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Samsung HT-TQ85 review: Samsung HT-TQ85


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.


Samsung HT-TQ85

The Good

Home theater in a box with integrated A/V receiver/five-disc DVD changer, four tower speakers, compact center speaker and subwoofer. Exceptional connectivity suite includes HDMI output up to 1080i, HDMI input for HD sources, a USB Host, and XM Satellite Radio capability. There's an optional wireless amplifier for rear channel speakers.

The Bad

There's no speaker autosetup, and the manual setup is awkwardly implemented.

The Bottom Line

If the Samsung HT-TQ85's best-in-class feature set doesn't clinch the sale, its superlative sound on DVDs and CDs will.
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.

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).

The lip-sync delay can be used to synchronize the Samsung's audio with video displays that lag behind audio signals.

Samsung doesn't provide specifics about driver sizes of the speakers or subwoofer, and since the cloth grilles aren't removable, we had no way of determining the sizes or even how many drivers are in each speaker.

It's worth noting that the HT-TQ85's features set far exceeds the last top-of-the-line Samsung HTIB we tested in 2005, the HT-DS1000, which had a suggested retail price of more than double the new model's--it was $1,199. We credit the Samsung HT-TQ85's subwoofer and speakers' seamless blend for its big-hearted sound. We cranked up The Black Keys' Magic Potion CD nice and loud and couldn't believe what we heard. Most HTIBs lack the muscle to put over the Keys' fierce blues guitar attack and heavy-duty drums, but the Samsung didn't seem to mind. It's good but still lacks the oomph you'd get from a separates-based A/V receiver driving a decent-quality speaker and subwoofer package. The stand-up bass on John Coltrane's Giant Steps CD had just the right amount of definition, and Coltrane's saxophone was natural sounding. Few competing HTIBs sound as accomplished when playing music.

The War of the Worlds DVD sound was very clear--dialogue intelligibility was above par for a midpriced HTIB, and the special effects didn't overtax the HT-TQ85. The subwoofer's bass was again a powerful presence, though its definition went south when we played the system loud. Even when pushed hard, the receiver/DVD changer never got never got more than slightly warm.

Scaling back to The Machinist, a moody, psychological thriller DVD, the HT-TQ85 impressed us with its refined sound. The film's subtle, but very effective music score seemed to come from behind the plane of the front speakers.

The vast majority of HTIBs that play DVD-Audio discs aren't fit for the job of demonstrating the high-resolution audio format's sonic appeal, but the HT-TQ85 was up to the challenge. The Grateful Dead's Workingman's Dead DVD-A sounded wonderful, the disc's surround mix, with the vocals and guitars spread front and rear, was simply gorgeous.

We'd be hard-pressed to think of another HTIB that could match the HT-TQ85's exceptional features set and stellar sound for Samsung's very reasonable $500 MSRP.


Samsung HT-TQ85

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 8