Whether you go for an entry-level Blu-ray player or a more expensive mid-range model mostly comes down to whether you need one feature: built-in Wi-Fi. Samsung's BD-C5500 lacks built-in Wi-Fi, but still offers up the same excellent image quality of the step-up BD-C6500. The BD-C5500 also features Samsung Apps, the company's expandable platform for streaming media and other internet services like Twitter. While it may not achieve the same popularity as Apple's App Store, the platform is already well-stocked with names such as YouTube. The BD-C5500 is also one of the few entry-level players to also be DLNA-compliant; both the LG BD550 and Panasonic DMP-BD65 lack the ability to stream digital media over a network.
On the other hand, the BD-C5500 lacks many of the extra features that give the more expensive BD-C6500 its edge over the competition, such as 7.1-channel analog audio outputs and on-board memory. It also shares its step-up's other flaws such as sluggish operational speed. Overall, the BD-C5500 stands out from the entry-level pack with Samsung Apps and DLNA-compatibility. But if those features are not a priority for you, you might be happier with a faster entry-level player.
The BD-C5500 has a glossy black finish on its front panel, augmented by a silver strip in the upper right that marks the playback controls. There's a large LCD display in the centre of the unit and underneath the front panel controls is a pull-away tab revealing a USB port. The front panel controls are actually touch-sensitive buttons, which we found to be plenty responsive. The design is certainly more functional than the top-located buttons on the BD-C6900, and even though we like the look of other Samsung players more, it's still better than the boxy aesthetics of Panasonic's players.
Samsung has redesigned its Blu-ray remote this year, opting for a wider, flatter clicker that lacks much of the glossy finish that collected fingerprints on the old remotes. The new button layout is straightforward, with the most important buttons, like the directional pad and playback controls, falling easily under the thumb. The number pad is a bit oversized for our tastes (who uses the number pad on a disc player frequently?) and the eject button could be more prominent, but those are minor issues. The remote can also control a TV.
Samsung has completely redesigned its user interface and we like the new look. It's visually appealing, with a wood-grain background and large icons for different media types (Internet@TV, music, video, photos). There are also five large icons at the top for popular streaming services so you can quickly access them without jumping into the more involved Samsung Apps interface. Unfortunately, you can't customise which icons show up at the top. Overall, it's an upgrade of prior Samsung user interfaces that makes it easier to jump into whichever service you'd like to use.
Accessing the Samsung Apps user interface lets you select from more streaming media services. (Credit: CNET)
If you want to dig deeper into Samsung's online offerings, you can access the Samsung Apps platform (aka Internet@TV; Samsung uses the terms interchangeably). Here, you can browse and download new apps, which are categorised into genres like video, game, sports and lifestyle. All the current available apps are free, but Samsung has said that premium apps will be available in the future. We haven't seen any new apps pop up since we've had the player, so it's tough to gauge how much additional functionality the platform will provide. We also would have liked to see the option to rate apps, which would make it easier to find quality programs.
In addition to streaming content, the BD-C5500 can also browse digital media files on a connected USB drive. We found the method of navigation for digital media files to be a little geekier than the other menus, but that's understandable since it's more of an advanced feature in the first place. On the other hand, the layout could use work; for instance, when browsing an album, there are two columns of tracks and it can initially be difficult to determine which is the first track.