Samsung BD-D8900 £380
1st Sep 2011 | 09:00
With its 1TB hard drive and Smart TV functionality, this Freeview+ HD/Blu-ray combi promises to tick all the boxes
Designed as the ultimate home entertainment centre, Samsung's BD-D8900 packs everything bar the kitchen sink into one big, shiny box.
It's not only a 3D-compatible Smart TV-enabled Blu-ray player, it's also a Freeview+ HD PVR packing a generous 1TB hard drive. Want one PVR to do it all? Then this mean machine appears to be your best option. But there are caveats.
Build and connectivity
Accommodating all this technology requires a chassis of some size, and the BD-D8900 obliges. Measuring 430mm wide and 64mm tall, it's a chunky chap. That said it's not without charm and a certain refinement.
There's no clunky disc-loading tray, the unit uses a slick slot loader – feed it a silver platter and it will hungrily suck it in. It also incorporates touch-panel controls and has an illuminated disc mechanism, courtesy of a semi-translucent lid. We're guessing you won't want to hide this ostentatious hulk away in a cupboard.
Despite all the functionality, the rear panel is not overcrowded. There're two HDMIs, one of which is audio only. This is used to route lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks from Blu-ray discs to legacy (non-3D) compatible AV receivers – the primary output then delivers 3D direct to your stereoscopic display.
There are also phono AV and digital optical audio outputs, plus an Ethernet connection. Wi-Fi is integrated, so there's no need to use a dongle. There's also a component video output, but be aware that this cannot be used for high definition.
As part of the AACS copy protection regulations, it restricts Blu-ray output to 480i. Not only that, it outputs Freeview HD at 576p (unlike the HDMI alternative). This will apparently solve the problem of online piracy at a stroke and is in no away absolutely infuriating for the minority of us that simply want to make a component hook-up to our flatscreens.
On the front of the deck is a pull-down flap concealing a CI+ slot and USB port for media playback.
The PVR side of the BD-D8900 works well enough. The TV guide is large and clear, with a live TV window running top left. You're automatically prompted to Series Link when you select something to record from the EPG. Bank a few hi-def seasons and that 1TB capacity drive will soon start to fill up.
There is some management of TV recordings, should you feel the need. You can partially delete content, or split it up. Quite why you might want to do this is unclear, as you can't archive the results to disc.
The BD-D8900 sports two Freeview HD tuners, so you can watch one channel while recording another. However, you can't timeshift a TV show, and then pop over to Samsung's Smart Hub TV portal for net-connected shenanigans. The player invites you to cancel your recording first.
PVR and multimedia
As a media streamer, the BD-D8900 is talented but pedantic. File compatibility is good, particularly when playing from a USB thumb drive. The deck unwraps MKV hi-def, AVIs (with SRT subtitle support), TS files and MOVs without problem.
Music compatibility is limited to MP3s and WMA. Album art is displayed when available and metadata read correctly. You can stream media across your network but, again, not while recording a TV show.
So if you thought you'd record Come Dine With Me to savour later with a nice Chianti, and stream some AVIs from a NAS in the meantime, think again. This one-track mentality makes the BD-D8900 less versatile than several units doing the same job.
As a Blu-ray player, the BD-D8900 is well equipped. It's compatible with the latest generation of 3D frame-sequential Blu-ray discs, and does a fine job of spinning regular 2D Blu-rays as well.
Image clarity is blisteringly sharp with rich colour fidelity. The player also makes a creditable job of upscaling DVDs.
Disc loading times are good but not remarkable. The Java-heavy Blu-ray release of Goldfinger takes 59 seconds to get from disc suck-in to the 007 menu. This is comparable with other players, and a little better than its BD-D8500 stablemate. Lou Reed's Berlin, a much simpler authoring job from Artificial Eye, loads in just 30 seconds.
HD recordings look faithful to the source, but SD dubs could benefit from some noise reduction; a high level of mosquito fizz and blocking makes recordings from low bitrate Freeview channels look rough.
One 3D feature that may appeal is on-the-fly conversion of 2D material. This treatment can be applied not only to Blu-rays and DVDs but also to broadcast TV. We're not big fans of faux 3D, but there's no getting away from the fact that Samsung does it better than most, using a five-way vector analyser.
Our trials met with various degrees of success, depending on the subject matter. If nothing else, this is a fun way to use your new 3D TV when there's nothing else to warrant putting the 3D specs on for.
But stream media across a LAN and you may well encounter problems. We tried playing our test files from a variety of NAS devices (LG, Iomega) and using different media server software (Asset, Serviio, Nero) and lost MKV compatibility on all of them.
The only success we had was with an installation of Samsung's own AllShare media server software. With this installed on a PC, the BD-D8900 could see MKVs and play them. Of course, if you use a NAS for your video storage then you may be out of luck.
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