- Extensive feature list
- Simplified GUI
- Sparkling picture quality
- Faster disc loading
- Generous connections
- Clunky web browsing with remote
- Long-winded AllShare menus
- Confusing Smart Hub button labelling
Key Features: 3D Blu-ray playback; Smart Hub; AllShare DLNA media streaming; 4K upscaling; Screen mirroring
The BD-F7500 is Samsung’s flagship Blu-ray player for 2013, and as you’d expect it boasts a wealth of cutting-edge features as well as a revamped GUI and smart new design. Does that make it one of the players to beat this year? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
The BD-F7500 sports a chic new design for 2013. The main bulk of the player is a slim black box that looks very much like last year’s players, but is encased in a thick brushed aluminium sleeve that forms a striking contrast with the black and gives the bodywork a beautiful two-tiered effect.
It looks as though this sleeve should slide back to uncover more controls or a dock, but that’s not the case – it’s a simply a stylish flourish that matches Samsung’s new F8000 series TVs.
The black section at the front sports a row of touch-sensitive controls along the top edge, which is always a stylish touch, joined by a disc tray and nicely-sized LED display on the fascia. Behind a flap on the right-hand side is a USB port, which allows you to play media from USB memory devices. The discreet styling and lack of buttons gives the player a tidy, minimal look that’ll being a touch of hi-tech class to your AV cabinet.
Build quality is generally solid, although like many slim Blu-ray decks of this type it’s remarkably light. The bodywork isn’t fashioned from the same heavy, vibration-suppressing materials you’d get from Denon or Cambridge Audio for example, but hopefully that won’t have a huge bearing on the player’s performance.
On the busy rear panel you’ll find a generous range of connections befitting of a flagship player. There are two HDMI outputs, which is great news if your AV receiver doesn’t support 3D. You can send 3D Blu-ray pictures to your TV from the ‘Main’ HDMI output, and pipe HD audio to your AV receiver separately from the ‘Sub’ output. With many people still clinging onto their older amps, it’s a useful feature – although that will change as more and more people upgrade to a 3D-ready receiver.
But there’s another reason why twin HDMIs are useful – the BD-F7500 offers 4K upscaling. Therefore, if you buy a 4K display in the future but if your AV receiver doesn’t support it, you can output 4K video and HD audio separately.
Another nice surprise – and a sign that Samsung still has a place in its heart for old-school audio kit – is the inclusion of 7.1-channel analogue audio outputs. This means the deck will decode Blu-ray (or 5.1 DVD) soundtracks and output them in analogue form to receivers with matching 7.1-channel inputs. The benefits of this are negligible, but owners of amps without HDMI inputs, or those who prefer analogue sound will doubtless welcome them.
There’s an optical digital audio output for good measure and an Ethernet port for making a wired connection to the internet, although with a built-in Wi-Fi adapter on board this probably won’t be called into action.
Be they players, systems or soundbars, Samsung’s Blu-ray products are always packed with features and it comes as no surprise to find this range-topping deck offers more tricks than ever.
Chief among them is a fantastic range of network features. Making a welcome return this year is Smart Hub, which has been simplified (more on that in ‘Operation’) while retaining the same generous range of internet apps. The selection is again spearheaded by free video sites like BBC iPlayer and YouTube, plus on-demand movie sites Netflix, LoveFilm, Blinkbox and Knowhow Movies. These are backed up by the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, BBC News, Rightmove, AccuWeather, BFI Player and vTuner internet radio.
That’s just what’s displayed on the main menu – there’s loads more content hidden away in the Samsung Apps menu, such as specialist video, radio and lifestyle content, as well as games and educational apps for the kids. It’s a top-drawer selection with a nice blend of content for all the family. ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5 weren’t available on our sample as they were still being tested by Samsung HQ, but we’re assured they will be there by the time the deck goes on sale. That makes Samsung the first, if not only company to offer all four of the main catch-up TV services from a Blu-ray deck, which is not only a feather in Samsung’s cap but also great news for you.
There’s also a section of the main menu called ‘Movies and TV Shows’, which replaces the Your Video service found on previous players. It provides a faster and more convenient way of buying or renting movies than visiting the individual on-demand sites. The content comes from Samsung’s Video Hub service and Acetrax Movies.
However, there were teething problems. When we selected an Acetrax movie to rent or buy, it took us to the installation page for Sony’s Crackle app. At the time of writing, the app server was ‘still in development’ and Acetrax hadn’t been added, so we expect this to be ironed out by the time these new players hit the market.
Interestingly, Samsung has ditched its Family Story photo-sharing service but retains the dedicated Fitness and Kids portals, which boast gorgeous hi-def graphics. Fitness offers a range of workout videos and training programmes, alongside a series of tools to monitor your progress, while Kids offers videos and educational tools aimed at youngsters. While home cinema enthusiasts won’t be fussed by features like this, it’s nice to see a player with more strings to its bow than just movie playback.
There’s also a web browser, which is a little easier to use than last year’s players and loads pages quickly. That said, it’s still cumbersome to navigate with the remote, and entering text is time consuming – although Samsung has improved this with a nifty predictive feature that suggests which letter to press next.
When web browsing, you can switch between pointer browsing (the cursor crawls around the screen) or link browsing (which is equally frustrating with lots of links on the page). Luckily you can also use a USB keyboard and third-party wireless mouse with the F7500, which makes life a lot easier.
The BD-F7500 can also stream movies, music and photos from PCs and media servers on your home network using Samsung’s proprietary AllShare technology. Samsung recommends that you install its AllShare software on your PC, which allows you to create a shared folder with the BD-F7500 (and any other Samsung products in your home) and stream the files within it. The player is also designed to work with PCs running Windows 7 or 8 without having to install AllShare, but we found it worked more smoothly and supported a wider range of files when using AllShare.
For example, before installing AllShare we tried streaming an MKV file (1080p video, DTS audio) on a Windows 7 PC and it refused to play (Windows Media Player 12 doesn’t natively support MKV). It also played AVCHD, hi-def AVI and WMV files but downgraded them to a blurry SD resolution. However after installing AllShare it played the above files with no problems, in their correct resolution.
The rest of the BD-F7500’s format support is impressive. We were also able to stream DivX HD, MP4, 3GP, XviD, WMV, MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, OGG, WAV and APE. Supported photo files include JPEG, PNG, BMP and MPO. All of the above formats also played without hesitation from a USB drive.
If you don’t want to increase the burden on your over-worked wireless router, you can also stream files from mobile devices using Wi-Fi Direct – although this cuts out the connection to your network. You can also control playback of content stored on a server using a Samsung smartphone running the AllShare software.
Elsewhere, there are a couple of other big additions to the spec sheet. We’ve mentioned 4K upscaling – included with one eye on the future – which is already found on last year’s BDP-S790 from Sony, as well as the new Panasonic DMP-BDT330. Not having a 4K display to hand meant we couldn’t test it out on this occasion, but it’s good to know it’s there.
The other new feature this year is AllShare Cast, which mirrors your Smartphone’s screen on your TV. It’s particularly useful for playing games, which aren’t always the easiest to follow on a poky screen, and when you rotate the device the player also rotates the image on the TV. Samsung’s system is not the same as Miracast (also found on Panasonic’s DMP-BDT330), but the F7500 will support that too.
Samsung’s operating system has been overhauled for 2013, using many of the same sections as last year, but presented in a much simpler, streamlined way. For the main menus, Samsung seems to have taken its design cue from Windows 8, using large solid blocks of colour and large, simple icons. To be fair, there was nothing wrong with the old layout, which was always agreeable and easy to use, but this new-look GUI is equally attractive but also less likely to scare off technophobes.
The Home menu, for example, fills the screen with three blocks – one for ‘Movies & TV Shows’, one for ‘Apps’ and one for ‘Photos, Videos & Music’ (AllShare) – with a few recommended apps and access to the web browser below.
The online content menu has also been refurbished. Last year’s slick and eye-catching Smart Hub was arguably cluttered and over-elaborate, whereas here Samsung has gone for a simple grid of small, square icons under the heading My Apps (with lots of empty spaces for new apps) and a row of Recommended apps along the top that learns your viewing habits over time. Another change is that the Fitness and Kids sections are now simply incorporated into the main My Apps grid instead of being given their own large banners.
At the bottom of the screen is box labelled More Apps – select this and you can view all of your downloaded apps, then modify, delete or arrange them into folders as you could on previous players. You can also organise which thumbnails appear on the My Apps page by moving or deleting them (you can only do this through the More Apps menu, not from My Apps itself).
Just one small thing to point out – the main home menu is called ‘Smart Hub’, while the online content section is called ‘Apps’. But when you press the button labelled ‘Smart Hub’ on the remote, it takes you to the ‘Apps’ menu. Confused? So were we at first. It turns out that it’s all due to the fact that Samsung hasn’t tweaked last year’s remote to reflect the on-screen redesign.
We’re impressed by the look of the AllShare menu, although the menu structure is too long-winded (see the sequence of pictures above). You have to reel through too many menu screens before you get to your actual media, whereas last year’s players missed out some of these stages. Still, when you get there, content is displayed with large, colourful icons, with data for each file at the bottom of the screen.
Navigating the menu system or using apps is a quick, smooth experience thanks to the F7500’s dual-core processor, and discs load faster than ever. With the tricky Terminator Salvation disc, it took just 30 seconds from having the tray open to playing the Sony Pictures intro, which is the fastest time we’ve ever clocked. With less Java-heavy discs like Prometheus you get an even quicker time of 20 seconds, which almost matches DVD player speeds.
Also impressive is the stability and sensitivity of the Wi-Fi adapter – we were easily able to connect to a router in the house from a garden office without any drop-outs, which few players manage, although video streaming was stuttery.
We really can’t fault the remote, apart from the lack of backlighting and the afore-mentioned Smart Hub/Apps mix-up. It’s not hugely different to last year’s zapper, using an uncluttered layout and well-labelled buttons. It’s small and fits ergonomically in the hand, with playback and menu navigation controls placed under the thumb.
During playback you can access the Tools menu, which provides details about the disc and a selection of picture presets – Dynamic (avoid), Standard, Movie and User. The latter allows you to adjust sharpness, noise reduction, contrast, brightness, colour and tint. Hardly ISF standard, but potentially useful.
Samsung says it has improved the picture performance of its 2013 models, and although any step up in quality from last year is subtle, there’s no denying that the BD-F7500 offers stunning picture quality. 3D images are by far the most awe-inspiring, firing 1080p frames to our TV with forcefully resolved detail and explosive colours.
Our trusty Avatar platter provides ample evidence of the BD-F7500’s 3D prowess. The disc’s First Sortie chapter is mesmerising – as the helicopter races alongside the flying creatures, their patterned skin holds steady and their movement is smooth.
As it plummets over the waterfall, there’s an impressive sense of depth and distance in the background valleys, and when the chopper touches down in the forest glade, it’s even more captivating – shards of light weave their way through the bushes, while layers of trees stretch back into the picture, giving you a convincing sense of perspective. Foreground detail is sharp and steady, while the green-dominated colour palette is deep and luscious yet subtly shaded.
2D pictures are also stunning, even with less vibrant material like Prometheus. The deck handles the murky surroundings of the alien caverns in Chapter 9 with terrific solidity, keeping blacks deep and solid while picking out textures and shading on the background walls as the scientists wave their torches around. The image is clean and punchy, helped along by razor-sharp detail in both long shots and facial close-ups.
Switching to the Silicon Optix HQV Blu-ray disc, its tricky test patterns prove to be no problem for the BD-F7500. The Video Resolution Loss test is perfectly steady and flicker-free from the moment it kicks in. On the Jaggies test, it renders the edges of the moving white bars with clinical smoothness.
The Film Resolution Test is handled with equal skill, with not a trace of flicker or strobing in the moving SMPTE pattern. A camera pan across an American football stadium shows a minute touch of judder as the camera moves but it keeps moiré noise under control amid the rows of seats and holds detail steady.
The BD-F7500 is also a decent DVD 1080p upscaler. Test patterns showing a rotating white bar exhibit no few jaggies on diagonal lines, while detail is stable without excessive shimmering to sully the clarity – as demonstrated by shots of tiled roofs and brickwork on our HQV DVD evaluation disc. It does look a little unnatural and hazy in places but you’re never going to get a completely clean picture from such low-res source material. Web-streamed video from BBC iPlayer looks impressive, with only minor noise levels reminding you of its online origins.
Connected to an Onkyo TX-NR818 via HDMI, DTS HD Master Audio tracks sound wonderfully detailed and engaging. The BD-F7500 also serves as a passable music player – delivered through the analogue stereo output, CDs enjoy a pleasing balance across the frequency range, with clean detail, natural-sounding vocals and a good rhythmic ability. It’s not quite as refined or insightful as a more audiophile-focused deck, but casual listeners will have no cause for complaint.
The BD-F7500 is another terrific Blu-ray player from Samsung. As ever there’s a wide range of features on board, including one of the best internet content portals in the business – which will get even better with the addition of ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5. The spec sheet is bolstered for 2013 with a couple of new features like screen mirroring and 4K upscaling, while old favourites like DLNA streaming, 3D and USB media playback are as welcome as ever.
But where the BD-F7500 really excels is its operating system. The redesigned menus have been simplified and are all the better for it. Gone are the flashy animations and jazzy backgrounds and in come Windows 8-like boxes and a bold colour scheme that makes everything easier to follow. The deck operates with pleasing slickness thanks to the dual-core processor, while disc loading is the fastest we’ve experienced.
Some bum notes, like cumbersome web browsing with the remote and the long-winded AllShare menu sequence, are niggles rather than deal-breakers – and when you add its sparkling picture performance, distinctive design and generous socketry into the equation, it’s clear that the pros far outweigh the cons.
Scores In Detail
- Design : 9/10
- Features : 10/10
- Performance : 9/10
- Value : 8/10