Samsung HT-C6500 review:

Samsung HT-C6500

Even if no new services get added to Samsung Apps, the initial selection of streaming-media services is excellent. All the major bases are covered, including subscription-based streaming movies from Netflix, pay-per-view streaming movies from Vudu, and free streaming music from Pandora. Our only slight disappointment is that the HT-C6500 still uses the somewhat older Netflix interface, rather than the newer, more capable interface available on the LG's HTIBs.

The HT-C6500 is also DLNA-compliant and capable of streaming video, audio, and photo files from a network-connected PC or viewing them from USB drive. The DLNA compliancy is a big step up from the "PC streaming" feature offered last year that was difficult to set up, even for tech enthusiasts; we had no problem streaming files this year. We also had no trouble playing a couple MKV and DivX HD files off an attached USB drive; a full list of supported formats is available in the manual on Page 8.

Audio decoding capabilities
Dolby TrueHD Yes DTS-HD Master Audio Yes
Dolby Digital Plus Yes DTS-HD HR Yes
Bit stream output Yes SACD/DVD-Audio No

Like all Blu-ray HTIBs this year, the HT-C6500 has onboard decoding for both high-resolution Dolby and DTS soundtrack formats. There's no support for DVD-Audio or SACD; if you're still interested in playing back SACDs, Sony's BDV-E770W offers that functionality.

AV connectivity
HDMI inputs 2 Analog audio inputs 1
Optical inputs 1 Coaxial inputs 0
Minijack input No Max. connected ext. devices 4

Considering that the HT-C6500 includes a built-in Blu-ray player, its two HDMI inputs should be enough for many basic home theaters (for instance, you could connect an HD DVR and a PS3 or Xbox 360). If not, you'll be able to connect two additional devices--via an analog and optical input--bringing the total to four devices connected at once. The HT-C6500's feature set would seem more impressive if LG's entry-level LHB535 ($420 street price) didn't include the same connectivity, plus an additional optical input, allowing for five devices to be connected at once. Whether you need that much AV connectivity depends on your home theater setup, but it's always nice to have some room to expand later on.

Other connectivity
Ethernet Yes SD card slot No
USB ports 1 Headphone jack No

The rest of the HT-C6500's connectivity is relatively standard. We would have liked an additional USB port on the back panel--like both the LG LHB975 and Sony BDV-E770W have--but that's a minor nitpick.

Audio setup
Even before we ran through Samsung's setup routine, the HT-C6500 was sounding awfully nice. Samsung doesn't refer to the audio portion of the setup as "speaker calibration"--instead it's "Musical Room Calibration", which sets the volume level of each speaker, measures the distances between the speakers and the measurement mic, and applies equalization to the sound of the speakers. That sounds like speaker calibration to us, so we dutifully plugged in the included calibration microphone and commenced the Musical Room Calibration.

Then we understood why it's called that; instead of the usual sequence of tones, beeps, and whooshes, the HT-C6500's speakers played music that sounded like a large marching band leaping from one speaker to the next and the subwoofer. The procedure was certainly the most entertaining calibration we've heard.

We found the results accurate overall, except the subwoofer volume was set too high for our tastes. No problem, we lowered the sub volume in the manual setup menu.

Audio performance
The HT-C6500 immediately distinguished itself as one of the best-sounding HTIBs we've heard in a long time. The rich balance hews closer to a separates based system than a typical home theater in a box system.

Mickey Rouke's deep-toned narration on Robert Rodriguez's gritty crime drama "Sin City" had the sort of gravitas no other HTIB with lifestyle-friendly speakers has ever mustered. When one bad guy hits another bad guy in the gut, you feel it. The over-the-top violence and ominous film score were well communicated by the HT-C6500. The three front speakers disappeared as sound sources and projected an immense soundstage, and the front-to-rear surround field was truly seamless.

The HT-C6500 was certainly a lot more powerful and richer-sounding than Yamaha's YSP-5100 sound bar speaker, when used on its own without a subwoofer. And the YSP-5100 is more than three times as expensive as the HT-C6500.

Speaking of subwoofers, the HT-C6500's sub produces deeper bass than any similarly sized HTIB sub we know of. Yes, the little thing can sound a bit thick or tubby at times, but it seamlessly integrates with the satellite speakers.

We tested the speakers' limits with the "It Might Get Loud" Blu-ray, starring the White Stripes' Jack White, U2's the Edge, and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page. The DTS Master Audio sound was crisp and clear as Page demonstrated why he's had a lifelong love affair with the instrument, explaining that he can play with "dynamics, from light and shade, whisper to thunder." The HT-C6500 had absolutely no trouble keeping up with Page's antics. The HT-C6500 can play fairly loud without strain, just don't expect sound on par with much larger speakers or subs when doing so.

The Sony BDV-E770W HTIB comparison was a tight contest, but the HT-C6500 won for its richer balance and fatigue-free listening charms. The BDV-E770W was leaner and therefore more detailed-sounding during the intense battle sequences in "Black Hawk Down." The Sony's much larger subwoofer didn't have as much of a tendency to get muddy when played loud. It's an all around better and much larger sub. The BDV-E770W is really good, it's just that we preferred the HT-C6500's fuller sound.

CDs sounded quite good on the HT-C6500, if a few steps down from the sound from DVDs and Blu-rays. The speakers sounded closer to their actual, very small size when playing CDs, and we heard the speakers straining when we played Bob Marley and the Wailers' "Live at the Roxy" CD fairly loud. Backed down to a more moderate volume, the sound regained full composure.

We imagine most HT-C6500 buyers will spend most of their time watching movies, and on that score this system is an exceptional performer.

Blu-ray and DVD image quality
Overall, we were impressed with the HT-C6500's Blu-ray image quality, as it passed all of the most important test patterns and program material tests. Its operational speed wasn't great--it received a CNET speed rating of 74--but it should be plenty fast for most buyers. We found its performance to be very similar to Samsung's standalone BD-C6500; for a more in-depth look at this player's Blu-ray and DVD performance, we recommend checking out the review of the Samsung BD-C6500.

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