Review: Samsung BD-J7500



Review: Samsung BD-J7500

Introduction, performance and picture

The age of the disc-spinner is over. If you want any evidence of that, just look at the BD-J7500’s selection of streaming video apps like Netflix, Amazon Instant, BBC iPlayer and YouTube. So why buy a Blu-ray player at all?

Besides being a way to upgrade your home entertainment hub without having to buy a pricey smart TV, Samsung is hoping you’ve got one eye on the 4K future, too. Because as well as apps, multimedia support, home networking and, yes, even Blu-ray and DVD disc support, the BD-J7500 can also upscale everything to 4K quality.

However, Samsung is also probably hoping you haven’t got both eyes on the 4K future, because round the corner are 4K Blu-ray discs – and players. The BD-J7500’s window of opportunity could be very short.

Selling for £190 (US$ 250), the BD-J7500 isn’t much to look at – gloss black, with a metallic roof – though its 430 x 201 x 46mm dimensions make it a relatively compact deck.

Performance

The BD-J7500 has more than enough processing power for its plethora of apps and tricks. It works quickly, switching between its two main pages – the Home page grid and Smart Hub – with ease, though it’s worth knowing that this is the "old" Smart Hub from 2014, not the new Tizen driven version found in Samsung’s latest smart TVs, such as the JS9500 SUHD 4K TV.

The Home page has three sections: a Play Disc window that shows the title page of whatever disc is in the tray; a Multimedia area that serves as an vastly oversized shortcut to software that plays USB sticks, streams video from a computer on the same network (playable files include AVI, MP4, MKV and AVC HD video, and MP3, WMA, FLAC, AAC and WAV music), and connects to phones; and a Samsung Apps section (more on that below).

Samsung BD-J7500 review

Along the bottom are shortcuts to Netflix, the excellent Plex, YouTube, BBC iPlayer, Deezer, a web browser (that supports video playback from some websites), and shortcuts to Screen Mirroring (Android phones only) and the Settings menu. The latter includes a nice, short set-up wizard.

Samsung Apps leads to a grid of 22 apps that include all of those already mentioned plus the likes of AccuWeather, YuppTV, Vimeo, Dailymotion, ToonsTV, TED, MUBI and TVPoint. Err, TED is great … the others ‘might be useful’. The likes of ITV Player, Demand Five and 4OD to become available soon.
There are four touch-sensitive buttons on the top-front of the deck, but not only are they not very sensitive, but they’re hard to read, too. I relied on the remote.

Elsewhere, the ins and outs on the BD-J7500 impress. As well as a couple of HDMI outputs (one for routing 3D signals through an older AV receiver) and an optical digital audio output, there’s a complete set of analogue audio outputs. That’s rare indeed, and it even stretches to individual outputs for a 7.1 surround sound set-tup; the BD-J7500 decodes Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio inside, or send it to an AV receiver as a bitstream.

Picture quality

The BD-J7500’s images are immaculate. From the luscious landscapes of Costa Rica, Katmandu and Rio de Janeiro to stunning time-lapses, the Milky Way, and sublime Hubble photos, my test disc Wonders of the Solar System on Blu-ray gave the BD-J7500 the chance to show off its well-judged colours, deep contrast and spotless images.

A sequence from the Namibian desert through a projector looked unbeatably clean, but also impressed when upscaled to watch on a 55-inch Ultra HD 4K TV that I happened to have handy. Jagged edges in graphics is often a tell-tale sign of mediocre upscaling, but none were evident here. Nor was there solarisation on the many mixed brightness sequences featuring the bright Sun, stars and planets against the black of space.

Samsung BD-J7500 review

That said, shots of space – while upscaled convincingly – did lack the majesty of native 4K footage. Perhaps the upcoming 4K Blu-ray format will solve that problem. For now, the BD-J7500’s upscaling will have to do.

My other test disc Hugo also fared well, with a smooth rendition of some particularly tricky tracking sequences; I saw not a hint of image lag nor motion blur. Hugo in 3D was also enjoyably exacting with no crosstalk apparent, though I wonder how many 3D Blu-ray discs still get an airing, even in homes with 3DTVs.

DVDs aren’t upscaled as well as Blu-rays discs, and low-res digital files can look ropey, too, but nothing ever strays into being unwatchable. When viewed on a big-screen 4K TV, that’s great news – and makes the a BD-J7500 a worthy machine for modern living rooms.

Verdict

With 4K Blu-ray on the horizon, do you need a 2k Blu-ray player than can upscale? The BD-J7500 has only a short window to impress, but it does just that.

We liked

It’s fast, it’s slick, it’s packed with apps and it sprays digital content around a home network with ease, while picture quality is impressive across the board. The 4K upscaling – which is engaged automatically if you attach the BD-J7500 to a 4K TV – works well. Decks like this may not sit atop the AV tree for long, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a mightily impressive effort.

We disliked

The BD-J7500 has last year’s Smart Hub on-board, which may limit its shelf-life. The concept of touch-sensitive buttons along the top is good, but they’re poorly labelled and hard to see. I’m also conscious that 4K upscaling will soon be outmoded by the arrival of natively 4K Blu-ray players, due at the end of this year – or possibly next Spring. Either way, only a very low price will save decks like the BD-J7500 come 2016.

Final verdict

There’s very little about the BD-J7500 I didn’t like, but with 4K Blu-ray discs and players incoming by the end of 2015, we’re struggling to see who the target market is.

Sure, the BD-J7500 makes a smart shortcut for those who want apps and networking without having to buy a new TV (though games consoles work just as well in that regard), but much cheaper machines are available – even from Samsung – that do all that in a near-identical manner. And those planning to buy a 4K TV this year should probably wait for a 4K Blu-ray player to appear.

However, it’s such a slick, fast-working and app-packed deck that the BD-J7500 is hard to ignore. Besides, with 4K looking like it may be 2D-only, could this be one of the last 3D Blu-ray spinners in town? If it is, the BD-J7500 represents a slick and solid last hurrah.

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