Introduction to the Samsung BD-D6500 Blu-ray Player
One of the major differentiations between Blu-ray players now has been their online content support. With more and more people getting their movies and TV shows from Netflix, Hulu, and other sources, the ability to access all of these easily from one device has become more important than ever. At CEDIA Samsung was showing off their SmartHub Internet content portal which looked to make finding your content easier, so I asked them to send me over a Blu-ray player with it to test it out. The Samsung BD-D6500 Blu-ray player arrived shortly.
SAMSUNG BD-D6500 BLU-RAY PLAYER SPECIFICATIONS
- Design: Blu-ray Player
- Streaming Support SmartHub: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Blockbuster, Pandora, YouTube, Vudu, Facebook, and More
- Connections: HDMI 1.4a, Component Video, Optical Audio, LR RCA Audio, USB, Ethernet
- Dimensions: 1.3″ H x 16.9″ W x 8.2″ D
- Weight: 3.8 Pounds
- MSRP: $200 USD
- SECRETS Tags: Blu-ray, SmartHub
Design and Setup of the Samsung BD-D6500 Blu-ray Player
The Samsung BD-D6500 is a slim, half depth design with a slot load tray drive. As with all new players this year, there is no component video output for HD video and you’ll need HDMI. The BD-D6500 has WiFi built in, which makes it easy to integrate into your system without needing to run Ethernet to use all the streaming content. Aside from the slot loading drive, the BD-D6500 is a fairly standard Blu-ray player for 2011.
Setup of the BD-D6500 physically was very easy, as it’s just a simple HDMI cable and I was ready to go. It offers options for colorspace (RGB Standard, RGB Enhanced, and YCbCr that is 4:4:4 but not specified anywhere) and resolution, as well as letting you enable or disable Deep Color and 24p support. The only missing options that I really wanted were 4:2:2 colorspace support and a Source Direct mode. The BD-D6500 is a 3D Blu-ray player with HDMI 1.4, but it doesn’t have a 2D to 3D conversion mode. One feature on it that isn’t on the lower model D5500 is the ability to internally decode DTS-HD Master Audio to PCM over HDMI. If you have an older HDMI receiver that can’t handle the new audio codecs, you’d certainly want to purchase this model over that one to get all the sonic benefits.
All manufacturers now seem to offer an iOS application for their devices, and after getting over the “gee-whiz!” aspect of it, I typically stopped using them since it only emulated the remote, but with soft buttons which meant I kept having to look down at my iPhone to do anything. Samsung seems to have gotten this feedback and produced the first iOS remote that I’d actually recommend installing and using. While it can emulate the remote, it also has a context aware mode that adds a totally different layout that’s specific to the Blu-ray player screen. If you need to enter your WiFi password, or Hulu Plus account information it will pop up the iOS keyboard to make the job much easier than using the remote. If you’re in the SmartHub section, it displays a list of the different applications instead of forcing you to look at the remote and the screen to navigate. I included some screenshots of this to give you an idea, but I really do recommend installing it as soon as you get the player, since it makes setup and use easier than without it.
The Samsung BD-D6500 Blu-ray Player In Use
Now that the BD-D6500 was hooked up and all of my online accounts were setup, it was time to see it in use. I managed to grab an early copy of the Toy Story 3D box set for review so that gave me some great testing material. While all the films loaded and played back in 3D correctly, they also all had a hiccup where at certain points they would go back to the start of the chapter you were in. It seemed to be random, and I could advance to the next chapter fine, but I tested it in another player and didn’t see the issue. Since these movies were not available to the general public yet, it could be that Samsung was working on a firmware update that will resolve the issue that would be completed before their street date. This just seems to be one of the things that can happen on Blu-ray titles and players, and it’s hard to correctly place blame for it.
I tried many other titles that I usually use for testing (The Dark Knight, The Lion King, The Fifth Element) and none of them exhibited the skipping issue that Toy Story 3D did, so I’m going to assume that it’s just a firmware fix due to something new being done by Pixar on those titles and Samsung will fix it. I’ll ask for a follow-up from them and update as I hear anything.
Beyond Blu-ray, the main thing I wanted to try out was the SmartHub feature on the Samsung. As I saw the demo at CEDIA, the main benefit to me was being able to use the Search function to search across all the various streaming services to find the content that I wanted. If my wife wants to see Glee, she doesn’t want to have to know if it’s on Hulu Plus, or Netflix, or Vudu, she just wants to search for Glee and start watching it. You can also setup different accounts on the SmartHub so recommendations for my wife will be kept separate from recommendations for me (are you listening Netflix?).
The first title I went to search for was Mad Men. I have the whole series on Blu-ray, but sometimes I just want to be able to start up an episode for a little bit and then be able to easily come back to it, without needing to dig out the physical media. I went to search for this and it came back letting me know that I could watch episodes on Vudu for just $2 each, and in HD. However, I knew that it had just been added to Netflix for streaming so I was a bit confused and then went to search it out. Sure enough, it was available in Netflix for Instant Streaming, but the Search feature in SmartHub didn’t find that. A little bit annoying to say the least since I would much rather watch for free than pay per episode.
I had also been trying to finally catch up on the excellent series Friday Night Lights, which had just finished its run on NBC. Going to search for this let me know that, once again, I could watch the most recent season on Vudu, but that it was going to be “Coming Soon” to Hulu Plus. Of course, when I fired up Hulu Plus I found that all of the episodes for Friday Night Lights were already available, so I could watch them for free again. Wondering about this I contacted Samsung and was informed that the Search feature does not search against Hulu Plus or Netflix yet. Well, that was really a disappointment to me as that negated a lot of the functionality that I was after.
I ran into another issue later in my testing as when I logged in on October 24th, the “New For You” section let me know that I could now rent Cars 2 from Vudu. I had already preordered the Blu-ray for my son, as he’s a huge Cars fan, but being able to stream it a week before that came out would be a good test of the Samsung, and a treat for him. I followed the Watch Now links to see what a rental would cost me, only to find that Vudu didn’t have it available until the release day the next week! It’s good that my son wasn’t around during this episode or he would have probably thrown a huge fit after being denied Cars 2 at that point. I checked a couple of days later and noticed that Cars 2 was no longer in the “New For You” section, but I’m not sure if this was a one time issue, or an ongoing problem in classifying titles.
There were a couple more issues that I had with the SmartHub feature. It often required updates to the applications, so I would launch it, then have 3-5 minutes to spare while it downloaded, installed, and updated the content. Since this happened 2-3 times in the 3 weeks I used the Samsung, I imagine these updates are frequent at this point, and I have no idea if they will slow down or continue to be an interruption on the experience. The Exit key also functioned differently in the applications. On some it would return you back to the SmartHub screen, and on some it took you to the Main Menu screen of the Samsung. The lack of consistent behavior is also something that they should find in their testing, as it leads to consumer confusion.
Though it sounds like I’m leveling a lot of complaints at the Samsung, compared to other players it has a very large selection of online content, all of which worked well in my testing, and it had very nice Blu-ray playback and colorspace support compared to most players. The issues I had are with the SmartHub feature, which shows good promise, but really needs another revision to be as useful as I would like it to be. Overall in use the Samsung did quite well.
The Samsung BD-D6500 Blu-ray Player On The Bench
With our traditional DVD and Blu-ray Benchmark tests, the Samsung did well on the major tests but did fail a few of them. On mixed film and video content it didn’t deinterlace both correctly, and it failed a chroma upsampling error test as well. With the Blu-ray tests, the noise reduction controls made no visible change to either block or mosquito noise regardless of how high the control was. 2:2 1080i content was a bit slower to lock onto for deinterlacing, but not slow enough to fail the test and the deinterlaced content looked great.
On the HDMI Benchmark the Samsung was effectively perfect in YCbCr. It did have a slight bit of dithering in the color blocks (where the value is +/- 1 of the target value), but that in itself is not bad. The main issue is that in RGB mode it forces a minimum value of 16 instead of 0 for all three values. Of course this falls outside of the video range, but it still should pass 0 when fed a 0, not 16. The other bad thing about the HDMI output is the lack of 4:2:2 or Source Direct modes for people that can’t handle RGB or 4:4:4 colorspaces correctly. If my gear supported it, I’d run it in YCbCr mode since it works correctly.
If you move outside of the Normal mode, you’ll find that the colorspace decoding is well off. In Cinema Mode, it is reducing the peak light output by lowering the values in the Y channel, while the Cb and Cr color data is having its dynamic range reduced. I would theorize that this is meant to be used when watching a film in a dark room, but with a display that is calibrated for a brightly lit room. Since most displays are not calibrated by the end users, this might give people something that looks closer to the correct light output levels for a dark room, but really you’re just giving up dynamic range in your image as it reduces the content into a smaller window of values.
Dynamic Mode works much differently, by blowing up the values in the Y channel for the midrange, causing any value of 201 or higher to actually be above 235, or the white clipping point on a calibrated display. Instead of compressing a larger set of values into a smaller group, this is expanding the values out, but there is nowhere for values to go beyond 255! This has taken your brightness range from 220 values down to 186, or a loss of 16% of your dynamic range! With color data, it’s just over saturating the colors that are on there, so nothing will be muted at all on screen, no matter how it was recorded originally.
Both these modes should be avoided. If you want to punch up the colors on your TV, or set it up for night time viewing, it’s best to do that on the TV itself as you can do that and keep far more dynamic range than you can by using these adjustments.
Load times were decent on the Samsung. It wasn’t as fast as the best players, but it was close enough that you probably won’t notice it unless you have a stopwatch out to compare.
Overall the Samsung did well on the tests that matter, and for most users will make a very fine Blu-ray player. Going from off to loading a disc was very fast indeed, as quick as any player I can recall working with.
Conclusions about the Samsung BD-D6500 Blu-ray Player
Though the SmartHub feature in its current state underwhelmed me, I was overall a fan of the BD-D6500 Blu-ray player. It did well on our benchmark, had good colorspace decoding over HDMI in YCbCr mode, and has a plethora of online content available. The Samsung BD-D6500 is well worth taking a look at to see if it has everything you are looking for in a Blu-ray player, as the performance is there.