Editors' note: Although our testing of the Samsung HT-BD1250 was largely positive, Samsung Blu-ray players have consistently scored low with CNET users. We examined this issue, and it's worth considering before making a buying decision.
DVD home-theater-in-box systems seem from their spec sheets to offer a lot of value, but are often seriously disappointing to 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.
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.
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. The subwoofer is average-sized for an HTIB, but sounds bigger than it looks--more on that in the performance section.
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.
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 difficult.
Even worse is the volume control. Instead of a knob, there's a flat, spinnable disc on the top of the player, an inch or two away from the front panel. If you're thinking of stacking another device on the HT-BD1250, like a cable box or game console, you'll be blocking access to the volume knob. That's not a problem on any of the other Blu-ray HTIBs we've reviewed.
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 playback buttons of Braille-like nubs to make it easier to navigate by feel. The problem: the two important Blu-ray navigation buttons--pop-up menu and disc menu--are relegated to tiny buttons at the bottom, making them difficult to find.
We were starting to think that auto speaker setup was well on its way to becoming a standard feature, but we've recently reviewed a few home-theater-in-a-box systems where setup is a do-it-yourself affair.
The Samsung HT-BD1250's speaker setup is completely manual, so it's up to you to adjust the volume levels of all the speakers and subwoofer, and calculate listener-to-speaker distances. We strongly recommend performing the setup because straight out of the box the HT-BD1250's center channel volume was much too loud and the surround speakers were too low in volume.
You'll find the manual setup located in the Sound Edit part of the onscreen menu. Navigation logistics aren't the best or the worst we've seen; just follow the User Manual's instructions and you'll be fine.
However, we were disappointed to note the HT-BD1250 doesn't offer direct access to its speaker and subwoofer volume adjustments. The only way to change those is in the Sound Edit onscreen menu. To get there you first need to stop the disc, bring up the menu, make the change, and then restart the movie. That's no fun and it's worth pointing out that the competing LG's LHB953 lets you make adjustments "on-the-fly."
The HT-BD1250's built-in Blu-ray player has essentially all the same functionality as Samsung's standalone BD-P3600, except the 7.1 analog outputs. You can read the full review for more information, but the main points are it has full Profile 2.0 compatibility, onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, and streaming content from both Netflix and Pandora. You'll need an Internet connection to access BD-Live features or Netflix/Pandora; the HT-BD1250 has an Ethernet port for a wired connection and it's also compatible with the Samsung LinkStick WIS09ABGN USB Wi-Fi dongle, although its $80 price tag makes that option much less attractive.