Soon after DVD hit it big--let's say right around the turn of the century--the concept of the home-theater-in-a-box ("HTIB," in the parlance of our times) was born. Manufacturers bundled up a 5.1 audio system with a DVD player and an amplifier--sometimes in one integrated unit--and sold the whole thing for a song, leaving the buyer to "just add TV." Not surprisingly, HTIBs soon became ultra-commoditized, with name brand units selling for under $300, and no-name budget rigs sitting on supermarket endcaps for half as much. But there's always a new high-end: Samsung's HT-BD2 is the first unit we've seen that upgrades the built-in disc player to handle high-def Blu-ray discs (in addition to playing all of your standard DVDs at 1080p as well). The BD2 is a 7.1-channel 1,100-watt rig that features the jet-black tallboy look, familiar from Samsung's other high-end systems. The disc player looks to be no slouch, with 24-frame playback, 1080p output, HDMI 1.3, and the ability to decode Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD (albeit only the "High Resolution," not "Master Audio," flavor of that last high-res soundtrack format). At least one other manufacturer is also debuting a Blu-ray HTIB here at CES, but Samsung gets first dibs--its unit is already available for sale. On the downside, the $1,500 price tag will be hard to swallow--and with newer and better Blu-ray players with the updated (picture-in-picture) and 2.0 (online content) firmware, it's a tough sell when you can get one of those players and a decent surround setup for under $1,000 total. We'll let you know how it nets out when we do a full hands-on, in-depth CNET review on the HT-BD2 later this month.
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