Samsung HT-C6930W BD-Receiver System Page 3
The best prospect, or at least the cheapest—and cheap is what I’m all about—seemed to be VUDU, which offered a freebie. I checked out the offerings but decided to postpone my choice until after dinner. When I returned, all traces of the offered freebie had vanished. But VUDU did give me a choice of three formats for trailers: HDX, with “brilliant 1080p” and Dolby Digital Plus surround; HD, with “bandwidth-friendly 720p” and Dolby Digital Plus; and SD, with 480p and stereo. I picked the top option and marveled as the trailer for Jackass 3D unspooled (in 2D, which is all my HDTV is capable of). Another trailer followed it, unprompted. I kicked back and relaxed.
YouTube offered a dozen sort options. I chose Most Viewed clicked on the top item, and enjoyed a foulmouthed Internet video. Next, I used Enter Keyword. I was five letters into my search terms (Jan Akkerman) when the system suggested an auto-complete. I accepted it, scrolled through a few selections, and got the song I wanted, the soulful “Mena Muria.” When I hit the Enter key, it blew up the small window to full screen with only a slight hiccup.
Ready for more music, I dug into Pandora, which offers a customized interface for streaming music. The system offered two sign-up options, both free, one of which involved inputting a brief code into pandora.com/samsung from my PC. I chose that method. As it enrolled me, Pandora prompted me to create customized radio stations. I created one for a favorite artist and returned to the HDTV. Pandora offered songs by my chosen artist as well as others it thought I would like. After some desultory playing and skipping, I received a message saying, “Unfortunately, our music licenses limit the amount of songs you can skip in an hour.”
Some apps required alphanumeric input. The system offered three methods. One puts a whole lot of letters and numerals on the screen and requires heavy use of the arrow keys. Another uses a phone-like keypad accompanied by an entry blank and a pop-up. If I hit numeral 7 on the keypad, using the remote’s 7 key, the pop-up would list possibilities: s, p, q, r, 7. I could cycle among them by using the remote’s blue D key, accepting selections with the navigation-right key. I tried this with a couple of apps—it was slow and frustrating. Later, however, I discovered that the phone-like keypad could switch to a mode that lets you access different letters by repeatedly hitting the same numeric key. Much easier.
My first crack at Google Maps involved the harder phone-like keypad input method. After half an hour, I managed to enter the 27 characters of my home address, but I fumbled the final step: I hit Return instead of Enter. Later, using the easier phone-like keypad method, I nailed it in less than five minutes—although in the absence of onscreen prompts, I never did figure out how to zoom in and out.
Facebook and Twitter, one of which I actually use, prompted me to set up a devicerelated account in the Internet@TV Settings menu. Once I was logged in, I also had to enter my alphanumeric login and password for the social networking site. Several attempts were unsuccessful. As we were going to press Samsung noted that an account must also must be created at the app store on its own Website, but we didn’t have time to re-test.
The USA Today app offered six options: News, Money, Politics, Life, Sports, and World. In each category, four lines of text occupied the top of the screen, while further selectable headlines occupied the bottom. The format was logical, within its HDTV-screen limits, but wasn’t preferable to the newspaper’s Website, which offers two more categories (Tech and Weather) and a more information-rich layout. Maybe I’m spoiled; my online newspaper of choice is nytimes.com.
Accu-Weather was rigorously simple, showing only temperature, location, a quick description (“sunny”), and a six-day forecast. Clicking on the days did not produce more detailed information. The system defaulted to the Godless Communist Euro-trash Celsius scale. I changed it to real degrees (Fahrenheit).
The system isn’t limited to the apps with which it ships. Samsung’s app store offers plenty more. I chose Hulu Plus, which offers online access to TV shows. The app cost nothing and the download/installation process was easy and quick. I entered my e-mail address, and it was quickly up and running—though unfortunately, through no fault of Samsung’s, my Hulu invite was not activated until after I’d shipped out the system. Even so, broadening the system’s horizons was painless. With my single addition, I was using half of the device’s 118-megabyte memory. It supported 17 apps during the review process, with room for perhaps twice as many, and deleting apps was easy.
Brave New World
As a brave harbinger of a new world of network-hip BD-receivers, the Samsung HT-C6930W is a real eye opener. It packs more ways to pass the time into an affordable package than any home theater product I’ve previously reviewed. Its strengths include a very responsive Blu-ray 3D drive and mostly slick integration of numerous broadband-connected features. The latter alone may be reason enough to buy the system (or a similarly equipped HDTV or standalone Blu-ray player).
Samsung’s approaches to aesthetics and ergonomics are conceptually brilliant, though there’s room for improvement. Text input would be much easier with the option of a BlackBerry- or laptop-style wireless keyboard. Samsung also needs to improve the accuracy of the Musical Room Calibration and allow it to implement a 5.1-speaker array for those who prefer it.
Still, this is the kind of product that raises the bar for its category in many respects. It could be the start of something big.