you can access the HDMI Input option via the Home menu or just use the remote's "HDMI In" button. All in all, the switching process worked quickly and reliably.
I was looking forward to trying out the Disc to Digital service and seeing how the process compares with Walmart's option (you can get the details on my experience with that service here). Basically, Disc to Digital allows you to authorize the creation of a digital copy of a DVD or Blu-ray disc that you already own, which will be stored in the Ultraviolet digital locker system and can be accessed on any number of mobile devices. Unfortunately, the service was not yet active when I sat down with the BD-E6500. When I selected the Disc to Digital option on the player's Home page, I was taken to a page where I could choose which Disc to Digital application I want to use. The only current option is Vudu, which is Walmart's service. I do have a couple of movies stored in the Vudu locker, and selecting that option took me directly to the Vudu app within Smart Hub. Samsung's service, when launched, will work in conjunction with Flixster. You will be able to insert a disc into the BD-E6500 disc drive and (for a small fee) authorize the digital copy directly through the player, then play the film through Flixster and other Ultraviolet-supported apps. The Flixster app is available in Smart Hub; but, when launched, it says "Disc to Digital Service will be available soon." Samsung has not yet offered a specific launch date for Disc to Digital, nor have they confirmed how much it will cost to authorize each disc.
Read about the High Points and Low Points, Competition and Comparison and Conclusion of the Samsung BD-E6500 on Page 2 . . .