Hybrid displays targeting the knowledge worker — who wants to be informed and entertained, preferably via the same device — are becoming common today.
Apart from smart phones, many higher-end HDTVs, especially the DLNA (digital living network alliance)-complaint ones, also have some of this blended functionality.
These TVs can be used to wirelessly access files from other DLNA devices on the home network.
Both TVs also include a PC In port, enabling them to be used as ultra-large PC monitors.
However, home theatre systems offering similar “infotainment” features aren’t that common.
That’s what makes the Samsung Blu-Ray Home Theatre System HT-C5500 rather special.
The system includes a Blu-Ray player, five speakers and a sub-woofer. It also comes with an iPod dock connector.
The HT-C5500 enables playback of many types of discs and offers other types of connectivity options.
For instance, you can incorporate your iPhone or iPod into the HT-C5500 by placing either device into the provided docking cradle. This enables you to play songs and videos from the iPhone/iPod on a larger display, while the device is being charged.
iPod Dock Connector
It’s also equipped with online connectivity features that information workers, in particular, will find very useful.
To establish a wired connection to your home network and the Internet you use the LAN terminal at the rear of the PC. Or else you can use Samsung’s optional wireless dongle.
Once connected, the Internet@TV service enables free downloads or access to a variety of applications and services via the Web.
These include news, weather forecasts, stock market information, games, movies, music and more.
The most downloaded “Information” apps, according to Samsung, are Google Maps, the Rovi TV listings service, USA Today news, and This Day in History an A&E app that describes landmark events that happened this day in years – even centuries – gone by.
USA Today news is organized for quick and easy navigation.
The initial page features headlines from the world of finance, politics, sports lifestyle and global events. You click on any of these headlines to access the full story.
Using the YouTube service was a mixed experience for me. Video quality was exceptional. I watched a couple of popular clips including a spoof of a Mel Gibson’s girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva holding a press conference. Even in full-screen view the clarity was amazing.
But the Search functionality leaves much to be desired. Just to get to the Search tab you have to scroll over 10 other items on the menu, and then scroll right to the next page.
Also, searching with the onscreen keyboard is like pulling teeth. There are three or four alphabets to a button so often have to press each button multiple times to get to the alphabet you want — a colossal waste of time.
I was pleasantly surprised to find this feature – more common in higher-end TVs – in the Samsung Home Theatre system.
Samsung AllShare is a home network capability that enables you to play on your, on your TV, rich media files – music, video and images – stored on your PC.
You first need to install Samsung PC Share Manager on your desktop or laptop. PC Share has a Microsoft Outlook-like interface that allows you to select a multimedia folder you want to share from the left panel of the app and drop it on to the right panel.
The selected folder will then be accessible on your display device.
By and far, the AllShare function worked perfectly in my tests. When playing songs, the audio on the Samsung home theatre speakers was awesome. Accessing pictures too was a piece of cake and they were vivid and sharp.
With video playback, though, I experienced a few issues. Some of my .AVI files would not play, though this format is supposed to be one of the formats recognized by the player (other recognized formats include: dvix, mkv, mp4).
Occasionally there were also lag issues with playback.
Most home theatre systems come with five speakers and a subwoofer and the Samsung product is no exception. It includes two front speakers, two surround speakers, a centre speaker and the subwoofer.
After connecting the product to your HDTV your can use the automatic Musical Room Calibration feature.
This adjusts the acoustics of the home theatre system to suit the size and dimensions of your room.
It takes around three minutes to be completed.
Video quality is best experienced when playing a Blu-Ray disk at 1920×1080 resolution.
In my tests, I connected the Samsung Blu-Ray player that comes with the system to a Toshiba UX600U LCD TV and checked out a variety of movie clips.
One of them was ‘What Happens in Vegas’, an admittedly inane flick starring Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher. It nevertheless demonstrated the compelling AV quality of the Samsung system.
Sights and sounds of the Vegas strip were all compellingly captured.
You need to make sure that HDMI audio is toggled to the off position though.
This may sound strange but with HDMI audio on, while both video and audio are transmitted over the HDMI system, the audio output is through your TV speakers – and even high-end TV speakers rarely offer you the sound quality of a home theatre system.
With HDMI toggled to off you experience the audio through the Samsung Home Theatre system, and the quality is really something.
Physical connectivity options on the Samsung HT-C5500 are decent, but limited.
On its rear panel are one Auxiliary In port, an HDMI Out jack, an iPod jack and a Video Out jack. The front panel includes a USB port that can be used to play music, picture and video files stored on the connected USB device.
I hooked up my HP 500GB personal media drive to the USB port and was able to watch films recorded in DViX format easily. TV programs recorded using the Microsoft Media Centre application, however, were not playable.
Whether Samsung Home Theatre System is a good buy for you or not will depend upon your specific needs.
If you have an array of players, and need a home theatre system that offers broader connectivity options, you may want to continue your search.
However, for information workers looking for a hybrid home theatre system — one that offers first-rate audio and video functionality as well as compelling “home networking” features — the HT-C5500 may be just what the doctor ordered.
And given that the system (including the Blu-Ray player, speakers and sub-woofer) costs $500 at Canadian online retailers, you can’t go too wrong.