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performed well, but the dearth of upgradeability to newer Profile 1.1 and 2.0 Blu-ray specs means that it's already outdated.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.