These days, a home-theater-in-a-box system comes in one of three basic designs: an all-in-one package that includes a built-in DVD or Blu-ray player; a "soundbar" system that consolidates everything into a single speaker bar that can be mounted under a flat-panel TV; or a component system that basically boxes a full-on AV receiver with a matching 5.1-channel speaker system. The Samsung HT-AS730 is an example of that latter type, and it boasts the advantage of better than average connectivity. You need to supply the disc player, but that's only one of three HDMI sources the Samsung can accept; it can also handle some audio-only sources, and it includes the requisite iPod dock. Unfortunately, the system's $500 price tag implies that it should have an even more impressive feature set or deliver above-average sonics. Unfortunately, despite its better than average array of ports, the Samsung HT-AS730 is hobbled by unimpressive sound quality, finicky HDMI ports, unreadable display, and a tedious input system that will have you looking elsewhere for a comprehensive home theater solution.
The Samsung HT-AS730 is a "component-style" home theater system, which means that it's basically a full-on AV receiver that's boxed up with a matching 5.1 speaker system. No DVD or Blu-ray player is included--the implication being that you already have a disc player or game console on hand.
The system's receiver looks slick enough, completely masked in a polished black plastic. We were shocked to see how light the entire unit was (less than 7 pounds) considering it measures in at 15.24 inches tall by 12.2 inches wide by 16.85 inches deep. The front flap hides various controls, which can also be accessed via the remote control along with a quarter-inch headphone jack and composite input.
For what's an otherwise solid design, we did have a lot of problems reading the receiver's display. The dimly lit LCD is completely useless unless you're standing right in front of it. Unfortunately the dimmer button didn't help as we were already on the brightest setting.
The included remote control is a bit intimidating at first, but it does give you plenty of control over the receiver and other devices should you choose to program them into the remote. Buttons are laid out logically throughout, although the function bank at the bottom can get a bit overwhelming. It can also be programmed to control several brands of TVs and DVD players, and it can also control Samsung Blu-ray players. As always, though, we recommend getting a more capable universal remote.
As far as connectivity goes, the AS730 has a lot to offer--at least at first glance. In addition to three switchable HDMI sources, it can accommodate two component and four composite inputs as well. (Like most AV systems nowadays, the HT-AS730 has no S-Video connections.) For audio, you can take advantage of up to four digital sources (three optical, one coaxial).
While the HT-AS730 offers a decent connectivity suite for a home theater system, there are caveats. First off, there's no video upconversion. That means for each input type--HDMI, component, or composite--you'll need to run a corresponding output cable to your TV, and switch inputs there accordingly. Also keep in mind that there's a maximum of five AV sources (four on the back, plus the front-panel auxiliary) to toggle between--so you could have three HDMI sources (game console, Blu-ray player, and DVR on HDMI, plus a Nintendo Wii on component, for instance).
Once we mastered all of our input settings, we were upset to find that our HDMI connections were occasionally unreliable. For example, when switching between devices, we would get stuck with a blank picture. Only after unplugging and plugging in our HDMI cable were we able to see picture. We experienced this issue when switching about 30 percent of the time. Also, we found that it didn't matter what we were switching from; the problem happened as long as you were landing on an HDMI input.
The AS730 also comes with an iPod dock that is compatible with all iPods and iPhones that have a dock connection port. We should note that using the iPhone with the AS730 automatically puts the device into airplane mode. There is no onscreen navigation for music playback, so while you can use the remote, you're still going to need to hover over your iPod to see what you're doing. The same is the case with iPod video playback. Additionally, the iPod must be in TV out mode for it to play through the receiver. Video quality is on average with most HTIBs we've seen with similar functionality.
The system is sold as a 5.1 configuration (five speakers plus a subwoofer), but the receiver includes amplification and speaker connections for a 7.1 system. Happily, the receiver uses standard five-way binding posts instead of proprietary speaker connectors, so you can upgrade to any standard set of home theater speakers down the road.
The AS730 can only decode standard Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, not the Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS Master Audio tracks found on Blu-ray Discs. However, the unit's analog 7.1 audio inputs allow it to play those advanced soundtracks from Blu-ray players with built-in high-definition audio decoding. (Whether you can hear the difference is debatable, however.)