Editors' note: Although our testing of the Samsung HT-BD1250 was largely positive, Samsung Blu-ray players have consistently scored low with CNET users. We examined this issue extensively in this blog, and it's worth considering before making a buying decision.
DVD home-theater-in-box systems seem from their spec sheets to offer a lot of value, but are often seriously disappointing to use, with lackluster audio and video being the norm. So far, our experience with Blu-ray HTIBs has been the exact opposite; almost all of the systems we've tested this year offer a legitimate home theater experience and the Samsung HT-BD1250 (street price as low as $500) is the best budget system so far. We were fully expecting lifeless sound after our review of the Samsung HT-AS730, but the HT-BD1250 proved our prejudice wrong, offering credible sound quality even with stereo music--a tough feat for HTIBs. Its built-in Blu-ray player is as good as the standalone Samsung BD-P3600 and streaming options like Netflix and Pandora should fully complement your physical media collection. We had our quibbles about the usability of the design (although the system looks good) and, like all Blu-ray HTIBs at this price, it lacks HDMI inputs--you'll need to step up to the Samsung HT-BD3252 or LG LHB977 if you want HDMI connectivity. But these shortcomings are outweighed by the systems strengths. Yes, it's a little more expensive than competing budget systems, but if you can spare the extra bucks, the Samsung HT-BD1250 is well worth it.
The HT-BD1250 is a 5.1 system; the included speaker package consists of four identical, smallish speakers for the front/surround, a slim center channel, and a subwoofer.
The four bookshelf speakers sit 8.3 inches high, and have a stand built into the base. The front of the speaker has a glossy black finish, while the rest of the cabinet is matte black. Looking through the speaker grille, you'll see a rare sight on an HTIB speaker: both a tweeter and a woofer. The speakers aren't as small as the ones included with Panasonic's Blu-ray HTIBs, but we didn't find them overwhelming.
The center channel is tiny, coming in at just 11.8 inches wide by 1.9 inches high by just 2.7 inches deep, and should easily fit under any TV. It has two unusual, rounded-rectangle-shaped drivers, but Samsung doesn't provide anymore information about the speaker. The subwoofer is average-sized for an HTIB, but sounds bigger than it looks--more on that in the performance section.
The main receiver/Blu-ray player combo unit features a design that looks slick on the showroom floor, but is kind of a pain once you get it home. The front panel has a trapezoidal shape that tapers toward the bottom. It's covered with a glossy black finish, while the top of the unit is awash with Samsung's dark red "Touch of Color"; it's a distinctive look, although it's a magnet for fingerprints.
We were less impressed with the functional elements of the design. The unit looks buttonless, but that's only because the controls are touch-sensitive keys located on the top of the unit. We're not fans of touch sensitive buttons to begin with (although these work pretty well), but the top location makes them even harder to use; you need to see the markings to know where to press and if the unit is in a cabinet, that can be difficult.
Even worse is the volume control. Instead of a knob, there's a flat, spinnable disc on the top of the player, an inch or two away from the front panel. If you're thinking of stacking another device on the HT-BD1250, like a cable box or game console, you'll be blocking access to the volume knob. That's not a problem on any of the other Blu-ray HTIBs we've reviewed.
The included remote gets almost everything right, with one 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 important Blu-ray navigation buttons--pop-up menu and disc menu--are relegated to tiny buttons at the bottom, making them difficult to find.
We were starting to think that auto speaker setup was well on its way to becoming a standard feature, but we've recently reviewed a few home-theater-in-a-box systems where setup is a do-it-yourself affair.
The Samsung HT-BD1250's speaker setup is completely manual, so it's up to you to adjust the volume levels of all the speakers and subwoofer, and calculate listener-to-speaker distances. We strongly recommend performing the setup because straight out of the box the HT-BD1250's center channel volume was much too loud and the surround speakers were too low in volume.
You'll find the manual setup located in the Sound Edit part of the onscreen menu. Navigation logistics aren't the best or the worst we've seen; just follow the User Manual's instructions and you'll be fine.
However, we were disappointed to note the HT-BD1250 doesn't offer direct access to its speaker and subwoofer volume adjustments. The only way to change those is in the Sound Edit onscreen menu. To get there you first need to stop the disc, bring up the menu, make the change, and then restart the movie. That's no fun and it's worth pointing out that the competing LG's LHB953 lets you make adjustments "on-the-fly."
The HT-BD1250's built-in Blu-ray player has essentially all the same functionality as Samsung's standalone BD-P3600, except the 7.1 analog outputs. You can read the full review for more information, but the main points are it has full Profile 2.0 compatibility, onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, and streaming content from both Netflix and Pandora. You'll need an Internet connection to access BD-Live features or Netflix/Pandora; the HT-BD1250 has an Ethernet port for a wired connection and it's also compatible with the Samsung LinkStick WIS09ABGN USB Wi-Fi dongle, although its $80 price tag makes that option much less attractive.
The HT-BD1250 comes with an iPod dock that you connect to the back panel. The inclusion of the dock is nice, but we like the integrated docks available on Panasonic and LG HTIBs more, as there's less clutter. Playing back music is easy and you can browse by standard iPod categories like artist, album and genre. The playback screen is a little disappointing; there's no album art or even artist name. The interface on the competing LHB953 is easily superior and more responsive. The HT-BD1250 also allows you to play back videos stored on the iPod, but, annoyingly, it requires you to make a separate composite video connection to your TV. To be fair, that's the story with pretty much all iPod docks included with HTIBs this year.
Like most Blu-ray HTIBs, the HT-BD1250's connectivity is limited to audio inputs; there are no video inputs. That means with additional components, like a cable box or game console, you'll need to make separate connections to the HT-BD1250 and your TV, plus you'll have to fumble with several remotes to get it all working. (Alternatively, you can avoid some of the hassle with a quality universal remote.) As mentioned before, the LG LHB977 (street price of less than $600) and Samsung HT-BD3252 ($800 list price) each have two HDMI inputs, so they might be a better choice if you have other HDMI gear, such as game consoles and DVRs.
The HT-BD1250 has two optical-digital audio inputs and one stereo-analog audio input, which is average, although we would have liked at least one coaxial digital-audio input. Each of these inputs are selectable by pressing the "Aux" button several times, so you can connect three separate components to the HT-BD1250. There's also a USB port up front, which can playback MP3 and JPEG files. Finally, Samsung touts a PC-streaming function as well, but--as with the BD-P3600 Blu-ray player--we couldn't get this to work at all.
The HT-BD1250 is "wireless rear speaker ready," meaning that you need to purchase the additional SWA-4000 accessory to enable wireless rear speaker functionality. Like virtually all wireless speaker systems, you still need to run speaker wires from the SWA-4000 to your rear speakers, but at least you won't have to run speaker wires from the front of your home theater to the back. (We did not have the SWA-4000 on hand, so we were not able to test this functionality.)
We've not going to waste any time hinting at the HT-BD1250's sonic virtues: It's simply the best in its class. The HT-BD1250 sounds great on music and movies, with remarkably good clarity, bass extension/definition, and low overall distortion. In fact, the sound was so well balanced we never felt the need to readjust the speaker or subwoofer volume levels after the initial setup. That very rarely happens with HTIBs.
In the "Knowing" DVD, astrophysicist John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) attempts to stop catastrophes before they happen. It's not a great movie, but it has a good number of special effect scenes you can use to test the stamina of HTIBs. We're betting few will withstand the subway derailing scene as well as the HT-BD1250 did. The clarity was exceptional, from the train's screeching steel wheels to the sound of grinding metal as a subway car slams its sides across the walls of the underground tunnel. The subway car next jumps up onto the platform and flattens panicked crowds standing in the subway station. We played the scene again, marveling at the way the HT-BD1250 handled the mayhem, even after we turned the volume up a bit.
It's the sort of thing that can easily overtax HTIB subwoofers, but not the HT-BD1250's. Sure, play that scene really loud, or try to fill a very large room and the HT-BD1250 will cry uncle. But in average-sized rooms the HT-BD1250 should satisfy most home theater fans.
Rocking out with the Rolling Stones "Shine A Light" Blu-ray, the band's punch and impact came through like gangbusters. Surround ambiance was pleasing. The HT-BD1250 sounds noticeably less dynamically compressed than HTIBs with similarly sized speakers and subwoofers.
Few HTIBs of any size can sound credible with solo piano CDs, but the HT-BD1250 truly shined with Joel Fan's excellent "West of the Sun" release. We listened in stereo and Dolby Pro Logic II surround; both were good, but we preferred stereo. The naturalness of the piano tone was striking, and even the lower-register keys had just the right weight. We credit that to the HT-BD1250's subwoofer, as its refined sound perfectly matched the satellites. The sats kept up their part of the bargain, delivering effortless midrange and treble resolution.
Editors' note: We've confirmed with Samsung that the HT-BD1250's integrated Blu-ray players uses the same video processor as the standalone Samsung BD-P3600. Our testing showed nearly identical results, therefore, this section of the review is nearly identical.
When reviewing HTIBs with a built-in DVD player, we'd preemptively wince when we got to the image quality tests--it usually wasn't pretty. Blu-ray players have shown significantly less variance in image quality performance, but we were still a little skeptical when we loaded in Silicon Optix's HQV test suite on Blu-ray. The HT-BD1250 was connected to the LG 47LH50 via HDMI.
The HT-BD1250 outperformed our expectations on the test disc. It aced the Video Resolution Test, showing the full detail of Blu-ray without any jaggies showing up on the rotating white line. Next up were two video-based jaggies tests and the HT-BD1250 performed well again, with crisp image quality free of jaggies. It passed the Film Resolution Test as well, depicting both the initial test pattern and the long panning shot of Raymond James Stadium without major image defects.
We switched over to actual program material, and the HT-BD1250 didn't let up. We fired up "Mission: Impossible III" and the panning sequence at the beginning of chapter eight looked perfect, lacking any moire visible in the stairs. It also handled Chapter 16 well, with the trimming of the limo looking jaggy-free as it approaches Tom Cruise. Next we looked at "Ghost Rider" and the end of chapter six was properly rendered, with the HT-BD1250 showing no moire in the grille of the RV as the camera pans away. Last up was the video-based "Tony Bennett: An American Classic" and the HT-BD1250 did an acceptable job, with only a few jaggies visible in the striped shirts of the dancers.
The bottom line is the HT-BD1250 provides excellent image quality on Blu-ray movies--as good as standalone models. There's no reason to expect inferior performance from the built-in Blu-ray player, like with their DVD counterparts.
We also expected the HT-BD1250 to feature a slower processor (and therefore, slower load times) than the standalone BD-P3600, but our testing showed that wasn't the case. The HT-BD1250 loaded "Mission: Impossible III" in a blazing 12 seconds with the player on; the same disc took the PS3 13 seconds, and the Panasonic DMP-BD60 21 seconds. With discs with more elaborate menu systems, the HT-BD1250 was still quick, getting to the actual movie section of "Pirates of the Caribbean" in a minute and 15 seconds, compared with a minute and 53 seconds on the DMP-BD60; the PS3 took a minute and 22 seconds to load this disc. While a dozen seconds here or there may not seem like much, it goes a long way toward making the player more enjoyable to use.
There are still many more movies available on standard DVD than Blu-ray, so standard-definition performance still matters. We started off looking at test patterns from Silicon Optix's HQV test suite, with the HT-BD1250 upscaling to 1080p.
The HT-BD1250 started off strong, resolving all the detail of the initial resolution pattern without any of the image instability that we sometimes see on lesser players. Next up were two video-based jaggies tests, and the HT-BD1250 stumbled, failing both tests; jaggies were visible on both the rotating white line and three pivoting lines. On the other hand, it had no problems with the 2:3 pull-down test, as we couldn't see any moire in the grandstands as the race car drove by.
We moved onto program material, starting with "Star Trek: Insurrection," and the HT-BD1250 deftly handled the introduction, rendering both the hulls of the boats and the curved bridge railings smoothly. We flipped over to the difficult introduction of "Seabiscuit" and the HT-BD1250 performed well again, lacking the jaggies and other image distortions that so frequently show up on this disc. That being said, we had the Panasonic SC-BT200 on hand to directly compare, and we'd give the nod to the Panasonic for DVD playback, as it had a slightly cleaner and sharper look to it.