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Samsung came out with a surprising firmware upgrade for its BD-P2500 and BD-P2550 Blu-ray players this week! Both players are now capable of playing movies, television shows, and other videos streamed from Netflix, and the BD-P2550 is also able to stream music from the excellent Pandora music service.
Earlier this month, Samsung's entry-level BD-P1500 gained BD-Live support, and with this firmware update, owners of the two upper-level players will also be able to enjoy the Blu-ray feature with so much untapped potential.
For those that are unaware of one or both services, Netflix offers the ability to watch movies, television shows, and other videos instantly through a streaming player on your PC or via a standalone device, such as the Roku Netflix player, a Blu-ray player from LG, and now these two players from Samsung.
While there isn't any HD content available yet, Netflix does offer a library of 12,000 titles that can be played instantly. In fact, I just used the service recently to watch an episode of CSI: New York and Survivor: Gabon that I missed because of a glitch in DirecTV's HD DVR software that doesn't like my local CBS channel for some reason.
The other feature that is exclusive to the BD-P2550 is the addition of playing music from the online Pandora music service. Pandora allows you to specify an artist or song that you like, and it will play other songs that are similar to that song or to that artists' basic style. I have found this very useful when I'm in the mood for a particular kind of music, where I can create a new channel where I say that I want to hear songs like "Layla" by Eric Clapton. It then finds music that is similar and lets me give it a thumbs-up and thumbs-down and learns from those ratings about what I want to hear when I select that channel.
Once you become spoiled with music delivered the way Pandora does it, you'll never want to listen to broadcast radio again!
The version 2.0 firmware upgrade (release date of 10/23/2008) is available at www.samsung.com/bluraysupport.
October 30th Firmware Upgrade to Enable DTS HR Decoding
On top of Netflix, Pandora, and BD-Live support that was enabled in the October 23rd version 2.0 upgrade, a planned October 30th firmware upgrade to the 2500/2550 will deliver DTS-HD High Resolution support, "giving consumers both superior sound plus incredibly sharp high-definition picture quality."
Since the players already deliver bitstream access to DTS HD audio tracks, I would imagine that this update will provide internal decoding for output via the analog audio connections to match the internal decoding of Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks. Many studios are now embracing the DTS Master Audio lossless audio format, so it makes sense for Samsung to enable this feature on its top-line players. This is great news for enthusiasts who have not yet upgraded their receivers/processors to support HDMI audio input, as they can connect the analog audio outs on these players to the multi-channel analog inputs on their receiver.
Does All This Make You More Interested in a Samsung Blu-ray Player?
If it doesn't, I'd be surprised! I've been quick to dismiss Samsung because of their difficult entry into the Blu-ray market, and I scoffed at their announcement of third generation players that didn't have BD-Live built-in. But the enhancements of the past month have gotten my attention, and I'll be watching the reviews and comments from owners as they try out the new features.
The BD-P2500 has a list price of $400 and is available at various retailers, including Amazon.com (check prices and availability). The BD-P2550 (my pick of the two because of the Pandora addition) is also $400 and can be found at a few retailers, but Best Buy seems to have the best stock on it (albeit at list price).
There are some unanswered questions raised by this release, such as whether Netflix will offer HD streaming anytime soon and if the Samsung players will be able to support it (one would hope so). Those questions and more will be answered as more people get these players in hand and publications have a chance to put them through their paces as well. I like integration of functions when they make sense to do, and Netflix instant watching access fits very well with what these players were intended to do (especially once HD streaming happens).
While streaming radio is on the edge of core competency and utility for a home theater component, I'll take it when it's a service like Pandora. I've said it before, that Ethernet jack on the back of Blu-ray players is a pretty important thing to have, as it opens up possibilities that your simple DVD player never imagined!
Source: Samsung Press Release
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