Samsung Blu-ray player series (2007) review: Samsung Blu-ray player series (2007)
Editors' Note: As of spring 2008, Samsung has announced the very similar HT-BD2S, which--except for smaller speakers and a lower retail price--is identical to the HT-BD2T reviewed here.
Now that Blu-ray has officially triumphed over its HD DVD rival, it's only natural to begin seeing the high-definition disc format begin to become a bit more, well, standardized. Take the Samsung HT-BD2T: it's the first home-theater-in-a-box system in the world to feature a built-in Blu-ray player. It's exactly the sort of gorgeously styled system--curvy disc player, matching 7.1 channel speaker/subwoofer system--that's dominated the top end of Samsung's home theater line-up for the past few years, except that this one plays Blu-ray Discs in addition to DVDs and CDs. The skinny speakers don't make much bass, but the hefty powered subwoofer supplies ample low-end thunder. The Blu-ray player, meanwhile, is essentially identical to that of the Samsung BD-P1400: it offers all of the current Blu-ray niceties, including 1080p video with 24 frames-per-second (fps) playback over its HDMI 1.3 output, upscaling of standard DVDs to 1080p resolution, and the capability to decode the lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio found on the latest Blu-ray movies. Of course, the BD2T's emphasis on style means that those skinny speakers don't quite have the oomph to let you discernibly hear the improvements of those soundtracks versus their lower bandwidth DVD equivalents. Likewise, the Blu-ray player performed well, but the dearth of upgradeability to newer Profile 1.1 and 2.0 Blu-ray specs means that it's already outdated. Also, the HT-BD2T's scant connectivity--just two digital and one analog audio input--means that your TV will need to handle the video switching duties for your system. None of those are necessarily a deal breaker, but to us, that sounds like an unnecessarily long list of caveats on a $1,500 system.
The Samsung HT-BD2T is a 7.1-channel Blu-ray home theater in a box. That translates to a nine-part system: seven speakers, a subwoofer, and a curvaceous head unit that houses all of the electronics, including the disc player and amplifier.
The high-gloss black top of the head unit slopes down to meet a protruding silver control panel that houses a row of basic controls--Volume Up/Down, Play, Stop, Previous/Next, and Function buttons. On the left side there's a disc-loading slot; on the right, a not very visible display that indicates track times and surround processing information. The unit is 3.5 inches tall by 17 inches wide by 16 inches deep and weighs 9.3 pounds--in other words, it's larger than a standard DVD or Blu-ray player, but not extraordinarily so.
The long, slender remote control is nothing fancy. Considering the HT-BD2's flagship pricing, we expected the remote to be at least backlit, but no such luck. The Volume Up/Down and cursor controls are well placed, but the rest of the buttons are crowded together and too small. It can also be programmed to control basic functions on most brands of TVs (naturally, it works out of the box with Samsung models).
The speaker package includes four tallboy speakers--two main-front and two side-surround-- that require some assembly if you intend to use them as floor-standing speakers. Your alternative is to mount the speakers on the wall using their keyhole slots. We listened to them assembled, and the 51-inch tall towers were reasonably stable. The 21.6-inch wide center speaker has a table stand or can be wall-mounted, that's also true for the 10.6-inch tall rear surround satellites. The gloss and matte black speakers are all-plastic designs with perforated metal grilles. They're attractive in a home theater in a box way; build quality is merely average for HTIBs, and well below average when compared with even sub-$1,000 speaker/subwoofer packages. You are, in effect, paying a premium for the convenience of buying a packaged system. A well-chosen separate Blu-ray player, AV receiver, and speaker package will offer superior audio performance for about the same money as the $1,500 HT-BD2T.
The HT-BD2T's matching medium-density fiberboard subwoofer looks and feels a lot more substantial than the speakers do. It's 19.7 inches tall by 11.4 inches wide by 17.2 inches deep, and weighs 35.3 pounds. It also requires its own power cord.
While assembling the speaker stands can be time-consuming, setup is straightforward: each speaker plugs into the main unit with a color-coded plug, so there's little chance of error.
We were a bit surprised to note the HT-BD2T's feature set doesn't include auto speaker calibration; but the sound was reasonably well balanced without any fussing on our part. Still, chances are you'll have to navigate the onscreen setup menus to get the video squared away, so while you're there you can fine-tune the volume levels of all the speakers (the subwoofer has its own rear-mounted volume control).
The main unit of the HT-BD2T is probably best described as the guts of a Samsung BD-P1400 Blu-ray player paired with a built-in amplifier. The unit plays Blu-ray and DVD movies and audio CDs, as well as burned DVDs and CDs, including those with JPEG photos and MP3 audio.
The amplifier delivers 135 watts to each speaker channel and 150 watts to the subwoofer. Its surround processing modes are comprehensive: Dolby Digital and DTS for DVDs; Dolby Pro Logic IIx for generating a faux surround effect (using all seven speakers) from stereo sources; and--for Blu-ray Discs--support for Dolby Digital Plus, uncompressed linear PCM, and lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks. Those last items--sometimes missing from Blu-ray players and AV receivers--mean that the Samsung HT-BD2T should play any Blu-ray movie with its optimal soundtrack.
Like all Blu-ray players, the HT-BD2T can output video at 720p, 1080i, or full 1080p via HDMI. It can also upscale standard DVDs to those resolutions as well, and it supports 24-frame playback at 1080p, which may offer smoother playback on some compatible TVs. The system is upgradeable via an Ethernet connection, but only for minor fixes such as disc-compatibility issues. The Blu-ray player doesn't support Profile 1.1 (picture in picture) or 2.0 (BD-Live) Blu-ray features, nor can it be upgraded to do so. It's not a total loss--it will still play the movies and other extras found on 1.1 and 2.0 discs--but given the premium you're paying for the HT-BD2T, we'd prefer state of the art.
The HT-BD2T connectivity offerings are slim. Aside from HDMI, video output choices are limited to component and--for non-HD televisions--composite. There are no audio outputs (which makes sense, since you're buying this package to use the surround speakers). Inputs are limited to just two optical digital ports and one set of stereo analog connectors. Combined with the dearth of video inputs, that means you'll need your TV to handle video switching duties for other AV components, such as game consoles and cable/satellite boxes. It also means that you're limited to plugging in three audio sources--two surround and one stereo--to take advantage of the HT-BD2T's speakers. In addition to the disc player and the ability to toggle among three external audio sources, the only other built-in functionality of the HT-DB2T is an FM radio.
Aside from the built-in Blu-ray player, the feature list of the Samsung HT-BD2T is actually pretty thin. That's par for the course for "lifestyle" home theater systems, but at this price, we would expect to see plenty mores--Sirius or XM satellite radio support, HDMI passthrough, video switching, or a more current Blu-ray compatibility (Profile 1.1 or 2.0 built-in, or the ability to upgrade). Also missing in action are bass and treble or any sort of tone controls. There's also no headphone jack.
For the most part, the Blu-ray player of the Samsung HT-BD2T performs pretty much in line with most other Blu-ray players we've tested--which is to say, it's pretty slow. Disc-loading times varied--some Blu-ray discs were up and running in 35 seconds, but the Sunshine Blu-ray needed a full two minutes to come to life (DVDs rolled in 15 seconds). The HT-BD2 needed five seconds to change CD tracks. Gee, we thought new technology was supposed to be not only better, but also faster. More gripes: the rear-mounted cooling fan is noisy enough to be heard during quiet movie scenes. On the bright side, the player had no trouble playing the 3:10 to Yuma Blu-ray, a disc that's proved to glitch on other Samsung players. Otherwise, we found the Blu-ray playback on the BD2T to be essentially in line with the Samsung BD-P1400, the standalone player upon which this model is based.
To assess the HT-BD2T's sonics we started with Dolby's The Sound of High-Definition Blu-ray demo disc. Switching between lossless TrueHD and standard Dolby Digital revealed little difference on the well-recorded San Francisco Symphony tracks; the Dave Matthews' Live at Radio City tracks didn't benefit from TrueHD's technically superior sonics. The HT-BD2 sounded smooth and bass was full. Detail was only average for upscale HTIBs.
With our old HTIB torture test standby now on Blu-ray, House of Flying Daggers, the HT-BD2T was unfazed by the circle of drums scene. The huge drums sounded powerful and the "thwack" sound as Ziyi Zhang kicked the massive drumheads was fairly well defined. Still, the swordplay's metallic clang sounded muted and lacked detail. We were more impressed with the HT-BD2T's capability to create a seamless, wraparound sound field, even when we only used five speakers. Moving up to full 7.1 channel surround provided only slight improvement in the surround experience. The HT-BD2T can play loud enough to fill even moderately large rooms with sound.
We next used a Blu-ray Disc, Sunshine, to see if we could hear a difference between the regular and lossless DTS Master Audio tracks. The sci-fi flick has a great, deeply layered soundtrack, but we could not detect a sonic advantage for the lossless format. Also of note: we couldn't use the picture-in-picture commentary feature on the disc, as that only works on newer Profile 1.1 Blu-ray players.
CD sound was a step down from movie sound; we felt that the HT-BD2T blurred Radiohead's atmospheric sound mixes on their In Rainbows CD. "Walk of Life" from Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms CD felt dynamically flat. Like most home theater systems, the HT-BD2T was more satisfying with movies.