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Samsung BD-P1600 Blu-ray disc player
Affordable, great picture quality, new built-in integration to Netflix movies and Pandora Internet radio
By Robert Jensen

Consumer High Definition televisions (HDTV) hit the market just over 10 years ago. The amount of data used for HD content takes up much greater space than that of Standard Definition (SD) content. From that need came Blu-ray discs (BD).  Blu-ray's name comes from the blue colored laser used to read the discs. Data is stored on the disc by burning tiny pits in the surface, basically the same as with CDs and DVDs but with many, many, more pits to a given area. A Blu-ray's disc capacity is enormous - where a standard DVD holds 4.7GB of data, a standard BD will hold a huge 25GB of data and a dual layer BD a whopping 50GB. There are a few offshoots of Blu-ray technology, lower cost, lower capacity, BD5 and BD9 discs (basically recording Blu-ray format data onto a special DVD using a different colored red laser) There are also mini-sized BD's. Recordable Blu-ray discs are available as well for use with burners.

Blu-ray Features of the Samsung BD-P1600
High quality video and sound - Think of the difference between DVD's and Blu-ray discs as the same as putting on your reading glasses to read a book. Everything looks sharper and more in focus on Blu-ray than with DVDs.

My first experience playing back a Blu-ray disc with the BD-P1600, on a 1080P HDTV, was nothing short of nirvana. It was similar to my first experience listening to a very expensive audiophile system. The amount of detail and realism can't be mentioned in the same breath (take a breath here) as your average home stereo. Its the same with Blu-ray - there is no comparison to Standard Definition TV or any DVD, the picture quality with Blu-ray just blows it away.

It doesn't end with the image on the screen. I was very pleased with the audio coming from the BD-P1600, which can take advantage of several of Dolby Lab's sound technologies. Dolby's True HD decodes lossless multichannel sound (High Definition sound output). The BD-P1600 also supports the competing audio technology, DTS HD. I haven't put the audio section of the Samsung through extensive listening tests yet because I'm still putting together my home theater system but I can tell you that the sound through my Grado and Sennheiser headphones was wonderful. Music with either my small Bose Companion 2 Series II speakers or the slightly bigger M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 speakers was at times an almost three dimensional listening experience, even though I was listening with just two speakers.


Internet connectivity - With the new Samsung BD-P1600 you're given additional features by hooking this player to the Internet. You can do this one of two ways, via Ethernet cable to your router or with Samsung's optional Wireless USB Adapter (WIS09ABGN)  I chose to use the Ethernet hookup for the most reliable, and fastest, data path.

Wireless USB adaptor supports USB 2.0. Compatible with IEEE 802.11a/b/g and 802.11n draft 2.0. Net weight: 0.21 (3.36oz) Lbs.

Being able to access the Internet opens a whole new world of features with the new BD-P1600's BD-Live 2.0 compliance. Now when you play back certain Blu-ray titles there are additional menu options. You can download additional content, access a website with games and more. Some of this content is even upgraded after the release of the disc so even older titles in your collection could have new content available.

Netflix - The Netflix feature built into the player enables you to watch more than 12,000 titles of on demand movies and TV shows. More are becoming available all the time. A very minor drawback is that you have to arrange your Netflix Cue using your computer and Netflix's website.

Right now Netflix's video on demand selection is mostly not up to HDTV quality. They do have some selections tagged as HD, and the image quality is better than their standard selections, but still not able to compete with the image quality 720P or 1080P brings you. As cable companies offer faster speeds I think this will change and we'll see true 720P and then 1080P service. We may not have to wait that long for it either.

Pandora - With the BD-P1600 you can also use my favorite place to listen to streamed music online, Pandora. Again you have to go to Pandora's website to set up your account and individual stations, which is dead simple to do, then listen to them at will using your TV/home theater system.

Setup with either Netflix or Pandora is also simple. If you don't already have an account with Netflix then by all means sign up for their service. I pay $12 a month for unlimited Blu-ray discs, one at a time, but that includes unlimited on demand video. Pandora's service is free (for now). Go to the Pandora website, create an account and set up your stations. Then back to your Samsung BD player, remove any discs you might have in the tray - the screen will show the Netflix/Pandora icons. Click on one. The first time you use it, a setup screen will pop up giving you a series of numbers that you type in at Netflix's or Pandora's website that ties your machine with your account. That's it! You're done and ready to start watching on demand movies or listening to music.

USB - There's a USB slot on the front and back of the player. The rear one would normally be used with Samsung's Wireless USB dongle. The front slot can be used to show JPEG photos and play back MP3's.

HDMI 1.3 - One of the best features of newer HD equipment is their use of HDMI cables for connecting components.  Instead of a snake's nest of wires behind your home theater system that takes you hours to figure out which cable goes to what connection, HDMI simplifies everything by incorporating your video and sound connections into one wire. It also allows for the best image quality, 1080p. Now the only other cables running behind your player are the ones for networking and AC power. (and with the next update to the HDMI specifications, the networking cable will disappear). HDMI makes hooking up your system a breeze and I completed my hookup in a matter of a minute or so. Most of that was going back to the manual to see which of the 4 HDMI slots on my new Samsung LCD TV I should use for the various devices. Now running from the back of the player are the power cord, HDMI cable and Ethernet Cable - that's it. If I'd gone with the Wireless USB dongle to connect to my home network I'd only have the HDMI cable and power cord.

Setup
In the box is the player, remote and batteries, RCA type AV cable, user manual, quick start guide.

As I mentioned above setup is very easy, even setting up Netflix and Pandora.  All-in-all I think it took me a total of 15 minutes, and I wasn't rushing. Plug in a couple of cables, set up accounts and you're ready to go.

Network
If you decide to use Samsung's Wireless USB device to access your network, setup will probably be the most time consuming thing you'll have to do since you'll have to use the remote to input your router's password of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters. You enter the data by using the remote to move a cursor around on the onscreen keyboard. By using an Ethernet cable you bypass the need for the password.

Upgradeable firmware
The Samsung BD-P1600 is one of a few players on the market with a user upgradable firmware. What's so special about being able to do this yourself? Unfortunately there are some discs out there that don't work with all players. Being upgradeable the Samsung can add future compatibility with those discs. I've already upgraded my player's firmware in the first month of ownership. 

Here we come to one major gripe I had with the player. Downloading my first firmware update via the player's Ethernet connection took more than 30 minutes, and thats for a file that was only 65MB in size, and this was done over a broadband cable connection. Normally such a download would have taken a minute or so. I have to believe the slow speed happens because of Samsung's server. Anyway, the firmware upgrade itself is simple to do; follow onscreen instructions and that's it.

Using your computer you can also download firmware upgrades to a USB memory stick and transfer that over to the player to do your upgrade. I'll try that next time there's an upgrade.

TIP - remember to remove any disc in the player before you try to upgrade your firmware.

Final Thoughts
Sales of BD players are way up over last year (by almost 75%) most likely pushed by the drop in street price of the players over that same time frame. A couple months ago I bought the player I'm using for this review. Normally the BD-P1600 sells for $299 but I happened on a great sale on Amazon and purchased the player for $215 including five Blu-ray movies, which effectively dropped the cost down to the $150-$160 range. It pays to do a little searching before you buy anything nowadays.

If you have a HD TV already or will buy one soon, especially if it can display 1080P video, then by all means upgrade your disc player to the BD-P1600. You will not regret it. 
 
I've quickly become a Blu-ray junkie because of the outstanding picture quality of the BD-P1600. Its faster loading time is a godsend compared to other units. All Blu-ray players are not created equal and the playback quality of this Samsung is among the best of what's out there.

Wish list
Mostly I wish for the controls on the player itself to be back-lit. As they are now its more like trying to read Braille unless there's really good room light illuminating the face. This is a minor gripe since most people will access the player via remote. I like the drop down front panel, it keeps dust out of the player, but it can cause some hassle if you have to use a IR repeater.

It would have been nice for Samsung to include a 6' Ethernet cable. I'd rather Samsung had included a 6' Ethernet cable than the RCA AV cable. Most people already have the latter.

Glow in the dark buttons help, but back-lit would have been better.

Most of the other items on my wish list have to do with the remote. It would be nice if it had  back-lit buttons like its sibling TV remote from the Samsung LN40B650. There are some glow-in-the-dark buttons (play, fast forward, stop, pause) but you need to have the remote under a light for awhile for them to be useful in a dark room and then only for awhile since they eventually fade.

Button layout on the player's remote is actually better than the TV's remote. That's a lucky thing because of the Samsung's Anynet+ feature the player remote can handle most of the chores of the bigger TV remote (and vice versa) so I've ended up using it more often of the two. Another nice touch with using AnyNet+ is that when you turn on the player then my Samsung LN40B650 also turns on and sets the input for the BD player.

Anynet+ works in harmony with many of Samsung's products like cameras and home theater systems.




As you can tell I'm in love with this Samsung BD-P1600.  Yes, there are the couple of less than perfect things about the player and remote that I have slight issues with but both are minor annoyances rather than flaws.

Highly recommended!

 


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Robert Jensen has spent most of his 55 years in photography, from the age of 11 when he got his first camera (a Kodak Instamatic) to the present, shooting professionally. From 1971 to 1997 he worked in retail selling photographic equipment to people of all skill levels. For most of that period he was also a manager.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 





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