Samsung BD-C8500M review

Spotted selling online for around the £400 mark, this bulky deck from Samsung seeks to kit-out a home with two of the most sought-after AV products of our time - Blu-ray and Freeview HD recording - but ultimately proves not to be the must-have product it first appears.

A gloss black and rather bulky casing is interrupted by two rather unusual design strokes. The first is a line of touch-sensitive controls whose lights extinguish one by one when the machine is switched-off. The second is far weirder. The machine's top features black smoked plastic that hides some slowly expanding, then contracting, blue lights over both the Blu-ray disc drive and over the hard disk. They have the odd - and rather disturbing - look of beating hearts, and thankfully can be switched-off in the menu's general settings options, under "light effect". If you can't quite bear to switch it off completely, it can be set to "beat" only when the machine is making a recording.

Not that this deck's limited recording skill is worthy of its own light show; with just a single Freeview HD tuner it's only able to record the channel you're watching (for up to 6 hours). It's not even possible to set recordings from the attractive black, white and green 8-day electronic programme guide, making this a bare bones Freeview HD recorder.

Elsewhere it impresses; a "plug and play" wizard takes you through the tuning-in of Freeview channels and network settings - the last one is crucial since the box doesn't automatically look for your broadband and/or wireless router unless you ask it to.

Recorded TV contains a list of programmes you've recorded, with a static thumbnail image from each recording beside details of its title, duration and date recorded. Recordings can also be ordered by date, duration and genre, while favourites can be tagged. However, this otherwise well laid-out screen doesn't indicate how much room is left on the HDD, with only a convoluted inspection of the tools menu (it is under device information) revealing the truth.

More impressive is Blu-ray playback, which is spotless and well handled; BD Live downloads can be stored to the HDD, though only to a fenced-off 2GB portion, which does seem a chance missed. Playing a Blu-ray disc isn't as easy as you might expect; during our test we struggled to get the unit to forget about Freeview HD. With so many functions to deal with, the remote is saddled with a toggle button that determines which function - BD/HDD or TV - it controls. The indicator light shows orange or green accordingly, but it could really do with dedicated "play BD movie" and "digital TV" buttons.

The deck's built-in Wi-Fi module doesn't let us down; it is fast and essential for this machine's real skill: online content. Internet@TV is stuffed with apps for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, though LoveFilm isn't enabled yet and there's no sign of BBC iPlayer despite promises from Samsung.

Elsewhere, that Wi-Fi module streams media of almost any file type from a networked Mac or PC, a USB stick, blank discs and, better still, files can be copied to and from between devices and the HDD, with the exception being that files cannot be copied to a disc or a PC/Mac from another source.

On the rather smart interface files are listed with moving thumbnails, much like recordings from Freeview, but they only kick-in after you've viewed the file, which doesn't make much sense.

Meanwhile the treatment of a CD is superb. While any DVD player can play music from a CD, this Samsung consults an online database as soon as a disc is inserted and displays a playback screen with all song titles listed.

Verdict

Limited Freeview HD recording options take the gloss off this otherwise exemplary combi, but if you're after a Blu-ray player, multi-skilled media hub, simple Freeview HD tuner and, crucially, like the prospect of access to LoveFilm and the BBC iPlayer, the BD-C8500M could drive your home ents for years to come.