Here’s where things start getting really interesting. Name any feature doing the rounds in the Blu-ray market at the moment and the BD-D8500 offers it. 3D? Check. DLNA media streaming? Check? Access to internet content and extensive digital media support? Check and check. But what’s most pleasing is that Samsung has greatly improved the appearance and operation of those features, making them slicker and easier to use than last year’s models.
The most significant new addition to the feature list is Smart Hub, the replacement for the awkwardly-titled Internet@TV service. The previous effort was attractive enough, but Smart Hub is a dramatic improvement. It feels less cluttered, spreading out the icons around the screen to make it feel more spacious and faintly mimicking the look and feel of the Android/iPhone layout. Placing the row of the most important apps along the top is useful, as it means the user doesn’t have to wade through lots of apps they’re not interested in. It’s a smart, modern design that also communicates a sense of fun, which will appeal to anyone no matter their level of technological expertise.
There’s an impressive selection of content too, including key apps like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LoveFilm, Google Maps and Dailymotion. But what’s great is that they’re complimented by a terrific range of family oriented apps, such as Dibo’s Story Book, which could prove an popular feature among parents looking for something to keep their kids entertained besides Disney Blu-ray discs. Another bonus is the inclusion of BBC iPlayer on Smart Hub – it wasn’t available during our test, but Samsung is still testing the Smart Hub servers and says it’ll be in place by the time the final version is released.
It’s also a cinch to use, and we love the way it can be customised to suit your needs. Apps can be organised into folders with different colours and names – one for each member of the family perhaps – plus you can sort by category, delete the apps you don’t use or rearrange them into your preferred order. Several of the apps require you to set up an account, which is easy enough to do – the necessary dialogue boxes appear when you first access those apps.
The onscreen prompts and dialogue boxes are simple to follow, and although it takes a long time to enter information using the cumbersome text entry system, the player helpfully remembers the text you have entered so essentially you only have to enter it once. This is a key issue for users who want quick, hassle-free access to web content.
Content is found in the App Store. The grid layout makes it easy to browse the available apps, while the menus and tabs across the top, which filter the apps into different types, are useful and convenient. Newcomers to Samsung’s Blu-ray players will not be daunted by this despite this potentially bewildering array of features.
There are two other features aligned to Smart Hub that make content incredibly easy to find. ‘Search All’ looks for content by keyword on the hard-disk or any of the Smart Hub apps. It’s just a shame that unlike Samsung’s latest TVs it doesn’t search the EPG too, which would have allowed you to set recordings from the search results.
Another useful new feature is Your Video, a movie database that lets you find out about an actor, director or film. It’s easy to find within the Smart Hub portal and the layout is self explanatory when you first enter. Importantly, there’s a search tool, which is slightly awkward to use due to predictive text’s inability to recognise certain movie titles, but once entered it found all of the films we searched for without any further problems.
The depth of information available is impressive, going well beyond the normal director/cast info with quotes, photos and trivia that movie fans will love. You can also ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ movies on social networking sites.
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