- Review Price: £535.84
Not content with bringing out the world’s first wall-mountable Blu-ray player and the first decks with Wi-Fi and PC streaming, Samsung has beaten its rivals to the punch yet again with the first Blu-ray soundbar system.
This 2.1 channel system integrates everything you need for Blu-ray playback (player, speakers, decoding, and amplification) into a single wall-mountable unit and throws in a wireless subwoofer for good measure – ideal if space is tight and you don’t want cables all over the place.
Samsung HT-BD8200 Blu-ray soundbar not for you? Check out our round up of the best soundbars to buy
Samsung apparently doesn’t know how to make an ugly product. The HT-BD8200’s soundbar is yet another stunner, with its gloss black finish and translucent edges giving it a very commercial but extremely desirable look.
Along the top is a row of illuminated touch-sensitive buttons, but the thing that really made me swoon is the disc loading mechanism – the entire centre panel slides forward to reveal the upward-facing slot, and if there’s a disc inside it rises like a phoenix from the flames and stays there until someone grabs it – lovely stuff.
Also impressive is the large display panel, making information easy to read from a distance, while the unit’s slim profile stops it from jutting out too far from the wall. In the box is a wall mounting bracket and a plastic cradle stand that slots neatly onto the bottom. As for the subwoofer, it’s the same model that accompanies the HT-WS1G DVD soundbar we reviewed recently and shrugs off the stereotypical black box image with curved corners and a lustrous gloss-black top panel. There are no dials or sockets to play with, just a blue light on top and a tiny button on the back to reset the wireless connection with the main unit.
Given the limited space on the back and the focus on simplicity, the main unit’s generous array of connections comes as a pleasant surprise. The recessed panel houses HDMI and composite video outputs, an Ethernet port, an antenna input for the FM radio tuner and an optical digital audio input, which is good news for anyone with a Sky box. We might have criticised Samsung for not including more inputs, but it’s not such a big deal on a soundbar aimed at buyers who want to keep things simple.
Next to these is a USB port that can be used in a couple of ways. Plug in Samsung’s optional wireless LAN dongle (WIS09ABGN) and you can connect to the internet or stream content over your home network without a cable in sight; or connect a USB flash drive to store BD Live downloads and provide firmware updates – an essential feature, as BD Live’s required 1GB of memory isn’t built in.
With that USB port handling wireless or BD Live storage duties, Samsung has sensibly provided another USB port on the right-hand side for media playback. This supports USB sticks, MP3 players and even external FAT 16/32 HDDs, and it’ll play DivX HD, MP3 and JPEG files. This USB port is joined by a connector for the supplied iPod dock (which works with any model, as well as the iPhone), analogue stereo input for other MP3 players and a headphones port.
The HT-BD8200’s strong feature set continues with YouTube access – a new addition to Samsung’s Blu-ray roster – as well as Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio decoding, giving you sharp hi-res sound albeit only from 2.1 channels. The system attempts to fill in the sonic gaps with V-Sound, which adds virtual effects to emulate 5.1-channel sound.
You also get a bunch of DSP modes. Smart Sound stabilises the levels to guard against sudden changes in volume, Audio Upscaling claims to boost MP3 playback to CD quality and Power Bass adds more, um, power to, er, bass notes. Samsung’s power rating is 300W in total, which on paper should be enough to make an impact, although the 260W HT-WS1G system suffered from a distinct lack of oomph when it came to movie playback, so it’ll be interesting to see how this one compares.
Setting up the system is a cinch, which is exactly what you want from a soundbar. The excellent menu system uses a bright colour palette and a sensible submenu layout that progress across the screen from left to right. Contained within this are a few sound adjustments (L/R balance, sub level, distances), while all the other essentials like HDMI resolution and network settings are easy to locate and adjust. On the downside the setup menu can only be called up after you’ve stopped the movie.
The wired internet connection worked smoothly and delivered BD Live content and YouTube clips with minimal fuss, aside from the inevitable buffering breaks, but it does depend on your broadband connection. I wasn’t given a dongle to test wireless functionality but the setup process is just as complicated as Samsung’s Blu-ray players. The deck can search for PCs automatically, but if you have no joy there’s a manual mode, which asks you to input the folder name.
You don’t have to do anything to install the sub, it detects the signal and starts working straight away. iPod playback can be controlled using the system’s remote and the menus appear on the TV screen.
The attractive remote is slim and ergonomic, with faultlessly placed and perfectly sized controls for the most part. Some of the lesser used buttons at the bottom are too small and cluttered, as if they were an afterthought, but otherwise this is superb zapper design.
Discs load in super-fast time. From disc slot to screen, it took the Samsung just 30 seconds to start playing Spider-Man 3, and that includes the time it takes to suck in the disc and shut the drawer. Amazing. And what’s more, after sliding a DVD into the slot, the menu’s on screen before you’ve even sat down.
As ever, I loaded up the Silicon Optix HQV Blu-ray to check its video processing power and the HT-BD8200 does a magnificent job across the board. There isn’t a single jaggie on the Diagonal Filter test’s rotating bars, and although the bar on test B looks a bit blurred round the edges, there isn’t any stepping to speak of. Tricky video cadences are detected immediately and noise is tamed effectively. It’s similarly authoritative with the DVD version, proving that the HT-BD8200 is a talented all-rounder for your entire movie collection.
This translates into excellent real world Blu-ray pictures. The Samsung’s colour reproduction, dark scene black level and detail retrieval are superb, making movies look crisp and punchy with plenty of cinematic depth.
Like several other Samsung systems, the HT-BD8200 uses speaker cones made of Bio Kelp (seaweed) and I haven’t always been their biggest fan, but here they help the system to deliver a satisfying sound performance. The most impressive aspect is the level of clarity it brings to voices and high-frequency effects without making anything sound excessively uncomfortable or harsh. There’s a bit more drive and purpose behind the HT-BD8200 than the HT-WS1G, and that translates into thrilling Blu-ray movie playback.
I selected the Elemental scene in Hellboy II – presented in devilish DTS HD Master Audio – cranked up the volume to near maximum and was blown away by the vigour with which it belts out the crashes, explosions and the tree creature’s ungodly screeching. Dynamic shifts are sudden and gripping, and although the virtual surround won’t make you believe you’re listening to 5.1 sound, it does lend the soundstage plenty of width.
The subwoofer is also impressive, injecting beefy bass into the soundstage and blending nicely with the soundbar. There were absolutely no problems with the wireless communication during our test, no matter how many obstacles we placed in the way. The sub’s speed of response is as quick as a wired sub, and is a vital element in the system’s impressive overall performance.
Despite my generally positive impressions, the HT-BD8200’s sound isn’t flawless. Its sharp, attacking character is great to start with, but prolonged listening at high volume starts to reveal a rather wild sound, which made me long for the refinement of the B&W Panorama. The sub can be a bit overpowering at times too, particularly with Power Bass engaged.
But getting back to the positives, the Samsung is a safe pair of hands, so to speak, with music. From fast-paced electronic dance to acoustic jazz, the HT-BD8200 handles a wide range of music styles with infectious rhythm and a surprising level of finesse. Even more surprising is the responsive and well-integrated contribution from the subwoofer, which provides a solid foundation without overpowering the other speakers as it can with movies.
The HT-BD8200 is a solid Blu-ray proposition for those who want hi-def movies but can’t commit to a full home cinema system. It’s jaw-droppingly attractive, boasts impressive AV performance and a very generous range of features, although we do think it’s still a touch overpriced given the lack of built-in Wi-Fi and BD Live memory – under £500 and it would have been a must-buy.
Read more: Best soundbars to buy
Score in detail
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