[UPDATES: See my updates at the bottom of this review.]
It drives me crazy when manufacturers don't post photos of the back of the unit, so I posted a user photo showing all the ports. I got this because I wanted surround sound, and built-in Netflix/DVD/Blu-ray meant I wouldn't need to turn on my Xbox 360 or PC. But let me tell you about all the cool features it has, and what you can do with it:
- Play Blu-rays and DVDs (which get upscaled -- personally, I hate upscaling, but other people like it).
- Stream Netflix, Hulu Plus, Youtube, etc. It even has a web browser. Use wifi or the LAN port.
- Connect devices via bluetooth. Play music from your iPhone through these speakers, wirelessly. You can even click a button in the iPhone/iPad youtube app, and it'll open the Youtube app on the Samsung and play the video on your TV! You can then browse videos on your iPad and they'll play on the TV (it makes browsing easier). I probably won't use this much, but it's cool.
- Play videos from your PC/DLNA device wirelessly with AllShare. I'm not interested in this, but you might be.
- Plug in external hard drives or thumbdrives via USB and play videos. It even plays Matroska files (.mkv), which surprised me. It supports FAT32 *and* NTFS file systems! Microsoft's own Xbox 360 doesn't even support NTFS! Update: I tested an external NTFS hard drive with .mp4, .mov, and .mpg files. Works perfectly!
- Simulate surround sound on stereo videos. It has a lot of audio modes that will use the rear speakers even if the source material doesn't have it.
- Level out the volume. It has two options: Smart Volume keeps the audio level when the scene changes or you switch channels. Dynamic Range Control boosts dialog and turns down loud noises. Both of these settings can be turned off. I'm not sure how well these work, but I have them both on.
- Sync your audio. Because of the video lag, you might hear the audio before the video. I set mine to 50ms delay, and it's perfect. This depends on your setup.
- Wireless rear speakers, kinda. They plug into a powered hub, but you can just hide that behind your couch or whatever. The point is that there are no wires running across the room to the TV. The hub turns on automatically.
- NO "vampire power." Both the main unit and the rear speakers use no power when turned off (stand-by mode). I tested this with my Kill-a-watt, because it worried me.
- It turns on your TV automatically when on the Smart Hub app screen (at least with my setup, below. But the remote can be programmed for your TV, too). This might be annoying if you only want to stream audio via bluetooth, however. If the unit is still set to bluetooth when you turn it on, the TV won't turn on. If I turn off my TV when the Samsung is on HDMI, the Samsung turns off.
Here's my setup: I have my devices plugged directly into the Samsung via HDMI, then have HDMI out to my TV. If you go from your TV to the Samsung, your TV will probably downmix the audio to 2.1. This avoids the problem. All audio is always 5.1 (if supported), and I don't need to press any buttons. I don't use my TV speakers (why would you?). Video games sound great! You can hear enemies behind you. I'm not an audiophile, but I'm completely satisfied with the quality.
If you have more than one device, simply buy a switcher like this one: Portta PET0301S 3x1 HDMI Switcher with 3D Support
-- it'll automatically switch when you turn a new device on. I hated having to change inputs on my TV for everything.
- It's a bit slow when starting Netflix/Hulu, but still faster than turning on my Xbox, logging in, etc. Edit: I've timed it, and it takes 40-50 seconds to start those apps after the main unit is turned on (main unit turns on quickly).
- It crashes sometimes (usually when switching apps). I have the latest firmware.
- It doesn't have dedicated buttons for inputs. You have to cycle through HDMI, optical, FM, bluetooth, etc. with a single button on the remote. That's annoying, because I only use two.
- Speakers are shiny plastic (but whatever, this thing is pretty cheap). I think they look fine, but I would prefer it if they weren't so shiny.
- Proprietary plugs for the speakers (see photo)
- No headphone jack! This was important to me, but none of these systems seem to have them.
- Unit is slow to respond to the remote. It's better to hold the "mute" button, because a single press never does it.
There is definitely room for improvement, but it's great for the price and features. The convenience is great! I would have to turn on a receiver anyway, so this lets me cut down on devices by having so much built-in, which also saves power.
I haven't experienced crashes lately, but the Hulu app freezes all the time! When it gets to a commercial break, it will just be frozen on a black screen. I'll have to quit the app, then restart the app, which usually won't resume where I was -- meaning I'll have to fast-forward through the whole episode, which takes a long time. If you watch a lot of Hulu, I definitely don't recommend using this app if you have an alternative. Based on the poor reviews on the Hulu iPad app, and my experience on a PC, I'm guessing the blame goes to Hulu, not Samsung. The Netflix app works quite well. I still highly recommend this for everything else.
One other tip -- turn this unit on BEFORE any other devices like an Xbox or Playstation, otherwise the gaming console will default to stereo. If the Samsung is on first, my Xbox 360 detects 5.1, and everything is fine.
I took off a star because of some annoying bugs that are still present (there have been around 3 updates since I first got it). The wireless rear hub doesn't always turn off -- one time I checked the next day and it was STILL on, sucking up power. Other times the wireless hub "thinks" it's connected (solid blue light), but the main unit tells me to "check wireless speakers" and no sound comes out of them. It takes a bunch of unplugging and replugging to get them synced again.
I took off another star because the wireless hub issues are still present, and happen often. The main reason I bought this unit was for surround sound, and that's what I'm having the most issues with. The wireless hub stays on pretty often (I moved the wireless hub to a position where I can easily see the light), and uses ~7 watts--all night if I don't notice it. I found out in the manual how to "re-sync" the hub ("ID Set"):
Turn off the main unit, unplug the hub. Press "0135" on the remote and the unit should give you a message on the front display. Plug in the wireless hub and press a pin into the "ID Set" hole on the back for 5 seconds. It should start blinking. Then turn on the main unit.
Those are a lot of steps to resync, and the fact that the hub has a blue light even when it's not actually working just compounds the problem. I did the resync, had it working again, then turned it off for a bit. When I played a video game an hour later, it wasn't working again. Luckily I was able to simply unplug the hub and plug it back in to get it to work, but that doesn't always work.
This is way more trouble than it's worth. It's possible that my unit is defective in some way, and most of them don't have these problems. But now I wish I could swap this out for a WIRED unit if it would solve these problems.