The photo may not do it justice, but labelling the Samsung HT-P1200 as simply 'attractive' would be a huge understatement. It's gorgeous. The towering tallboy speakers, sub and futuristic DVD player/receiver are encased in an attractive black metal chassis that's reminiscent of Bang & Olufsen and its famed designs. Aesthetics are especially important in a home theatre system, so it's refreshing to see that Samsung took the time to get things right.
Installation is fairly simple, thanks to the well presented manual. In fact, mounting the four speakers and the main receiver unit to their respective stands is as complicated as it gets. Each of the speakers connects to a spring terminal at the rear of the subwoofer, and the sub is then hooked up to the six-channel receiver using a DIN Audio cable. None of the speakers are wireless, but this is only problematic in the case of the rear units as the wiring is difficult to conceal.
The HT-P1200's total RMS power rating is 800 watts, split up into 130 watts for each of the five satellite speakers and 150 watts for the subwoofer. Some manufacturers prefer to devote more power to the front and centre speakers than the rear speakers, but we prefer Samsung's method as it ensures that the rear channel isn't drowned out.
Although this is predominantly an audio system, the unit boasts a progressive scan DVD player supporting all major formats: DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, VCD, SACD, MP3-CD, WMA-CD, DivX, CD-R/RW and DVD-R/RW. As far as sound formats go, the HT-P1200 is capable of decoding Dolby Digital, DTS and Dolby Pro Logic II, which should cover you for most applications. Further, it'll also function as a JPEG photo viewer, and images can be rotated on the fly as well as displayed in a slideshow. It's even got an integrated FM tuner for those times when your CD collection becomes unbearably monotonous.
Yet one of the system's most interesting features is its USB host capability. Rather than copying playable files to disc, users can simply plug their MP3 player, digital camera or USB memory stick directly into the HT-P1200's USB port for instant playback. We tested this feature using a Canon Powershot G6 digital camera, an Apple iPod and a no-name thumb drive, and all worked without a hitch. The unit lacks a memory card reader, but its USB host support virtually negates the need for this feature anyway.
The unit connects to a TV via the Composite, Component or HDMI outputs; with the latter being a particularly attractive inclusion since it's frequently bypassed by competing manufacturers. HDMI offers superior quality due to its ability to transmit DVD video and 8-channel audio signals digitally, without the quality-reducing process of converting to analog. That said, you'll obviously need a recent display featuring a HDMI input to benefit.
Calibrating the HT-P1200 for optimal performance is a breeze thanks to the bundled calibration microphone. Simply plug the mic into the input jack, place it at the listener's position (i.e. on your couch) and press the 'ASC' button on the remote. The process takes around two minutes, and is designed to optimise the 5.1 surround sound field by detecting the distances between speakers, among other things.
Despite the automatic calibration, we found the default bass settings to be on the soft side, and quickly kicked it up a notch. Regardless, low-end sound reproduction is clear and far from muddy, as long as bass settings are kept at reasonable levels. Similarly, mid and high-end sounds are crisp even at ear-piercingly loud volume levels, thanks in part to the powerful 130W satellite speakers. This is the case in both DVD playback and most music playback, albeit some acoustic music lacked the warmth found on other similarly priced systems.
Surround performance is superb, with each channel having an equal presence and minor sound effects from the rear channels being clearly audible. We were also extremely impressed with the system's headphone playback quality. Hitting the V-H/P button on the remote engages the 'Virtual Headphone' function, which effectively simulates a 5.1 surround environment. In a similar vein, there are a number of different 'Live Surround' modes for regular speaker playback, namely Super 5.1, Music and Movie. Super 5.1 up-samples stereo sound sources (e.g. regular audio CDs) into 5.1 surround sound, while Music provides a similar function but adds the ability to simulate different listening environments, such as a concert hall, jazz club or cathedral. The Movie mode, among other sound field modes, includes a 'Virtual 9.1' setting that attempts to simulate the 9.1 channel sound of a movie theatre.
Of course, none of the aforementioned simulations can replace a true surround sound source, but they're still essential since otherwise, you'll mostly be using just two of the five speakers. This is because most audio sources are in stereo form, including CD audio, DivX and MP3 files.
All in all, the Samsung HT-P1200 is an attractive, well equipped HTIB system that's virtually impossible to fault. Bonus features such as HDMI support, USB host capabilities and the ability to play back almost any file format show that Samsung is dedicated to adding value on top of the generic feature-set.