Though home theater enthusiasts may drool over a rack full of AV boxes, for most people less is more when it comes to living-room gadgets. Sound bars with wireless subwoofers are now widely available for around $300, but the Samsung HT-BD8200 ($700 street price) does them one better by integrating a Blu-ray player into the sound bar--the only product of its kind that we've seen in the U.S. The design is undeniably slick, and even though the HT-BD8200 first came out in 2009, it's Wi-Fi capable (with an included USB Wi-Fi dongle), supports streaming from Netflix, Pandora, YouTube, and Blockbuster, and offers Blu-ray performance comparable with 2010 standalone players.
But despite all it has going for it, we couldn't get too excited about the HT-BD8200 after it disappointed on arguably the two most important aspects: sound quality and reliable disc playback. We've been impressed by the sound quality of many sound bar home theater systems we've reviewed this year, but the HT-BD8200 was a step behind them, with an overly bassy sound that lacks detail and clarity. Operational quirks were even more frustrating, with the HT-BD8200 refusing to play discs in a somewhat haphazard fashion. We love the concept of the HT-BD8200, and much of its execution is spot on, but its limitations mean it's only a good pick for those really enthralled with the all-in-one design. Ultimately we think most people would prefer the slightly bulkier combination of the Samsung HW-C450 ($350 street) and Samsung BD-C6500 ($200), which offers better sound, more features, and reliable disc playback.
Most sound bars have a cylindrical design, but the HT-BD8200 is long, thin, and flat. The edges of the HT-BD8200 feature a translucent black plastic, whereas the majority of the front is dominated by matte-black speaker grilles. In the center is a large glossy black square, with an LCD display that features graphics that correspond to remote commands, like pause or eject. The whole unit can be perched on the included stand or wall-mounted.
For a sound bar, the HT-BD8200 is bigger than most, despite its razor thin (1.9 inches) design. Though its width (39.4 inches) is comparable with other sound bars we've tested, its 7.75-inch height is a little problematic, as it obscured part of the Samsung PN58B650 when the sound bar was placed on the TV stand in front of the HDTV. Make sure you think about the configuration of your home theater and whether the HT-BD8200 will fit.
The HT-BD8200's connectivity is limited, even by the already skimpy standards of sound bar home theater systems. There's only a single optical input for external devices. That's somewhat understandable considering the HT-BD8200 has a built-in Blu-ray player, but even a simple home theater with a cable box and a Nintendo Wii will be out of luck. (Unless you use your TV as a switcher, but that involves all kinds of remote juggling.)
The included remote gets almost everything right, with one big 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 most important Blu-ray navigation buttons--pop-up menu and disc menu--are relegated to tiny buttons at the bottom, making them difficult to find. It's a disappointing oversight on an otherwise well-designed remote.