Flexible AV friend

Danny Phillips savours a combination package of Blu-ray player with Freeview HD PVR and finds Samsung has catered for almost every need

Why take two hi-def sources into the shower when you can simply watch ‘n’ go with Samsung’s latest Blu-ray player/Freeview HD PVR combi? By forcing these two products into shared accommodation, Samsung is putting an unfeasible amount of content at your disposal, as well as saving you some space in your AV cabinet.

The BD-D8500 is so cutting edge you could shave with it. Inside, you’ll find twin DVB-T2 tuners, capable of receiving Freeview HD’s cluster of hi-def channels, a 500GB hard-disk drive, a 3D-ready Profile 2.0 Blu-ray deck and a wide range of nifty networking features that enable the deck to step well beyond the confines of packaged media.

It’s not too shabby on the outside either. The slim dimensions and snazzy black finish are eye-catching enough, but the jewel in the crown is the newly-designed display panel in the centre. Samsung has built-in a row of touch-sensitive controls, which, when combined with the discreet disc slot, leaves the rest of the fascia mercifully uncluttered.

There’s an HDMI v1.4 output that lets you pipe 3D pictures and HD audio to your receiver, which is fine if said receiver has v1.4 inputs. But if not, there’s no second HDMI for sending audio separately, and no multichannel analogue outs either. The BD-D8500 comes equipped with a built-in wi-fi adaptor, providing easy access to a wealth of web-enabled content and DLNA networking features.

The most significant of these is Smart Hub, the newly revamped version of Samsung’s Internet@TV. It’s been given a seriously funky new look that’s a nod to the iPhone generation, and introduces a few features that make it much easier to use. The range of apps is impressive. Although it wasn’t available during our test, BBC iPlayer should be available by the time you read this. Only Sony’s BRAVIA Internet Video offers more catch-up TV services.

To complement these apps, there’s another nifty feature – Your Video. This recommends movies available on VOD services (at the moment, just LOVEFiLM) based on your viewing history and ratings.

Channel conundrum

Turning our attention to the Freeview feature list, the BD-D8500 does almost everything you’d expect from a twin-tuner PVR, most importantly allowing you to pause/rewind live TV and record one channel while recording another. Sadly, though, only one of the tuners is linked to the hard disk, which means you can’t record two channels simultaneously.

The 500GB HDD gives you 120hrs of HD recordings, or 240hrs of SD, plus the great-looking eight-day EPG and series link prevent you missing your favourite shows. The versatile onscreen info banner also lets you look ahead in the schedules without having to consult the full EPG. Elsewhere, it does all the usual Freeview HD tricks, including lightning-quick digital text access, audio description and subtitles.

A lotta Blu-ray going on

With so much else going on, it’s easy to forget that the BD-D8500 is also a pretty nifty Blu-ray deck too, the highlight of its spec sheet being 3D playback. But Samsung has also added 2D to 3D conversion to this year’s players, which not only works with Blu-ray discs but also programmes from the Freeview tuner. The results aren’t great with TV, but give it a BD such as Iron Man 2 and it lends a fairly convincing sense of depth to the image.

The BD-D8500 is generally easy to use. We love what Samsung has done with the main menu, using full-colour cartoony graphics and an even clearer menu layout than last year’s machines.

Less impressive, however, are the occasionally sluggish menus and the pain-in-the-neck process of entering text into Smart Hub’s dialogue boxes using the hit-and-miss predictive text on the remote, but thankfully, things get easier as it remembers passwords and previous searches.

Disc loading times are pretty nifty and at the end of that wait are some dazzling pictures, packed with detail and painted in deep and natural-looking colours. Nowhere is this more apparent than with Avatar on Blu-ray, which looks beautiful through the BD-D8500’s eyes.

Up close to Cameron’s creations you can make out the intricate textures of skin and scales, while epic shots of Pandora’s landscapes look equally crisp, with stable detail and emphatic edges.

I switched to the 3D version of Avatar (viewed on a Panasonic TX-P46VT20) and it’s pure spectacle all the way. Jungle shots boast convincing depth, with distinct layers of trees and foliage from front to back without any evidence of blurring or crosstalk.

Freeview pictures don’t reach these heady heights, but hi-def channels certainly look sharp and shiny. Standard-definition channels have a little more digital fluff, particularly with fast-moving objects, but they’re still watchable.

The good news is that recorded pictures look identical to live TV, so there’s no quality sacrifice when timeshifting programmes. So with its excellent performance, packed feature list and fresh new GUI, the BD-D8500 is a fantastic proposition. Yes, Panasonic’s forthcoming 3D BD recorders will offer archiving from the HDD to BD disc, which this one doesn’t, but will they be as slick, or so temptingly priced?


HCC VERDICT

Samsung BD-D8500
Price:
£450 Approx

Highs: Abundant features; attractive new GUI; picture performance; Smart Hub and slick networking features
Lows: Slightly sluggish operation; can’t record two channels

Performance: 4/5
Design: 5/5
Features: 5/5
Overall: 4/5


Specifications

3D: yes
Upscaling: yes To 1080p
Multiregion: no Region B BD/R2 DVD
HDMI: yes 1 x v1.4
Component: yes
Multichannel analogue: no
Digital audio: yes Optical
SACD/DVD-A: no/no
Dolby True HD/DTS HD decoding: yes/yes
Dolby True HD/DTS HD bitstream: yes/yes
Profile 2.0: yes
Dimensions: 430(w) x 60(h) x 299(d)mm
Weight: 3.6kg
Features: Built-in wi-fi (b/g/n); AllShare DLNA networking; Smart Hub; 500GB HDD; twin Freeview HD tuners; 8-day EPG; series link; 2D-to-3D conversion; touch pad display with front disc slot; DivX HD, MKV, WMV, JPEG, MP3, WMA, AVCHD playback; 1080p DVD upscaling; built in memory (1GB); USB host; CI slot; Time Shift