Samsung BD-D8900 3D Blu-ray Player and Digital PVR Combi Review

Mark samples Samsung's latest multi-tasking box of tricks.

by hodg100
Home AV Review

Samsung BD-D8900 3D Blu-ray Player and Digital PVR Combi Review
SRP: £399.00
The Samsung BD-D8900M is their flagship 3D Blu-ray/PVR combi for 2011 and is packed to the gills with features and functionality. Steve Withers was left very impressed by the BD8900’s predecessor, the BD8500M; and on top of the 8500’s, already generous, feature set, Samsung have upped the hard drive storage to 1 terabyte and added an extra HDMI output for audio duties, largely for those with 3D capable displays but not 3D friendly AV receivers.

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.

Styling/Build/Connectivity

We like the looks of the Samsung BD-D8900M, although it errs to the functional over the decorative. In fact there’s very little departure – styling wise – over the 8500 with a central groove running along the front of the unit, featuring a silver trim on the lip, and above the groove is a glass facia combining both a LED display and touch sensitive controls including Stop, Play/Pause, Enter and Eject. The far right side of the lip is actually a flip down panel housing a slot for the CAM interface (for premium digital service) and a USB port. Just above the middle portion of the lip is the slot-loading optical disc drive which some will prefer to a tray mechanism and some won’t. The most important thing to us, however, is that it performs it duties swiftly and quietly and, whilst the 8900 manages the former, it is quite noisy in operation when loaded with a Blu-ray disc or DVD, particularly when using seek functions. How much that will bother people will likely be affected by how close they’re sitting and we were rarely troubled, during playback, from around 6ft distance.

Samsung BD-D8900M

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.

Samsung BD-D8900M

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

Setting up the Samsung BD-D8900M for the first time was the expected streamlined process and we were soon tuned and networked and ready to go. Once up and running we found the Samsung GUI to be very nicely presented and responsive to use with the Menus split in to 5 headings - Watch TV, Internet, My Devices, My Contents and Settings. Under the Settings menu there are options for Display, Audio, Channel, Network, System, Language, Security, General and Support.

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.

Samsung BD-D8900M
Samsung BD-D8900M

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 BD-D8900M
Samsung BD-D8900M

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.

Features

The Samsung BD-D8900 scores heavily in this section. Over and above its cored duties as a disc spinner and Freeview PVR, the 8900 is capable of streaming media files to and from other devices as a server or client but if you want to use the AllShare functionality on your PC, software from the Samsung website is required. We found file support to be good for video with almost all of the mkv/mp4/DivX files we threw at it, although our mkv collection is hardly exhaustive. We know some owners have had a great deal of joy by installing the unofficial PLEX app but we won’t be going there in this review, for obvious reasons. On top of the streaming options, there’s similar support for connected USB storage and your mobile device (tablet/smartphone/iPod etc) can be hooked up wirelessly too.

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.

Samsung BD-D8900M
Samsung BD-D8900M

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

We won’t lie, we’ve become totally dependent on the PVR (Personal Video Recorder) over the last few years and, as a result, have been through multiple boxes, each with their pros and cons. We’re sorry to report that the implementation on the BD-D8900 is one of the most limited, and limiting, we’ve experienced; the most glaring limitation being the inability to record from both tuners simultaneously, meaning you’re restricted to record one and watch another. It may be enough for some but anyone that is used to the likes of Sky+, Virgin’s V+ or TiVo - not to mention dozens of other Freeview PVRs – are perhaps in for a shock. It’s often said that there’s rarely two programs on at once worth recording, and whilst often true, there are overlaps and delayed programming to consider so we can’t understand Samsung’s reluctance to enable dual recording capability, unless it’s a hardware limitation, which we’d hope isn’t the case. The issue also shows up in the inability to pause a program you’re viewing whilst a recording another.

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.

Samsung BD-D8900M

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…

3D Playback

We are happy to report much gladder tidings, from here on in, and we had absolutely no issues with 3D playback, once we’d corrected the screen size setting in the 3D menu. We can’t really claim to see any inherent differences between players in displaying 3D imagery – much as is usually the case with 2D Blu-ray – so we weren’t expecting the BD-D8900 to either blow the competition away or, indeed, drop a clanger; and so it proved. We ran a number of 3D Blu’s against a few displays and couldn’t detect any shenanigans and our 3D resolution test proved all detail was present. In short, you’re not going to wrong with this box engaged as your primary 3D player.

1080p Playback

Much as the electronics inside a Blu-ray player shouldn’t have a problem in displaying full resolution 3D, the same applies to the representation of 2D 1080p24 material. The only problems we’ve ever witnessed were in a Sony player that was messing up the gamma curve and the BD-D8900, more or less, kept the signal intact. The player does have some picture modes of its own – Normal/Movie/User/Dynamic – and that does have a bearing on things. Where Movie is usually the most accurate pre-set of the Samsung TVs, with the BD8900 it was steepening the curve away from our targeted to 2.2 toward 2.4, although greyscale was more or less intact, allowing for the change in gamma. Dynamic did the opposite whilst also increasing luminance of the colours and adding undefeatable sharpening. The two most unadulterated modes were User and Normal that did nothing bar lower the luminance of the colour palette, a little, but it was not to the point where errors were noticeable to the eye and User mode offered the controls to correct the error in any case. For anyone struggling to find these picture modes – they’re under the Tools button.

1080i Playback

It’s with interlaced signals that we generally see Blu-ray players adding value and we had high expectations here, given the performance of the BD8500 previously covered – and we weren’t disappointed. We started by checking deinterlacing performance; first by using a rotating bars pattern that displayed only the tiniest amount of jaggies and then using some test clips with lots of fine details, in motion. As with the pattern, the BD8900 performed excellently with only a very small (and we mean small) amount of fuzziness visible – from almost next to a 50 inch plasma.

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.

SD Playback

Just as with interlaced high-def content, the Samsung BD-D8900M showed its video processing prowess with both 480i and 576i content. The two most common cadences – (PAL) 2:2 and (NTSC) 2:3 – were locked on to in double quick fashion. Scaling was of the usual high-end Samsung quality and is amongst the best in anything less than the better AV Receivers and Video Processors out there. We could detect no loss of detail and haloing – where not inherent on source material - was next to non-existent. Again, it’s good news for broadcast material here too. Whilst the PVR functions were disappointing, the BD8900 brings itself back from the brink in terms of picture quality and processing.

Disc Load Times

The BD8900 performed slightly better than the findings from the BD8500 review, in this area, with most Blu-rays showing copyright warnings in under 30 seconds and menus around 15 seconds after that. DVD’s were ready before we were sat down, in most cases.

Energy Consumption

Energy efficiency also seems to taken a turn for the better, as whilst it matched the 8500 by consuming an averaged 24W when in use, we were measuring less than 1W in standby.

Verdict

6
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • 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

The Bad

  • 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.

Scores

Picture Quality

.
9

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Features

.
.
.
7

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
.
.
6

Value For Money

.
.
.
.
.
5

Verdict

.
.
.
.
6
6
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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