In terms of value, it's hard to beat a home-theater-in-a-box system. While these systems have long bundled the home theater basics--DVD player, amplifier, and surround-sound speakers--into one package, manufacturers have continually upped the ante in recent years with more and more features. Samsung's HT-TZ512T is an excellent case in point. Yes, it's got the DVD player (actually a five-disc CD/DVD changer), amplifier (built into the same DVD unit), and 5.1 surround speakers (including front "tallboys"), but it adds plenty of other now-standard extras, including HDMI output with 1080p upconversion, an iPod dock, and wireless rear speakers. The TZ512T also boasts better-than-average compatibility with digital media formats (playable by plugging a storage device into the unit's USB port). With all of that built-in, it's not terribly surprising that the HT-TZ512T doesn't have the capacity to accept many connections from other AV sources (meaning, you'll have to use your TV to toggle to other game consoles, DVRs, Blu-ray players, and so forth). But with a street price of $400--and sound quality that will satisfy most nonaudiophile listeners--the Samsung HT-TZ512T largely delivers as an entry-level home theater system with plenty of bells and whistles.
The system's "head unit" houses the DVD player and amplifier. It's a nice, slim housing, but wide enough to make room for the five-disc carousel it houses. The black plastic encasing should match most HDTVs and others electronics. The front of the unit is laid out well, with a nice flip-down panel that hides a USB port, headphone jack, and an auxiliary-in port. Beyond DVD and CD playback, the TZ512T also has an FM radio and is XM-ready (add an XM Mini-Tuner antenna--and an XM subscription--to receive the satellite radio service).
Otherwise, connectivity is pretty basic. Beyond the standard composite, component, and HDMI video outputs (no S-Video), the rear panel has just two audio-only inputs: one analog stereo connection (red and white RCA jacks) and one optical audio input (for surround audio sources). That means you can only have the audio outputs of, say, a Nintendo Wii (stereo) and a cable/satellite box (surround) connected to the rear panel of the unit, and you'll have to use your TV for video-switching duties.
The HT-TZ512T can upscale video up to 1080p resolution when connected to an HDTV via HDMI. We've found upscaling to be an increasingly irrelevant feature--your HDTV's built-in scaling will usually do a better job. No, you won't get a picture that's anywhere near as good as Blu-ray, but--for nonvideophiles, at least--the Samsung's upscaling prowess is more than acceptable for the average consumer.
Digital media fans will appreciate that the TZ512T can pull a decent variety of files from a USB drive plugged into the front panel. File support includes JPEG picture files, MP3 and WMA audio files, and WMV and DivX video files. Also, the unit can play the preceding files if they are burned onto a disc (CD-R only) as well. The graphic interface for navigation and playing these files is quite intuitive. In fact, it ranks up there with some of the easiest experiences we've had with these types of setups. Furthermore, we had 100 percent playback compatibility with all the files we tested.
An iPod dock is also included, but be aware that the system only supports fourth-generation iPods and higher; this also includes the iPod Touch and iPhone. Navigating and controlling your iPod is easy with the system's remote and uses the same graphic interface as with media files. That said, we were a bit disappointed, however, to find that the unit cannot play any videos off an iPod.
The system's remote is a derivation of the one you'd find with Samsung TVs. It's laid out well and is easy to operate and can be programmed to control any other model TV you may have.
The five speakers are slickly designed and have a thin fabric over their grilles. The front left and right speakers are 4-foot slim tallboys that can be stashed away on either side of your TV. The 16-inch subwoofer is a passive model (not self-powered). All three front speakers (and the subwoofer) connect to the head unit with standard wire-clip connectors rather than proprietary plugs--so you could theoretically add your own speakers, if you'd like.
One of the main attractions of the HT-Z512T is the wireless rear surround speakers. An included wireless receiver must be placed in the rear of your listening room and it must be near a power source. The rear left and right surround speakers are then wired up to this device which in-turn syncs to the main receiver up front via a small transceiver (about the size of a USB thumbdrive) that sticks out of the back of the unit. Like with all of these wireless rear speaker packages, the solution isn't wireless per se, but it does prevent the need to run those two longest front-to-back wires along your floor. Moreover, setup was painless--truly plug-and-play--and the sound quality was excellent, free of the sort of hiss that you often hear with such wireless hookups.