Samsung's latest premium player, the BD-P4600, features a radical wall-mounting design, slashed disc-loading times and adds wireless networking as the new must-have feature. It's also the world's slimmest Blu-ray player – for the moment, anyway...
For once, Samsung is aiming higher than both Panasonic and Sony in offering features, like the Wi-Fi dongle, that rival the Japanese brands simply don't yet provide.
This is a significant launch for the Korean corporation, but by streamlining its new player to a thickness of just an inch and a half, can it really offer the performance that a cinephile might demand, or is this just a player with a pretty face?
The flat form factor has obvious advantages for anyone with a wall-mounted screen For starters, it neatly matches Samsung's 40B650 TV, with its matching charcoal tint and clear plastic-fringed bezel.
Switched off, it looks a little bit like a well-sucked liquorice lozenge stuck to the wall, but once powered up the blue display is easy to read from across the room and the touch-sensitive buttons suggest sophistication.
But there are drawbacks: you still have to hide the HDMI, Ethernet, power and optical cables somewhere, and in plenty of home cinema stacks, the side-mounted slot-loading mechanism will be a non-starter.
Also, bear in mind that there are no component video or analogue multichannel outputs – as there simply isn't any more room on the narrow connections panel. And no multichannel outs means owners of older AV receivers will be most disappointed.
One thing that might ease cabling woes, though, is the optional £50 USB dongle that will give this player wireless access to your Wi-Fi network.
Joy to ride
Once connected, the Samsung is a real joy to use. Touch the illuminated power button or zap it with the ruby red remote and a simple onscreen menu appears straight away.
The remote itself doesn't have backlit buttons, but it feels robust enough to survive the knocks and dangers posed by exposure to your average household.
Blu-ray discs load quickly and can be ejected from play mode in a single go – a major step forward from the original players that took an age and a half to recognise each disc.
The GUI is also a big improvement. While it's not quite a match for Sony's brilliant Xross Media Bar interface, it's nonetheless reasonably fast and intuitive, and the graphics seem crisp and vivid.
When you get to spinning Blu-ray movies they look equally vivid. The colour and contrast is striking and even fine detail, like the deliberate graininess of Man on Fire's abduction sequence, is reproduced faithfully.
Fast motion presents no problem for the Samsung's processing either. There is, however, an element of ghosting and video noise visible in pale backgrounds, like white walls and sky, that separates this machine from more accomplished players. That said, it doesn't feel particularly compromised.
The BD-P4600 can also play every audio track available on Blu-ray, with both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoded inside the player and delivered over HDMI.
When you find a really good DTS-HD MA soundtrack, like that on The X-Files: I Want To Believe, you'll appreciate the high-resolution processing.
However, if your system is up to the task, you may want to bitstream either format through HDMI instead; it's a fair bet your AVR will have better DACs, giving a subtle expansion to the dynamic range.
What of bog-standard DVD playback? The BD-P4600 does a reasonable job of upscaling platters to 1080p, but you'll see some noise and artefacting on a large screen; video scaling doesn't seem to be this machine's strongest feature.
There are plenty of other features, though. Like with most of the latest generation of Blu-ray players, it'll play much more than just BD, DVD and CD discs thanks to its USB port. Plug in any USB storage device and it'll add a neat menu of the drive's contents onto your TV screen – be they music, video or pictures.
It's really easy to scroll through content, making this a great medium with which to view digital snaps and watch downloaded video files. MPEG and .AVI files look a little cleaner when they are upscaled by the Samsung player, too.
However, there's no slideshow option for photos and no fancy jukebox settings for MP3s.
Another feature that's lacking here, which LG and Panasonic are pushing, is access to YouTube or other web services. Presumably, we'll soon be seeing that on the next wave of Samsung's machines. Perhaps that's when we'll see Wi-Fi actually built into the machine, too.
Given the premium price tag here, it's disappointing not to have that functionality included, especially as it's available on the manufacturer's current range of TVs.
The Ethernet connection is useful in other ways, though, and it's easy to set up. You don't need to type in passwords or IP addresses – it's a simple case of plug and play – and it means you'll be able to pick up any firmware updates that come along.
The model is Profile 2.0 compliant, of course, which means you can access the BD-Live functions on certain Blu-ray releases. I'm still waiting for decent BD-Live content to break cover, though...
Practical and stylish
For its few faults, this is a neat piece of BD technology from Samsung. It looks like the kind of lifestyle proposition non-techies might go for, and presents an interesting solution for anyone with a wall-mounted flatscreen, particularly if you go for the wireless dongle option.
In terms of sheer performance, it falls short of more conventional models and is unlikely to win buyers from Panasonic's DMP-BD80. But the smart interface, speedy loading times and undeniably cool form factor are all compelling reasons to take a closer look at this model.