Samsung BD-H6500 Blu-ray Player Review
Physical media for video is on the way out. We will probably see an Ultra HD Blu-ray format, but streaming is where everything is going. This is clear in current Blu-ray players as they distinguish themselves through streaming features more than Blu-ray playback. Offering the best interface to all this content is what separates the top players on the market today.
So does the BD-H6500 from Samsung offer that excellent interface and extensive streaming content to make it a contender? Almost.
Design and Features
The BD-H6500 falls at the top of Samsung’s 2014 Blu-ray player lineup. It has 3D playback, dual-band WiFi, and 4K upscaling. As with all new Blu-ray players, the only video output is HDMI. An optical audio output is the only legacy connection. Samsung continues to place the on-device controls on top of the Blu-ray player, and makes them touch sensitive. Multiple times I accidentally turned the player off, or ejected the disc in the player, as I brushed up against them. The menus offer no option to disable the controls, so you can’t place anything on top of the Samsung player and still use the buttons. The remote is compact, backlit and works well enough.
The streaming content has the major players: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, Amazon, and YouTube. Music has Pandora and Amazon Cloud Player, but no Spotify, TuneIn, iHeartRadio or others. Popular video streaming services including MGo and HBO Go are also not available from Samsung.
There is an app store with more apps, including Blockbuster, CinemaNow and Plex. It also has a bunch of throwaway apps, like one that teaches you how to tie a necktie, that boost their app counts. If you only use Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon, you’ll find yourself well covered by the Samsung. Venture out into other streaming services and there is a good chance it is absent.
Performance and Usability
Samsung has been working on their Blu-ray player interface for years now, trying to marry disc-based and streaming content. The home screen shows the currently inserted disc, as well as a selection of popular apps. You can’t adjust these to be your own favorite apps; you only get what Samsung selects. Additionally the “Movies & TV Shows” section that’s prominently displayed never loads for me.
There’s a built-in Search feature, but it only scans across certain apps. A search for everyone’s favorite spy, Archer, brings up a selection of Archer clips on YouTube, and some unrelated movies, but no episodes off Netflix. I would skip using it in the future since I may not find what I’m looking for.
The user interface on the Samsung is a little slow to respond, and apps are a bit slow to load, compared to the fastest options on the market. Once an app is streaming there were no issues with the playback, but it can take a bit of time to get there. Streaming content looks fine, and Netflix is able to pull down 1080p content, though it still doesn’t look or sound as good as a Blu-ray does.
Blu-ray playback is good, though the player is slower to load than Samsung’s models from last year. Titles were between 19% and 33% slower to load compared to last year’s BD-F5900. This is only around 10 seconds longer per title, but still shows a step back. You also need to set the Color Space option in the menus to 4:4:4 and not Auto or RGB as Samsung appears to still incorrectly convert Blu-ray discs to RGB. Interlaced film titles are correct through the Samsung but video titles, like concerts, may show artifacts.
DVD scaling is average, but free of major issues. Chroma upsampling issues are nowhere to be found, and interlaced to progressive film conversion works. There is some shimmering present if you look carefully at scaled content but no artificial edge enhancement to be seen.
Networked file playback works well. Blu-ray titles I have on my NAS play fine if they use DTS-HD Master Audio, but not Dolby TrueHD. Musical tracks, including FLAC, work without an issue. Browsing a large media library, like mine at 1051 albums, does not work well. Using the front USB port for media files works and is more convenient than navigating over the network.
Second-screen sharing is available on the BD-H6500, allowing you to broadcast content from your tablet or computer. Sending the BD-H6500 a video I was watching on YouTube from my computer is easy. It takes the BD-H6500 a minute or so to load the YouTube app and start streaming, but then it proceeds fine. If you have the Samsung SHAPE wireless audio system you can use the BD-H6500 to stream audio to them. Samsung is integrating all their home theater products together, but they don’t interact with components from anyone else.
UltraHD scaling is untested, as I currently don’t have an UltraHD display on hand.
Blu-ray and DVD performance is good, but there are $70 players that can offer the same performance. The same goes for the streaming content, as a $50 Roku Stick offers greater streaming features at similar speeds. The features that should set the Samsung apart, including their Movies & TV Portal and Search feature, are not working at this point and provide no benefit.
What the Samsung BD-H6500 needs more than anything is a firmware update. It has the essential apps, and decent enough Blu-ray playback, but it has a few bugs. Some of the app features don’t work, and selecting a title from search is broken. At $180 the BD-H6500 is priced like a premium Blu-ray player, but doesn’t perform like one. Until Samsung can iron out the issues I would look at other models, which offer better performance and fewer bugs for less money.
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