One of the keys to a successful home-theatre-in-a-box is simplicity, and Samsung may have just delivered this with its new HT-X810 sound bar system. Basically, if you can plug in a power cable you can set up this system. This is because almost everything about the Samsung is wireless — from the subwoofer to its support for Bluetooth devices.
In keeping with the curvy looks of Samsung's past ranges, the HT-X810's main module has a rounded bottom bezel, sides and speaker grille. It's quite a wide unit at one metre across, and is designed to complement 42-inch screens. It's also wall-mountable with the ports at the rear angled so cables won't break off.
The digital readout is small and a little hard to read due to the high gloss finish, but the capacitive play controls along the other edge are quite nifty. One minor quirk we found though was that only the Eject button on the unit itself can both "open" and "close" the DVD mechanism. Meanwhile, the remote's Eject will only eject.
While the main unit is stylish, the subwoofer gets off less lightly — it's a black, rectangular box. A piano-black, though. But unlike the sub from Sony's DAV-IS10 system, it's not as fussy about placement, and given that it's wireless you can put it in the next room if you really want.
The pointing stick itself is OK, but is somewhat confused. It suffers from the "little button syndrome" at the bottom — a lot of functionality is offered but it's hard to tell at a glance what everything does.
Like the similarly priced Philips Soundbar system, the X810 offers an on-board DVD player which is capable of upscaling to 1080p resolution. However, it's a little quirkier with its slot-loading that somewhat resembles an angled toaster.
Where similar systems from Yamaha and Philips use a series of speakers to simulate surround sound by bouncing signals off rear walls, the Samsung does not. It's only 2.1 — two speakers and a sub. However, it does feature a "simulated surround" mode through Samsung's proprietary DNSe 2.1 sound engine.
Connectivity is one of this system's strong points and it features HDMI output (with CEC), digital optical audio input, USB, Bluetooth and component outputs. The Bluetooth is particularly interesting because it allows you to use any compatible mobile, PC or even MP3 player to act as a sound source.
The wireless system that the subwoofer utilises is 5.8GHz, and not the more crowded 2.4GHz spectrum shared by microwaves, cordless phones and home networks. This means there's less likelihood of interference, and we found the sub connected to the main unit as soon as it turned on — we didn't need to do a thing.
We were mostly impressed with the performance and ease of use of the Samsung system. Set-up was a breeze, and that wasn't only due to the lack of cabling. In fact, when browsing the device's Setup there are very few settings you can actually change — apart from a parental lock and minor interface tweaks.
However, this simplicity means it's also hard to get a good sound out of the unit. There's no calibration routine and finding the subwoofer volume control requires browsing the manual (it's a small button at the bottom of the remote labelled Sound Edit). The reason you need a sub volume control? It's way too loud! And while this is good for action movies it's not good if you want to listen to music, due to the sub's "one-note" response. Also, the remote only lets you change the sub volume +/- 6dB. Not really enough to make an appreciable difference.
Upper register sounds, such as breaking glass or cymbals, are also a little shy. Lastly, though the unit goes up to "30", anything above 20 results in the unit audibly vibrating and is unusable.
Video quality, on the other hand, is very good for a home cinema system at this price. Our usual flotilla of test DVDs were greeted with realistic colour reproduction, fine amounts of detail without noise, and decent black levels.
Connecting a Bluetooth device was an experience, and basically you need to control everything from the handset — effectively using the X810 like a headset. Pairing it was easy enough though, but the sound quality left something to be desired — Smashing Pumpkins MP3s carried a faint, rustling paper-like distortion.
The Samsung HT-X810 is a great looking system — it's easy to set-up and works quite well. However, it's not quite the perfect blend of "performance and style" that Samsung promises.