The STB-E7500 is smarter than your average PVR. Through the wonder of its built-in network functionality (accessed via the integrated Wi-Fi adapter or Ethernet port) you can access a wealth of online content through Samsung’s Smart Hub, or stream your own content from networked PCs and NAS drives. Calling this a PVR really doesn’t do it justice.
Let’s start with Smart Hub. This online portal has already built up an enviable reputation thanks to its varied selection of apps and zesty presentation. It’s accessed either through the Home menu or by hitting the dedicated button on the remote, and once you’re in, the apps are laid out as colourful icons in front of a gorgeous underwater backdrop (which can be changed to black). You can add or remove apps from the home screen, or group them together in folders.
Most people’s attention will be immediately be drawn to the line-up of video sites, including BBC iPlayer, Netflix, LoveFilm, Acetrax Movies, Boxoffice365, YouTube and Dailymotion. But these are backed up by an obscene amount of games, puzzles, educational tools, sports apps and other lifestyle services that make it very family-friendly. Much of this is filler, but you can’t knock Samsung’s desire to provide something for everyone. You can pick and choose which ones to install from the built-in ‘Samsung Apps’ store – downloaded apps are found on the main Smart Hub home screen.
Smart Hub also features different zones – Kids, Fitness, Social TV and Family Story – which basically group together the relevant services and makes them easier to find. Each zone is presented in gorgeous high-def graphics.
Kids features a series of Canimals and WordWorld videos, which all seem to feature little objects jumping about. There are educational tools here, accompanied by a Sticker Book virtual reward feature.
The Fitness zone offers workout videos and tools for measuring your progress, such as The Wi-Fi Body Scale and Noom. You can also check your BMI, how many calories you’ve burned, whether or not you’ve hit your targets – all controlled from a menu screen that’s reminiscent of the Nintendo Wii. Couch potatoes are unlikely to be enthused by this, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Family Story is a photo sharing service that keeps other Smart Hub users up-to-date with your comings and goings, while Social TV groups together the Facebook, Twitter and Google Talk apps. Finally the Your Video feature provides info about films available on the on-demand sites, while a search tool scours YouTube, Facebook, connected devices and Your Video for keyword-related content.
There’s even a built-in web browser, but it’s cumbersome to use. There are two ways of controlling it with the remote – moving an arrow around the screen or jumping from link to link – but in both cases it’s not worth bothering with, and entering text is a pain. You can plug in a wireless mouse or keyboard, which improves things slightly but you might as well get the laptop out.
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If you want to play your own content, then the AllShare Play menu is the place to go. This excellent interface lets you access video, music and photo files stored on networked DLNA devices, USB drives and the HDD – including any TV recordings you’ve made. Its simple left-to-right layout makes it easy to find your content. File support is excellent via network or USB – MKV, DivX HD, WMV, AVCHD, AVI, JPEG, MP3, WMA and AAC.
Elsewhere there are two Freeview HD tuners on board that let you record two channels simultaneously, or watch one channel while recording another. The Samsung STB-E7500 even lets you watch a third channel while recording two others, which is not something that many PVRs can do. You can even access apps in Smart Hub without interrupting the two recordings. Genius. The 500GB hard disk stores 124 hours of HD programmes, or 199 hours at standard definition.
You’ll find all the usual PVR tricks, such as pausing and rewinding live TV (Timeshift) and series recording, alongside some more unusual stuff like 2D-to-3D conversion and picture-in-picture, which works smoothly while you browse the internet.
There are still more features to report. Install the Smart View app on your smartphone or tablet and you can use Clone View and Dual View to watch the same or different TV channels on your device. Another app, due for release in Q3 2012, will allow you to watch content on compatible devices stored on the Samsung STB-E7500 while you’re out and about, but not live TV or PVR content. The Samsung unit also supports Wi-Fi Direct.