The system’s spec sheet covers two sheets of A4 and looks fairly busy at first glance, but explore it in depth and you’ll find nothing out of the ordinary. Compared to systems from the likes of Samsung, Sony and Panasonic, which go out of their way to offer the latest networking tricks, Internet services and Wi-Fi support at much lower prices, the BDS 800 simply can’t measure up. Harman probably ploughed the money it would have spent on these features into performance and build quality, which is great, but we still can’t help but feel a little miffed that we can’t stream media wirelessly from networked PCs.
Therefore, the Ethernet port is only used to download BD Live content and upgrade the firmware. The USB port, on the other hand, can be used to play a range of digital media formats, including MP3, WMA, AAC, DivX, AVI, XviD, MPEG-1 and JPEG, although it wouldn’t play some of our 720p DivX HD files and doesn’t support MKV. There’s a helpful feature that allows you to add files from CD-R or USB to a playlist, which the unit will then remember when the media is loaded again.
Elsewhere, the BDS 800 offers a built-in FM radio, decodes Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio and features Dolby Virtual Speaker technology, which generates a surround effect when using only the front speakers and sub. The BDS 5 receiver also features digital amplifier technology, which aims to deliver a potentially cleaner sound with fewer conversion stages than other types of amp.
Inside the satellites are two 75mm flatpanel midrange drivers and a 25mm tweeter, with a 2.5-way crossover network, while the horizontal centre speaker features the same drivers and is voice matched to the satellites. The downward-firing sub boasts an 8in cone and a built-in 200W amplifier.
Setup is ultra simple thanks to the easily accessed binding posts and colour-matched cables, plus the exposed wires at the end are easy to insert into the holes. All the cables are supplied (in 4m, 5m and 10m lengths for the centre, front and rear speakers respectively) plus there’s a cable for the sub.
Once you’re set up, operating the BDS 800 is a piece of cake too. The Home menu uses crisp HD graphics, with a tasteful colour scheme and legible text. The cursor moves around without delay and the layout is intuitive – the first page shows the various functions in a list (USB, Blu-ray, radio), while the subsequent pages display clearly-labelled folders with details about selected files on the right. The Settings menu takes a similarly straightforward approach, and buried among its pages are tone controls, speaker settings, a selection of picture presets and a user-defined mode that allows you to alter individual picture parameters.
We’re also fans of the remote, most notable for its tactile, rubbery buttons and coffee-table friendly design. The labelling is a little hard to read and the OK button in the middle of the menu controls is tiny, but otherwise this is a well thought-out controller.