Samsung BD-P4600 Blu-ray Player
Back in 2006, Samsung was the first manufacturer to release a Blu-ray player to the masses. It contributed to the format’s less than stellar launch reportedly due to an incorrect default setting in the video processing chip set used in the player.
Samsung fixed the issue in its debut player with a firmware update and has been at the forefront of player development ever since. Over the generations, its players have offered HQV video processing, Wi-Fi, and media streaming capabilities. The BD-P4600 is Samsung’s most expensive offering in 2009 at $450, but it brings a lot to the table with oodles of features, solid performance, and a unique design.
The BD-P4600 is the sleekest A/V component I’ve had in my system. Samsung employs its Touch of Color design, which features smooth edges, a subtle red border, and a glossy black façade. The player is designed to be either wall mounted under an LCD or plasma (hardware included) or placed on its angled stand outside of an equipment rack. If you use a standard A/V rack, the BD-P4600 isn’t for you. With a side-loading disc tray (similar to the PS3), you’ll need a width of 23.5 inches in order to insert a disc. That’s much wider than any rack I’ve ever seen.
Touch-sensitive controls adorn the top of the player, and only the Power button is illuminated when it’s in standby mode. Once powered on, the other commands glow to life, offering the standard display (player status, time, etc.), Search/Skip, Stop, Play, and Eject buttons. These controls aren’t dimmable, which may be a concern if you mount the player under your display. I positioned the player at the side of my room and didn’t find them distracting.
In order to accommodate wall mounting, the Samsung incorporates certain design restrictions, which are evident when you look at the connection options. On the underside of the player is a cramped section with an HDMI 1.3a output, analog stereo outputs, and a composite video output. If you need a component output or multichannel analog outputs, this isn’t the player for you. Other connections include an Ethernet port, optical digital, a second USB port, and the 12-volt DC input for the external power supply—similar to a laptop computer. If you don’t have an Ethernet connection in your viewing room, Samsung includes a USB Wi-Fi dongle to connect to your home network without having to snake cables through your walls.
The BD-P4600 is BD-Live compliant with 1 gigabyte of internal memory, which is expandable via one of the two USB ports. It offers internal decoding of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio and sends it via HDMI as PCM to a receiver or surround processor. If you have a newer AVR that offers onboard decoding, the Samsung can output lossless bitstreams as well, but you’ll lose the secondary audio with PiP and the clicks and beeps in the menus.
The HDMI output also supports Samsung’s Anynet+ function. This is Samsung’s version of HDMI CEC, and it automatically switches to the proper HDMI input on your display when you insert a disc into the player. (I didn’t test this function.)
The remote control’s high-gloss black casing is beautiful, but using it was a major pain. The lack of backlighting is a poor design choice, but Samsung included glow keys for the main functions (Play, Stop, etc.). Unfortunately, they go dim in about 20 minutes and are useless in a darkened room. The button layout is horrendous. The main playback controls are in the upper half of the remote and the Popup Menu button is on the lower right-hand side. Of all the players I’ve used over the years, this is the worst remote of the bunch—thank God for universal remotes!
The setup menu has a decent layout, is easy to navigate, and offers the typical options. One quirk I found is that the player defaults to enabling dynamic range compression. This makes dialogue more intelligible at lower volume levels, but it compresses loud explosions. The BD-P4600 and the LG BD390 are the first players I’ve seen that do this, and it isn’t a good thing for most users.
Unlike the Pioneer player in this roundup, the Samsung doesn’t offer any user-adjustable picture controls or HDMI color-space options. However, neither of these is a big loss since I’ve found that the default output in most players is adequate, including this player’s. The video output resolutions include 1080p (60/24), 1080i, 720p, and 480p. The BD-P4600 also has BD Wise, which sets the optimum resolution when connected to other Samsung-compliant BD-Wise products (not tested).
Given the player’s unique shape, it didn’t fit into my equipment rack, so I had to place it on tops of my cabinet. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an Ethernet cable that was long enough to reach the component, so I was happy it included the USB Wi-Fi dongle. I allowed the player’s MAC address access to my router and then used the search function in the Network Setup options to find my home network.
For some unknown reason, the Samsung found four of my neighbors’ networks but not mine. This is the first wireless device I’ve ever used in my home that couldn’t find my network. In my home, there’s a PS3, two laptops, a Microsoft Zune, and an iPod touch that all connect without any issues, but the Samsung wouldn’t connect. I gave up and used a longer Ethernet cable that connected to my network without any issues. Samsung suspects that a faulty dongle or a MAC address issue was at fault, but we were unable to do any follow-up testing.
Once connected, the player informed me that a new update was available (1.14) and asked me if I wanted to update the firmware. It took more than 17 minutes, which seemed like an eternity compared with my OPPO, which takes less than five minutes.