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Samsung BD-D6900 Blu-ray Player Expert Review

Samsung BD-D6900

Rating: ★★★★☆

Also lurking inside this svelte silver box is a Freeview HD tuner, bringing you the best of both high-definition worlds in a single space-saving unit.

It’s a single-tuner affair, and there’s no internal HDD as found on its twin-tuner stable mate, the BD-D8500, but it does support external HDD recording via USB, which could make this an ideal solution if you already have a tuner in your TV.

Being a Samsung product – a company to whom value for money is something of a mission statement – the BD-D6900 is unsurprisingly packed with all the latest techno-tricks, providing hours of entertainment without a Blu-ray disc in sight thanks to its built-in networking capabilities and online access.

But the real eye-catchers are 3D Blu-ray playback and 2D to 3D conversion, something until recently could only be found on 3D TVs.

As ever, the deck benefits from Samsung’s unique fashion sense, but here we find the company really pushing the boat out. The BD-D6900 is fitted with a gorgeous silver top panel that beautifully complements its latest range of silver 3D TVs, and everything has been squeezed into an abnormally slim case – at just 33mm high, we’ve eaten sandwiches thicker than this.

An alluring new addition to the design this year is an LED panel with touch-sensitive controls built right into the display.

With these buttons, the text display and a discreet disc slot consolidated into a single panel, it leaves the rest of the fascia free from clutter – an important factor in these décor-conscious times. Under a flap on the right you’ll find a USB port and a CI slot for adding pay TV channels to the Freeview channel line-up.

The rear panel offers standard socketry, including an HDMI v1.4 output for 3D playback on compatible TVs, but there’s no second output for piping HD audio separately, so if you want 3D be sure that your receiver offers 3D pass-through. This is joined by component, composite, analogue stereo and optical digital audio outputs, plus an Ethernet port plus RF input and loopthrough.

Features

The most significant new feature added to Samsung’s 2011 Blu-ray players is Smart Hub, a vastly improved revamp of its Internet@TV service.

This online portal once again brings a range of services to your TV, including BBC iPlayer, LoveFilm, Facebook and YouTube, but this time round it’s presented in a more striking and much clearer layout (looking a bit like Android or the iPhone with little square icons laid out in a grid), and also brings some clever new features to the table.

Among them is Search All, which scours the unit for content relating any keyword you enter. It pulls results from Smart Hub, YouTube, Facebook and connected devices, and remembers your searches for future reference. It’s just a shame it doesn’t search the Freeview EPG for forthcoming programmes.

Another new feature within Smart Hub is Your Video, which recommends movies and TV shows available on LoveFilm and other VOD providers based on ratings and viewing history, as well as providing an online database of movie information.

It looks terrific, using large movie posters and a slick scrolling interface, plus there’s a search tool for finding the film you want. The amount of information available is impressive, pulling up photos and trivia as well as cast/crew info, plus you can Like or Share videos on Facebook or Twitter.

That’s not all. The new layout of Smart Hub allows for greater customisation than its previous incarnation. You can organise apps into folders and label them, one for each member of the family perhaps, plus you can delete or move them around at leisure.

New apps can be added from the dedicated store, which offers a generous range of family oriented content, including the well-known sites mentioned above plus Dailymotion, AccuWeather, Picasa and Google Maps, alongside loads of children’s stories, games and puzzles.

It could do with a couple more catch-up TV services, but there’s plenty to keep you amused for the time being.

Incredibly that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The built-in Wi-Fi adapter keeps ungainly Ethernet cables out of the equation, and it lets you download BD Live content or stream media wirelessly from PCs and NAS drives using the DLNA-certified AllShare feature. You can also play digital media from USB devices, with a list of supported formats that includes MP3, WMA, WMV, DivX HD, XviD and MKV.

Not forgetting, of course, that the BD-D6900 is also a Blu-ray player, and on that score there’s Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio decoding, 1080/24p output, Full HD 3D output and 1GB of memory built-in for BD Live downloads.

The 3D conversion is a nice touch if you fancy adding an extra dimension to your existing 2D disc collection, and interestingly it also works with TV programmes from the Freeview tuner.

Talking of which there’s a full roster of digital TV features too, including an eight-day EPG and an on-screen info banner that lets you browse the schedules. If you connect an external hard disk drive you can record from the Freeview tuner (which also lets you use series link) and pause/rewind live TV with the Timeshift feature.

Picture quality

Using Iron Man 2 as a test disc, the Samsung BD-D6900 delivers excellent 2D picture quality.

The image boasts almost clinical levels of detail sharpness and bright, punchy colours that make the Iron Man suit look richer and redder than ever before.

Skin tones also look natural, but it’s the subtle shading and delicate detail within those tones that really make them believable. Edge definition is razor sharp, with no stepping or ugly pixel noise to cloud the clarity, and with 1080/24p output engaged there’s precious little judder as Iron Man and other fast-moving objects jet around the screen.

It also fares well with trickier video evaluation Blu-ray discs such as Silicon Optix’s HQV – the diagonal filter test, which shows a white bar moving within a circle against a black background, shows no evidence of ‘stepping’ along its edges, while the Video Resolution Loss test card is smooth and stable.

Only the Film Resolution Loss test gives any cause for concern – the strobing boxes reveal the deck has trouble converting video from 1080i back to 1080/24p, but that’s of no consequence if you mostly watch movies.

Flipping over to the 3D Blu-ray version of Avatar – viewed on the awesome Panasonic TX-P46VT20 plasma – the BD-D6900 is equally assured when handling 3D material. Essentially the player is just passing on the pixels to the TV digitally, but it does so without any flaws at all.

The resulting pictures are absolutely spellbinding, particularly during the ‘First Sortie’ chapter when the camera glides past flying creatures and scenery. The various layers are depicted with amazing depth, sharpness and fluidity, making the whole 3D experience incredibly believable.

Then as the helicopter touches down in the forest, the way the image stretches from the flapping ferns in the foreground to the background glimpsed through gaps in the trees is mesmerising.

And the 2D to 3D conversion is better than you might expect. It works better with some material than others – digital TV doesn’t scrub up well in three dimensions – but with Iron Man 2 you can certainly make out the different layers being added by the player, adding a distinct element of depth to the image.

It’s by no means as good as real 3D and the processing introduces a slightly gauzy effect, but on the whole it’s not a bad effort. And with the 2D version of Avatar the results are almost as good as the real thing, thanks to its clearer 3D cues that are easier for the player to pick up.

Digital TV pictures are as good as you’d expect – bold and brightly-coloured but beset by the usual shimmering and edge noise that few receivers manage to side-step. It’s at its best with Freeview HD channels such as BBC One HD – flagship shows like Eastenders, Human Planet and Holby City look stunning, melding punchy detail with rich, natural colours that benefit from smooth tonal gradation.

Standard def channels look scruffier, with greater levels of block and mosquito noise, but remain perfectly watchable, and when recorded onto USB memory picture quality is identical.

Value & ease of use

Although the BD-D6900 is more expensive than your average Blu-ray player, you’re certainly getting a lot for your money.

Aside from the obvious 3D Blu-ray playback capabilities and Freeview HD tuner, it’s also a versatile media streamer and provides a vast range of internet content through the brilliant Smart Hub portal. That, along with its gorgeous external design and superb new operating system makes it feel like excellent value for money.

Obviously some will find that price too high, and would therefore be better off seeking out a separate budget Blu-ray deck and PVR. But what we’re saying is that if you do fork out for this player, then you won’t be disappointed.

Ease of use

Smart Hub’s functions are easy to control, thanks to clever use of the remote’s colour-coded buttons and clear on-screen directions. But with so many of its features dependent on passwords and search tools, the method of inputting text (either predictive or multi-press) can get a bit tedious, but thankfully the deck remembers what you’ve entered.

The various features, such as Your Video, Facebook, YouTube and Search All are all self explanatory once you enter them.

Smart Hub isn’t the only on-screen display to get a fresh new update for 2011. The main menu has also been redesigned with crisp, full colour graphics, giving each function a funky animated icon, and enables you to delve into every single area of the deck’s functionality.

It scrolls horizontally, and when you select an icon a list of options appears above it. It may be a treat to look at, but sadly there’s an element of sluggishness as it moves from icon to icon, which is more of a niggle than a major problem.

Samsung brings the same eye-candy approach to all of the on-screen displays, from the jazzy media streaming screens (which use the same folder icons and structure as your PC) to the setup menu, which presents its comprehensive list of options in a straightforward manner.

This makes the player incredibly simple to install, particularly network setup, which is accompanied by colourful animated graphics. It’s also worth mentioning that the Wi-Fi adapter inside the player is a particularly sensitive one – it was able to pick up the signal from a garden office situated in the house a fair distance from the router. Many other products have tried and failed to connect to it from here.

The EPG is terrific, showing six channels at a time and playing live TV in a box at the top. There’s a lot of information packed into the screen but it’s done in a way that doesn’t feel too cluttered. With a USB HDD connected, recordings can be found in the Recorded TV menu, which uses thumbnails to great effect.

Recordings can be edited, the menu for which is a little long-winded to find, but once there you can chop out part of a recording or split it in two using some incredibly simple editing menus.

When it comes to Blu-ray playback, the displays are spot-on and it’s fairly quick to load discs too, chewing over Terminator Salvation for close to 40 seconds before showing a picture.

Finally the remote is a very user-friendly device, using large chunky buttons and shouty lettering that wouldn’t even challenge a five-year-old. All of the keys are perfectly placed for the thumb and most of the major functions – Smart Hub, 2D to 3D, recording, EPG and the handy Tools menu – are all given their own dedicated buttons.

Final thoughts

The BD-D6900 isn’t for everyone, particularly those on a tight budget or those who want more flexible recording options, but if you want to consolidate digital TV and Blu-ray into one box and save space in your AV cabinet then the BD-D6900 is a terrific way to do it.

The amount of features on board is hugely generous, plus the external design and on-screen menus are gorgeous to look at. On the downside it’s a little sluggish to respond in places, and Smart Hub could do with a couple more catch-up TV services, but that aside the BD-D6900 really is among the best Blu-ray products on the market.

We liked

The feature list is outstanding, covering all of latest techno-tricks like media streaming and 3D playback, and its picture performance with 2D and 3D material is stunning. The external design is dreamy, the touch-sensitive control panel is genius and we love the improvements to the onscreen GUI, particularly the terrific new Smart Hub system.

We disliked

The single tuner means you’ll need a separate Freeview tuner in your TV if you’re going to take advantage of the USB recording feature – if recording flexibility is an issue you should step up to the twin-tuner BD-D8500 or invest in a separate Blu-ray deck and PVR.

And although there’s plenty of content on Smart Hub, it could do with a couple more catch-up TV services, although they’ll probably be added in due course. Also, elements of the operating system are a tad sluggish and the price will be prohibitive for some.

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Pros

  • Smart Hub content
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and DLNA
  • Outstanding feature list
  • Gorgeous design

Cons

  • Fairly expensive
  • Could do with more catch-up TV
  • Not the greatest build quality
  • Single tuner might be a turn-off
  • Menus slow to respond

Verdict

The BD-D6900 is a fantastic fusion of Blu-ray and Freeview HD technology that may not satisfy everyone’s needs but certainly won’t leave buyers feeling short-changed thanks to its all-encompassing feature list, terrific pictures and alluring looks.

Samsung BD-D6900 Blu-ray Player Expert Review

 


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