Samsung BD-E8500M 3D Blu-ray Player and Digital PVR Combi Review

Can multi-functionalism triumph or are dedicated boxes still the way ahead?

by hodg100
Home AV Review

Highly Recommended
Samsung BD-E8500M 3D Blu-ray Player and Digital PVR Combi Review
SRP: £280.00

Introduction

What to term these products is a bit of a conundrum. Samsung call it a ‘Smart 3D Blu-ray Player with 500Gb Freeview HD Recorder’ which, whilst technically accurate, hardly rolls of the tongue. Try saying that to your friends and family and we’ll bet 90% of them will have glazed eyes by the time the word ‘player’ has spilled from your lips. We’re not saying we have a better alternative, just illustrating it’s a product that doesn’t have an instantaneous recognition factor in the way, for instance, a television or Blu-ray player does and perhaps, because of its multi-functionalism, will struggle to find a foothold in the market. There are two directly competing products in the form of the LG HR925M and Panasonic DMR-PWT420EB and we’d be a little surprised if they all survive, long term, so each will need to go about its duties in tip-top fashion with no hint the ‘combi’ nature of the product has any detrimental influence on the myriad functionalities. No easy job.

We had some criticisms of the last ‘multi-box’ we had in for review from Samsung, in the shape of the BD-D8900M, largely centred on the tacked on feel of the PVR functionalities. Despite its dual tuners, it wasn’t able to record two programmes simultaneously, amongst a number of other shortcomings. The good news is that Samsung have reacted to the criticism and included a promised clutch of enhancements and upgrades to the PVR side of the bargain; there was almost nothing to fault in its other duties after all. If Samsung can pull off the three card trick - at just shy of £300 – the BD-E8500M is going be a one box solution of potentially superb value but if there’s a weak link, you’ll likely end up wishing you went the separates route. With so much to look at, we really must move on!

Design and Connections

The Samsung BD-E8500 is hardly a big departure, design wise, from the D8500 and D8900 we saw last year but that’s no bad thing. Like its predecessors, the 8900 features 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. To the far right side is a flip down slot a USB port and on the right panel of the unit is a CAM slot for premium digital content. Just above the middle portion of the lip is the slot-loading optical disc drive which some will prefer to a tray mechanism but it is quite noisy in operation.

Samsung BD-E8500M

The rear of the BD-E8500M features just the one HDMI output, instead of the dual HDMI ports from last year, so owners of AV Receivers that aren’t 3D capable will have to link the audio via the S/PDIF digital audio out. There’s also a legacy composite output but the (hobbled) component connection that featured last year is no longer available. Additionally, we have the antennae input which is capable of receiving Freeview HD transmissions, a ‘loop through’ output for connecting to the TV, a LAN connection and a further USB port.

The provided remote control is very similar to the slimline handsets we’ve seen in Samsung’s new TV ranges and we like it. Considering the amount of functionality present in the E8500, Samsung has done a good job of not over cluttering the remote and it manages to fit in new dedicated buttons for the Internet Browser, Social TV feature and a Smart Hub button. We would like to have seen a button that takes you straight to the optical disc menu from either the Smart Hub or internal tuners so that’s going in the suggestions box. Owners of Samsung TVs – of which there are many – will be pleased with the ability to switch the remote between operating their TV and ‘mega-box’ by using the BD/TV buttons top left. Strangely, these are the only buttons which illuminate when pressed.

Menus

Since we encountered last year’s iterations, Samsung has had a bit of a rethink over the Menu categories but still retains the same broad structure of 5 sub-menus – Smart Hub, AllShare Play, Channel, Schedule Manager and Settings. Further, under the Settings heading, there are categories for Display, Audio, Channel, Network, System, Language, Security, General and Support. We’ll cover the Smart Hub in detail, later in the review.

Samsung BD-E8500M
Samsung BD-E8500M

That the number of options and settings are so numerous is inevitable, given the scope of the E8500’s capabilities, but we think Samsung has made a very commendable job of streamlining operation for the end user, beginning with AllShare Play where all playback functions are accessed. Bringing up the AllShare Menu will give further options of My List, Videos, Photos, Music and Recorded TV. The My List option contains sub-sections for Recently Played, which is largely self-explanatory but does include your recent selections from whichever medium you were viewing – whether streamed from PC or Mobile Device, Media stored on the internal 500GB hard drives or connected storage. Similarly, opting for Videos, Photos or Music will provide the opportunity of watching or listening from the various devices. From the My List option you can also create playlists, of various content, but you’ll need a Samsung.com account to do so. Finally, at the bottom off the AllShare list, is the Recorded TV item - which is precisely what you think it is but offers the choice of playback from the internal hard drive or connected storage.

Samsung BD-E8500M
Samsung BD-E8500M

The Channel Menu allows the user to create favourites lists, choose to view only TV, Radio or Data services, move the channel order or look at Recently and Most Viewed channels. We’re a little surprised there was no option to tune in services in there too, as it seems a logical fit, but that’s reserved for the Settings Menu. From the Schedule Manager it’s possible to review and edit scheduled recordings, set manual recordings, view, edit and split previously recorded programmes or ‘Chase Play’ on an item currently being recorded. For the uninitiated, Chase Play refers to the function of beginning to watch a programme before the recording has finished. Progress indeed after last year’s clunky implementation of that particular feature.

Samsung BD-E8500M
Samsung BD-E8500M

The final menu, Settings, plays home to an almost bewildering array of options but we’ll just try and guide you through the picture altering options, i.e. the Display Menu. From here there are options including the 3D Settings, TV Aspect Ratio, Smart Hub Screen Size, BD Wise, Resolution, DTV Smart resolution, Movie Frame (24FS), HDMI Colour Format, HDMI Deep Colour and Progressive Mode. The 3D settings allow the choice of auto-playing 3D content in 3D, 2D or Auto which will choose the number of dimensions based on the display it is connected to; you can also set the Screen size of the connected display for optimal perfromance. TV Aspect Ratio is best set to 16:9 Original to preserve 4:3 material in its correct size and Shape; Smart Hub Screen Size increases or decreases the Zoom for the Smart Hub page.

BD Wise is only functional with compatible Samsung displays and, when activated, promises to deliver Blu-rays at their native frame rate and resolution. There’s no real need to activate it provided you have selected Auto for the Movie Frame (24Fs) option. HDMI colour format gives choices of Auto, YCbCr(4:4:4), RGB (Standard) and RGB (Enhanced). How that is set is dependent on the capabilities of the display but the safest options, for those not hooking up the E8500 to a PC, are either Auto or YcCbCr. HDMI Deep Colour may as well be set to off as there’s no content to support it and Progressive Mode left on Auto to enable the cadence detection to work, that’s if it does, and that will be looked at later.

Smart Hub and Features

The Smart Hub interface of the E8500 is almost identical to that of those in the TV ranges except, for some reason, there’s no access to recorded programmes or stored/streamed media files. Obviously that contents can be got at from the AllShare Play or Recording Schedule selections but it’s an unusually non-inclusive strategy from Samsung and we’d have preferred it the option had been there. With that said, the offerings from the Smart Hub are very extensive but not quite up to those in the TV ranges with the most notable omissions being the ITV Player, the BBC Sport App and Samsungs’ own Explore 3D streaming service. It’s probable the first couple of those will follow via an update, as they’re recent additions to Samsung’s Smart Universe, but it looks unlikely the 3D service is on the cards since that has been around for over 12 months.

Now we’ve said what isn’t there, let’s focus on what is. There’s nothing new about Picture in Picture (PiP) functionality but we can honestly say we’ve barely ever touched it in any of the numerous devices we’ve tested over the years but London 2012 has changed all that, given the scope of unmissable action on TV at the present. The ability to be able to keep your eye on – and switch easily to – something on another channel is a real ‘nice to have’ sometimes, although you may find other members of the household are not quite so keen. Not there yet but coming soon is Samsung’s Smart View feature and Smart View App, allowing owners to watch the same or different TV programs on compatible devices like a tablet, PC or smartphone in a different part of the house. Smart View is scheduled for Q3 2012 release.

Samsung BD-E8500M
Samsung BD-E8500M

Sitting in the middle of the Smart Hub is the 'Your Video' section that works as a recommendation engine, where your viewing habits are tracked and suggestions based on genre, subject matter, director, actor/actress are made for your further viewing. Too add to the near ubiquitous presence of the iPlayer and YouTube, there are also VoD services from Netflix and LoveFilm and more. In terms of apps that aren’t VoD, Samsung still leads the pack in the variety, and number it has on offer. Our current favourite, The Football App, is a direct port over from iOS and Android and works very nicely indeed but there are masses to choose form in Samsung’s app store. Social networkers are taken care of with dedicated Facebook and Twitter apps as well as the Social TV feature that allows you to enjoy programming with your friends even when you’re not with them, via a chat tab down the right hand side of the screen. They will, of course, have to have a compatible Samsung device to do so.

Samsung BD-E8500M
Samsung BD-E8500M

The BD-E8500 works very well as media player, and we encountered no problems with a variety of media servers and files we tried – PS3 Media Centre/Servio/WMP and Samsung’s own, Smartshare software. The built-in WiFi is a real boon here too and the idea the E8500M is a true one-box solution is furthered, a little, by the inclusion of a Web Browser but it is very painful to use with the standard remote control, even if the Enter key acts as a substitute scroll pad (sort of). Using the available remote control app for iOS or Android devices might alleviate the pain, somewhat, but we can’t say we found ourselves rushing back to use it.

Freeview HD PVR

This area of performance was the undoubted Achilles heel of last year’s machines. As we alluded to in the introduction, the lack of dual recording and flexibility was a serious shortcoming and meant we couldn’t really take the D8500 and D8900 seriously as Personal Video Recording (PVR) device. We’re happy to report that’s all changed now. In fact, not only is the BD-E8500M capable of providing the opportunity to record two programmes simultaneously whilst you’re viewing a disc, other recorded TV content, streamed media, media from the hard drive etc, but it can also permit the viewing of another ‘live’ TV channel, provided it’s on the same multiplex (MUX) as one of the programmes being recorded or its recording two programmes from the same MUX. In fact, the latter scenario opens up every other channel for viewing – premium services excepted.

The chase play feature is also now far more useable with the owner able to simply access currently recording shows by entering the Schedule Manager. We’d prefer it that you weren’t dumped back in there following the recording finishing but it’s a small complaint really, certainly when compared to last year’s state of affairs. We set a clutch of series records, single timer events and back to back recordings and the BD-E8500 returned an almost perfect record but we did lose one recording as the box crashed coming out of the Smart Hub; something we weren’t able to repeat but perhaps to watch out for.

It should be pointed out that anyone used to other PVR’s where buffering is automatically enabled will need to readjust. Buffering is the process whereby the tuner contents are automatically written to part of the hard drive to allow for pausing, rewinding or recording. With the E8500, owners will need to press either the Pause or Play button of the remote before it’s activated. With other media able to be stored on the hard drive, we can understand Samsung’s reticence in enabling automatic ‘Timeshift’ features as the software allocates 22Gb of space for the purpose, but those used to such flexibility might want to get in to the habit of pressing play before they settle down for an evening’s viewing.

Things we would like to say next time out include, the ability to continue recording when entering the Settings Menu (we like settings); a ‘Global Padding’ option – where automatic over-run/early programming start could be taken care of, although you can do it on a per programme basis and the ability to specify how consecutive recordings on the same channel are handled. It’s quite often a programme will finish a bit late meaning you can lose the end of one show to make way for the beginning of the recording for the next. That said, our consecutive timers all worked fine but that’s at the mercy of the broadcasters themselves. In the final analysis, Samsung have pulled the proverbial ‘rabbit out of the hat’ with the PVR abilities present in the BD-E8500 and huge kudos to them for that.

3D Playback

We encountered no issues with 3D playback, once we’d ensured the screen size setting in the 3D menu matched that of the display. We watched a number of 3D Blu-rays with a couple of displays and spotted no unpleasant artefacting and our 3D resolution test proved all details were present. 3D material was presented with the appropriate amount of depth and pop-out, where necessary, and we could sense no increase in crosstalk issues that weren’t already part of the display’s native output.

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. There is a small caveat to this with the E8500, which stems from the Picture Modes available from the TOOLS button of the remote control. There are 4 picture modes - Standard/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 BD8500 we found it under-saturated the colour gamut, particularly with red, leading to a rather washed out picture. Dynamic did the opposite whilst also increasing luminance of the colours and adding undefeatable sharpening. The most unadulterated mode was User but it did increase contrast, at default, and it needed its contrast control notching back to stop the contrast boost making the panel clip white. The Standard mode was very similar to the User mode only featured undefeatable noise reduction, meaning film grain and very high frequency details are lost. It’s a shame Samsung don’t offer a ‘Pure’ type of mode that does absolutely nothing to the signal! 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 models previously covered. We began 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. We’ve seen some inconsistencies with Samsung products in 2012 with our cadence detection tests and the BD-E8500 was unable to lock on to a 2:2 cadence at 1080i, meaning an unnecessary deinterlacing step is introduced and a loss of resolution as a result.

SD Playback

The Samsung BD-E8500M was also unable to present 576p sent signals with the 2:2 cadence detected, although we suspect very few will choose that as the output resolution in the settings menu. Scaling, however, was of the usual excellent Samsung quality and we could detect no loss of detail and haloing – where not inherent on source material - was next to non-existent which is also good news for broadcast material.

Disc Load Times

Most Blu-rays loaded up to show 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

  • Standby – 0W
  • Displaying 50% Full Screen White Pattern – 24.5W

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Excellent scaling of SD content
  • Smart Hub is feature packed
  • Proper Dual Tuner PVR abilities
  • Built-in WiFi
  • Freeview HD

The Bad

  • Can't record whilst in the Settings menu
  • Slight alterations to video signal with all Picture Modes
  • 2:2 cadence detection is broken
  • Can be a bit noisy in operation

Samsung BD-E8500M 3D Blu-ray Player and Digital PVR Combi Review

The BD-E8500 is nicely simplistic in its design. The lipped front conceals a slot loading disc drive which can be noisy in seeking operations but thankfully quiet during playback. There’s hardly a wealth of connections to the rear but as we move ever closer to an all digital world, the lack of component connection is hardly likely to upset many. The remote control is sleek and comfortable to use but we would have liked a button that would have instantly taken us to the optical drive menu, perhaps at the expense of the dedicated Web Browser key. Considering the scope of operations available, Samsung has done a fine job of keeping the Menu structures fairly simple. Those with a feint heart might find themselves a tad overwhelmed by the Settings Menu, however.

As we’d expect in a Samsung product, the E8500 is chock full of Smart goodness and boasts an impressive array of Video on Demand (VoD) services, gaming and social networking apps, as well as generous support for a variety of media files. All of which is made much more accessible thanks to the built-in WiFi support. Whilst the Smart features were of the expected high calibre, the surprise element of the BD-E8500’s performance came in its transformation to a fully-fledged dual tuner HD Personal Video Recorder, truly worthy of the name. Samsung has now opened up the ability to record two programmes simultaneously to add to the usual Pause and Rewind functionalities as well as making the ‘Chase Play’ function truly useful. There are still a couple of things we’d like to see added – global recording ‘padding’ and automatic buffering – but to say Samsung had made great strides in this area would be underplaying it.

As expected the BD-E8500 displayed generally excellent video processing but the lack of 2:2 cadence detection and the fact all the picture modes make a slight alteration to the white level of the signal (although pretty mild) is a bit of a disappointment. 3D playback was presented with the appropriate amount of depth and pop-out, where necessary, and we could sense no increase in crosstalk issues that weren’t already part of the display’s native output.

It’s taken them a few attempts but Samsung can finally lay claim to having produced a true ‘one box solution’. The Samsung BD-E8500M has not only drastically improved upon the existing Personal Video Recorder (PVR) functionalities but built upon the already excellent Smart features and playback abilities. It may take a while for owners to figure out all that’s on offer in this veritable box of tricks but, once they have, they’ll be rewarded with a device that can consolidate all their television, music and media needs in one convenient package. It’s not perfect and the multi-functionalism does add some occasional constraints during operation but we can pay no finer compliment to the E8500 than to say we wish it didn’t have to go back.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Picture Quality

.
9

Sound Quality

.
9

Features

.
.
8

Ease Of Use

.
.
8

Build Quality

.
.
.
7

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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