The biggest problem with most of the Blu-ray players we've reviewed so far is that they are either massive or incredibly sluggish to use. You'd expect this problem to have been solved by now but, as proved by our Blu-ray player speed test, we're still a long way from taking a disc, placing it in the disc tray and watching a movie within a few seconds.
Thankfully, each generation of players gets slightly smaller, and more responsive and pleasant to use. The Samsung BD-P4600, which costs around £260, depending on the retailer, offers vastly improved speeds and a much sleeker look.
We have to give Samsung credit -- it tries incredibly hard with its designs, and the BD-P4600 is no exception. It's a very stylish device indeed, with a bezel that's finished with transparent edges.
This player is clearly designed to complement the Samsung range of TVs, especially the most recent models for 2009. The BD-P4600 can be mounted on a wall -- a bracket is included -- and there is a small stand too, for people who prefer to place it on a desk.
When Samsung announced this player, some complained that it wouldn't work in their home-cinema set-up. Actually, the thin styling and side-mounted Blu-ray slot mean the BD-P4600 won't work at all in many set-ups. If, however, you've got a wall-mounted TV or a large TV table, it's likely to make an attractive addition to your kit.
The BD-P4600's outputs are limited. We suspect this is due to the player's diminutive size and form factor. Of course, you get an HDMI output, which is essential for getting high-definition picture and sound to your TV. You also get an optical digital audio output, which will pass down-converted Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA, or untouched Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks.
Like most players now, the BD-P4600 has full profile 2.0 support. That means it can get extra features from the Internet where a disc supports such activity, although we've been incredibly disappointed by BD-Live and found the similar system that was on HD DVD to be a much more rounded and well-designed system.
Sadly, and unlike other players hitting the market this year, there is no YouTube access built into the BD-P4600. That might deter some, but we think it's unlikely to be a problem for most. We're pleased to say that the machine does manage to display your photos and video, and even play music, from USB memory sticks.
The BD-P4600's menus are a delight to use. We wouldn't say that the Samsung layout is perfect yet though. There were times when we were frustrated by the way that the player kicks you out of menus when you make a change. Generally, if you're making more than one tweak, you'll have to go back in to make each one. This is the sort of thing that could easily be solved with a simple firmware update.
It's possible to add a Wi-Fi adaptor to the BD-P4600 too. A USB dongle is available that should be quite cheap to buy. This will be a life-saver if you don't have a wired network handy. That said, on a player of this price, it would be good if Wi-Fi were built-in.
We're really very taken with certain aspects of the BD-P4600. The load times are truly phenomenal, and very nearly match those of the PlayStation 3, which is still the fastest Blu-ray player on the market. Our test disc, Vantage Point, loaded in just 43.5 seconds.
Picture and sound quality are both good, although how good will be largely determined by the quality of your TV set. We used a Panasonic 1080p LCD TV and liked the picture quality.
Upscaled DVDs look good, although they're a little softer than we've seen with other players. Even so, if you have loads of DVDs that you want to watch, you won't hate what the BD-P4600 does with them.
Blu-ray movies look very good indeed. There's plenty of detail in the images and we felt that we were getting a great deal from our movie collection. We tested Casino Royale and enjoyed the well-balanced colours. We were pleased to see the film grain in effect too, as it makes up an important part of the film's moody atmosphere, especially at the beginning.
xXx: State of the Union was also a visual, if not artistic, delight. We connected the player to our Onkyo AV receiver for a proper wall-shaking test. The BD-P4600 managed to hit the right notes and generate all the correct noise-pollution complaints from other people in the office.
Our DVD test disc, Jurassic Park, also stood up well. Although the audio and video bit rates of DVDs are much lower than their HD cousins, we still found the movie had plenty of visual and audio impact.