The BD-DT7800 is Samsung's first stab at a standalone hi-def PVR, but with several Freeview HD/Blu-ray combis already under its belt the Korean company is in familiar territory.
It's a twin-tuner affair with most of the TV recording and editing tools you need, but what sets it apart from most other PVRs on the market is the inclusion of Smart Hub, the brand's impressive array of connected applications.
This idea is not new; Humax brought out a 'TV Portal' for its HDR-FOX T2 that streams Sky Player, BBC iPlayer and others, while TVonics has added similar functions to its PVRs with a recent software update, but Samsung's superior selection of sites and dazzling onscreen presentation will knock them both into a cocked hat. The BD-DT7800 comes equipped with two DVB-T2 tuners and a sizeable 500GB hard disk.
The outer design is up to Samsung's usual standards. Build quality is first class and there's glamorous brushed silver on the fascia, plus touch-sensitive controls along the front. Daring for a PVR.
On the back is a standard array of sockets, which naturally includes an HDMI output. Strangely, we find ourselves lamenting the lack of a Scart output, chiefly because it means that you can't make copies of internal recordings on external hardware. That might mean much to some, but if you want to burn last night's Deal or No Deal for your Gran then you're out of luck.
Elsewhere you'll find component, composite, optical digital audio and analogue stereo outputs, plus a USB port on the front panel, which is the same lineup as Samsung's Blu-ray decks. Samsung merged its Freeview set-top box and Blu-ray divisions not so long ago, so expect to find the same operating system and snazzy networking features here.
AllShare DLNA networking is the most mouth-watering, enabling you to stream digital media from any PC or connected device, and thanks to Samsung's open-minded approach to format support, it'll stream almost anything, including MKV, WMV, DivX HD, MP3, WMA and JPEG.
And with built-in wi-fi it's easy to get online, but if you prefer you can play media from a USB storage device or external HDD.
Smart Hub is a new addition to Samsung's arsenal this year, and its inclusion on a Freeview PVR is a massive bonus as it's a great catch-up accompaniment to its live TV capabilities. It brings a range of applications to your TV, such as BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Picasa, LOVEFiLM and BBC News, but it's all in the presentation.
The apps are laid out in a funky grid as per the iPhone or Android. You can also organise them into folders, search those apps for content containing a particular keyword, or delve into Your Video to find movies to watch.
Turning to Freeview, there's an eight-day EPG with series link, while Time Shift lets you perform the usual playback gymnastics and a range of editing modes enables you to trim down or split your recordings. It's fairly flexible in all ways except one – despite the inclusion of two tuners you can't record two channels simultaneously, due to the fact that only one of them is linked to the hard-disk drive. That's a frustrating oversight, which is bound to deter many potential buyers.
Still, Samsung's onscreen presentation is as eye-catching as ever, particularly the main Home menu (which uses large animated icons) and the intelligently arranged EPG, which crams everything into a single screen without seeming cluttered. DLNA content streams with minimum fuss, while Smart Hub is generally a cinch to use, although it's cumbersome to enter text – luckily it remembers passwords.
Videos streamed over the BBC iPlayer app ran smoothly and the picture quality is surprisingly crisp. We're also impressed by the BD-DT7800's Freeview picture quality – particularly HD, which dazzles the retinas with pin-sharp detail and bright, glossy colours.
It's no mug with standard def either, upscaling the images without injecting any extra noise, although it does look a little ragged in places, an unavoidable consequence of the platform's low-bitrate broadcasts. You can also convert Freeview pictures to 3D – another crossover with Samsung's Blu-ray decks, and this potentially opens up more 3D material, of variable quality though.
That said, it's features like this that make the BD-DT7800 one of the most interesting and talented Freeview HD PVRs to emerge in recent times, with the range of superb network functions being the main attraction.
If Samsung could sort out the dual-channel recording issue, we'd have had an absolute must-buy on our hands.
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