"Does a standalone device such as this need to phone home (and all the rest)?"
I thought the same thing; apparently it's for the netflix support etc. Agree 100%, if I used my bluray player just to play blurays, I would NEVER let it online. Why should I?
"I'm guessing it's running Linux and bdpprog segfaulted on the NULL. Any mission critical process should catch SIGSEGV and at least log an error before it dies."
It probably does, if you solder those wires up to the on-board serial port. You don't want to have it log a log file to the flash, then you would have your flash filled up with error logs. This is pretty stupid of Samsung, but embedded systems are tricky!
"Or failing that have a parent process that catches a crash and fails nicely"
It does catch the crash, unfortunately the "nice" failure mode is to reboot the player. Given a video player software would usually NEVER crash, if it did crash playing some bluray or whatever, would it be the player code itself, or a buggy driver? If a driver has bugged out, could you restart the driver or did it leave the system in a buggy state? Given all this a reboot is usually a reasonable recovery.
"Of course from a geek perspective it would be nice if any failure resulted in a drop into a shell so you could plug in a USB keyboard and try and fix it."
Not a bad idea actually! If a USB keyboard is plugged into your newer DVD player, bluray, even into your TV (which has a USB port anyway...), why not have it pop up into some recovery console?P
"How much, if anything, the device logs and reports back should be user defined."
Should point out on my parent's Samsung TV (.... which I now hope they don't send a bad XML file to..... ), there's like a page or two of privacy settings. Partially, it's like "that's nice, I can turn everything on or off", partially it's like "how much info is it sending to how many different vendors?" (In the interest of fairness, it has regular TV, "Samsung Plus" streaming TV... which appears to be PlutoTV's channels.... and a bunch of other streaming apps, so the privacy settings are to cover all of them I think.)