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Samsung HT-X70 review: Samsung HT-X70

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When we reviewed the Samsung HT-TQ85 late in 2006, we were impressed by its slick design, excellent feature set, and stellar sound. The HT-X70 has a similar feature set to the HT-TQ85--HDMI input and output, USB port, DVD upconversion, XM-ready--but features significantly smaller speakers, designed to blend into your living room instead of taking it over. We definitely liked the styling on this smaller unit, but couldn't help but feeling that the lack of size held the HT-X70 from rocking out on music, although it still managed to deliver enough oomph with movies. One other nitpick we had was the "Made for iPod" marketing on the box--it included a cable to connect to an iPod, but you can't navigate your iPod using the onscreen display, which limits its appeal. Still, the HT-X70 is a solid choice with an excellent feature set and slick design. More sonics-conscious listeners may wish to step up to Samsung's offerings with larger speakers.

7.1

Samsung HT-X70

The Good

Home theater in a box with integrated AV receiver/five-disc DVD changer; HDMI output with upscaling to up to 1080i; single HDMI input to connect a high-def source; stylish design with small speakers; XM-ready.

The Bad

Sounds better with movies than with music; no automatic speaker calibration; can't browse iPod with onscreen menus; no analog video inputs

The Bottom Line

The Samsung HT-X70 is stylish and has a great feature set for the price, but it sounds better on movies than with music.

Design
The HT-X70 has the typical look of a Samsung product. The front panel of the receiver/DVD-changer is black and split horizontally into two sections, with both the top and the bottom sloping in toward the middle, which makes it stand out a little from standard AV products. On the bottom half, there's a power button to the far left that is surrounded by a bright blue light--bright enough that we appreciated the dimmer button on the remote, which turns the light off and dims the display. You can also flip down the section surrounding the power button to reveal some extra connectivity, including a USB port, headphone jack, and auxiliary input. Further right is the LCD screen, which is easy enough to read from a seating distance of about 7 feet back.


We appreciated the direct access buttons to each disc in the changer.

Still further right are a few front panel controls--including function, play, stop, chapter forward/backward--plus a large silver volume knob. The top half of the front panel mostly houses the carousel-style five-disc DVD tray. Along the very top of the far right are five buttons to select an individual disc. The overall size of the main unit is smaller than a standard AV receiver, but larger than a slimline DVD player, coming in at 3 inches high and 17 inches wide and deep.


The speaker jacks are located on the back of the main unit, instead of on the subwoofer like some other HTIBs.

The five speakers are essentially identical in design, with the only slight difference being that the center channel does not have a flat bottom--it's designed to lie horizontally. Each speaker measured 11.8 inches high by 3.5 inches wide by 4.5 inches deep and has rounded corners to give it a sleek look. The speakers are completely black and feature a nonremovable grille up front.

While the whole design is slick, we were especially impressed with the styling of the subwoofer. It's tough to make a sub look good, but the HT-X70's subwoofer has a nice understated design that won't make you rush to hide it in the corner. Like the speakers, it's also all black with rounded corners, and from the front there's a slightly opening for the bass port, which gives it a very modern look. Note that it's not a powered subwoofer, so you won't need to plug it into the wall for power.

There's no doubt the physical unit looks nice, but the user interface doesn't quite match it in the looks department. Compared to other home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs), it's standard fare, but it would be nice if HDMI-equipped HTIBs featured slick high-def graphics, since they'll almost certainly be hooked up to HDTVs. We also found several of the menus to be considerably confusing or awkward, especially when setting the speaker levels. Of course, other HTIBs--albeit ones that are generally more expensive--offer automatic speaker calibration, which would make this less of a problem.


The remote is pretty good for general tasks, but more advanced functions can be a pain to use.

The remote will be familiar to anyone who's used a Samsung DVD player in the past. Overall, the layout is pretty good, as the directional pad is nicely located and there's at least some differentiation between the play, stop, and fast-forward/rewind buttons to make it possible to navigate by feel, rather than having to look at the remote. However, whenever we had to use one of the more advanced functions, we found ourselves getting confused. For example, to change the output resolution, you need to hold down the SD/HD button, and then it will cycle to the next resolution--we had to consult the manual to figure that out. To execute even a relatively simple function like Disc Skip, you need to press a button labeled "TV/Video" that has "Disc Skip" written above it. Once we figured out all the functions via trial and error, we got the hang of it, but it's not simple enough for a guest to figure out right away. Another quick note regarding the remote--we did find it difficult to the control the HT-X70 once the disc tray was ejected, as it seemed to block the IR signal from reaching the player. We were able to get it to work by aiming the remote from down low, but it was still a pain.

Features
The HT-X70 has a built-in, five-disc DVD player and is equipped with standard Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Pro Logic II, and DTS surround decoding options. The HT-X70 also has support for DVD-Audio, a niche high-resolution audio format. Additionally, the HT-X70 is capable of playing DivX, MP4, and JPEG files, whether they are burned on a DVD/CD or via the USB port on the front.


The USB port under the flip-down tray makes it easy to listen to a quick song or browse pictures without burning a disc.

Connectivity is pretty solid for an HTIB in this price range. Most impressive is the HDMI connectivity--not only is there an HDMI output capable of upconverting DVDs, but there's also an HDMI input to connect one digital high-def component. (Add a cheap HDMI switcher, and you can triple, quadruple, or even quintuple that capacity.) For analog video, there's a component video output and a composite video output--but note that there are no other video inputs, which would have been a nice upgrade. There are however, three audio inputs--stereo analog RCA jacks and an optical digital audio input on the rear panel, and a minijack input up front. You can still connect a video component to the HT-X70 by running the audio cables to the HT-X70 and the video cables to the spare input on your TV, but you'll have to do some remote fumbling to switch the inputs on both devices--you'd be wise to look into buying a universal remote to handle the duties. There's also an XM port, which means you'll only need to connect an XM Mini-Tuner to get reception--provided you have a subscription, of course.


The HDMI input allows you to connect one HDMI-capable device, such as a cable box or game console.

You'll also notice there's a slot in the back that says "Wireless." This is used for interfacing with Samsung's wireless rear speaker system, the SWA-3000. The SWA-3000 comes with a TX card, which you slide into the slot, and then it can communicate with the base station, which connects to the rear speakers. Of course, you'll still need to plug in the base station, plus run speaker wire to each speaker--so there are three cables in this "wireless" solution--but at least you don't have to run cables from the front of the room all the way to the back.

Many buyers may be disappointed by the HT-X70's iPod compatibility, especially considering it features the "Made for iPod" logo on the box. We appreciated that the HT-X70 came with an iPod cable, which has an iPod connector on one end and a USB and minijack cable on the other. That struck us as strange, but we proceeded to connect an iPod Nano using both cables anyway. When we selected the USB input on the HT-X70, our Nano went into "connected mode" and we were able to browse the folders on our Nano--with one big problem. When we went into music, we could only see folders named "F01" and "F02," instead of artist names. A similar problem existed with the actual files, as they were named just a random series of letters instead of a song title. Clearly, that's not an acceptable solution. Switching the input to Aux 1 was a better situation. This basically just treated our Nano like any other external audio device--so we had to browse for songs on the Nano instead of using an onscreen display--but this was preferable to the USB connection. Given these limitations, we think the "Made for iPod" claim is a bit of a stretch.

Video performance
We started off our test of the video quality performance of the HT-X70 using Silicon Optix's HQV test suite. The HT-X70 got off to a good start with the first resolution test, demonstrating its ability to display the full resolution of DVDs in 1080i mode, although it failed in both 480p mode and 720p mode. The next few tests weren't good, though--playback was jerky and filled with jaggies on tests depicting a rotating line, three pivoting lines, and a flag waving in the wind. It also had a difficult time with the HQV's 2:3 pulldown test--it clearly failed as it never kicked into film mode, resulting in moiré in the grandstands as a race car drove by. Performance wasn't much better with scrolling titles, which were filled with jaggies and some distracting "flashing" behavior.

Of course, we looked at some actual content, too, and the HT-X70 did considerably better. It did a very good job on the difficult Seabiscuit test, exhibiting none of the jaggies that we often see on this disc. We also were able to confirm that the HT-X70 does have 2:3 pulldown processing by watching the introduction to Star Trek: Insurrection, as it was able to render the smooth hull of the boat and railing of the bridge without any jaggies. So while the HT-X70 may have struggled on some of the more difficult tests on the HQV test suite, less critical viewers probably will be satisfied with the image quality performance on DVDs.

Audio performance
For music, like many bargain HTIBs, the HT-X70 came up a little short. We started off with Duke Ellington's Money Jungle, which sounded pretty good, although we thought the acoustic bass sounded a little unnatural and less musical than we'd like. Moving onto Jeff Beck's hard-rocking Truth revealed some more low-end deficiencies, and the bass got pretty boomy when we started to crank up the volume. The front speakers were pretty good given their size, but audiophiles will definitely notice they're less detailed than even relatively cheap standalone bookshelf speakers. We also tried the Fiery Furnaces' excellent Blueberry Boat, which probably sounded the best out of the three, but we still cringed a little when the subwoofer couldn't handle the bass. Our gripes aside, the HT-X70 delivers a pretty average sound for this kind of HTIB, so less critical listeners probably won't notice the difference.

On DVDs, the HT-X70 did a much better job. It allowed us to get fully engaged in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, especially the somewhat eerie introductory dream sequence. Dialogue intelligibility was solid, and the problems we had with the subwoofer were much less noticeable during the movie. Unless you're an audiophile, the HT-X70 will get the job done with DVDs.

7.1

Samsung HT-X70

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 6