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Samsung BD-D8500M 3D Blu-ray/PVR/Digital TV Combi Review

Steve Withers takes a look at an interesting way to make your TV smarter

Home AV Review

44

Highly Recommended
Samsung BD-D8500M 3D Blu-ray/PVR/Digital TV Combi Review
SRP: £325.00
When we were covering CES back in January the two main features that manufacturers were promoting were 3D and Smart TV. However, despite receiving a fairly large amount of press coverage since then, it would seem that 3D has yet to really capture the public's imagination. By comparison Smart TV has gradually integrated itself into our digital lives and helped to - once again - make the TV the centrepiece of the modern home. The problem is what do you do if your current TV is still performing well despite being a couple of years old but lacks the smarts of more recent models? Well all is not lost because Samsung has provided an elegant solution in the form of their BD-D8500M 3D Blu-ray/PVR/Digital TV/Smart TV combi-player.

Aside from the obvious space saving effects of combining four different functions into one chassis there are also a couple of other benefits to this player. Firstly, if your TV doesn't have Freeview HD you can add that via the two tuners built into the BD-D8500M as well as a 500GB hard drive for recording your favourite programmes. Secondly, if your TV is missing modern internet bells and whistles you can add that too; thanks to the BD-D8500M's built-in Smart TV and WiFi. If that wasn't enough you also get a 3D Blu-ray player and a host of networking capabilities.

In fact, at first sight, the BD-D8500M looks like a very attractive proposition that could address a number of failings in your current TV without you needing to stump up for a brand new display. The question is, does putting all these features together compromise their performance, in other words is the BD-D8500M a jack of all trades and a master of none? Well let's take a look and see.

Styling/Build/Connectivity

Unlike a lot of Samsung's other products this year, the BD-D8500M sports a more classic gloss black look that we find both attractive and contemporary. There is a central groove running along the front with a silver trim on the lip and above this groove is a very elegant glass facia that combines both a LED display and some touch sensitive controls that include stop, play/pause, enter and eject.

Beneath the display - and within the central groove - there is a slot for inserting CDs, DVDs or Blu-rays and whilst some people like this approach we would prefer a sturdy disc tray ourselves. However the disc mechanism appears smooth enough and is reasonably quiet when in operation, although we found it to be a bit noisy when skipping chapters on discs or going to the menu page.

Samsung BD-D8500M

Also on the front at the bottom right-hand side of the BD-D8500M is a flap which opens to reveal a USB port and CI (Common Interface) slot that allows the user to access pay TV channels. The overall build quality is very good which, combined with the excellent design, belies the BD-D8500M's relatively modest price.

Samsung BD-D8500M

The connections at the rear are the standard selection that you would expect to find on a Blu-ray player with a HDMI v1.4 output, a component video output, a composite output and an optical audio out. There are also RF in and out sockets as well as a LAN socket; although the BD-D8500M also includes built-in WiFi. The only connections that are missing are any multichannel analogue outputs for internally decoded high definition audio.

Samsung BD-D8500M

The supplied remote control is a standard black Samsung remote familiar to anyone who has seen a Samsung product in the last few years. However this isn't a criticism because the remote is comfortable to hold and easy to use. The buttons are comprehensive and intuitively laid out and include controls for the Blu-ray player and PVR as well as a 2D to 3D button and the Smart Hub button. The only problem with the remote control is that it makes typing on the Smart TV platform difficult but Samsung have a solution to this - you can download an application for either Apple or Android powered devices, like Samsung's own Galaxy tablets, that allows you to control the BD-D8500M and easily type information on to the Smart TV functions.

Setup/Menus

The BD-D8500M uses an excellent menu system that is both informative, intuitive and responsive. The system has five primary menus, Watch TV, Internet, My Devices, My Contents and Settings. Setup is very straight forward and within the Settings menu there are options for Display, Audio, Channel, Network, System, Language, Security, General and Support.

Samsung BD-D8500M
Samsung BD-D8500M

The Display settings include the 3D controls where you can set the screen size of your display as well as choose the 2D to 3D conversion function. There are also controls for the TV Aspect Ratio, the size of the Smart Hub home screen, BD Wise, Resolution, Colour Format, 24p setting, Deep Colour, Still Mode and Progressive Mode.

The Audio settings includes controls for Digital Output, allowing you to select between Bitstream or PCM, as well as controls for selecting PCM Downsampling, Dynamic Range Control, Downmixing Mode and DTS Neo:6. There is also a control for adjusting the Audio Sync should your suffer from a delay between the image and the sound.

Samsung BD-D8500M
Samsung BD-D8500M

The Channel settings allow you to select the Antenna, choose the country you are in, Auto or Manual Tune your channels, Transfer Channel Lists, select Digital Text, choose Cable Search Options and control the Common Interface (CI) slot. The setup procedure for tuning in the TV channels is very straightforward and only took a few minutes.

The System settings allow you to control the Plug & Play functions, as well as set the clock manually although this can be done automatically via the EPG. There are also controls for Anynet+ (HDMI-CEC), Device Management, BD Data Management and DivX VOD services. Finally there is an option for resetting the entire system.

Samsung BD-D8500M
Samsung BD-D8500M

The Language settings allow the user to select the appropriate language for the On-Screen Menu, as well as for the audio and subtitles on DVDs, Blu-rays and Digital TV.

The Security settings allow the user to turn the DTV Channel Lock an and off as well as select the DTV Programme Rating Lock options. There are also controls for selecting the DVD and Blu-ray Rating locks as well as changing the PIN.

Samsung BD-D8500M
Samsung BD-D8500M

In the General settings there is the Energy Saving control which turns the front panel off when the player is in standby mode. There is also a control for the Light Effect on the front panel which is best left off and a control for turning on and off the Advanced Music Copy control. The most useful control in this sub-menu is the Network Remote Control function which needs to be turned on in order to control the BD-D8500M via a smart phone or other such device. There is also a Support sub-menu that can be used for software upgrades via the internet, USB or Disc. However, if the BD-D8500M is always connected to the internet then you will automatically be informed when a upgrade is available.

Samsung BD-D8500M
Samsung BD-D8500M

The Network sub-menu allows you to select the Network Settings and also check the Network Status. The BD-D8500M has built-in WiFi which supports 802.11n as well as WEP, WPA-PSK and WPA2-PSK encryption protocols. Setting up the network is very simple with the BD-D8500M automatically detecting your WiFi router and allowing you to connect to it; alternatively you can use a LAN cable if you don't have a WiFi router. In this sub-menu you can also turn the SWL (Samsung Wireless Link) function on and off, as well as allow the BD-Live Internet Connection and access the Allshare Server Management controls.

Freeview HD PVR

One of the major benefits of the BD-D8500M is that it includes twin tuners and a 500GB HDD which gives you access to Freeview HD and allows you to record programming. This can be very useful if for example you have an older TV that doesn't have a Freeview HD tuner and can't record to another device, as is the case with our reference Kuro displays.

All of the DTV functions can be accessed from the Watch TV menu that is accessed by hitting the Menu button on the remote control and includes sub-menus for Guide, Schedule Manager, Channel List and Channel Manager. The Guide is the standard EPG that Samsung use on their TVs and it is one of the best we have seen - it is sensibly laid out, easy to read, informative and has a thumbnail image and audio for the channel that you are currently on. Although the Guide can be accessed via the Menu system it can also be accessed directly by using the Guide button on the remote control. The Channel List provides you with a list of all stored channels and the Channel Manager allows you to manage all your stored channels.

Samsung BD-D8500M
Samsung BD-D8500M

Also within Watch TV is the Schedule Manager which shows you all the programmes you have scheduled to record over the next week, either as individual recordings or as part of a series. If you wish to record a programme you can select it from the Guide and then choose to record as a one-off or as part of a series. You can also choose to record a programme either from the Guide or one that you are currently watching by hitting the Record button on the remote control. When setting a timer recording, if the programme is available in both HD and SD, the BD-D8500M will give you the choice of recording in either format. Once a programme is in the Schedule Manager you can access the planned recording and adjust start or end times etc., which can prove useful with channels that have a tendency to overrun programming. The only problem with the recording capabilities of the BD-D8500M is that, despite having two tuners, you can only record one channel at a time which could be an issue if you watch and record a lot of TV. However if two programmes clash the BD-D8500M will try and find one of them later in the schedules and record it then.

Samsung BD-D8500M
Samsung BD-D8500M

Once a programme has been recorded it can be watched in the My Contents menu that gives you access to content recorded on the HDD as well as videos, photos and music that you can access via USB or Allshare. To access recordings on the HDD you choose Recorded TV sub-menu which brings up a list of all your recordings in alphabetical and chronological order. Playing the content is easy and you can either scan through it or press enter which brings up a series of five scenes as thumbnails. In addition you can also edit, split, lock, delete or rename recorded content using the Tool menu accessed via the remote. The only issue we had with playback was that the BD-D8500M didn't give you the option to resume playback at the last part viewed if you had to watch a recording for some reason.

Samsung BD-D8500M
Samsung BD-D8500M

You can also access the HDD via the My Devices menu and it is in this menu that you can also access content on DVDs, Blu-rays, USB and streaming content via Allshare. All your content can be viewed using the My Content menu and the BD-D8500M can support just about any media format including JPEG, MP3, MP4, WMV, WMA, AVI, MKV, VivX HD and XviD. The BD-D8500M can also play AVCHD disc and includes a CD ripping feature that allows you to copy tracks on to the HDD. As well as being able to access all this content you can also transfer videos, music and photos between the HDD and any connected USB or Allshare device.

Smart TV

Another major advantage of the BD-D8500M is the inclusion of Smart TV which allows you to enjoy internet content on older TVs such as our reference Kuro displays. The Smart TV functions can either be accessed via the Internet menu or directly by using the Smart Hub button on the remote control. All the manufacturers have released upgraded internet platforms this year but Samsung's is probably the best because it is easy to set up thanks to built-in WiFi, has a sensible layout and is easy to use thanks to functions like network control via smart phones.

Samsung BD-D8500M
Samsung BD-D8500M

The Smart TV functions are accessed via the Smart Hub which is clearly laid out and uses icons similar to the ones found on Samsung's Galaxy smart phones. The Samsung Smart TV platform uses applications much like a smartphone and places the most important ones along the top. You can customise the layout to suit your personal preferences, which is useful as it not only keeps the Smart Hub from becoming cluttered but also means you only have to see the applications you are interested in. You can also save your own login page which would allow parents to control a child's access. There is also Samsung Apps store where you can find other applications and add them to your Smart Hub. Text entry into dialogue boxes can be a bit laborious with the remote but much easier if you use the control application available for iPhones, iPads and Android smart devices.

There is an impressive array of content, including social networking applications for Facebook and Twitter as well as YouTube and Picasa. There is also the BBC iPlayer which allows you to catch up on BBC programmes in both SD and HD and LoveFilm for video on demand services. It would be nice if Samsung could add more catch-up services like 4OD in the future. Another nice feature is the Search All function which allows you to type in keywords and then looks for that content on either the HDD or any of the Smart Hub applications. One useful feature of this search function is that it will look for the highest resolution video that it can find, which is a nice touch. Another useful tool is Your Video which is a combination of a search function and a movie database.

Whilst the Smart TV functions on the BD-D8500M are very impressive they do not completely mimic those on the Samsung TVs which is a shame. First of all the Smart TV functions on the Samsung TVs include a web browser which is unfortunately missing on the BD-D8500M Smart Hub. We're not sure why this should be so but it would be nice if Samsung could add it through a future software upgrade. Despite having twin DTV tuners and an EPG, unlike on the Samsung TVs the Search All function on the BD-D8500M does not search the EPG for content which is a shame. We have found this feature on Samsung TVs to be very useful when looking to see if a certain film is on that week. Once again, hopefully this can be added with a future software upgrade.

3D Playback

As we have mentioned in previous Blu-ray player reviews any 3D Blu-ray player should be able to output the content on the discs equally as well over HDMI because it is a digital signal. It should therefore come as no surprise to discover that the overall 3D performance of the BD-D8500M was excellent with the content playing flawlessly on a number of different 3D displays. The BD-D8500M handled the high definition audio equally as well and the resulting experience was incredibly immersive with the added dimensionality of the 3D image and the enveloping surround sound. We tried a number of 3D Blu-rays and they all played first time without any compatibility or handshaking issues. One point to be careful of is the screen size setting in the 3D menu, we forgot to change this when going from a 65" to a 55" display and the resulting 3D initially looked strange, however once we set the correct screen size the performance was excellent.

1080p Playback

As with the 3D performance, the digital nature of the content means that any Blu-ray player capable of outputting 1080p24 should be identical to any other when using the HDMI output. The BD-D8500M performed equally as well as all the other Blu-ray players that we have tested and it correctly output the video without any issues as demonstrated by the multiburst and zone plate patterns on our Spears & Munsil disc. The images produced were excellent with all the Blu-rays we watched showing plenty of fine detail and appearing free from any judder or unwanted video processing.

1080i Playback

When it comes to 1080i content the opportunity for the player itself to add value is far greater than it is with 1080p content. The ability of the player to detect film content inside the interlaced signal and correctly deinterlace it without introducing artefacts is dependent on the quality of the processing in the player itself. Luckily the BD-D8500M uses Samsung's proprietary video processing which is exceptionally good and the player passed every single cadence test on both our Spear & Munsil and HQV Blu-ray discs.

We also used the HQV Blu-ray disc to check the quality of the video deinterlacing. This disc has a jaggies pattern that uses three rotating bars and with the BD-D8500M all three bars were smooth with no jaggies. The BD-D8500M also had no problems with the video resolution loss test, correctly processing the moving portion of the image and leaving the background free of artefacts. The BD-D8500M was also able to handle discs with film content that is encoded at 1080i/50Hz without any problems.

480i/576i Playback

As with the 1080i content the BD-D8500M benefits from Samsung's excellent video processing when dealing with both NTSC and PAL content. Using the HQV DVDs the BD-D8500M was able to fully reproduce the SMPTE colour bar tests for both PAL and NTSC, correctly scaling the full 576i/50Hz and 480i/60Hz images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. With the video deinterlacing tests the results were also excellent, the BD-D8500M reproduced the rotating line without producing any jaggies, even at the most extreme angles. In the motion adaptive deinterlacing test the performance remained superb with all three moving lines being reproduced correctly, even on the bottom line. The BD-D8500M also had no problems in resolving all the fine brickwork in the detail tests on both the PAL and NTSC discs.

The BD-D8500M’s performance was equally impressive with the film detail test, correctly locking on to the image resulting in no aliasing in the speedway seats behind the race car. In the cadence tests the BD-D8500M also performed flawlessly, correctly detecting the most common types 2:3 (NTSC - USA/Japan) and 2:2 (PAL - European). The BD-D8500M also had no problems with the test displaying film material with scrolling video text, the text was always clearly readable without any shredding.

Subjective Audio Tests

Unlike the video performance, which can be measured using a series of established tests and viewed on a calibrated reference monitor, things are a little more subjective when it comes to the audio performance. As with video, the audio will also be subject to the quality of the system being used, how it is setup and how it has been calibrated. In addition since most people will be sending the audio as a digital bit-stream over HDMI, this means that the digital to analogue conversion is actually being handled by their receiver or audio processor.

However, we tried a number of different audio formats on the BD-D8500M including multichannel PCM, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA soundtracks from Blu-rays and Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks from DVDs and DTV. We also tried different methods of connecting the BD-D8500M to our Denon amp, including HDMI and optical as well as switching between bitstream and PCM.
The result of all these tests was that we could not detect noticeable differences between any of these modes and every format sounded wonderful. Considering it isn't an audiophile product, the BD-D8500M was a surprisingly capable audio performer and whether it was DTS-HD Master Audio or a stereo CD the audio sounded very confident. The BD-D8500M was also able to detect all the different discs and audio formats without any problems and played each one back flawlessly

Disc Load Times

Since the BD-D8500M doesn't have a disc tray the start up time is a bit shorter than other players at an impressive 7 seconds. The load times for Blu-rays were reasonably fast on the BD-D8500M with most discs showing the copyright warnings within 30 to 40 seconds and another 20 seconds to the menus. Obviously these times were dependent on how much Java programming the studio has used with Fox and Disney being the worst offenders. Sony, Warners and Paramount tend to get straight to the point but Universal discs are often slowed down by useless BD-Live features.

Energy Consumption

The BD-D8500M proved a relatively efficient performer, considering all that it does, in consuming an averaged 24W in use and 3W in standby

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • 3D capable Blu-ray player
  • Freeview HD twin tuners built-in
  • Built-in 500GB hard drive
  • Excellent scaling and deinterlacing
  • Effective internet platform
  • Attractive design
  • Built-in WiFi
  • Well designed menu system
  • 2D to 3D conversion built-in
  • Comprehensive media streaming capability

The Bad

  • Inability to record two channels simultaneously
  • Limited number of catch-up services in Smart Hub
  • All Search function doesn't include the EPG
  • Absence of web browser in Smart Hub
  • Unable to move recordings to a separate storage device
  • Lack of support for FLAC files

Samsung BD-D8500M 3D Blu-ray/PVR/Digital TV Combi Review

Any concerns we had that the BD-D8500M was biting off more than it could chew were soon dispelled once we started using the player. First off the Blu-ray performance was excellent with nicely detailed images from both 2D and 3D high definition discs. In reality, as long as the manufacturer can avoid the temptation to add unwanted processing any Blu-ray player should be able to produce a wonderful image via HDMI and the BD-D8500M was no exception. On top of that the BD-D8500M also includes a 2D to 3D conversion function for those who have 3D TVs without that feature. The video processing on the BD-D8500M was also excellent, especially the deinterlacing and scaling which resulted in some very nice images from DVDs and the audio performance via HDMI was surprisingly good too. The load times were reasonably quick and the BD-D8500M includes all the BD-Live functionality that we have come to expect from a modern player. As a matter of personal preference we prefer a disc tray to a disc slot and sometimes the disc mechanism could be a little noisy, especially when skipping but otherwise this was an impressive Blu-ray performance from the BD-D8500M.

As a digital TV tuner and recorder the BD-D8500M also performed well with the two built-in tuners producing some very pleasing images, especially with high definition content. However, thanks to the excellent video processing mentioned in the previous section, even standard definition broadcasts could also look very watchable. The Samsung EPG is one of our favourites, it is very nicely laid out, includes a thumbnail and audio from the channel you are currently on and is easy to read and informative. The accompanying schedule manager and hard drive are also easy to use with handy functions like series record and editing features. We also found that when watching recorded content the menus and controls were quite responsive and the images themselves were very impressive. Our only complaint would be that, despite the BD-D8500M having two tuners, you can only record one channel at a time. We didn't find this to be a major problem because if two programmes did clash the BD-D8500M would locate one of the programmes later in the schedule and record it then. However, if you watch a lot of TV you might find the inability to record two channels simultaneously something of a nuisance.

Thanks to the built-in WiFi, the Smart TV functions on the BD-D8500M were incredibly easy to setup and use and for the most part mirrored the functionality available on Samsung's new TVs. The Samsung Smart TV platform is currently the best that we have tested and includes the Smart Hub home page from which you can launch internet content as well as access recorded content, streaming content and content from external devices. You can customise the Smart Hub page in order to prioritise the applications you use the most and you can save different users in order to restrict content. Samsung's Smart TV also includes a wide range of social networking features including Twitter and Facebook. There is also Samsung's applications store, as well as their Your Video function, video on demand and catch-up services. In fact, the only feature that seemed to be missing when compared to the Smart TV found on Samsung's TVs was the web browser, we're not sure why this is but it would be nice to see this added. We would also like to see the All Search function looking for content in the EPG as is the case on Samsung TVs. Our only other comment would be that we'd like to see more catch-up services on the Samsung platform but hopefully they will be added later.

If all of that wasn't enough the BD-D8500M sports an attractive gloss black chassis and an impressive array of networking capabilities. The included remote is sensibly laid out and comfortable to use and the menu system is both attractive and intuitive. As with other Samsung products there is an application that allows you to control the BD-D8500M via Android and Apple devices which is very useful where typing is required. In fact our only complaint in this area is the inability to save recordings to external storage devices.

Overall the Samsung BD-D8500M is a fantastic all round performer that not only provides excellent high definition images and sound from Blu-rays but also offers an inexpensive way of adding Freeview HD and Smart TV to older displays.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Picture Quality

.
9

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Features

.
9

Ease Of Use

.
.
8

Build Quality

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
9

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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