Samsung BD-P3600 Review
Blu-ray Player, $399
Samsung has introduced three new Blu-ray players, the BD-P1600, BD-P3600 and the BD-P4600. All of them, even the $299 BD-P1600, are Profile 2.0 BD-Live players, and each includes Netflix (movie) and Pandora (music) streaming capabilities.
The BD-P3600 stands out from its two siblings because it supplies 7.1 analog audio outputs which are essential for home theater enthusiasts with non-HDMI equipped receivers. Perhaps surprisingly, the ultramodern designed and more expensive ($499) BD-P4600 only furnishes stereo analog audio outs.
Since I'm a Netflix subscriber, I think that Samsung's partnership with Netflix is a real plus for these Blu-ray players. But if your TV viewing room is not wired for the Internet, the big bonus is that all three of these units provide wireless connectivity. Samsung even packages a wireless adapter with the BD-P3600 and 4600.
Of course, the foundation for any Blu-ray player is high quality audio and video performance and the BD-P3600 does not disappoint.
Blu-ray Player Primer
Blu-ray disc players were introduced in 2006. Since then, their specifications have evolved through three classifications, (Profile 1.0, 1.1 and 2.0).
Profile 1.0 provided playback and basic interactive features. Profile 1.1, (also called BonusView), players added the capability for displaying Picture-in-Picture (PIP) and playing secondary audio tracks available on BonusView discs.
After October 31, 2007, all new Blu-ray players had to offer all the features in Profile 1.1.
BD-Live (Profile 2.0) players must have an Ethernet port for connecting to the Internet, where it can download online content associated with BD-Live Blu-ray titles.
Out of the Box
From a distance, the BD-P3600 with its glossy black finish looks nondescript. Upon closer inspection, you see that the designers have sculpted the unit with curved edges and a top that slants down to a slightly smaller base.
The biggest departure from standard DVD players is the placement of the operational buttons on the top instead of on the front face.
Even though I almost always use the remote, I like the convenience of the buttons on the top. They especially come in handy when I am loading a DVD. Of course, to take advantage of this location you need to place the player on the top of your stack of equipment.
Also, if you look closely, a flip down door (labeled Open) on the front right corner conceals a USB port.
On the back, the connection panel supplies one HDMI out and one set of Component Video (YPbPr) outs. A Composite out (with a pair of Audio stereo outs) is also included. Though practically, you should only use the Composite as an option of last resort for troubleshooting.
On the audio side, in addition to the stereo outputs, the BD-P3600 provides those 7.1 channel analog outs along with an optical Digital Audio out. When you add in the HDMI cable, you have four ways of relaying the audio signal.
The BD-P3600 internally decodes advanced audio formats including Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD High Resolution and DTS-HD Master Audio.
The BD-P3600 supplies two USB ports, one on the front and one on the back. Both will accept flash drives, though not simultaneously. You can playback JPEG photos, MP3 audio files or DivX video clips on the drives. (Please note that whether from a flash drive, a CD or a streaming PC, DivX is the only video file format supported by the BD-P3600.)
Either USB port can serve as a Service port for firmware updates. (The BD-P3600 also can download updates directly from the Internet.) If you are accessing BD Live features on a Blu-ray disc which may require additional storage, you can attach a flash drive to either port.
The 802.11 wireless adapter can only be plugged into the USB port on the back. When attached, the adapter sticks out a little over two inches. If you are placing the BD-P3600 in tight quarters, Samsung includes a handy little USB L connector, which will allow you to hug the adapter along the back of the deck. Or if you are old school, you can simply plug a network cable into the LAN port.
In previous reviews, I have discussed the sense of empowerment that Netflix streaming gives. The notion that one has over 11,000 movies at your fingertips can make even a grizzled cineaste weep.
For the music maven, Samsung has linked up with Pandora, a free streaming Internet radio service. After activating your BD-P3600 on the Pandora website, you create your own stations by supplying favorite artists, songs or composers.
For example, Pandora designed a Rufus Wainwright station for me. Rather than playing Rufus 24/7, Pandora, (based on its Music Genome Project database), selects a range of compatible songs by various artists.
If you are planning on using both the Netflix and Pandora streaming features, then make sure that your Internet Service Provider is supplying you ample bandwidth, with download speeds of at least 2.5 Mbps. Over 5 Mbps would be better if you want high quality streaming from Netflix.
Samsung makes remote controls that fit comfortably in your hand, which might seem like a small detail but it shows a sensitivity to you, the consumer. The glossy black remote is non-backlit, but after being exposed to sunlight, the basic control keys in the middle glow green in the dark.
I wish that I could access some of the player's menu items while watching a DVD, but you must stop the DVD before you can open the menu for the BD-P3600.
Because this Samsung is feature-rich, the menu is not as uncomplicated as I would prefer. You often have to punch a number of buttons to reach your destination in the sub-menus. Then again, if I have to choose, I'll take the features even if it means more navigation through the menus.
The EPA is now publishing a list of ENERGY STAR qualified TVs. (You can find it here.) But the EPA is still in the midst of setting testing procedures for the Version 2.0 ENERGY STAR Audio/Video Specification, which includes devices like Blu-ray players and AV receivers.
It will probably take another few months before the EPA will begin to generate a list of ENERGY STAR qualified Blu-ray players, therefore, we ran our own set of power consumption readings.
To measure power, we hooked the BD-P3600 up to our watt meter, called Watts up? Pro, and took a reading during playback of a Blu-ray movie and another in standby mode.
During playback, the meter ranged between 21.9 and 22.4W. If I stopped playing but still had the disc in, the meter hovers around 18W.
When I turned the power off, the meter plummeted to 0 and didn't budge. I'm glad to see that this new Samsung model exhibited this zero or near zero standby mode. The earlier BD-P1600 didn't drop so low in standby and also took more power during playback.
I know Samsung has made great strides in reducing power consumption in their new HDTVs. It's gratifying that they are also greening their Blu-ray players.
The more Blu-ray players that I review, the more I realize how young this technology is. Let's just say they haven't hit puberty yet. And like any growing child, they are constantly outgrowing their clothes. In Blu-ray terms, that means the need for seemingly constant firmware updates.
I would suggest the first thing you do after connecting any new Blu-ray player to your TV is check to see if your player has a firmware update that you can download from the manufacturer's website.
With this Samsung, you have three options. Download the file to your computer and then copy it to a flash drive which you can insert in one of the USB ports on the BD-P3600. Or you can burn the file to a CD, which you insert into the player. Or you can hook the player directly to the Internet and download the firmware update straight into the unit.
If you decide to connect the BD-P3600 to the Internet, you will need to setup the Network feature. If you have any network experience, the process is fairly straightforward. As a reminder, you will need an Internet connection to take advantage of BD-Live content available through a Blu-ray DVD.
Now, there is a second networking function that I particularly like, the ability to connect the BD-P3600 into your home network. Then you can access JPEG photos, MP3 music and DivX video directly from a shared folder on your computer.
The catch is that setting up this link can be a little tricky. As a Samsung representative said, "there are thousands, if not tens of thousands of different PC configurations - not to mention the countless different routers, network types, and service providers."
Luckily, I received some assistance from the rep and I was successful in linking the BD-P3600 to my computer. I will not try to explain the process in this review. You can email me and I will share the details.
After dealing with network connections, the rest of setup is a piece of cake. You can work your way through the sub-menus quickly and easily. If you have questions, the manual is informative and helpful.
To use Netflix or Pandora, you will need to go onto your computer and register your BD-P3600 on both the Pandora and Netflix sites. Netflix is a paid monthly subscription. Pandora is free.
For the videophiles in the crowd, Samsung does not furnish any picture controls on the BD-P3600. I am seeing some other top end Blu-ray players that offer an extensive list of picture adjustments. If you have a high quality HDTV with multiple HDMI inputs, I don't believe you'll feel deprived by this Samsung's lack of tweaking tools.
I'm running out of ways of expressing how good playback of Blu-ray discs looks and sounds. The performance of the BD-P3600 simply adds to the list of superlatives. Picture quality is crystalline and audio is as good as your sound system.
The BD-P3600's upconversion of standard definition DVDs will make you glad that you didn't dispose of all those old DVDs in a garage sale. But I'll continue to repeat, "there is a noticeable difference between SD and Blu-ray DVDs."
With that said, I am not an unswerving fan of Blu-ray technology. On every player that I have encountered, I have run across at least one glitch in playback of Blu-ray discs.
For example, I just received a copy of the Director's Cut of the Watchmen. It contains a feature called Maximum Movie Mode. Some of the Blu-ray players that I have in for review (including this Samsung) hiccup when I try to access this content. Others don't.
Then again when I try to tap into the BD-Live content through the Transformers disc, the BD-P3600 acts like a champ. While those that handled Watchmen turn into chumps with Transformers. Curiouser and curiouser. I can only imagine that these compatibility issues make tech support personnel invoke the sacred and profane in their restless nights.
With its ability to decode advanced formats including Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD High Resolution, and DTS-HD Master Audio, the BD-P3600 is pumping high octane audio fuel. If your sound system is an old clunker, it will run better, but don't expect to set any land speed records. For those home theater speed racers who gotta Bugatti, fuhgeddaboudit.
As I scan the online retailers today, I see that the street price of the BD-P3600 is still the same as the MSRP. I consider the wireless connectivity and the Netflix and Pandora streaming are bonuses, but my recession era parsimony wishes the price of this high-end machine would lose some altitude.
Indeed, if you don't need 5.1 or 7.1 analog audio outputs, you can attain all of the other features in the $300 Samsung BD-P1600. (The 1600 is wireless but does not come with the adapter. It also doesn't support DivX video.)
With 7.1 analog audio outputs and superior picture quality, the Samsung BD-P3600 Blu-ray player is a great choice for a home theater with a non-HDMI equipped receiver. With the added capability to wirelessly connect to the Internet and your home network, this player can become a vital cog in a home media system.