Along with LG, Samsung was one of the first Blu-ray Disc manufacturers to include Netflix streaming on its machines. But last year's BD-P2550 went LG one better by adding Pandora Internet radio to the player's media-streaming suite. Both of those features have since been carried over to Samsung's BD-P1600, an entry-level model offering much of what was good about its predecessor, but at a lower $299 price.
The BD-P1600's gloss-black facade is actually a flip-down door that extends across the player's entire front. When you hit the open/close button on the remote control, the door automatically lowers and a disc tray slides out. Once a disc is inserted, the door closes back up. It's a strange design, mainly because if you plug a flash drive into the front-panel USB port (located under the door), you won't be able to shut the door again until the drive is removed. Fortunately, a second USB port is located on the rear panel - a more obvious choice for plugging in a flash drive for BD-Live applications.
Samsung's remote control mirrors the BD-P1600's gloss-black look. And the main disc-transport buttons all glow in the dark - always a good thing on a remote. Pressing the Info button calls up a bare-bones data display, with soundtrack information limited to language and multichannel/stereo status. You can also select one of the player's four picture presets from this screen, including a User mode with sharpness and noise-reduction adjustments.
The BD-P1600's operation proved quick and responsive: The player powered up and accepted discs within 6 seconds, with playback starting just 15 seconds later. Its performance here places it just a notch below the LG. A 2x search mode delivers smooth picture quality when scanning discs, and there's also a 128x mode to blaze through movies when seeking specific scenes.
The Samsung readily handled all of the HQV Blu-ray tests that I threw at it, and most of the DVD ones. Aside from showing slight jaggies on the HQV DVD's video-based patterns, the main one it tripped up on was that disc's Assorted Cadences torture tests. But the real-world implications of this (that is, watching movies) are mostly insignificant. The noise-reduction processing worked fine until switched to the highest setting, which softened picture detail to a degree. When I looked at the resolution wedge pattern on the AVIA Pro test DVD using the player's component-video output, the lines in the 6.75 MHz patch looked very crisp - there was little difference between it and the same pattern viewed with an HDMI connection. For that reason alone, the BD-P1600 will be a fine choice if you have an older HDTV with a component-video and no HDMI input.
Everything that I said about Netflix streaming in my LG BD370 review basically applies to the Samsung BD-P1600. Picture quality with that service is ultimately limited by what Netflix serves up and by the robustness of your broadband connection as well. Which leaves us with Pandora Internet Radio. If you haven't yet experienced Pandora, you're in for a treat. It's a great way to discover new artists and dig deeper into music genres. Beyond that, its detailed onscreen graphics look great on an HDTV.
Samsung's BDP-1600 has most everything you could want in an entry-level Blu-ray player, including very good video performance and a desirable mix of media-streaming options. The flip-down door on its front panel presents some potential ergonomic issues, but in practice I found that it didn't get in my way. One more thing I need to mention is that a firmware upgrade I downloaded just prior to finishing this review resulted in the BD-P1600 not being able to play Blu-ray Discs. (But a new unit the company shipped me with the same firmware version played them just fine.) That one firmware freakout aside, Samsung's entry-level player struck me as a true Blu-ray bargain.
• Netflix on-demand streaming
• Pandora Internet-radio streaming
• Wi-Fi ready with optional USB dongle ($80)
• Front- and back-panel USB ports
• LAN Port
• Outputs: HDMI, component-, and composite-video; optical digital and analog stereo audio
• 17 x 81⁄4 x 2 in, 41⁄2 lb
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