Samsung HT-E8200 2.1 Channel Soundbar with Blu-ray and DVD Player Built-in Review

Can the Samsung HT-E8200's performance match its convenience?

by hodg100
Home AV Review

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Samsung HT-E8200 2.1 Channel Soundbar with Blu-ray and DVD Player Built-in Review
SRP: £699.00
The Samsung HT-E8200 is certainly not the only ‘all-in-one’ system we’ve covered recently – just look to our reviews of the Panasonic SC-BTT590, Sony BDV-N590, BH9520TW, Samsung HT-E5530 and LG-BH7240P for evidence of that - but it is unique in that it delivers its higher frequency audio via a soundbar, rather than via satellite speakers. It does feature a subwoofer for low frequency effects and bass, however, and somehow also manages to squeeze Smart functions into its streamlined proportions. The question is, wiring concerns aside, can it deliver as convincing an audio experience as the true surround systems, some of which can be had for around half the price of the HT-E8200? It’s a big ask, let’s see if this latest in a long line of lifestyle products has got the answers.

Design, Installation and Setup

The Samsung HT-E8200 certainly feels well engineered, it’s pleasingly weighty at around 4kg and its piano black finish means it should fit in, décor wise, in the typical living room. There is a potential issue with its dimensions, however, if you are planning on sitting it on a rack or a stand in front of your display - it’s quite tall, relatively speaking, and we measured it at 140mm at its highest point, where the slot-loading Blu-ray drive player is located. Naturally we have access to quite a number of TVs as we go about our day to day duties and not one had a clearance of more than 11.5cm from base to bottom edge of screen. The net result is that you might find a small portion of your picture being impinged upon by the soundbar - most distracting. We’d advise some careful measurements before committing to a purchase. It is possible to knock 5mm, or so, from the height by not mounting it on the supplied, small arched stand but we’d suggest, for most, wall-mounting is the best option.

Samsung HT-E8200

Connections are housed in a recess to the rear of the soundbar, above which are touch-sensitive buttons for Stop, Play, Eject, Standby, Function, Input and Volume. Making use of all the available connections simultaneously will take quite a feat of cable management as there are two HDMI inputs, one HDMI out as well as a Composite Video out, S/PDIF digital audio in and a terminal for an FM radio antennae, all cramped in to quite a small space. It’s doable but you’ll need good cables to ensure they don’t break under bending. The supplied remote control is quintessentially Samsung, well designed, slimline and packing in plenty of function keys. Owners of Samsung TVs – of which we understand there are quite a few – 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.

Setting up the HT-E8200 for the first time really couldn’t be any simpler. Plug it in to the mains and hook up the HDMI connection; make a language selection; initialise your Network connection (optional); check for software updates; choose your TV Aspect Ratio and you’re done. We were a little surprised that the setting of speaker distances wasn’t part of the process but you can quickly do that by diving in to the Audio area of the Settings Menu.

Menus

The menu system essentially mirrors the one used on Samsung's Blu-ray players but naturally includes a few additions in the audio section. The Menu categories are comprised of 4 sections - Smart Hub, AllShare Play, Function and Settings. Further, under the Settings heading, there are categories for Display, Audio, Network, System and Support. The Function sub-menu allows you choose which connected device to listen to, the choices are Digital In, AUX, Remote iPod, HDMI In 1, HDMI IN 2, Tuner and Bluetooth and we’ll look at the Smart Hub when discussing the feature set, below.

Samsung HT-E8200
Samsung HT-E8200
The Display sub-menu of the Settings Menu has the the 3D Settings, TV Aspect Ratio, Smart Hub Screen Size, BD Wise, 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 the HT-E8200 is connected to; you can also set the Screen size of the connected display for optimal performance. 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. Enabling BD Wise actually does no favours to content, so leave it off. 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 HT-E8200 to a PC, are either Auto or YcCbCr. HDMI Deep Colour may as well be set to off and Progressive Mode should be left on Auto to enable the cadence detection.

In the Network sub-menu there are options for setting up the network connection (wired or wireless), the the WiFi Direct if you have a compatible device, the AllShare Settings, the BD-Live Settings and the Bluetooth device name. Within the System sub-menu there are options for the Initial Settings, the Device Manager, Anynet+ (HDMI-CEC), Language, Security, General and DivX Video on Demand. The final sub-menu is for support and includes Software Updates, Contact Samsung, Remote Management and a system Reset.

Samsung HT-E8200
Samsung HT-E8200

The Audio menu includes settings for the Equaliser, Smart Volume, Audio Return Channel (ARC), Digital Output, Dynamic Range Control and Audio Sync. To set up the audio system itself, there are options for Speaker Settings and Speaker Selection. The Speaker Selection lets you choose which speakers you want active, the TV's speakers or the home theatre's speakers. The Speaker Settings allow for the allocation of both Distance and Level. Distance is pretty self-explanatory but may require a tape measure. To set the Level will either need you to be very good at estimating relative speaker volumes – you want them all to match – or be in possession of a sound pressure level (SPL) meter to do it more accurately.

Features

The Smart Hub interface of the E8200 is almost identical to those found in the TV ranges and is very extensive in its offerings, if not quite up to those in the televisions. The most notable omissions being the ITV Player, the BBC Sport App and Samsung’s’ own Explore 3D streaming service. 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 from some of the connexcted VoD (Video on Demand) services. To 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. Social networkers are taken care of with dedicated Facebook and Twitter apps.

Samsung HT-E8200
Samsung HT-E8200

The HT-E8200 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 but the Web Browser is a chore 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.

Video Performance

It’s usually the case that Samsung equip their AV ranges with some very competent video processing chips and we’re pleased to say that’s certainly the case with the HT-E8200. Before embarking on some ‘real world’ viewing we ran through our usual suite of picture processing tests and it generally came up trumps. Staring with the standard definition tests, the E8200 was able to pick up on the PAL 2:2 cadence but seemed to lose its lock from time to time, meaning for the most part it’s capable of displaying your old DVD’s very well – more so because scaling performance is excellent – but there will be the occasional instance of moire (mesh like artefact) and line break-up. For any parent out there that has to suffer the dreadful CGI apparent in the Barbie film series, you’ll know there’s only so much that can be done, but you can rest assured your little princess is seeing it in just about the best light possible. Moving on to some far higher quality animation, sending Tangled to a half-decent display scaled to 1080p50 produces some stunning visuals. Upping the BBFC rating, District 9 is also looking a treat with no motion artefacts present on the action scenes and colours true to the source. We confirmed this by testing our calibrated display against the HT-8200’s output, using the relevant measuring equipment and software, and provided the player was left in the default Standard picture mode, no unwanted tampering was present. We’re still struggling to find good reasons as to why manufacturers feel the need to bother muddying the waters with picture modes – perhaps we should speak to the marketing departments.

It’s very rare we see a Blu-ray player that doesn’t deliver as it should with 1080p content, in fact only one player springs to mind, and the HT-E8200 doesn’t disappoint. Flavour of the month here currently, Arthur Christmas – you’ve probably guessed by now that there are kids in the house – looks absolutely sensational played through the Samsung with its rich colours and superb lighting effects carefully preserved. Running through some of our more usual test material - The Dark Knight, Boardwalk Empire and The Bourne Trilogy and we were suitably impressed by the HT-E8200’s faithful presentation of the discs’ reference encodes. For 3D testing, we went back to the excellent Titanic conversion and the now almost worn out Avatar and, again, we sensed no added crosstalk or unexpected surprises; played through both an active and passive display.

We were worried about the proximity of the disc mechanism to the speaker electronics but there was very little noise from the drive itself, in operation, although there is a definite mechanical hum emitting from the unit at all times. It’s only really perceivable when listening/watching at particularly low volumes – at least to our ears – but something to be aware of for sensitive types. Our only other real operational gripe stems from the lack of HDMI pass-through when the unit is in standby. Not a problem for this reviewer but the added complexity may vex other members of the house, i.e. your other half may repeatedly say, ‘but I just want to watch the telly’, which is something that could have been avoided. On a more positive note, disc load times are exceptionally speedy with our Blu-rays ready to play in typically under 20 seconds. DVD’s were a fraction slower but certainly nothing to get worked up over. All in all, the Samsung HT-E8200 fulfils the video side of the bargain with great competence and little fuss. Just as it should be.

Audio Performance

The Samsung HT-E8200 boasts a 400W total sound output, provided by the 2 way 3 speaker configuration in the main unit and underpinned by the wireless active subwoofer. When we say wireless that isn't completely true, clearly the sub needs powering from the mains. When it comes to all-in-one solutions, it’s usually the musicality of the speakers that are called in to question, with them generally more suited to movie duties but this rather unusual solution is pretty much the exact opposite. Music listening was rewarded with taut vocals, controlled mid-range and decent, if sometimes over-powering, bass. It’s character is quite brash and ‘in yer face’ but it paid good service to the likes of The Arctic Monkeys, New Order’s ‘Technique’ and Saint Etienne’s ‘Foxbase Alpha’ (yes, we are showing our age) if not quite having the subtlety to carry off more restrained offerings from various Elbow albums and Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer’. Going further back in time, we can’t help but love a spot of Ella Fitzgerald and whilst the E8200 had no trouble with Lady Ella’s major, the minor was more of a struggle. The HT-E8200 certainly acquits itself well here and the sense of stereo is a little wider than we expected but we’d still prefer a little more separation which can only really be achieved with more dedicated solutions.

The E8200 provides a number of DSP (Digital Sound Processing) Modes – Virtual Sound, Music, News, Drama, Cinema, Sports and Game as well as the ability to bypass the processing. There is also a 3D Sound button on the remote control with options of High, Low and Medium which can only be engaged when DSP is disabled. We have to admit as to never really finding a setting that conveyed any great sense of surround for multi-channel audio enabled movies, unless we sat 4 feet, or less, away. Your room will perhaps be the biggest factor here; we tested in a living room with plenty of obstacles preventing the sound being bounced around convincingly – fireplace, bay window opposite and a couple of doorways – as well as in a more sympathetic, rectangular room but the HT-E8200 never really stepped up to the plate. Subwoofer performance was also less convincing when faced with a LFE channel, with it somewhat muddied and slow off the mark. Even an all-in-one 5.1 surround system costing typically half the price will provide a much more engaging movie experience and whilst we understand the resistance of ‘other alves’ to excessive wiring, we’d urge you to consider how you might accommodate more speakers without incurring spousal wrath. There’s absolutely no doubt the HT-E8200 embarrasses even the best of TV speakers for audio quality but it is certainly quite lacklustre in anything beyond 2 channels.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Surprisingly accomplished with music
  • Neat and well-engineered package
  • Easy to set up
  • Lots of smart features that work well

The Bad

  • It's too big for most TVs
  • Movie perfomance is lacking
  • Seems pricey compared to some 5.1 packages
  • No HDMI passthrough in standby

Samsung HT-E8200 2.1 Channel Soundbar with Blu-ray and DVD Player Built-in Review

Design and concept wise, the Samsung HT-E8200 is quite unusual, encasing the Blu-ray drive in the speaker bar with low frequency effects and bass provided by a wireless, active subwoofer. Whilst there’s no doubt this offers a potentially very tidy, spouse friendly little package, the circular bulge of the optical drive does place some caveats about how and where you place it. Mounted on a typical rack or stand which places the centre of the TV at eye level, the maximum height of the main unit is likely to partially obscure the bottom of the screen of most flat-panel TVs built in the last 3 to 4 years which is, we’re sure you’ll understand, distracting. It’s possible to knock a few mm’s off the height by not attaching it to the small, supplied stand but it was not enough on the four TVs we tried it with. It’s a fundamental issue that needs to be considered before deciding on purchase and not something to be overlooked. The unit is, however, well-engineered and we have no complaints on those grounds.

The supplied remote control and menu system are far more standard affairs and setup is simple thanks to sensible deployment of options with each. The Samsung HT-E8200 packs many a feature in to its tubular body, with scores of Video on Demand services, lifestyle and social networking apps and a generous and robust media player amongst the highlights.

As we usually expect from Samsung products, video performance is very strong in all definitions available – be it SD, HD or 3D. Scaling of your standard definition DVD’s will be crisp and the EH8200 remains faithful to the demands of Blu-ray, preserving colours and representing motion without a whiff of artefacting or unwanted processing. 3D images are, likewise, free of nasties and disc loading times exceptionally quick. Whilst the close proximity of the disc drive to the speaker electronics didn’t present issues, we could detect a slight mechanical hum with volume levels turned down.

Unusually for all-in-one cinema package, the Samsung HT-E8200 acquits itself better with music than it does movies. Even in a room sympathetic to having sounds bounced around it, the Samsung was never really able to give any meaningful sense of surround, unless we drew up the armchair uncomfortably close. That’s not to say it won’t make your TV speakers sound pedestrian, it undoubtedly will, but for considerably less outlay one could pick up a budget 5.1 system and get more out of movies, sonically, than the E8200 is able to provide.

The Samsung HT-E8200 is by no means a bad product. Video performance, in particular, is impressive and there’s a lot to be said for its convenience that will make the partner approval factor high but nagging doubts over its suitability for mounting on conventional AV furniture – due to its height obscuring the screen – and a somewhat lacklustre attempt at pseudo-surround means we’d recommend investigating other alternatives.

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Connectivity

.
.
.
7

Ease of Use

.
.
.
.
6

Picture Quality

.
.
8

Sound Quality

.
.
.
7

Features

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
.
.
.
.
5

Verdict

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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