In home theatre, the established norm has become the 5.1 speaker setup where you have five speakers and a sub-woofer creating the surround sound experience. Being able to install a system of that magnitude (or a higher speaker count like 7.1 and 9.1) requires physical space and also commitment on the part of the user. For some, setting up a series of speakers either isn’t a viable option or may ruin the aesthetics of their viewing environment. In recent years, the virtual surround sound capabilities of two speaker systems has improved greatly and while they will never be able properly reproduce true surround, they are the next best thing. Enter the soundbar category, a fairly new speaker system where all the power and technology is crammed into a single wide speaker system housing multiple loudspeakers that bounce audio off the walls in your home to make it appear as though the sound is coming from speakers that aren’t there.
There are a few manufacturers getting into the soundbar space at the moment but when it comes to value for money, the Samsung HT-BD8200 is the best option available. What sets this product apart from its competitors is the inclusion of Blu-ray (and BD-Live) and Ethernet to facilitate media streaming over your home network. The sound quality is quite remarkable considering it is not a 5.1 set up and the image quality of the Blu-ray player is excellent. It also has a wireless subwoofer as well which gives you the freedom to place the bass source anywhere you want in the room.
Setting up the soundbar is just about the easiest home theatre system we have ever used. There are no speaker wires at all so setting it up is as simple as plugging it in, connecting it to the television and turning it on. In testing this device, the two primary things to check were the sound quality of the system and the image quality of the integrated Blu-ray player. We also tested the media streaming feature as well.
In testing we used various Blu-ray films that are considered excellent tests for image quality and those with exceptional sound design that take full advantage of surround sound. The only complaint we have about the soundbar is that it lacks the volume of a 5.1 system with a dedicated amplifier. While the volume was still quite loud, it needed to be at maximum volume to get to the same volume level you would get at half volume on a conventional home theatre system. That being said, realistically there is a limit to how many decibels most people can tolerate and most people generally don’t pump their audio to uncomfortable levels but if you are one of those people with low respect for your eardrums, this system will not suit your needs. For a large room, the volume may not be enough though, so it seems that the best use for this device would be a small to medium sized loungeroom.
The audio fidelity cannot be faulted as we detected no distortion at high volume levels and the mix of dialogue, effects and score were handled beautifully without any element being overpowered. As far as the virtual surround effect, we were quite amazed at how well it worked. There were naturally a few shortcomings with elements designed for rear speakers getting lost at times but, on the whole, you are presented with audio that doesn’t sound like it is coming only from the front as you would expect from a front mounted speaker solution. It is unfair to expect a soundbar to be able to properly compete with a 5.1 system but considering the surround experience this is capable of, we were quite impressed.
The image quality of the Blu-ray player is on par with the Samsung P1600 player that we reviewed previously. We had no problems at all with the player and found its load times and general speed to be more than satisfactory. The BDLive functionality will require you to use a USB flash drive (over 2GB) as there is no internal storage. The device has two USB slots with one being dedicated to the wireless networking dongle (sold separately) so you can use a USB drive either for BDLive or for playing media files directly. There is also a slot for the included iPod dock.
Media streaming can be accomplished if you connect the soundbar to your home network via the LAN connection or if you purchase the WiFi dongle. It is a little disappointing that the dongle isn’t included in the sales package or that WiFi isn’t built-in to the device but considering the cost of the system, it isn’t that big a detractor. Using the streaming you can watch video files, view images or listen to music files on any PC on your home network.
The design of the soundbar is in keeping with the rest of the Samsung AV range. It is heavily focused on a glossy black look and will look excellent if you have a Samsung television as well. The Blu-ray player is front mounted and top loaded, slightly ejecting outward when inserting a disc. There are touch sensitive buttons on the top of the device but unless you lose the remote you won’t ever need to use them (unless you need the exercise of walking to the TV and back). The overall impression the HT-BD8200 gives off is that is it something slick, sophisticated and futuristic. It is certainly something that will impress.
If you don’t want to litter your loungeroom with speakers and just want a good quality Blu-ray player and great sound, this is the device for you. It has excellent audio, superb image quality and looks great in your loungeroom. It is the same price as other Samsung home theatre packages so it will really come down to design and space when deciding on your purchase.
The HT-BD8200 is currently available for the recommended retail price of $1299.