Samsung BD-H8900 Freeview HD PVR and 3D Blu-ray Player Review
Multi-functionalism without compromise? Almost.
What is the Samsung BD-H8900?This is the latest in a fairly long line of PVR/Blu-ray player combination devices we've been sent for review from Samsung. We saw a major generational improvement when going from the 'D' to the 'E' Series and the F8500 was better still. Samsung has slightly rejigged the home page with the BD-H8900 and made some other minor operational changes to enhance usability. Let's see how Samsung's latest multi-discipline player stacks up.
Design & ConnectionsThere are almost no cosmetic changes to the BD-H8900 over the BD-F8500M it replaces so it’s just a rather plasticy, run-of-the-mill black box with the only design concession being a rounded corner, right-front. Since this is a device highly likely to be concealed within a rack or cabinet, we have no problems with this approach but it hardly looks or feels like a premium product, despite its status within Samsung’s product range.
Connectivity options are on the basic side, too, with a solitary HDMI output, an antennae input (and corresponding loop-through connection for your TV), a LAN port, an optical digital output and a USB port to add to the one that is hidden behind a flap on the facia. Just above the USB on the front is a display panel and atop the rounded corner are some basic operational buttons - on/off, play/pause, stop and eject.
The provided remote control is again fairly standard but it is well planned and does a good job of housing the full range of functions without ever feeling too cluttered. It’s great that Samsung has listened to feedback in providing a button which takes you straight to your recordings now and adds to the feeling that the PVR functionality is no longer a tacked-on afterthought.
Perhaps not flagship product build quality
MenusWhere Samsung had three screens, last year, to try to cover all bases, they now have just the one and we think it’s a better idea. We might argue that it places On-Demand content too prominently, especially as there’s no apparent immediate benefit to your ‘favouriting’ the likes of Frozen from the next page but there is some integration with pay TV services like Wuaki, allowing you to go straight to the content. We’ll look at the Smart TV features again, later on, but the recommendation feature needs more support for it to be truly useful.
Elsewhere on the Home Pages we have portals to take you to the apps, playback multimedia content from USB or network and across the bottom there are shortcuts to ‘popular’ apps and access to the Web Browser, Schedule Manager, Recordings and Settings. You can also access your Samsung Account or engage Screen Mirroring from this page.
Form the Settings Menu there are categories for Picture, Sound, Broadcasting, Network, Smart Hub, System and Support. In the Picture submenu there are options for UHD output 3D Settings, TV Aspect Ratio, Smart Hub Screen Size, BD Wise, Resolution, DTV Smart resolution, Movie Frame (24 fps), HDMI Colour Format, HDMI Deep Colour and Progressive Mode. In the Sound Menu we have options for Digital Output, PCM Downsampling, Dynamic Range Control, Downmixing Mode, DTS Neo:6 Mode, Audio Sync and the Connected Device.
FeaturesAs we noted above, Samsung’s new home page is more streamlined, with the emphasis on the recommendation feature which has limited integration with some of the various video on demand apps available. Unfortunately, at least in the UK, the services which link in with the engine are extremely limited so whilst it’s all very well and good having pretty movie poster pictures and synopsis for the latest blockbusters, the actual usefulness is questionable. In fact, unless you happen to be a Wuaki TV subscriber/user, you’ll probably find the feature redundant. The glaring omission here is of course Netflix and since they recently shut off access to their API for third parties, it’s not likely we’ll ever see it integrated with Samsung’s smart features.
Where Samsung has got an advantage of almost all of the other manufacturers is their having rights to all the public broadcaster’s catch-up services so you can download apps for BBC iPlayer, 40D, ITV Player as well as Demand 5. There is also a YouTube app, the aforementioned Netflix and Wuaki and one for Amazon Instant. In fact, the only major UK based services we can see missing are Sky’s NOW TV and Sky Store so this is a good player for fans of streaming services.
The BD-H8900 is also a fine bet for users with a lot of media stored locally as it boasts an excellent DLNA and USB media player. The player has support for a wide-range of file types. In terms of video codecs, you should be able to playback all of your MPEG2/4, DivX/DivX HD, AVCHD, MKV and WMV files and there is compatibility with JPEG and MPO (3D) for your photos. It’s perhaps with audio support where Samsung most distinguish themselves and the H8900 is able to replay lossless FLAC files as well as .WMA, .OGG, .WAV as well as the ‘mandatory’ MP3 support.
Naturally, Samsung provides a remote control app for both iOS or Android devices, which work very well and make what is actually a surprisingly good Web Bowser that bit easier to operate. We should really mention that this is one of very few PVRs/Blu-ray players to support Ultra HD scaling so if you’re one of the very few lucky 4K TV owners out there, you’ll be able to test out if the scaling is better than that of your display.
A usable web browser - whatever next?
Freeview HD PVRIf it aint broke, don’t fix it is obviously not an adage to which Samsung subscribes and they’ve made what was a perfectly good EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) less so. There’s too much space given on the left hand side to an information box which explains how the new quick navigation features work and scrolling around the guide is now a more sluggish experience than it was previously.
Don’t get us wrong, the new navigation features – activated by holding down the ‘Enter’ button – are good and include options to filter channels, skip days and pages and the ability to create Favourites lists but we were happy to use the coloured and transport keys, on the remote, to perform exactly the same tasks in the past.
There’s another (indirect) annoyance with the EPG too, in that you aren’t able to access it whilst watching a recording. That means you can’t check what’s coming on next but, more annoyingly, it also negates the ability to schedule a timer whilst viewing recorded material, which is restrictive and not something we’re used to with most other PVRs. It’s probably as a result of the multi-purpose nature of the H8900 but it still can be frustrating.
Other than that, the BD-H8900 is actually a very serviceable PVR which is capable of recording two programmes simultaneously whilst you’re viewing a disc, other recorded TV content, streamed media or media from the hard drive. Provided you’re viewing something on the same multiplex, it’s also possible to record two and watch another ‘live’ TV channel as well, which can be genuinely useful on those occasions when there are three good programmes on at the same time. Admittedly, these are rare instances but it does happen, honest!
The ‘chase play’ functionality also works very well, meaning you can watch a programme before it finishes recording by accessing the Schedule Manager. We would have liked the option to set global padding times to recordings but at least you are able to access individual scheduled events to add (or subtract) to the start and end times. With the World Cup imminent this summer, this is a feature which will come in to its own when the knockout stages are reached and the prospect of extra time and penalties looms large. Time-shifting of ‘live’ broadcast is also something not there by default so if you think you’re likely to want to rewind something you’re watching, you’ll need to press the Play or Pause button on the remote as you settle down to it.
We tested the BD-H8900 with a mixture of series records, single timer events and back to back recordings and we were very impressed with the reliability of the performance. We like the fact that timer clashes are instantly pointed out but we were a bit surpised the software doesn’t highlight the fact you’ve selected to record in standard definition when there is an HD version available. We’re fairly certain Samsung PVR’s have done this in the past but, overall, the BD-H8900 is a more than capable PVR we’d generally be happy to use as our day-to-day recorder.
Some EPG niggles but it's mostly a good PVR
Samsung BD-H8900 3D & High Definition PlaybackProvide you don’t change the Picture Mode out if its default ‘Standard’ configuration, you should be more than pleased with the BD-H8900 as a disc player. It faultlessly replayed everything we threw – OK, placed carefully – in its tray loading mechanism and since we’ve just had to cope with the Easter school holidays, it saw more than its fair share of action. Frozen – in both 2D and 3D – looked every bit as sublime as we would have expected and we encountered no compatibility issues with any of our 3D discs, including new titles such as Gravity and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. In fact, we have no complaints whatsoever with the H8900 as a Blu-ray player, even those fairly rare BD’s which are encoded with an interlaced signal, are treated well by its excellent video processing capabilities.
Samsung BD-H8900 Video Review
H8900 Standard Definition PlaybackThe BD-H8900 had no problems with 2:2 cadence detection and its scaling of standard definition signals reached the usual high standards we’ve come to expect from Samsung. The upshot of this, is that you’re DVD collection will look as good as it possibly could and with the likes of quality animation, it can actually almost convince that you’re watching something better than 576 lines of vertical resolution. The BD-H8900 also makes the whole disc watching experience that much better by loading them very rapidly. Most DVD’s were ready to play in under 15 seconds, whilst the average Blu-ray would reach the copyright warning in around twenty five.
As we would expect from Samsung, an excellent disc spinner with top-notch processing
- Excellent disc player
- All the major catch-up services
- Lots of streaming apps
- Media player has wide-ranging file support
- Competent personal video recorder
- Build quality could be better
- Another HDMI would be useful
- No global padding
- Can't access EPG when recording
Samsung BD-H8900 Freeview HD PVR and 3D Blu-ray Player ReviewThe design of the Samsung BD-H8900 is pretty much identical to that of last year’s equivalent, so it’s simply a black box with one rounded corner. Build quality isn’t all that impressive for a flagship product, either, but it’s plain and unobtrusive so we’ve no major complaints and Samsung has produced an accompanying remote control which makes a good fist of packing in all the necessary multi-functional controls.
Connectivity options aren’t that plentiful but we guess most will be satisfied with an HDMI port, digital optical audio and a couple of USB ports. Samsung’s settings menu systems are far more expansive, however, and contain numerous controls for fine-tuning video and audio output as well as all the sundry system and network configurations.
Samsung’s PVR smart TV platform is very much geared toward content discovery. The newly streamlined home page puts Movie and TV show information front and centre but the recommendation feature is limited by the number of streaming services with which it integrates. The big miss is Netflix compatibility, for us, but if you’re a Wuaki TV user, you’ll be well catered for.
It does score high in the number of catch-up an streaming apps available, however, with virtually all bases covered, including iPlayer, YouTube, Netflix, ITV Player, Amazon, 40D and Demand 5 at your fingertips. The media player is also very good and boasts support for virtually any media file you’re likely to have stored locally.
As a Personal Video recorder (PVR), the BD-H8900 is a very creditable candidate. The only real niggles we have is that you can’t access the EPG whilst watching a recording and said guide has had a misguided design overhaul, making it less usable than in generations past. Other than that, it’s a flexible recorder offering all the features you would expect including dual recording, chase play and series records.
The BD-H8900 is also an excellent disc player, whether it be with 2D or 3D Blu-ray or your DVDs. Video processing is up to the usual lofty Samsung standards, including excellent scaling of standard-def and absolutely faithful playback of high definition content. Provided you leave the Picture Mode in the default ‘Standard’ setting, you certainly won’t have any complaints and the fact it loads discs very quickly is a bonus.
All in all, the Samsung BD-H8900 is a successful multi-purpose device which fulfils its core duties with aplomb. It’s a competent PVR, a super disc spinner and the excellent array of video streaming apps are just the icing on the cake. Recommended.
Ease Of Use7
Value For Money7
Our Review Ethos
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