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Best Blu-Ray Player Under $80 - UPDATED REVIEW
on May 26, 2012
I was finally forced to shop around for a blu-ray player when both of my older upscaling dvd players recently stopped playing dvd's reliably. After checking around EVERYWHERE, researching pricing, features, and customer satisfaction for under-$90 blu-ray players, I found this model here on Amazon (sold by Paul's Electronics in MA and Fulfilled By Amazon) for around $75.
First, it is important for all potential buyers to know that this Region 1 DVD/Region A Blu-Ray player has only an HDMI output connector; it does NOT have any component or analog composite output connectors. However, as all high definition televisions have HDMI input connectors (which "carry" both the video and audio signals together via one HDMI cable connection) this should not be a problem.
Like all HDMI-connected Blu-Ray players these days, video and audio quality is excellent, including its implementation of relatively newer HDMI a/v technologies like TrueHD and HDMI Deep Color. Upscaling of older dvd's, and automatic detection and correct display of all discs' aspect ratios and resolution output is equally excellent (actually, impressively so). Loading speed of Blu-Ray discs is decent for a Blu-Ray player of this price (Blu-Ray discs typically take *much* more time to load than do standard dvd's, regardless of brand of player). Internet connection (via wired Ethernet), data retrieval, and direct-to-player firmware updating is all very quick, easy and trouble-free.
As with almost ALL relatively inexpensive (under $150) Blu-Ray disc players, this one does NOT "auto-resume" playback of *standard* dvd's from where you last left off watching them after removing and later re-inserting them into the player (whether or not a Blu-Ray player will perform such "auto-resume" functionality with a *Blu-Ray* disc is in fact dependent on whether or not that particular Blu-Ray disc was manufactured to include that feature).
The player's currently-available sources of online streaming media are relatively limited, but its implementation of VuDu is TRULY excellent; even with a download Internet speed of less than 2 mbps/sec. you are likely to be able to consistently view a VuDu 720p HD stream without buffer interruptions (provided you connect the unit to preferably a 100-base T Ethernet router jack, using at least a high quality Cat 5e if not Cat 6 cable); if you connect it this way with an Internet speed of at least 2.9 mbps you'll likely be able to stream full VuDu 1080p (at least to begin with, just ignore the VuDu app's lower "recommended" video quality level - VuDu allows you to sample the first two minutes of most videos at any of the resolution levels available for that video before committing to renting or buying the complete program).
Many streaming devices have idiosyncrasies regarding how they function with the various streaming services that come with them, and this Blu-Ray player has two such idiosyncrasies:
1) Regarding VuDu - While VuDu allows all consumers to browse its catalog via a device's VuDu app, in order to actually rent or purchase a video you must go online to create a VuDu account and store credit card information to which on-demand charges (from a device's app) will be posted. After you've created your online VuDu account and stored your credit card info there, if you go into this player's VuDu app and check your account info (from within the app) you will see the app stating that you have a credit card stored online but that the card has "expired" and that you must go online to update your credit card info - even though the credit card that you've stored in your VuDu account has *not* necessarily expired. This is a "bug" known to VuDu but it is purely cosmetic and has no effect whatsoever on the functionality of the VuDu service and app - as long as the credit card data that you've stored in your online VuDu account is current and otherwise valid, the app will let you proceed with renting, purchasing and viewing videos.
2) Regarding NETFLIX - If you set this player to *automatically* check for its own firmware updates (through its Ethernet connection), at some point the player will begin to "forget" your Netflix account login information and require you to re-enter the information. This is a "bug" known to Samsung; the only known "work-around" is to disable the player's automatic checking for firmware updates (within the player's Settings menu system: "Settings" -> "Support" -> "Software Upgrade"), thus requiring you to perform such checks *manually* (which you also do within the same Settings menu).
Lastly, Samsung now strongly recommends that consumers of this player do a "hard re-set" immediately following EVERY completed firmware update. This is accomplished by turning the player on, making sure that there isn't a disc in the player, turning your tv on such that you can see the player's "home" screen, and then pressing and holding in the "Play" button THAT'S ON THE FRONT PANEL OF THE PLAYER (*NOT* the Play button on the remote control) for about 8 SECONDS until you see the message that the player's resetting itself to factory default settings. Unfortunately, this will then require that you once again manually reset most of the player's settings to those which you need and/or desire.
NOTE: If you do a "soft" system reset ("Settings"-> "Support" -> "Reset", which leaves certain settings unchanged) you will be asked for a PIN. Using the number buttons on the player remote enter whatever Security PIN you may have previously set; if you have not set one, enter 0000.
NONE OF THE ABOVE IS STATED IN THE CURRENT VERSION OF THE PLAYER'S USER MANUAL THAT IS INCLUDED IN THE UNIT'S BOX, and it's *VERY* important that you register your product with Samsung online so that they can email you with important information regarding the product's firmware, features, and operational procedure updates.
So far I've only had the player for about a month, but I'm already convinced that in spite of these idiosyncrasies I bought the best under-$80 (delivered) blu-ray player currently available.
12/24/2012 - I'm still extremely happy with this purchase; it still functions as well as it did when I first bought it over 7 months ago. Additionally, Samsung has been very good at notifying registered owners via email of when its streaming video services may be temporarily interrupted due to scheduled system maintenance. However, the last firmware update for this particular model was issued by Samsung a few months ago and I'm not expecting the company to offer very many (if any at all) additional firmware updates for it as they now seem to be concentrating their Blu-Ray player update efforts pretty much entirely on their newer and somewhat more expensive "Smart Hub" streaming services models.
6/14/2013 - My unit continues to work perfectly and it's now been well over a year since I originally purchased it.
ALSO: A few months ago Netflix, VuDu and Samsung finally got their acts together regarding the Netflix and VuDu apps on these pre-SmartHub units (the VuDu app's Account info screen now correctly displays that a valid credit card is on file, and Netflix now works EXCELLENTLY and CONSISTENTLY). Just make sure that your firmware is up-to-date.