- Review Price: £1799.00
We’ve grown accustomed to Samsung’s ability to push the aesthetic envelope, but this time it’s really gone to town with a distinctive design that makes it far and away the best-looking all-in-one system on the market, period. Most eye-catching of all is the Blu-ray ‘console’, which is mounted on a pole stand – a refreshing departure from the usual set-top box design – although there’s also a table-top stand in the box. Samsung has also abandoned its usual gloss-black styling for a gorgeous brushed aluminium finish across the system.
The player’s coup de grace is the round volume dial in the middle, which slides forward when powered up and features an animated dot matrix display and touch sensitive controls. There are other tasty little flourishes, such as a button on the side that makes the USB port pop out on the back, a second USB port concealed on the back designed to house Samsung’s Wi-Fi USB dongle and a hidden slot on the right hand side that smoothly pulls in the disc. These are the sort of cool, cutting-edge touches that will go down well if you want your system to be an aesthetic talking point as well as a way of watching movies.
The front and surround speakers are similarly gorgeous – their brushed silver styling matches the player beautifully while the inclusion of elegant pole stands for the fronts and surrounds ensures pleasing uniformity between the components. Even more impressive is the build quality of the speakers themselves. The enclosures are rigid and weighty, not hollow and lightweight like so many all-in-one system speakers. The absence of grilles leaves the cone and tweeter exposed, which is actually very fetching. The surround back speakers are compact and therefore easy to place at the back of the room.
The powered subwoofer is remarkably big, which might make it tricky for some users to install, but thankfully it’s attractively styled. Most of the system’s connections are found on the back of the subwoofer, which is a great way of keeping messy wires hidden away. A single lead connects the player and subwoofer, which can be tucked out of sight using a clever cable tidy system that feeds it through the pole stand. The same system is used on the speaker stands.
The sub sports a top-notch selection of sockets. Most impressive is the inclusion of two HDMI inputs, which allow you to enjoy other sources in surround sound and only take up only one HDMI input on your TV. These are joined by an HDMI v1.4 output, which not only ensures 3D compatibility but thanks to the Audio Return Channel the system can receive sound from a TV without having to rig up a separate digital audio cable.
There’s also an optical digital audio input, analogue stereo input, a USB port for software updates, ports for the wireless TX card (see below), auto calibration mic and radio antenna, plus an Ethernet LAN port. We’re also pleasantly surprised to find that the speaker terminals are banana-plug capable binding posts as opposed to the less robust springclip terminals found on most all-in-one systems.
The HT-C9950W leaves no stone unturned in terms of features, making it one of the most generous, all-encompassing all-in-one systems we’ve encountered – but at this price we’d expect nothing less. First up, it’s a 7.1-channel system, which gives you the full benefit of Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks, formats that the system is fully capable of decoding. Most Blu-ray systems only offer 7.1 through costly upgrades, but it’s nice to get surround backs as standard.
What’s more, there’s even a wireless kit for the rear speakers, comprising a TX card that slots into the back of the sub and a powered receiver that sits between the speakers at the back of the room. This cuts down on the amount of cables you have to conceal, but the fact that the surround back speakers aren’t also wireless defeats the object, as you still have a pair of cables to hide.
The HT-C9950W also boasts a wide array of DLNA networking and multimedia functions, all of which can be accessed wirelessly using the supplied 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi dongle, or through the Ethernet port.
As per usual it includes Samsung’s Internet@TV, which delivers a range of web apps to your TV. What we love about Samsung’s service is the quality and quantity of its apps, which makes the handful of sites available on LG’s NetCast or Panasonic’s Viera Cast seem positively miserly by comparison. There’s a clutch of popular sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Google Maps and LoveFilm, as well as a decent range of games.
Also impressive is the ability to add new apps when they become available, as well as manage them in the settings menu – features not afforded by most of Samsung’s rivals. The interface lists recommended sites along the top for ease of access, while the rest are placed in a grid below. It’s a logical, colourful and intuitive GUI that conveys a real sense of fun. On the downside, the feature reveals a common problem among AV products that incorporate web functionality – there’s no keyboard or mouse, which means entering text using the remote is a laborious process.
Next up is the Allshare feature, which lets you stream music, video and photos from PCs and other devices connected to your home network. It’s remarkably easy to find songs and videos thanks to the use of folder-based menus that mimic what you might find on a PC.
The system will also play a long list of formats from USB devices, including DivX Plus HD, WMV HD and MKV. Like Allshare, the menus are clear and attractive, making it simple to find the files you’re looking for. As if that wasn’t enough, Samsung even throws an iPod dock in the box, allowing you to play music from an iPod or iPhone through the system, as well as controlling it with the remote.
The HT-C9950W also offers Dolby Pro Logic IIz processing, designed to add ‘vertical surround’ to the soundstage. The jury is still out on the benefits of this technology, but its inclusion is welcome and Samsung should be applauded for at least giving users the option.
There’s also an impressive range of sound modes, including Smart Sound, a way of levelling out the volume to prevent any nasty sonic surprises; MP3 Enhance for boosting the quality of compressed music; and Power Bass, which adds an extra dose of low-end punch. Aside from these you get a range of SFE modes that aim to replicate the acoustic properties of surprisingly specific environments – ‘Philharmonic Hall in Bratislava’ is our particular favourite.
Last but by no means least is the system’s Full HD 3D compatibility, made possible by the inclusion of the HDMI v1.4 output on the rear. There’s no real setup involved for this, although you can specify the size of your TV to get the optimum 3D performance.
The HT-C9950W uses a lavish onscreen menu system, which is welcoming, responsive and easy to digest. It uses large colourful graphics and consistently legible text, plus the cursor moves around without any frustrating delays. This makes it a breeze to set up potentially tricky functions like wired/wireless networking, BD Live or HDMI audio output selection.
The on-board Musical Auto Calibration mode saves you the hassle of optimising sound levels manually. Although this system isn’t quite as sophisticated or thorough as systems like Audyssey’s MultEQ, it works well and doesn’t take a long time to complete. It uses of a piece of music as opposed to a white noise test tone, which is novel but we don’t recommend staying in the room while it’s playing.
Finally, it’s clear that a lot of thought went into the design of the remote, which not only boasts a classy silver and brushed aluminium finish, but also sports flat, backlit buttons to help you navigate with the lights out. The only minor flaw is that the buttons surrounding the direction keys are too close together, which causes a few slip-ups.
As for disc loading. the system started playing ”Terminator Salvation” 1m 20s after pushing the disc into the slot, which is relatively slow compared with previous Samsung Blu-ray players, which loaded the disc in closer to 40 seconds. Other discs load a lot quicker though.
For 3D picture testing, we watched ”Monsters Vs Aliens” on a Sony 60LX903 and in general the system’s performance is hugely enjoyable. Fine detail looks exceptionally sharp – the intricate light, shade and texture of The Missing Link’s scaly skin is beautifully rendered, while colours are vibrant, natural and nuanced, even through the shaded 3D glasses. You’re also treated to a wonderfully deep and convincingly layered 3D image, in which foreground objects look focused and backgrounds offer an impressive sense of distance and perspective. There is crosstalk in the picture, but this is down to the TV and not the Blu-ray player.
2D picture quality is similarly excellent. The system transfers the hi-def image over HDMI without introducing any unwanted artefacts, leaving the pictures clean, bright and exceptionally sharp. With ”Hellboy II: The Golden Army”, the system picks out every speck of detail in the image – the movie’s exquisitely detailed costumes and prosthetics look particularly impressive.
The HT-C9950W also handles most of the test patterns on Silicon Optix’s HQV Blu-ray flawlessly. Not a single jaggie to be seen on either of the diagonal filter tests and the Video Resolution Loss test is free from strobing. However the Film Resolution Loss test card shows some flickering in the corner boxes and during the subsequent camera pan across Raymond James stadium there’s some ugly twitching and moiré noise amid in the rows of seats, although this appears to make little difference to real-world movie viewing.
Finally the DVD version of the Silicon Optix disc reveals the system to be a competent video upscaler. The bar on the diagonal filter test rotates smoothly without any jaggies, the flag clip reveals no significant stepping on the stripes, the detail test looks satisfactorily sharp and none of the assorted cadences causes the system any major problems.
Onto sound, and we started our test with ”Hellboy II: The Golden Army” on Blu-ray, which features a 7.1-channel DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. Skipping to chapter 11, in which Hellboy squares up to an Elemental near to the Brooklyn Bridge, we find that the HT-C9950W is an assured audio performer, well above the standard of most sub-£1,000 all-in-one systems. The first thing we noticed is how powerful the system is, delivering a rich, room filling sound with plenty of heft at the bottom end and authoritative control over the high frequencies.
When the Elemental bursts through the ground, the low-end rumble is immensely muscular and menacing, but the bass tones blend cohesively with the other speakers, something that many all-in-one systems fail to achieve. The sub doesn’t dominate the soundstage – instead it underpins and reinforces the action in a more sympathetic way. The decision to use a powered subwoofer is perhaps the key to its success, not only offering excellent integration but also reaching levels of tautness and punch that put most passive subs to shame.
The subsequent chaos as the Elemental tears up the road, scattering cars as it goes, is masterfully orchestrated by the Samsung. The soundstage is wonderfully enveloping, thanks mainly to the inclusion of surround back channels that ‘fill in the gaps’ behind you. It feels like you’re completely surrounded by sound, helped also by the wide reach of the rear speakers, which fire out effects with aplomb. And because the rears are the same full range speakers used at the front, surround effects are fulsome and there’s pleasing uniformity and integration across the entire soundstage.
Also pleasing is the detail oozing from every speaker. The HT-C9950W conjures up a crisp, subtly textured sound, brought about by its excellent reproduction of high frequencies. At the end of our test scene, leaves and flowers grow up the sides of the buildings – the system clearly teases out the delicate rustling and crunching as they do so. Elsewhere in the scene, the sound of car windows being smashed and cacophony of panicked voices is clearly reproduced, although with the volume up high there are one or two effects that sound just a little brash, such as the whirring helicopter that gets smashed up by the Elemental.
This excellent detail reproduction is even better demonstrated by the movie’s Troll Market scene, in which a flurry of subtle noises – fluttering pixies, the pounding score, garbled voices, tinkling metal – are picked out with entrancing crispness, plus the Samsung confidently places and steers the effects around the 7.1 soundstage, creating a wonderfully absorbing listening experience. The centre speaker also does a fine job, conveying speech with pleasing clarity during busy action scenes without making it seem thin or muffled.
To test out Dolby Pro Logic IIz, we placed the speakers at the front of the room and played chapter 3 of ”Terminator Salvation”, in which there’s a shot of Sam Worthington’s character standing in the pouring rain. The way Pro Logic IIz extracts and separates the non-directional effects is impressive, making it sound as though rain is coming from above, and with scenes like this it does enhance the overall sense of all-round envelopment. That said, we do think that surround back channels are far more beneficial to sound quality than front height speakers, and for many people mounting speakers above their TV really won’t be worth the hassle.
Finally we turn to music playback, and although its performance isn’t quite as assured as movie playback, the quality of CD reproduction is still a cut above most one-box systems. We auditioned a range of jazz CDs, including Miles Davis, Astrud Gilberto and John Coltrane, and the Samsung gets close to the refinement and neutrality needed to do justice to these beautiful recordings.
That said, there’s some slight colouration and brightness to the sound it doesn’t completely convince in the same way as a decent separates system. But that will only worry discerning audiophiles at whom this system isn’t necessarily aimed – most regular users will be more than happy with the smoothness, balance and detail afforded by this system.
With its astonishingly stylish design, superb performance and cavalcade of features – surely the most comprehensive line-up ever seen on an all-in-one – the HT-C9950W is a very special home cinema system. It’s the sort of product that could restore your faith in one-box systems, or home cinema in general, and with its 3D and network functionality it’s as cutting-edge as they come.
It’s not perfect though, as there are a few operational issues and minor sonic shortcomings that might be sidestepped with separates, plus at close to £2k it’s a hugely expensive proposition by typical one-box system standards – luckily the glorious design and features go most of the way to justifying it. If that’s too pricey, then check out the HT-C6930W as a cheaper but less glamorous alternative.
Score in detail
Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think - send your emails to the Editor.