Be they players, systems or soundbars, Samsung’s Blu-ray products are always packed with features and it comes as no surprise to find this range-topping deck offers more tricks than ever.
Chief among them is a fantastic range of network features. Making a welcome return this year is Smart Hub, which has been simplified (more on that in ‘Operation’) while retaining the same generous range of internet apps. The selection is again spearheaded by free video sites like BBC iPlayer and YouTube, plus on-demand movie sites Netflix, LoveFilm, Blinkbox and Knowhow Movies. These are backed up by the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, BBC News, Rightmove, AccuWeather, BFI Player and vTuner internet radio.
That’s just what’s displayed on the main menu – there’s loads more content hidden away in the Samsung Apps menu, such as specialist video, radio and lifestyle content, as well as games and educational apps for the kids. It’s a top-drawer selection with a nice blend of content for all the family. ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5 weren't available on our sample as they were still being tested by Samsung HQ, but we're assured they will be there by the time the deck goes on sale. That makes Samsung the first, if not only company to offer all four of the main catch-up TV services from a Blu-ray deck, which is not only a feather in Samsung's cap but also great news for you.
There’s also a section of the main menu called ‘Movies and TV Shows’, which replaces the Your Video service found on previous players. It provides a faster and more convenient way of buying or renting movies than visiting the individual on-demand sites. The content comes from Samsung’s Video Hub service and Acetrax Movies.
However, there were teething problems. When we selected an Acetrax movie to rent or buy, it took us to the installation page for Sony’s Crackle app. At the time of writing, the app server was ‘still in development’ and Acetrax hadn’t been added, so we expect this to be ironed out by the time these new players hit the market.
Interestingly, Samsung has ditched its Family Story photo-sharing service but retains the dedicated Fitness and Kids portals, which boast gorgeous hi-def graphics. Fitness offers a range of workout videos and training programmes, alongside a series of tools to monitor your progress, while Kids offers videos and educational tools aimed at youngsters. While home cinema enthusiasts won’t be fussed by features like this, it’s nice to see a player with more strings to its bow than just movie playback.
There’s also a web browser, which is a little easier to use than last year’s players and loads pages quickly. That said, it’s still cumbersome to navigate with the remote, and entering text is time consuming – although Samsung has improved this with a nifty predictive feature that suggests which letter to press next.
When web browsing, you can switch between pointer browsing (the cursor crawls around the screen) or link browsing (which is equally frustrating with lots of links on the page). Luckily you can also use a USB keyboard and third-party wireless mouse with the F7500, which makes life a lot easier.
The BD-F7500 can also stream movies, music and photos from PCs and media servers on your home network using Samsung's proprietary AllShare technology. Samsung recommends that you install its AllShare software on your PC, which allows you to create a shared folder with the BD-F7500 (and any other Samsung products in your home) and stream the files within it. The player is also designed to work with PCs running Windows 7 or 8 without having to install AllShare, but we found it worked more smoothly and supported a wider range of files when using AllShare.
For example, before installing AllShare we tried streaming an MKV file (1080p video, DTS audio) on a Windows 7 PC and it refused to play (Windows Media Player 12 doesn’t natively support MKV). It also played AVCHD, hi-def AVI and WMV files but downgraded them to a blurry SD resolution. However after installing AllShare it played the above files with no problems, in their correct resolution.
The rest of the BD-F7500’s format support is impressive. We were also able to stream DivX HD, MP4, 3GP, XviD, WMV, MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, OGG, WAV and APE. Supported photo files include JPEG, PNG, BMP and MPO. All of the above formats also played without hesitation from a USB drive.
If you don’t want to increase the burden on your over-worked wireless router, you can also stream files from mobile devices using Wi-Fi Direct – although this cuts out the connection to your network. You can also control playback of content stored on a server using a Samsung smartphone running the AllShare software.
Elsewhere, there are a couple of other big additions to the spec sheet. We’ve mentioned 4K upscaling – included with one eye on the future – which is already found on last year’s BDP-S790 from Sony, as well as the new Panasonic DMP-BDT330. Not having a 4K display to hand meant we couldn’t test it out on this occasion, but it’s good to know it’s there.
The other new feature this year is AllShare Cast, which mirrors your Smartphone’s screen on your TV. It’s particularly useful for playing games, which aren’t always the easiest to follow on a poky screen, and when you rotate the device the player also rotates the image on the TV. Samsung’s system is not the same as Miracast (also found on Panasonic’s DMP-BDT330), but the F7500 will support that too.