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The opening shots of a deserted New York in I am Legend are simply stunning. The buildings, trees and scattered debris look admirably sharp with superb edge definition, and you can pick out even the subtlest background detail (including the release date on the cheeky Batman/Superman movie poster). The system's colour handling capabilities are equally impressive, offering richly saturated yet realistic tones.
And when the tranquillity is shattered by Will Smith's car racing round the streets, the system's excellent picture processing tracks the movement of the car and keeps up with frenetic camera work without showing any signs of artefacts. That said, it's worth pointing out that its picture quality isn't quite up to the same standard as the Panasonic SC-BT100, which uses the outstanding UniPhier chip to deliver slightly sharper images.
Upscaled 1080p DVD images can't match true hi-def in the detail stakes but the HT-BD2 comes fairly close, offering bold and artefact-free pictures that will give your SD collection a new lease of life.
While the HT-BD2 is sonically impressive, we weren't exactly blown away by it. I Am Legend's 5.1-channel Dolby True HD track certainly sounds dynamic and detailed, but the overall tone is a little too bright for us to fall in love with it completely, making loud, sudden sound effects grate rather than excite. And although the active subwoofer's bass output is well rounded, avoiding the boomy quality of the SC-BT100's passive bass-box, it doesn't quite go deep or loud enough (even with its volume dial cracked up high), leaving those crunching zombie-packed action scenes sounding a little anaemic.
But on the plus side the surround back channels are put to good use with 5.1-channel soundtracks thanks to Pro Logic IIx, which fills out the gaps in the soundstage and make the listening experience more involving. And with true 7.1 material, the effect is mesmerising - surround effects sweep all the way round you and pull you deeper into the action. Yes, the sonic shortcomings can still be heard but with eight discreet channels buzzing round the room you're too involved to care.
CD playback is more than acceptable, offering a detailed, rhythmic sound that's marred slightly by the afore-mentioned 'brightness' but otherwise it's fine.
With a Blu-ray player and full 7.1-channel sound system crammed into a single package, the HT-BD2 offers better value for money than its main competitor, the Panasonic SC-BT100. What's more, its picture quality is superb and it looks gorgeous.
But our positive impressions are spoiled by the lacklustre movie sound quality and Profile 1.0 spec, which make the Profile 1.1 Panasonic seem more attractive, provided you can afford to fork out for the extra rears. But if you're not fussed about picture-in-picture and simply want a good-value, hassle-free system with 7.1-channel sound from the box, then the Samsung is probably your best bet.
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