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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Disc Load Times
- Standby – 0W
- Displaying 50% Full Screen White Pattern – 24.5W
- Excellent scaling of SD content
- Smart Hub is feature packed
- Proper Dual Tuner PVR abilities
- Built-in WiFi
- Freeview HD
- 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.
Ease Of Use
Value For Money
Our Review Ethos
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