Samsung HT-E6500 £599
17th Apr 2012 | 09:23
5.1 system with 3D Blu-ray and streaming galore
It may play nicely with 3D Blu-ray discs, and even convert 2D sources to 3D, but Samsung's HT-E6500 home cinema 'in a box' is just as much about music as it is movies.
At its centre the HT-E6500 is a chunky Blu-ray player with ins and outs galore, with the rest of the package made up of a centre speaker, left and right satellite speakers, two rear speakers and a passive subwoofer.
The latter requires hooking up to the main unit, as do all the speakers, but doesn't need plugging in to the mains.
There are no speaker stands, so you'll need a bevy of bookshelves in your living room, but it's a diminutive and relatively low-impact 5.1 system (aside from the miles of cable, that is) that manages a 'that'll do plenty' 1000W output of codecs ranging from the Blu-ray-centric Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio to Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital, DTS 96/24 and DTS.
Audio modes are many, with 3D Sound – offered in various strengths – more use than 'SFE' modes including such oddities as 'Jazz Club Seoul', 'Philharmonic Hall Bratislava' and 'Symphony Hall Boston'.
The DSP modes, comprising Virtual 7.1, Power Bass and MP3 Enhancer are more useful.
Aside from the 3D Blu-ray drive at its heart (which also plays DVD, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, CD, CD-R and CD-RW), the most noticeable design flourish on this resolutely 'black plastic box' approach (which isn't the classiest or most well-built around) is a valve amplifier.
Situated on the right of the product, Samsung is clearly touting this – which ought to lend the HT-E6500 a warm, music-friendly soundstage – as a main feature since it's got a cut-out transparent fronting so all can see.
The musical bent doesn't stop there; the HT-E6500 also has an FM tuner, a wired iPod/iPhone dock (though we couldn't get it to output videos), and even Bluetooth functionality to link to any smartphone.
That latter feature makes it a genuine contender against an Apple AirPlay system, since the functionality is identical – and the reliability of streamed tunes is arguably higher.
Hard-wired connections include an HDMI output and two inputs, which make the HT-E6500 a HDMI switcher for a couple of devices (games console and set-top box, perhaps?), though the single USB slot hidden behind a front flap is an unsightly solution.
Also on the rear is an optical digital audio input, AUX audio input, and separate wired speaker connections.
One thing to bear in mind is that proprietary cable connectors are used, which makes it all a bit of a fiddle if, in fact, you want to use the HT-E6500 with an existing wiring (or perhaps for a projection-led home cinema) since cable lengths aren't ideal.
Wiring-up the HT-E6500 to the internet doesn't suffer from anything like that kind of kerfuffle since there's a Wi-Fi module inside.
That fuels both the HT-E6500's AllShare DLNA networking function (which covers all manner of digital video and music files, which can also be played via a USB stick) and a hugely attractive Smart Hub screen, which features apps such as the BBC iPlayer, Acetrax and LoveFilm.
Now, is that an all-in-one, or what? Its spec is so impressive that we're almost left mourning the lack of a Freeview HD tuner.
The HT-E6500's home screen is divided into four icons – Smart Hub, AllShare Play, Function and Settings – though it's not immediately obvious which services are accessed from where.
For example, Function is merely a list of inputs, with the two HDMI inputs joined by options to activate the optical digital or AUX inputs for audio sources, fire up the FM tuner, engage Bluetooth or awaken the Remote iPod dock. Where's the USB slot?
It's actually accessed via AllShare Play, which presents a screen showing live sources, be they a USB device or computers on the same Wi-Fi network.
In our test the HT-E6500 found a USB thumbdrive, a Samsung netbook (preloaded loaded with AllShare software) and a Mac running Twonkymedia.
From those two networked devices we managed to play AVC HD, AVI, MOV and MP4 video files. All took a few seconds to load, but were immaculately treated.
From a USB stick we managed to play MP3, MP2, AAC, WMA and even a 24-bit FLAC file (though not Apple Lossless or WAV, and only MP3 came with metadata intact), as well as Motion JPEG, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, H264 encoded video (as AVC HD, AVI, MKV, MOV, MP4, WMV and WMV HD files).
Note that MKV HD files only play from a USB – not over a network.
Best of all, upfront 'Recently Played' and 'What's New' shortlists make things easier by frequently swerving the need to first select either video, music or photo before then determining the source.
Playlists can also be set up relatively easily in what is a user-friendly – and great-looking – interface that keeps everything simple.
Meanwhile, Smart Hub contains the likes of LoveFilm, BBC iPlayer, AceTrax, Box Office 365, and Samsung's own 3D streaming service, alongside some new additions like 'Family Story' and 'Fitness'.
Techradar's review of the Samsung UE55ES8000 will tell you more about this, but needless to say this is a highly family-friendly approach that will instantly put off as many as it will please.
Let's start with music.
Identifying itself as the Samsung HTS-C64BF4 to an iPhone spouting Bluetooth, we paired the two devices and sent Elbow's Lippy Kids to the HT-E6500.
It produced a warm stereo image, with a natural sound interrupted only by slightly harsh treble highs. From a 128kpbs MP3, that's not bad at all. Who needs Apple AirPlay?
With all that going on we can only presume that the separate wired iPod dock is for sticklers for hi-res sound (so why are you using MP3s?) or owners of older Bluetooth-less Apple products.
With a USB stick docked in the front of the HT-E6500, we tried out a number of higher quality rips; a low-res MP3 proved sharp enough with good imaging, but lacked depth.
Noticeable particularly in acoustic music is a subwoofer that's slow to react; the occasional low-frequency twang isn't enough to wake it, so bass is often missing in action.
That's passive subwoofers for you, though – convenience comes at a cost. That aside, as far as compressed digital MP3s go, the HT-E6500 gets a lot from them.
Over to 3D movies, and it's the 3D Sound mode that appears to offer the best performance (it widens the soundstage somewhat), though across the board we were impressed by the treble detailing and the accuracy and finesse of the rear sound effects.
Dialogue is always crisp and full, and during high octane sequences there's plenty of steady rumble, too, though sudden explosions after a quiet moment can be left wanting – the subwoofer takes a few milliseconds too long to react.
Overall, though, it's an impressive, punchy sound, but don't be fooled by the valve amplification – this is a highly digital performance.
Digital video files are handled really smoothly once playing, but we did experience the occasional freeze-up while navigating files via the AllShare streaming feature.
Spin a 3D Blu-ray disc – this deck's real trick – and the results are excellent; stable, rich in detail and with that third dimension looking awesome when viewed on an active shutter 3D TV. 2D-3D conversion, however, didn't impress – as it rarely does.
For all of its features and all-round treatment of 3D Blu-ray movies, the HT-E6500 is a surprisingly musical home cinema at this relatively low end of the market.
It provides further proof that Bluetooth streaming from a smartphone to a sound system is fine for everyday use – Apple AirPlay is an expensive luxury that most of us can do without.
Elsewhere the HT-E6500 leaves little to chance with an exhaustive feature list and user-friendly interface.
It's also worth noting that set-up is a cinch – just link-up the speakers, place a wired microphone in your listening position, and an auto calibration wizard takes a couple of minutes to accurately calibrate the system.
With a warm sound ideal for music and a punchy treatment of movie soundtracks, this 3D Blu-ray home cinema system is so much more than it first appears.
The convenience of Bluetooth streaming from a smartphone and that Smart Hub content – as well as a wide compatibility with digital files – make the HT-E6500 hard to resist.
The remote control's arrow buttons and natural thumb position is way too far down the thing – almost at the bottom – and though we do like the glow-in-the-dark operation buttons for Blu-rays and digital files, it's an all-round pretty poor attempt.
Meanwhile, we couldn't stream MKV files over a network, we don't like the USB slot being stored under a flap on the front, and while the wired iPod dock works fine, it's slightly unnecessary (given Bluetooth) and should probably have been kept as an optional add-on accessory.
Audio-wise, the subwoofer isn't as responsive as it could be, and the overall build quality is certainly nothing to get excited about.
A fine all-in-one attempt that makes up for a flimsy build quality by chumming-up Smart Hub with fine 3D and movie sonics, though it's the nod to musos – via both Bluetooth streaming from a smartphone and a warm valve amplifier-led soundstage – that make this a standout option for a living room.
Samsung also sells the HT-E5500, which does away with the valve amplification and uses slightly lower quality speakers.
The other three brands competing in this one-box 3D Blu-ray arena are LG, Panasonic and Sony, whose BH9420PW, SC-BTT190 and BDV-E290, respectively, are the closest in both spec and price.
At the time of writing only the HT-E6500 was available to buy, so comparisons weren't possible.