For many years now companies have been pushing the whole “Smart TV” concept to prospective buyers. Smart TVs are essentially normal TV sets, with the added capabilities of being able to connect to the Web and offer over the top content by means of certain downloadable applications. In short, Smart TVs bridge the gap in households that necessarily use computers, laptops or consoles, since connecting such devices to an ordinary TV essentially perform the same function, only much easier.
Even without a PC or console, there are an alternate methods of turning your TV into a Smart TV. One such method is by purchasing a Smart Blu-ray player. Since many modern, standalone Blu-ray players are already smart devices, you can save a few Rand by choosing the combination of a standard HD TV and a Smart Blu-ray player. Although there are some benefits to having a Smart TV and Smart Blu-ray player, the just of what’s required is satisfied by having either. Samsung have long since touted their Smart device offerings; integration across all platforms including smartphones. We recently got our hands on the Samsung Smart Blu-ray Player (BD-F7500) and took some time to compile some evidence to support the statement above.
Build and Design
These days, any living room appliance has a dual purpose, that of being a peripheral device carrying out some set functionality, as well as being a piece of art that matches well with other appliances in the same space. Many a year ago, a wooden theme graced our parents’ living rooms, which was followed by metallic silver. The standard glossy black theme has become more invasive over the past decade. The F7500 has a slick mix between the glossy black and brushed aluminium, which instead of the typical edging, runs across the breadth of the body. Although it may appear to have some hidden features lurking beneath the surface, it is only an aesthetic addition to the design. No complaints, though, the F7500 looks amazing. The glossy back and rear sections are very minimalistic, the front face only interrupted by the clock (which can be turned off), the Samsung logo, and the USB logo on the plastic flap to hide the USB port. I would have preferred the USB port to be located on the rear (or side) to look just that little sleeker, but these areas are often hard to reach in confined cabinet spaces, especially when the USB device connected isn’t always part of the setup.
The F7500 is well-equipped in both the software and hardware departments. On the rear of the device you’ll find a decent selection of input and output options, which include two HDMI outputs, as well as two separate audio outputs; one a 7.1 channel analogue, and another the optical option. The F7500 has a built in Wi-Fi connection, as well as an Ethernet port if you so require.
Performance on the F7500 provides a mix bag of results. In terms of its first and foremost objective, that of 3D Blu-ray playback, the unit is able to support a number of different formats; most significantly that of Matroska (.mkv). Other formats and features include DVD-Video/DVD±R/DVD±RW, CD DA/CD-R/CD-RW, VCD 1.1, MPEG 2/4, DivX, DivX HD, AVCHD, WMV, JPEG, RMVB, and MPO to list just a few. In terms of the supported audio formats, the list includes Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus / TrueHD, DTS Surround, DTS-HD Master Audio Decoding, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio Decoding, DTS-HD Bitstream Output, LPCM, AAC, MP3, and WMA.
In terms of the resulting image quality produced by the F7500, it provides an adequate experience for most users. Unfortunately, the HD image quality isn’t as polished as it could be. In terms of clarity and picture crispness, there aren’t any complaints. At the same time, while there are no issues with the colour depth and vibrancy, the blacks are slightly greyed and, ever so slightly, grainy, which is very noticeable when watching in a very dark setup. For the most part, then, watching well lit and colourful movies raise no issues, but isn’t quite the same when watching darker themed films. One of the highlights of the F7500 is its ability to provide 4K upscaling. Although 4K TVs have recently starting selling locally, I would assume there aren’t that many to go around as yet. I did make an attempt to play a sample 4K video clip for reference, but the results weren’t any different due to the limitation on the display. It may prove more useful in the future.
There are few other features available on the Samsung BD-F7500, one of which being the BD-wise capability. This feature is limited to supported Samsung devices; mainly a pairing between a Smart TV and Smart Blu-ray player. The premise for this feature is simple, as it aims to provide better playback for DVDs on a Smart TV by changing the resolution and colour settings. The issue I have with this is that instead of upscaling the DVD to 1080p, it drops the resolution of the display to 480p (sometimes less) while adjusting the colours to appear more ‘vibrant’. All this does it make it a lot more pixelated and dark. Watching a SD DVD is better with the default setup, which then upscales the 480p video to 1080p, with better results.
Another gripe I have with the BD-7500 is that the GUI is often quite sluggish. Bearing in mind that this is a top of the line Blu-ray player, with the backing of a Dual-Core processor, I cannot quite understand the lack of snappy feedback between a click on the remote to the function performed on the interface. One of the best features I loved about the Smart Blu-ray player was also one which ended in frustration. This was its ability to support screen mirroring. Essentially, this provides an option to stream video content from your mobile to the Blu-ray player connected on the same Wi-Fi network. This was particular nifty when scrolling through YouTube videos on your smartphone, and simply selecting the screen mirror option, and in just a few short seconds continue the playback on the TV through the player. This worked quite well 60% of the time. The remaining tries resulted in the smartphone presenting a connection error message, or the Blu-ray player freezing up and rebooting (albeit a quick 10 second boot).
There’s a lot to love about the Samsung Smart Blu-ray Player (BD-F7500), and with a few tweaks in the form of a firmware update, I can imagine it would all come together quite nicely. Only time will tell if this is the case or not. That said, the device provides a much cheaper alternative to purchasing a Smart TV when compared against a similar specced set with no Smart capabilities. It works out a lot more affordable when compared against purchasing a console to support the above playback requirements, especially if you don’t plan on purchasing a console in the near future and don’t already have a supported PC to use instead.
I especially enjoyed the ease of connected any USB-powered peripheral to the player and being able to play any of the content I had. It makes a significant difference when a device is able to play almost any format, and even more so when your USB device has an NTFS file partition, which often don’t work on many other players, and even consoles. A simple enough concept as it may appear, I often have difficulty in explaining why a person’s external is unable to copy files larger than 4GB on FAT32 format, or not able to be read on a device that doesn’t support NTFS.
To answer the statement made in the introduction on the ability of the Smart Blu-ray player to turn your average TV into a Smart TV: I would say yes. Minus the few kinks here and there, I would much rather prefer the option of the Blu-ray player (at roughly R2,500 for the BD-F7500) over the additional cost of some Smart TVs, as well as with the added benefit of a Blu-ray/DVD player. While it can’t compete with the TV/PC combination, it does enough to tick all the right boxes.