(Pocket-lint) - There are a lot of reasons why all-in-one soundbars are fast replacing home cinema systems, and the HT-C7550W is one of them. Built around a superb Blu-ray player and featuring online content, a pair of wireless surround speakers and an iPod dock, this otherwise traditional 5.1 system’s first impressions are not good.
Comprising a tiny centre speaker, four surround speakers and a subwoofer, there’s an over reliance on black moulded plastic that will jar with almost all interiors. If you plan to use them in a dark room reserved only for your home cinema, so be it, but don’t think the HT-C7550W will look great in a magnolia-walled living room.
Even if you can swallow its bleak styling, there are lots of problems before a home cinema results. The main victim is time, and lots of it. After delicately unwrapping around fifty individual components from the vast polystyrene packaging, it took us around 2 hours to set-up the system. Halfway through attaching each plastic parking meter-esque speaker to more black plastic, a metal pole and an ugly base disc, a career change was loudly discussed.
The end result from a package that relies on around six screws per speaker that are slightly too big is an array of less-than-rigid speakers as flimsy as they initially looked; a decent screwdriver and some elbow grease is essential. The four surround speakers also don’t have flat bottoms, so can’t be put on a shelf; that "tall boy" look is inescapable.
The one small saving grace in an otherwise inflexible package is that the HT-C7550W isn’t actually difficult to construct - apart from those damned screws, that is. The rear of the Blu-ray player-come-amplifier is nicely labelled with coloured slots for each speaker cable, which does make connecting the speakers almost foolproof.
That unit outputs sound to the centre, left and right speakers, as well as to the subwoofer. It also sends rear channel audio to a separate receiver, a black box the size of a PlayStation One that can be plugged into the mains at the rear of a room; the two rear channel speakers are then attached from here, negating the need to trail cables across the lounge. To call this system wire-free would be a mistake, but clusters of cables at either end of a room is easier to stomach.
Away from the frustrating set-up, the HT-C7550W is an impressive - though slightly overpriced - home cinema system.
The Blu-ray player at its core gets a glowing mention; inside is 1GB of storage for BD Live downloads, a full roster of Samsung’s Internet@TV online content channels, All Share DLNA streaming (both of these features can work over wired Ethernet to a router, or through the included Wi-Fi USB dongle), a 15-second boot-up and an iPod/iPhone dock as an accessory.
A few more issues; the touch commands on the main unit’s front aren’t sensitive enough, and the disc tray closed of its own accord while we were trying to load a Blu-ray disc.
On the rear on the unit are Component video inputs, two HDMI inputs (so the unit can act as a switcher and take feeds from a set-top box and games console before outputting everything to a TV) and a HDMI output.
Most of these features are covered in Samsung Blu-ray player reviews elsewhere, though the iPod/iPhone dock is new to us. Consisting of a separate, wired iPod cradle that accepts - and charges - all iPhone models, it attaches to the rear of the Blu-ray unit. Once chosen as a source on the main menu, music, photos and videos stored on the iPod/iPhone are treated as if it was a USB stick or drive, with a simple file directory displayed on the TV screen; not particularly sophisticated, its inclusion in the package is certainly laudable.
The home cinema speakers themselves are easy to calibrate, with a small microphone placed in the seating position automatically adjusting the levels of each surround channel.
Performance-wise the HT-C7550W does a good job with multichannel movies and excels with music. There’s plenty of fine detailing, and though treble highs can sound a little bright, the front speakers generally create an involving and well-balanced sound field. The subwoofer isn’t the most precise we’ve heard, but the rear speakers are accurately driven by the wireless receiver and never drop out of range - in fact, they need no attention whatsoever.
The HT-C7550W’s Blu-ray player also impresses, with bold, nuanced colours and smooth judder-free playback; our only criticism is that the deck’s orientation makes it suitable only for a tabletop - it simply won’t fit on a rack.
Almost painful to unpack and construct, the HT-C7550W is why much simpler plug-and-play soundbars have done so well in recent years, but this package’s inclusion of a multi-functional Blu-ray player, iPod dock and wireless streaming will attract many - as will the wireless rear speakers. Sporting a cheap looking build quality and a slightly impractical Blu-ray player design, the HT-C7550W can only have niche appeal, but its detailed and powerful surround sound easily trumps a soundbar. If you’ve got the patience, the comprehensive HT-C7550W package can be rewarding, but the "all-in-one" tag makes this system sound more convenient than it is.