Samsung's BD-P3600 has a relatively high estimated street price for a Blu-ray Disc player, but it delivers exquisite images from Blu-ray discs to your HDTV. With an Internet connection, it can stream videos from Blockbuster, Netflix, and YouTube, and music from Pandora. But it falls down on the little things, making the viewing experience more difficult than it should be.
In our image-quality tests, the BD-P3600 received scores of Very Good for its Blu-ray-based content, almost straight across the board. In test after test, it showed better color and contrast than our reference player, the Sony PlayStation 3. Night scenes looked realistically dark without losing detail, colors were believable, and black-and-white images had excellent fidelity. In a tire in a shot from chapter 1 of Cars, I saw texture I had never seen before.
Regrettably, this model didn’t do nearly as well with DVD content. One judge felt that its handling of DVD color on both DVD tests was inferior to the PS3’s. Another judge rated the Samsung’s color better than the PS3’s on Phantom of the Opera (chapter 3), though slightly worse (despite better handling of contrast) on Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (chapter 22).
Connect the BD-P3600 to your home network (and thus to the Internet) and you get four sources for streaming entertainment. One of the four, Blockbuster on Demand, lets you rent or buy the right to stream the movies of your choice (with TV shows promised for the future). Image quality was acceptable, but it varies due to the Internet’s uncertainty.
The BD-P3600 also streams movies and TV shows from Netflix On Demand and music from Pandora. Both of these services require you to set up and maintain an account from a computer with a browser.
Samsung revamped its YouTube screen for the BD-P3600. The new look appears cleaner and more attractive, but the phonelike search screen is clumsier than the old one. And the preview window for viewing a video is too small; you can elect to view it full-screen, but that’s too big for YouTube’s mediocre image quality.)
The BD-P3600’s unusual, soft-curved design looks cool and sleek, but it’s not practical. The top hangs over the back about 0.5 inch, making the connectors harder to reach. And because the buttons are located on the top, you can’t put the player in the middle of a stack of components or on a tightly packed shelf in your rack system.
The included Wi-Fi connectivity is a nice touch, especially if you have no practical way to string ethernet from your router to your Blu-ray player. But the player lacks built-in Wi-Fi; instead, the wireless comes via an adapter that plugs into the back USB port, so you can’t use that port for anything else. The wizard that loads when you plug in the adapter asks questions that any Windows 7 or Vista laptop could figure out on its own (such as encryption type), and provides a clumsy data entry screen for entering your password.
Once you get the Wi-Fi working (or give up and plug in ethernet) you can access the Internet, plus photos, music, and videos off of your networked computers. But instead of using DLNA as past Samsung networked players and TVs did, the BD-P3600 finds media in shared folders, in ways that are likely to frustrate the less technically adept.
This player’s multimedia capabilities work much better if you simply copy your media files to a flash drive and plug that drive into the BD-P3600’s front USB port. If you want music with your slideshow, the photos and MP3s (the only audio format supported) must be in the same folder.
The BD-P3600 does get the remote control right. Long and thin, with a curved bottom that fits well in the user’s hand, it puts the play buttons (Play, Skip, and so on) and the TV volume and channel buttons within easy reach. The Title and Pop-up Menu buttons, however, are smaller and harder to reach. The play buttons glow in the dark, and the remote is programmable.
Macworld’s buying advice
Overall, the BD-P3600’s positives (terrific picture and plenty of streaming Internet content) far outweigh its negatives, making it a worthy Blu-ray player.
[Lincoln Spector is a contributing editor to PC World.]