The fast-paced home-theater-in-box (HTIB) market keeps manufacturers on their toes, with intense demand for new features and lower prices. Even a cursory perusal of Samsung's new HT-TQ85 ($530 list) flagship system will demonstrate how the brand thrives in this highly competitive environment. The HT-TQ85 sports not only an HDMI output, but it's the first HTIB we've seen with an HDMI input. And sure, XM Ready A/V receivers are increasingly common, but that capability is rarely found in HTIBs--same with USB connectivity--and the Samsung HT-TQ85 is one of few to offer both. There's also an optional, wireless surround-speaker amplifier available for buyers who'd rather not run wires from the front to the back of their home theaters. It's not all good news, but missteps aren't of the deal-breaking sort: the HT-TQ85 lacks speaker autosetup, and the manual setup is hardly a cakewalk. Still, the sound on CDs and DVDs is right up there with best HTIBs we've tested in the midprice class. In short, if you're looking to spend around $500 on an HTIB, the Samsung HT-TQ85 definitely warrants serious consideration. Samsung's new flagship home theater in a box picks up on the styling cues from its BD-P1000 Blu-ray player and 2006 HDTV line. The HT-TQ85's head unit (a combined A/V receiver, amplifier, and DVD changer), speakers, and subwoofer are finished in semigloss black with silver toned accents. The blue circle of light inside the receiver's volume control looks cool.
The five-disc DVD changer/receiver is 3 inches tall and 17 inches wide and deep, so it might be too deep to fit inside your cabinet or entertainment center. The changer mechanism is unusually smooth and quiet as it goes about its business. The skinny remote is pretty good overall. We never had to fumble to find the centrally located light gray volume up/down buttons--they're much larger than the other tiny black buttons on the black remote--but the close proximity of the Play and Stop buttons led to frequent mistakes.
While the five black, plastic speakers make no pretense that they're made from anything but black plastic, the black cloth grilles add some refinement to the overall look. Assembling the tallboy tower speakers--each one comes in three parts--is simple enough, requiring 15 or so minutes to get all four done. Once they're assembled, they stand 41.1 inches tall, and the center speaker is a mere 11.8 inches wide. Don't have the floor space? All five speakers have keyhole slots for easy-does-it wall mounting. The matching, medium-density fiberboard subwoofer feels a little more substantial, and it's 15.7 inches tall.
We were surprised to note that the HT-TQ85 doesn't have a speaker autosetup/calibration feature. That wouldn't be a big deal if the factory's default speaker settings were acceptable, but they're not. The center speaker's volume is too low so dialogue is hard to hear clearly, and the surround speakers' volume is also too low. You can correct those deficiencies by exploring the HT-TQ85's manual speaker setup, which isn't the most logical or easy to use. While you're in setup mode, you might also want to try to set the speakers' delay settings, which are unfortunately complicated by Samsung's awkward system that asks the user to calculate millisecond delays for the center and surround speakers; on most systems, you enter the actual distances between each speaker and the prime listening position. That said, getting the delay settings right isn't nearly as important as setting the speakers' volume levels correctly. Straight out of the box, the subwoofer's volume was set to the Flat (0 dB) setting, and the sound was much too bassy for our tastes when listening to music. Using the Sound Edit button on the remote, we turned the subwoofer volume down, and that did the trick. For the other onscreen setup details, such as setting TV aspect ratio, the onscreen display navigation was straightforward.The Samsung HT-TQ85's power amplifiers are rated at 140 watts for each of the five satellite channels and 160 watts for the subwoofer channel. The five-disc carousel style changer plays DVD, DVD-Audio, DVD-R/RW, CD, CD-R/RW, and DivX discs, as well as MP3, WMA, and JPEG photo files. Dolby Digital, Pro Logic II, and DTS surround processing are included.
Video connectivity covers HDMI (with Faroujda DCDI upscaling up to 1080i), component, S-Video, and composite video outputs; and one HDMI input. The HT-TQ85 is the first HTIB we've tested with an HDMI input, so you could hook up, say, an HDMI-equipped HD cable box to the HT-TQ85. On the downside, there are no other video inputs, so you won't have any of the video-switching capability offered on even entry-level standalone A/V receivers, but this is par for the course for HTIBs. The one curious thing we noticed was that in order to hear audio over the system's tallboy speakers when using HDMI, the HT-TQ85's HDMI Audio On/Off selector must be set to Off. The On setting routes the audio through your TV's speakers. Luckily, the factory default setting is Off, but the labeling makes no sense to us--why not call it HDMI Pass-Through instead?
Audio connections include two analog stereo inputs and one optical digital input. It's XM-Ready, which means you can just add an XM Connect-and-Play or Mini-Tuner antenna, sign up for an XM subscription, and you're set for XM reception. The HT-TQ85 has seven pairs of spring-clip speaker connectors to hook up just five speakers and a subwoofer. The extra pair of connectors feeds the center speaker's second input--Samsung doesn't provide any explanation of the unusual wiring scheme. The HT-TQ85 is also compatible with the company's optional wireless amplifier system, the Samsung SWA-3000, for the rear-channel tower speakers, but keep in mind that this will cost you another $150. The front panel's USB port supports MPEG video playback, MP3, WMA, and JPEG. iPod users can plug into one of the rear panel's stereo audio inputs with a stereo-miniplug-to-RCA adapter cable (not included).