Apart from its slender dimensions (37 x 430 x 194.5mm), the Samsung BD-E6100 is typical Samsung Blu-ray fare when judged purely on looks; flimsily built, but dressed in a gloss black brushed finish, it performs another brand signature by seeming awfully good value for money.
Much of that impression is down to its skill with both 2D and 3D Blu-ray discs, although Samsung’s Smart Hub services will be just as appealing to some. It’s a service that’s been challenging Sony’s net TV efforts for domination over the last few years, but we do have a few worries about the direction it’s headed in.
It’s no longer just a place for apps and on-demand video, with the home screen dominated by shortcuts to Samsung Apps, Your Video, Family Story, Fitness and Kids.
Underneath all of that are shortcuts to second-rung apps, which can be customised. They include Twitter, Vimeo, Teletext Holidays, YouTube and Box Office 365 by default, while up top are the highlights; Netflix, Facebook, Acetrax movie streaming, Picasa and Dailymotion.
Why no BBC iPlayer? It’s an odd omission and one we’re sure will appear via a software update soon (seeing as it was included on Smart Hub last year), but even with on-demand BBC shows we’d question the absence of other services such as the other terrestrial and pay TV on-demand services, and LoveFilm.
Netflix and Acetrax are fine, but there are few must-watch movies. The more libraries to trawl through, the better, in our opinion, although the no-show for Samsung’s 3D App is almost as annoying.
There’s also a selection of games, such as Sudoku, TV Darts, Memory and Family Dice. Whether they’re aimed at kids or adults, Samsung obviously hasn’t heard of the Nintendo DS or smartphones.
The Sports category contains only a Fitness VOD and Yoga Helper, while Lifestyle is more useful – here you’ll find Facebook, Twitter, Picasa, Google Talk and vTuner radio.
Within Information is USA Today, AccuWeather and the History Channel’s This Day In History. Nothing to get particularly excited about, then.
In contrast, the ins and outs on the Samsung BD-E6100 Blu-ray player are few, with just an Ethernet LAN for wired Smart Hub-ing to accompany the built-in Wi-Fi module.
There’s also a single HDMI output, a coaxial digital output, and a front-loading USB slot. Beside the latter are three hard-buttons (no sign of the touch-sensitive controls of high-end Samsung Blu-ray players) and a green LED-lit display.
As well as playing 2D and 3D Blu-ray discs, the Samsung BD-E6100’s pop-out disc tray plays all kinds of DVDs (including recordable and rewritable), CD-R, CD-RW and CD DA discs.
The Samsung BD-E6100, priced at £130 (about $210), also includes a Soft AP (Access Point) feature. If the deck is wired in to a router, this creates a Wi-Fi network.
Upon fire-up, the Smart Hub informed us that new software and apps were waiting for us if we were prepared to wait for three minutes. That’s despite us having already checked the ‘software upgrade’ area of the on-screen menus as part of our pre-review routine.
A full seven minutes later, Smart Hub indeed refreshed and updated, and launched into another round of updates that saw Acetrax Movies app installed (a progress bar is shown in the top-right-hand corner of the screen).
The Smart Hub home screen itself is rather cluttered, not just by shortcuts and icons, but also by a small advert in the top-right-hand corner that changes every few seconds. Regaine for Men? Thanks, Samsung.
Amusement aside, putting banner adverts into services such as Smart Hub is a crime akin to having to watch adverts on a Blu-ray disc that we just spent £19 on. It swiftly removes any charitable feeling towards the Samsung BD-E6100.
Incidentally, the web browser that has a shortcut on the home screen is very slow, with a cursor-led approach not helping much. In fact, moving the cursor to each letter of a virtual keyboard to type-in an URL took so long that we doubt anyone would ever do it twice.
As we moved to Samsung Apps, the software upgrade nightmare continued. This time we waited for several minutes for a 7MB file to download and install before Samsung Apps would work.
Anyone with a PlayStation 3 will have particular disdain for this constant raft of updates that preclude using the hardware; at least a smartphone makes its firmware updates optional so they can be installed when it’s convenient.
Samsung Apps appears to be aimed at the kind of international audience that doesn’t actually exist, resulting in a distinctly bland ‘elevator music’ flavour.
Your Video, which also needed an update, cleverly presents artwork and links to on-demand and pay-for films regardless of their source (once you log in). Family Story offers 5GB of cloud storage and is firmly a Picasa wannabe (why bother? There’s an app for that!), and Fitness is a paltry collection of a dozen or so short yoga and Pilates instructional videos. Neither of the latter deserve the gravitas they’re given.
The most interesting non-Blu-ray feature on the Samsung BD-E6100 is actually AllShare Play, which detects media stored on either a USB flash drive or on other DLNA-compatible kit on the same Wi-Fi network.
From a USB flash drive, the likes of AVC HD, AVI, MKV, MOV, MP4, WMV and WMV HD files were supported, while from a networked laptop it’s slightly different – AVC HD, AVI, MOV and MP4 video only.
The interface that handles these disparate sources and media is excellent; well ordered and colourful, it’s perhaps the best thing about the Samsung BD-E6100 away from its core Blu-ray duties.
As usual with Samsung Blu-ray players, the images delivered to a TV are particularly contrast-rich, with bold colours boasting bags of depth and richness.
The level of detail in our test disc Grand Canyon Adventure – firstly in 2D – is also very high, but we did notice the odd shimmer as the camera panned slowly past the canyon’s high sides.
Swap to the 3D version and the good stuff continues, as whitewater rafters paddle across the rapids in a shot that displays a great deal of depth, then a man jumps from a rocky outcrop into the Colorado River amid smooth motion tracking.
It’s sublime-looking stuff, and we were also impressed by the state of YouTube videos, whose lack of detail never creates video nasties. Samsung’s BD Wise Web circuitry helps create a clean, if soft, picture that’s always watchable, even on a 46-inch TV.
Just 3.7cm tall and less than 20cm deep, there’s not an AV rack around that couldn’t take Samsung’s well-equipped Samsung BD-E6100 Blu-ray player.
That fact that it’s 3D-capable will attract many, especially since that feature only appears to attract a premium of £30 or so over a bare bones Blu-ray deck, but in truth it’s only a polished user interface or two away from Samsung’s 2011 crop of Blu-ray players.
The inclusion of Wi-Fi on a budget Blu-ray player is laudable and adds essential flexibility to the Smart Hub and networking features, while the file support over both Wi-Fi and from a USB device is as impressive as it gets.
FLAC audio file support gets a special mention, although it’s the overriding AllShare Play user interface that we like best. It’s a great attempt at joining together different sources, and links together laptops, PCs and netbooks to a TV, with thumbnails of videos beautifully presented.
We also like the way Smart Hub can conduct a keyword search across all video streams, YouTube, Facebook and even in a web browser. But the boldly coloured 2D and 3D images really make sure that the Samsung BD-E6100 never strays from its core aims.
The Samsung BD-E6100 is slow. Not to load discs, but software. Just returning to the home screen causes a blank of about five seconds, while engaging anything remotely complicated – such as Smart Hub – takes even longer to completely render or refresh.
Updates to the Smart Hub’s contents are regular and take an age to load. Given the regular updates and firmware upgrades, any kind of prodigious use of the Smart Hub is going to easily exceed the built-in 300MB storage; you’ll have to learn to live with a USB stick protruding into the room from the front of the Samsung BD-E6100.
We’re also not convinced about a lot of content on Smart Hub (who wants the bland Fitnesss and Family Story cluttering up the Smart Hub screen?) while both the web browser and the appearance of adverts within the user interface are disappointing.
A great value 2D and 3D Blu-ray player boasting excellent picture quality, impressive streaming and digital file playback, Samsung’s entry-level Samsung BD-E6100 stutters only on a slow Smart Hub interface that’s cluttered with novelty apps, services and even advertising.
An almost identically priced and specified deck, the Samsung BD-E6100’s biggest rival is likely to be the upcoming Sony BDP-S390.
If you’re prepared to pay a bit more to get to grips with a customised touchpad remote control, consider the Panasonic DMP-BDT220, which also boasts a swish new user interface and refreshed Viera Connect services. We’d judge both as tidier and richer in core content than Samsung’s efforts on the Samsung BD-E6100, but they come at a higher price and will be overkill for some.