Multi-purpose units are all well and good provided important areas aren’t overlooked - or poorly implemented - so it’s always a tough ask for manufacturers to ensure owners aren’t missing out when compared to opting for dedicated boxes. We saw the Panasonic DMR-BWT800 pull off the trick just a few weeks ago (and that does even more) so the 8900 has some serious competition on its hands; albeit at slightly differing price-points. As ever, with these sorts of product, there’s much to test so best get our skates on.
The rear of the BD8900M is simply laid out and features two HDMI outputs, with HDMI 1 capable of delivering of 3D video whilst the second is intended for audio only duties - for owners whose AV receivers aren’t 3D capable. We also have legacy composite and component outputs but owners of TVs with no HDMI inputs need to be aware that the component out is only able to carry a maximum resolution of 576i for Blu-ray as, since the turn of the year, manufacturers have been forbidden from allowing HD output of Blu-ray, over analogue, as a part of the AACS Adopter Agreement. In addition we have an antennae input, capable of receiving Freeview HD transmissions, as well as a ‘loop through’ output for connecting to the TV; a LAN connection and a SPDIF Digital Audio Out. There are no 7.1 analogue audio outs but we weren’t expecting them.
The supplied remote control is typically Samsung and, whilst they do look and feel on the cheap side, buttons are sensibly positioned and response feels snappy. We would have liked to see a backlight function, for darker viewing conditions, but anyone familiar with a Samsung product, released in the last few years, could probably use it blindfolded. To the top left corner there are selection buttons to choose between Disc and TV/PVR functions (labelled BD and TV) and certain buttons will provoke different behaviour for anyone that pairs the 8900 with a Samsung TV. For instance, pressing the Menu Button in TV mode will call up the TV’s GUI for picture, sound etc; whilst in BD mode it will call up the various set up options – of which there are many…
Menus and Set Up
Under the Display settings sub-menu we have various options including 3D Settings, TV Aspect, Smart Hub Screen Size, BD Wise, Resolution, HDMI Colour Format, Movie Frame (24FS), HDMI Deep Colour, Still Mode and Progressive Mode. We will deal with what some of those settings do later on but, as recommendations, we’d 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 engaged.
The Audio settings include options for Digital Output - PCM/Bitstream (unprocessed)/Bitstream (Re-encoded DTS)/Bitstream (re-encoded Dolby D). We’ll let owners decide between the merits of PCM and unprocessed Bitstream, for themselves, but the re-encode to DTS, in particular, is nice for those that don’t own AVR’s with the ability to play HD audio. We also have the option to downsample PCM from 96kHz to 48kHz for receivers not capable of 96kHz; a Dynamic Range Control that we prefer off but is useful, when engaged, in not waking the house up from the sounds of a late night action movie. We can also compensate for any audio lag in the display using the Audio Sync option and choose whether to output audio via the HDMI 2 output under the HDMI Audio Output option.
The Channel item contains various tuning options; Network houses connection options under Network Settings, Network Status and Samsung Wireless link for connection to mobile devices and we can also enable the BD8900 to act as a media server by enabling the AllShare Server function. 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.
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 whilst the Security settings allow the user to turn the DTV Channel Lock on 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.
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 and a control for turning on and off the Advanced Music Copy control, which will import track data from the internet during the copying process, when activated. The Network Remote Control function needs to be activated on in order to control the BD-D8900M via a suitable mobile device (smartphone/tablet etc). There is also a Support sub-menu that can be used for software upgrades via the internet, USB or Disc. However, if the BD-D8900M is always connected to the internet then you should automatically be informed when an upgrade is available.
Fortunately the other 4 Menus don’t contain anything like the number of options as the Settings Menu, with the Internet Menu just another means of accessing Smart Hub (there’s a button on the remote too); My Contents gives access to all possible playback options for media files, whether it be streamed, from USB or from the internal storage and there’s a separate tab for Recorded TV. My Devices provides access to the internal HDD, Optical Drive, Network Servers and USB Drive and is very much crossed over with My Contents. Sometimes duplication can lead to confusion but we feel, in this instance, as there’s quite a lot going on for the inexperienced user that it’s well judged and means novices will easily find what they’re looking for. Finally, the Watch TV menu allows access to the Electronic Program Guide (EPG); the Schedule Manager allows the setting of manual recordings or access to previously recorded programs; Channel List brings up exactly that and can also be done direct from the remote and, finally, we have the handy Channel Manager affording the setting up of favourites lists, parental locks and, best of all, the deletion of unwanted channels; so you can get rid of all the dross you don’t want or need.
Samsung’s EPG implementation is excellently presented and clear and easy to read with a 6 channel/2 hour view. There’s a video window top left and we’re even happier to point out that the audio stream isn’t cut on entering the guide, as we’ve seen with some other manufacturers. From the EPG we can schedule recordings, set watch timers and sort by Channel Mode (All, Radio, TV or Data).
The Tools Button on the remote control brings up a few further options, notably one that affects picture quality, Picture Settings, housing four viewing modes - Normal/Movie/Dynamic/User . With User selected further ‘Advanced Settings’ are enabled – Sharpness, Noise Reduction, Contrast, Brightness, Colour and Tint. We’ll be running our measuring equipment over the various modes to see what they’re doing to the picture.
Of course the star of this particular show comes in the shape of Samsung’s Smart Hub that acts as internet portal for the download of apps and widgets as well as providing search and recommendation features. We won’t go on to list the huge amount of apps available but the usual suspects – BBC iPlayer/YouTube/Facebook/Twitter – are all available and function well. The YouTube app even searches out the highest quality video available, to save you the bother. There’s also a wide variety of games, news and information services to choose from too. It was, however, a shame that Samsung’s own Explore 3D app isn’t available for anything but their TV ranges, this being a 3D capable device. Another notable difference between the TVs Smart Hub and that of the BD8900 is that EPG selections aren’t part of the data that shapes the recommendation engine, Your Video, and is instead limited to your activity in the Smart Hub. We’d like to see both matters addressed.
Small complaints aside, Samsung’s Smart offering is still ahead of the pack and we like the feel, layout and customisability options it provides but it does all feel a little more disconnected than through the television based version.
Freeview HD PVR
If the shortcomings stopped there it wouldn’t be so bad but, unfortunately, there are others. Whilst it is possible to ‘Chase Play’ (start watching from the beginning of a recording before it’s complete) on a currently recording programme, it’s done so through the EPG (or navigating to the channel recording), meaning you have to go to the present ‘live’ point of the programme and skip back to the beginning of the recording, that can result in you catching a glimpse of the action or a scoreline you didn’t want to see and ruining the time shift experience. It would be much better to be able to access a recording in progress from the Schedule Manager/My Contents or at least have the option of going to the beginning of the recording from the EPG.
Another drawback we observed was in the inabilty to access the Smart Hub without stopping any recording in progress. For a so called Smart device, this isn’t very clever and a big mark against its status as a multi-functional device. Fortunately you are able to watch a disc or view streamed content whilst a recording is in progress. To round off the list of annoyances we also have to mention the pop up message that occurs every time a recording is about to happen asking if you want to switch to that channel to check if the schedule has changed. No we do not! We want you, our PVR, to check for it in the background whilst we go about our important, humanly business. Finally, timer clashes aren’t flagged as you schedule recordings, instead you get a message just prior to the recording that it isn’t going to happen. The BD8900 is clever in that it will search for re-runs or +1 channel showings but it would be much better to be warned at the time of setting. What happens if you’re away from the TV at the time?
Apart from the snazzy GUI, the BD8900 functions - as a PVR - only a little above the USB HDD PVR features found in many new mid to high range TVs. It’s forgivable for a televisions’ PVR functionality to be limited – we even applaud its inclusion in many reviews, as a nice bonus feature – but for a solution billed as part of the bread and butter of the machine, it’s sorely lacking. We’d hope, going forwards, Samsung can address these glaring limitations, in software, and unlock what could be a killer combination. It’s a shame as features like Recommended Content are a nice idea but it would be good to know why a program was recommended and also be able to access program info from the interface. It would also be nice if it didn’t seem such a random event, also, as it happens so infrequently.
We’ve seen the Panasonic BWT800 perform near flawlessly as a multi-faceted unit so there really is no excuse for Samsung’s weak efforts in including a decent PVR in to the BD8900 and we’d advise anyone ‘serious’ about this side of the functionality to look elsewhere. On a much more positive note, picture quality is of an excellent standard thanks to all-round stunning scaling and general video processing. More on this coming right up…
The BD8900 chomped through all our cadence detection tests at both 50hz and 60Hz, meaning we were seeing no loss of resolution or artefacting owing to unnecessary deinterlacing. The excellent handling of 1080i content isn’t just good news for content from the optical drive but also translates over to the signals sent when viewing from the tuner or recorded to hard drive.
Disc Load Times
- Tamper free Blu-ray playback
- Excellent scaling of DVD and SD broadcast material
- Superior video Processing
- 3D processing up there with the best
- Dual HDMI output (for audio)
- Smart Hub is still good, even with the limitations
- Throttled PVR functionalities
- Inability to record and access Smart Hub simultaneously
- Price compared to dedicated units
Samsung BD-D8900 3D Blu-ray Player and Digital PVR Combi Review
The Samsung BD-D8900M presents us with something of a conundrum. On the one hand we have a 3D capable Blu-ray player that features both 1080p and 3D playback abilities that stay faithful to source and preserves all detail; whilst also being a more than capable DVD spinner - possessing superior video processing and scaling to that of much of the competition. Marry those qualities with some state of the art Smart TV functionality and the Samsung begins to look like an enticing upgrade player. Add in the fact it’s a Freeview HD PVR and we could truly be dealing with the proverbial killer combo.
Except it’s not. The BD8900M comes up short as a digital recorder, largely thanks to its inability to record from both tuners simultaneously. There are other annoyances and shortcomings too – notably the inability to access the Smart Hub during a recording - which all combine in making the PVR functionality seem tacked on. Anybody migrating from the likes of Sky or Virgin services are likely to feel short changed, not to mention anyone used to a ‘proper’ dual tuner Freeview/Freesat PVR. It’s a pity as with just a little more effort, on the recording side of things, and an increase in flexibility, this box could have been a real winner. Instead it misses out on an AVForums award when a better two box solution can be had for less. Jack of all trades? No, master of one.
We’re quite fond of the BD8900’s styling with its retro chrome effect lip and, most importantly, it can hide itself in your rack fairly unobtrusively when the LED display is switched off in the menus. The menus themselves, whilst extensive, are well planned when you consider the level of features they have to cater for and the fact there’s a some crossover in items between sub menus is actually a good idea, meaning you’re not going struggle to find what you’re looking for.
As we’ve come to expect from Samsung products, there’s plenty of features packed in. We have network streaming of media files, both as server and client, with generous – although not all-encompassing – support of video files, in particular and there’s the obligatory app, to allow control of the device from your tablet, smartphone and iPod too. Samsung’s Smart Hub is packed with apps and video on demand services, including Vimeo, BBC iPlayer and YouTube but we would have liked to see the ‘Your Video’ search and recommendation engine include activity from the EPG, particularly as the unit carries PVR functionalities as a major selling point.
With some redesign to the software controlling the recording capabilities, in particular, Samsung will have a winner on their hands; until then it’s a combination device made up of unbalanced ingredients.
Ease Of Use
Value For Money
Our Review Ethos
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