Though it was undoubtedly the most expensive TV we reviewed in 2010, the Samsung C9000 "LED" was also one of the best. For the handful of people who actually bought one, Samsung has now released the accompanying home theatre system — at a much more reasonable price.
Of course, you don't need to own a Series 9 TV to enjoy this home theatre system, but it helps.
While Samsung's flagship TV was constructed from stainless steel, this home cinema is made of more modest materials: a brushed metal veneer and a series of tough plastic enclosures. This is a 7.1 speaker system and when fully assembled in your living area it looks quite imposing. The metallic drivers at the centre of each enclosure are quite striking, but strangely not all of the speakers are the same size. We were a little disappointed to see that the centre channel is a bit smaller, and as it carries the majority of the sound in a movie it would have helped the system if it were the same size as the tallboy satellites.
The four tallboys come with matching stands and so too does the central receiver, which also comes with a natty table stand. You could be forgiven for thinking that the table-mounted Samsung was in fact the BeoSound 5 with its metallic slab looks and its central control ring.
The system comes with a large, silver subwoofer which is used to connect all of the speakers and external devices.
The remote control is a delightful affair which comes with a tactile fascia and backlit buttons.
As Samsung's top-of-the-range home theatre system, the HT-C9950W features most of the bells and whistles befitting such a product, though with one important exception.
The HT-C9950W surround system consists of a 3D Blu-ray player with access to Samsung's Internet@TV platform for streaming content and Samsung Apps. The set-up also enables network streaming via the AllShare feature with MKV support, and while the system also features a USB port, it doesn't support the iPod/iPhone. Cruelly, the system will successfully detect the device, but then tell you it can't play anything from it. You do have the option of plugging it into one of the aux jacks, though. Interestingly, the US version features an iPod dock and the local images have been photoshopped to remove it!
Cheeky! A comparison of the Australian version (left) and US version (right) of the HT-C9950W clearly shows the iPod dock has been photoshopped out. (Credit: Samsung/CBS Interactive)
The system supports most of the applicable sound standards including Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD and even Dolby Pro Logic IIz for the added "height" channels. To help with audio set-up the system also includes a set-up microphone. Additionally, you have the option of calibrating the system manually with a test tone, but this is fiddly and the noise incredibly piercing.
While the kit features wireless surrounds, it is only this way if you use it as a 5.1 set — the surround left and right connect to a separate wireless box. If you use the Samsung in a standard 7.1 configuration with two "Surround Back" channels, it will mean trailing a set of wires across your lounge room from those two speakers.
Connectivity includes two HDMI inputs (with ARC), one stereo RCA input, Ethernet and an optical digital. Video output is via HDMI, naturally.
In our experience, home cinema kits with automated set-ups can be as much a hindrance as they are a help. Sometimes they can misread one of the channels and make it way too loud or too soft for the rest of the system. Surprisingly, Samsung's system worked a treat, and the effect it had on surround sound integration was well worth the effort.
For example, before we ran the set-up we found that the rear effects channels were distractingly loud, but with a wave of the magic microphone they became a tight-knit unit. This was particularly noticeable during the 7.1-channel mix of Daybreakers from the Spierig brothers, with the speakers creating a highly desirable "bubble" of sound enveloping the listener.
While the small centre speaker made some actors more nasally than usual, Jack Black in King Kong comes to mind, the full set did pull together with surround steering and explosions alike delivered in a convincing manner.
Music wasn't quite as successful as movies though, and given the AV-centric nature of this system it's not a surprise. Sound was full of sparkling details, but there was no real sense of depth, and with PJ Harvey's single "The Words That Maketh Murder" it sounded like all the artists were playing on a single sheet of paper. However, integration between the subwoofer and satellites was tight with little of the "one-note bass" that these systems can suffer from.
You wouldn't want to turn the system up too loudly, however; as while the sound was balanced at halfway at three quarters and above, the sub started to struggle. The system isn't loud enough to run a room with music at party levels, and we find this amusing as we know of a bar in Sydney that is trying to use one of these systems to do exactly that. Not surprisingly, the proprietor runs the system so loud that the sound becomes mushy and boomy.
Video quality has been one of the strengths of Samsung's video players and it continued here. Whether it was upscaling a DVD or replaying a Blu-ray, the player was able to deliver an image with detail and depth but without any pesky blocking or buzzing noise issues. The player was also able to lock onto a native 24p image and deliver it without any jerkiness or judder.
When given a copy of the Samsung-only Monsters vs. Aliens 3D Blu-ray, the 3D image was solid and natural rather than "flashy", and it was free of headache-inducing cross-talk. The system did struggle with the disc's menus though, as they appeared oddly transparent.
Loading times are a little slower than the most cutting edge players, and this is mostly due to the slot-loading mechanism. It took 42.4 seconds to start a copy of Vantage Point, which almost beats a PS3 but not the speedy Sony BDP-S470.
At AU$2399 this system is a step above most home-theatre-in-a-box systems. While the fit and finish are what you'd expect for the price, the Samsung is missing key features such as iPhone support and "true" wireless surround, and it's not able to fully deliver musically.
If you want a system that will truly match the C9000 pound for pound, then unfortunately you really need to spend another $10,000. To our minds, if you're buying a cutting-edge TV it will pay to spend as much or even more on a suitable sound system. That said, this is a likeable system, and will match a mid-range TV quite well.