Samsung HT-BD1250

DVD home-theater-in-box systems seem to offer a lot of value from the spec sheet, but are often seriously disappointing in use, with lackluster audio and video being the norm.

So far our experience with Blu-ray HTIBs has been the exact opposite; almost all of the systems we've tested this year offer a legitimate home theater experience and the Samsung HT-BD1250 (street price as low as $500) is the best budget system so far. We were fully expecting lifeless sound after our review of the Samsung HT-AS730, but the HT-BD1250 proved our prejudice wrong, offering credible sound quality even with stereo music--a tough feat for HTIBs. Its built-in Blu-ray player is as good as the standalone Samsung BD-P3600 and streaming options like Netflix and Pandora should fully complement your physical media collection.

We had our quibbles about the usability of the design (although the system looks good) and like all Blu-ray HTIBs at this price it lacks HDMI inputs--you'll need to step-up to the Samsung HT-BD3252 or LG LHB977 if you want HDMI connectivity. But these shortcomings are outweighed by the systems strengths.

Yes, it's a little more expensive than competing budget systems, but if you can spare the extra bucks, the Samsung HT-BD1250 is well worth it.

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Front/surround speakers

The HT-BD1250 is a 5.1 system; the included speaker package consists of four identical smallish speakers for the front/surround, a slim center channel and a subwoofer.

The four bookshelf speakers sit 8.3 inches high, and have a stand built into the base. The front of the speaker has a glossy black finish, while the rest of the cabinet is matte black. Looking through the speaker grille, you'll see a rare sight on an HTIB speaker--both a tweeter and a woofer. The speakers aren't as small as the ones included with Panasonic's Blu-ray HTIBs, but we didn't find them overwhelming.

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Center channel

The center channel is tiny, coming in at just 11.8 inches wide by 1.9 inches high by just 2.7 inches deep, and should easily fit under any TV. It has two unusual, rounded-rectangle-shaped drivers, but Samsung doesn't provide anymore information about the speaker.
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Center channel, side view

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Subwoofer

The subwoofer is average-size for an HTIB, but sounds bigger than it looks--more on that in the performance section.
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Subwoofer, back

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AV receiver/Blu-ray combo unit

The main receiver/Blu-ray player combo unit features a design that looks slick on the showroom floor, but is kind of a pain once you get it home. The front panel has a trapezoidal shape that tapers toward the bottom. It's covered with a glossy black finish, while the top of the unit is awash with Samsung's dark red "Touch of Color"; it's a distinctive look, although it's a magnet for fingerprints.
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Some design missteps

We were less impressed with the functional elements of the design. The unit looks buttonless, but that's only because the controls are touch-sensitive keys located on the top of the unit. We're not fans of touch sensitive buttons to begin with (although these work pretty well), but the top location makes them even harder to use; you need to see the markings to know where to press and if the unit is in a cabinet, that can be a pain.
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Back panel

Like most Blu-ray HTIBs, the HT-BD1250's connectivity is limited to audio inputs; there are no video inputs. That means with additional components, like a cable box or game console, you'll need to make separate connections to the HT-BD1250 and your TV, plus you'll have to fumble with several remotes to get it all working. (Alternatively, you can avoid some of the hassle with a quality universal remote.) As mentioned before, the LG LHB977 (street price of less than $600) and Samsung HT-BD3252 ($800 list price) each have two HDMI inputs, so they might be a better choice if you have other HDMI gear, such as game consoles and DVRs.
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Connectivity

The HT-BD1250 has two optical digital audio inputs and one stereo analog audio input, which is average, although we would have liked at least one coaxial digital audio input. Each of these inputs are selectable by pressing the "Aux" button several times, so you can connect three separate components to the HT-BD1250. There's also a USB port up front, which can playback MP3 and JPEG files. Finally, Samsung touts a PC streaming function as well, but--as with the BD-P3600 Blu-ray player--we couldn't get this to work at all.
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Wireless rear speaker ready

The HT-BD1250 is "wireless rear speaker ready", meaning that you need to purchase the additional SWA-4000 accessory to enable wireless rear speaker functionality. Like virtually all wireless speaker systems, you still need to run speaker wires from the SWA-4000 to your rear speakers, but at least you won't have to run speaker wires from the from of your home theater to the back. (We did not have the SWA-4000 on hand, so we were not able to test this functionality.)
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iPod dock

The HT-BD1250 comes with an iPod dock that you connect to the back panel. The inclusion of the dock is nice, but we like the integrated docks available on Panasonic and LG HTIBs more, as there's less clutter. Playing back music is easy and you can browse by standard iPod categories like artist, album and genre. They playback screen is a little disappointing; there's no album art or even artist name. The interface on the competing LHB953 is easily superior and more responsive. The HT-BD1250 also allows you to play back videos stored on the iPod, but annoyingly it requires you to make a separate composite video connection to your TV. To be fair, that's the story with pretty much all iPod docks included with HTIBs this year.
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Remote

The included remote gets almost everything right, with one exception. The basics are good; there's a big directional pad, an eject button, button rockers for volume and tuning and the playback buttons of Braille-like nubs to make it easier to navigate by feel. The problem: the two important Blu-ray navigation buttons--popup menu and disc menu--are relegated to tiny buttons at the bottom, making them difficult to find.
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