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We recently looked at the HT-TZ512T from Samsung, a solid home theater-in-a-box that focuses on DVD playback and offers wireless rear surround sound. The TZ512 also offers a few additional audio inputs as well as compatibility with various digital file formats. The HT-X710T, reviewed here, keeps most of those features intact, and adds some new ones. Instead of mimicking the HT-TZ512T's 5.1-channel design, the HT-X710T is a 2.1 system instead--that's 2 speakers, one subwoofer, and a "head unit" amplifier/disc player.
The first thing you'll notice about the X710T is its unconventional design--it's really like nothing we've seen from a 2.1 home-theater-in-a-box. All of the pieces in the system have a space-age look about them, with each component (save the subwoofer) complemented by the same dark red "Touch of Color" shading found on higher-end Samsung TVs. Everything is also covered in a shiny plastic and instantly became a fingerprint magnet the second we got the system of the box. Thankfully, Samsung includes a cloth shammy to rub out any prints.
The speakers are two oddly oval-shaped rounded cones that stretch two feet tall. The subwoofer inherits the same round design with half the unit covered in a polished plastic, the other half a cloth grille. The head unit also supports a rounded, elongated look--it can be positioned vertically or horizontally, including mounted on a wall. The bright LCD screen in the center of the unit will also change its orientation depending on how the receiver is positioned. Its touch-sensitive buttons take a bit of getting used to, but are completely responsive when used correctly.
The system's remote control is a derivation of the one you'd find with Samsung TVs. It's laid out well, is easy to operate, and can be programmed to control any other model TV you may have.
The HT-X710T's built-in slot-loading DVD player can upscale video to 720p, 1080i, and 1080p resolutions via the HDMI output. We've found upscaling to be an increasingly irrelevant feature--your HDTV's built-in scaling will usually do a better job. In our testing with Sin City, we noticed a positive increase in image sharpness when upscaled to 720p, but anything above that did not make much of a difference in video quality. In other words, you won't get a picture that's anywhere near as good as Blu-ray. Still, it's more than acceptable for the average consumer.
Otherwise, connectivity is 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 (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. Also, note that the back-panel area is crowded together (in case you opt for wall mounting)--things could get tight if you have a lot of connections.
Beyond the back panel, there's side door under which you'll find a minijack input (for quick connections to portable players), a USB port (for pulling digital media from a thumbdrive), and a headphone jack. USB file support includes JPEG picture files, MP3 and WMA audio files, and WMV and DivX movie files. Also, the unit can play the preceding files if they are burned onto a disc (CD-R only) However, DivX movie files burned to a disc can only be played off a DVD-R. The graphic interface for navigation and playing these files is 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.
If you plan to use an iPod with the HT-X710T, just be aware that the dock included with the system only supports fourth-generation iPods and higher; this includes the iPod Touch and iPhone. Navigating and controlling your iPod is easy with the system's remote and uses the same onscreen graphic interface as with media files. We were a bit disappointed, however, to find that the unit couldn't play any videos off an iPod.
We were happy to see that the X710T is compatible with any device that can transmit audio via a Bluetooth connection. In our testing, we were able to pair a cell phone with the X710 and play our MP3 files directly on the unit. However, Bluetooth audio quality wasn't on par with the hardwired sources we tested--our result was more on par with the system's FM radio tuner.
In our sound quality testing, we were curious to see if the 2.1 system could conjure a facsimile of surround sound. We popped on the Sin City DVD and the film's neo-noir-jazz score emerged full-blown, not at all cramped between the two speakers. Mickey Rourke's gravel-toned voice-over had plenty of heft, and every blood-splattering punch and gun blast packed a significant wallop. The subwoofer was able to make its presence felt, easily powerful enough to fill a moderately sized room with its bass.
Switching between the HT-X710's stereo and V-Sound (Virtual Surround) settings via the remote didn't make for much of a difference. The V-Sound mode enlarged the sound field somewhat, but we found the normal stereo setting to be just as pleasingly spacious as well.
As for music, John Mellencamp's CD, Life, Death, Love and Freedom rocked pretty hard, though the bass felt a little overblown. Nevertheless, Mellencamp's vocal and guitars came across vivid and clear. Throughout our testing, we found the X710T was just as enjoyable with music as it was for movies.
The HT-X710T's $500 price is expensive compared with competing 5.1 models (such as Samsung's HT-TZ512T). However, 2.1 systems generally charge a premium, often costing as much as $800 to $1,200. Among the more reasonably priced competition, there's the Samsung HT-A100T (less expensive, smaller speakers) and the JVC TH-F3 (the sound quality of which didn't particularly impress us). If you want even fewer components--a single speaker bar with built-in DVD player and a wireless subwoofer--check out the Samsung HT-X810T.
Overall, the HT-X710T is another solid effort from Samsung in the home-theater-in-a-box department. While it doesn't offer surround sound--or even a solid surround-sound emulation--we were impressed with the sonic experience it was able to produce. If you're looking for a good 2.1 home theater system and don't mind the offbeat styling and the dearth of video inputs, the Samsung HT-X710T is a worthwhile choice.
Steve Guttenberg contributed to this review.