Increasingly, there are fewer reasons to go to the cinema. Let's face it: the people who go to movies now are brash, talk constantly to each other or are on their mobile phones, and generally make the whole experience an expensive waste of time. On the other hand, your house is quiet, has cheaper snacks and the youth are unlikely to be sitting in the corner snogging and making annoying remarks -- unless they're your kids, in which case you can tell them to be quiet.
Sadly, in the quest for cinema quality, most people spend too much on their TVs and forget to save some cash for a good sound system. Samsung has created the HT-X715, an AU$750 DVD player with built-in surround-sound decoding and amplification, which comes packaged with all the speakers you'll need to start enjoying movie surround sound.
The X715 is designed to complement the Samsung's 'rose black' range of TVs, as it's finished with the same subtle red tone. We're pleased to note that it looks good with any TV, including the we used to test it.
In this nicely-styled pack, you get all the speakers you'll need. The front speakers are designed to stand on a table or be wall mounted. The rear speakers can be placed on a bookshelf or screwed to the back wall. The subwoofer can be placed in a corner and forgotten about, while the centre speaker needs to sit either above or below your TV.
Everything you need comes in the pack, including the speaker cable -- which is pretty thin and weedy -- and there's even an HDMI cable included, which we were pleased to see.
One of the problems we noticed during testing was that this machine is a dust magnet. The main unit seemed especially irresistible to every particle floating in the air. You're going to need to clean this thing regularly if you want to impress people when they come over for a movie night.
The Samsung certainly offers one obvious advantage over a separate AV receiver and speaker system: it's a one-box solution. You buy it, lug the gigantic cardboard box home and then put it all together. With a separates system, you have to select your components individually, although companies like Onkyo do sell packages.
Of course, the other positive is that you get a DVD player built in, which upscales to 1080p. The mileage you get out of that functionality will depend on how bad your current DVD player is.
Happily, like so many systems now, you get DivX playback included, as well as some nice extras including the ability to connect to a mobile phone or PC using Bluetooth. That's actually a pretty good way of casually enjoying music or podcasts from your phone or Bluetooth MP3 player (Sony and Samsung both offer MP3 players with built-in Bluetooth).
The Samsung will also take a digital optical input from any number of surround sound capable devices: a Xbox 360 or set top box, for example.,
We'll start with the weakest area for the Samsung. We tried a variety of music from a number of different sources, including an iPod, Nokia N95 via Bluetooth and directly from a reference music CD. We were never really convinced by the performance the X715 gave. The main issue was some fairly unconvincing low-end bass. This was in contrast to its sibling, the HT-X810, which gave off too much bass.
Luckily, the music performance is the only real chink in the Samsung's armour. Picture quality was excellent: our test DVDs looked truly brilliant and the lack of tweaking needed to enjoy them was also welcome.
For movie soundtracks, this system is very capable. We listened to material from both a DVD and an external Blu-ray player and we found everything we threw at it was handled with skill. It was quite rare that the system struggled. One of the Dolby surround-sound tests did give the subwoofer a problem, but that was the only time we were able to push the system too far.
Of course, the whole reason systems like this exist is to make life easy for people who want surround sound without too much fiddling. The good news is that the X715 doesn't require much configuration. You'll be able to get it up and running in as much time as it takes you to find somewhere to put all the speakers and run the cables back to the main unit.
The only problem we have with the simplicity is how much control it takes out of your hands. For example, we know this player upscales to 1080p, but we couldn't tell you with any certainty when it was doing so. It appears that the unit auto-detects the capability of the TV at start up and gives the user no choice at all about what mode they use. This could be annoying for more advanced users, but unlikely to present a huge problem.
The Samsung HT-X715 is a pretty good all-round system, but it's not without some flaws, especially for the music lover. Upscaling produced good results, though, and movies did look clear, crisp and colourful.
If you're looking for a credible alternative, LG has two decent systems in the LG HT902TB and the LG HT762TZ. We think the Samsung has better build quality than the LGs, but the subwoofer isn't as good as it should be.