Samsung combines high-tech and old-school with their latest all-in-one system
IntroductionOver the last two years, Samsung has been making a concerted effort to dominate the audio side of your living room in the way that they already do on the video side. This effort has been largely successful, with some very impressive products coming through our doors recently. Many of these products have that irresistible combination of looks, performance and value that Samsung just do so well. The HT-F6500 is their latest 5.1 all-in-one system and is a good case in point. It has the gorgeous design and generous build quality we have come to expect from the South Korean giant, coupled with a spec list to die for. Throw in some quirky features like a vacuum tube pre-amp and a very attractive price point and Samsung's latest charm offensive seems hard to resist. Let's see if the HT-F6500's combination of cutting edge tech and old-school appeal goes all the way.
Design, Installation and SetupThe design of the main unit follows the rest of this year's Samsung models with a gloss black finish, a silver trim and a rounded front right corner. It's at this corner that you'll notice one of the more unusual features on the HT-F6500 - a vacuum tube pre-amp. The vacuum tubes glow when in use and whilst this might initially look cool, we did find it annoying in a darkened room. The rest of the design is fairly minimalist, with a disc tray on the left hand side, a display in the middle and some basic controls and a USB port on the right. The build quality is good for a product at this price point and the HT-F6500 has a well engineered feel. The disc mechanism is reasonably quiet and the load times were comparable with most other Blu-ray players we've tested.
The HT-F6500 comes with four satellite speakers that mirror the gloss black and silver finish of the main unit and there's a matching centre speaker. This is good because by using the same speaker for all five channels, the soundfield created retains its tonal cohesiveness. The similarities to KEFs classic egg design notwithstanding, the speakers have a decent amount of weight to them considering their size. There is also a wired and passive sideways firing subwoofer that again uses the gloss black finish found on the rest of the system. Setting up the speakers is very easy thanks to the provided colour-coded cables and dedicated connectors. The speakers all have stands making them easy to install but they can also be wall mounted if necessary. We found that when it came to the subwoofer, careful placement was important to ensure it was well integrated into the rest of the system but otherwise installation was simple enough.
At the rear, there's two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output that is ARC (Audio Return Channel) compliant. There's also an Ethernet port for those that can't take advantage of the built-in WiFi, analogue stereo inputs, an optical digital input and an aerial socket for the built-in FM tuner. Also at the rear you'll find the colour-coded connectors for the speakers, a socket for a two pin power cable and a fan. Whilst the disc mechanism in the Blu-ray player is reasonably quiet in operation, there is some noise from the fan, although it will depend on how far you sit from the main unit and the volume at which you watch TV.
The HT-F6500 ships with Samsung's standard remote but this is no bad thing as the simple black plastic controller is a text book example of intuitive design. It is well laid out, comfortable to hold and easy to use. All the buttons that you need are sensibly positioned, making it simple to control any aspect of the system and overall the HT-F6500 was both quick and responsive to commands.
MenusThe HT-F6500 uses Samsung's standard Blu-ray player home screen and from here you can easily access the setup menu. In this area there are six further submenus, Display, Audio, Network, Smart Features, System and Support.
Under Display, thee are options for 3D, TV Aspect, BD Wise, Resolution, Movie Frame (24fps) and a very interesting DVD 24fps Conversion Option which provides inverse telecine. This returns the frame rate for films on NTSC DVDs back in to the original 24 frames per second format - handy for some movie buffs. There’s additional settings for the Smart Hub Screen Size, HDMI Colour Format, HDMI Deep Colour and Progressive Mode. Generally we advise switching off Deep Colour – unless playing back AVC HD material from a video camera; leaving Movie Frame (24FS) at Auto for smooth Blu-ray playback and the same for Progressive mode to ensure non-24p film cadence detection is effective for DVD’s.
Since the HT-F6500 is also an amplifier, it should come as no surprise to discover that there are a number of audio options. As the HT-F6500 doesn't come with a setup microphone, you will need to set the speaker distances and levels manually under the Speaker Settings section. To do this properly, you will need both a tape measure and a SPL meter. There is an Equaliser feature for those who want to tweak further and if you're worried about waking the neighbours in the evening, there's also the Smart Volume system. The Network submenu allows you to setup the built-in WiFi, whilst the System submenu allows you to setup more general features such as the language used and Anynet+.
FeaturesThe Home screen provides a series of main tiles for 'Movies and TV Shows', 'Apps', 'Photos, Videos & Music' and the aforementioned 'Settings'. There’s also some smaller tiles for shortcuts to the Web Browser, ITV Player, BBC iPlayer and the recently added Wuaki.TV. If you go to the Movies & TV Show portal you can access the video-on-demand services and Samsung has partnered with certain VoD providers to include a recommendation engine that will track your viewing habits, through the portal, and then suggest further viewing material based thereon. The service requires that you have a Samsung.com account but the interface is slick and effective. The new S Recommendation isn’t universal to all the VoD services and doesn’t appear to currently integrate Netflix but it’s a promising start.
Whilst the HT-F6500's smart system might be a scaled down version of the one available on Samsung's TVs, there is still plenty of choice. If you click on the Apps tile you will see an excellent selection of apps and crucially the HT-F6500 offers almost every major catch-up or VoD service. That means you can not only access the previously mentioned BBC iPlayer, ITV PLayer and Wuaki.TV but also 4OD, 5 on Demand, Netflix, LOVEFiLM, YouTube and Blinkbox. This currently puts Samsung's players and all-in-one systems in a unique position and makes them a genuine one-stop shop for all your video needs.
The Photos, Video & Music portal is essentially the media player and obviously works very nicely with Samsung’s own AllShare PC software but will happily talk to other media servers. The Media Player seems very robust and provides extensive file support including AVCHD, DivX HD, LPCM, AAC, MP3, MKV, WMA, WMV and JPEG. Other notable features include a Web Browser and the ability to mirror the TV screen and instantly share photos and video between the HT-F6500 and a Samsung Galaxy S3/S4, if you have one. Finally there is an excellent remote app available for both iOS and Android. The interface is both stylish and easy to use, making the app a viable alternative to the provided remote control.
Video PerformanceAs far as the video side of the HT-F6500 was concerned there were no surprises and as we would expect from a Samsung Blu-ray player, it delivered a flawless performance. We tried our new 3D copy of The Great Gatsby and the HT-F6500 didn't put a foot wrong, delivering all of Baz Luhrmann's three dimensional visuals with depth and pop. As with the 3D performance, the digital nature of the content means that any Blu-ray player capable of outputting 1080p24 should be, more or less, identical to any other when using the HDMI output. Provided one doesn’t mess with the Picture Mode options accessed from the Tools button on the remote, the HT-F6500 will faithfully reproduce all your Blu-ray discs in pristine fashion, with no unwanted effects on the colour or luminance channels nor any backdoor noise/film grain reduction – something Samsung products have been known to do in the past.
The HT-F6500 uses a dual core processor and it proved exceptionally competent when deinterlacing a 1080i signal, even with very fine details under movement. As with 1080i content the, Samsung's excellent video processing was also brought to bear when dealing with standard definition DVD content. It was able to fully reproduce the SMPTE 133 resolution test for, correctly scaling the full 576i/50Hz signal without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing and in the cadence tests the HT-F6500 also performed flawlessly, correctly detecting the most common types 2:3 (NTSC - USA/Japan) and 2:2 (PAL - European). The inverse telecine feature also works well and for those with large collections of NTSC discs, it really does help restore the look of film – if you haven’t double dipped with the Blu-ray version, it’s well worth a look.
Audio PerformanceIn terms of the audio formats that the HT-F6500 can decode, all the main ones are covered including Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, DolbyTrueHD, DTS-HD, DTS 96/24 and DTS Neo: Fusion. There are a number of settings for sound effects which can be accessed directly from the remote control including DSP modes, Dolby Pro Logic II and SFE modes. The DSP modes are MP3 Enhancer, Power Bass and Virtual 7.1, whilst the Dolby Pro Logic II modes are the standard Movie, Music, Game, Matrix and Prologic. Finally there is the 3D Sound mode which has four options - high, medium, low and thankfully off. As is almost always the case with the various sound settings, we find that we preferred listening to content in its original format and there is no need to add any additional processing.
The HT-F6500 isn't going to fill a large room with earth shattering sound but that isn't what it's designed for and in a normal living room it can create a suitably impressive surround experience. The matching speakers give the entire sound a tonal cohesiveness, whilst the subwoofer is able to under pin the low end, resulting in a lively and enjoyable experience. There is sufficient power to create an immersive experience and whilst the HT-F6500 lacks the dynamic range of bigger and more expensive systems, it does make for a great first foray into the world of multi-channel sound. Samsung's attention to detail and overall audio quality has certainly resulted in an all-in-one system that offers great value and can hold its own against the competition.
We tried out our new Blu-ray of Star Trek Into Darkness, which has an extremely aggressive sound track and some fairly subterranean bass. The HT-F6500 did a good job of replicating the complex sound design, with nicely rendered music, natural dialogue and a reasonable low end. Although in terms of absolute bass presence, the system's budget status did start to show through. Whilst the amplification delivered reasonable levels of volume without distortion, a passive sub is never going to compete with a dedicated active unit. However, the sub was still able to deliver plenty of bass moments and if you aren't careful in placement it can swamp the rest of the sound field. There was a reasonable amount of clarity and detail in the mid-range and high frequency moments could be picked out, even in the most active of soundtracks, without sounding abrasive. The placement of effects was very good, with reasonable panning around the channels and dialogue remained clear and anchored to the centre speaker, never getting lost in the mix.
The HT-F6500 was also no slouch in the music department and whilst we remain unconvinced of the benefits of a vacuum tube pre-amp, the sound did have a pleasantly warm feel. The smaller speakers mean that you're never going to get the kind of precise performance you would from a dedicated system but then the HT-F6500 is designed to be a jack of all trades rather than a master of one. In stereo we found the localisation of instruments and voices to be very good and the clarity was acceptable with plenty of openness with orchestral recordings. The decent mid-range, along with some reasonable bass meant that rock music was also nicely reproduced. The system's effective reproduction of the higher frequencies meant it could also handle acoustic music with a delicate touch, delivering pianos and female vocals without any harshness. If you like dance music then the passive subwoofer could certainly give the beat plenty of emphasis without overpowering the rest of the mix.
- Superb video performance
- Entertaining surround sound
- Very easy to set up
- Feature-set is excellent
- Bluetooth streaming
- Decent connectivity
- Gorgeous design
- Attractive price
- Subwoofer can be tricky to integrate
- Glow from vacuum tubes can get annoying
- Some fan noise
Samsung HT-F6500 5.1 Channel Blu-ray All-in-One System Review
When you consider how much it costs, the HT-F6500 certainly delivers in the value stakes and includes everything you need to create a full 5.1-channel experience. The main unit has an attractive gloss black finish and is well made, with an unusual curved corner where the vacuum tubes are located. These glow when in use and this is our only real complaint about the design of the HT-F6500 because in a dark room this can be a bit annoying. The main unit includes a built-in Blu-ray player, with a disc tray on the left hand side, an informative display in the middle and some basic control buttons and a USB port on the right. At the rear there two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output that supports ARC; along with an Ethernet port for those that can't take advantage of the built-in WiFi, analogue stereo inputs, an optical digital input and an aerial socket for the built-in FM tuner.
The provided remote control is one of Samsung's standard designs, which is good because their remotes are a text book example of intuitive layout and comfortable use. For those that would rather use their smartphone or tablet to control the HT-F6500, the current iteration of their app is excellent, with a stylish interface. The provided speakers include four identical satellites and a matching centre that mirror the black gloss finish of the main unit. Their shape may be reminiscent of KEF's famous eggs but they're well made and easy to install. The included subwoofer is a passive side-firing design that is styled to match the rest of the system. Setup is made very easy thanks to colour coded connectors and the excellent menu system, which allows you to set the levels and delays. The only points worth noting are that the subwoofer requires careful placement in order to better integrate it into the rest of the system and there is some fan noise.
The HT-F6500 doesn't only have built-in Wi-Fi but also Bluetooth, so the streaming possibilities are extensive if that's how you like to listen to your music. The smart platform is trimmed down from the all singing, all dancing version found on Samsung's TVs but is still very extensive for an all-in-one system. It is accessed from the Home page, where you have a choice of Films and TV Shows, Apps and Photos, Music & Videos; along with some regularly used apps, a Web Browser and the Settings sub menu. The support for video-on-demand and catch-up services is benchmark, with every major service available from one device. There’s also Samsung’s new S Recommendation feature which suggests further viewing based on your tastes. If all that wasn't enough, there's also an excellent media player, Wi-Fi direct and mirroring (if you own a Galaxy S3/4), all powered by dual core processing.
As we would expect from Samsung, the video side of things is excellent with both 2D and 3D Blu-rays displayed flawlessly with no signs of background noise reduction or unwanted manipulation of the signal. Moving onto the audio side of things and the HT-F6500 proved itself to be a very capable performer. The system isn't going to fill a large room with earth shattering sound but that isn't what it's designed for and in a normal living room it can create a suitably impressive surround experience. The matching speakers give the entire sound a tonal cohesiveness, whilst the subwoofer is able to underpin the low end, resulting in a lively and enjoyable experience. The use of a vacuum tube pre-amp does give music in particular a slightly warmer feel and dialogue had a pleasantly natural feel to it. The DSP features tended to muddy the overall soundfield and we generally preferred to listen with no added processing because the HT-F6500 didn't need help in creating an immersive soundstage.
The Samsung HT-F6500 is a great all-round performer, providing everything you could want in a single system. For those looking for a single-box solution or those thinking of dipping their toes into the multi-channel waters, the HT-F6500 offers a great value option.
Ease of Use8
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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