The Samsung HT-X710T is a solid home theatre-in-a-box that focuses on DVD playback while offering excellent sound. It has a 2.1-channel system -- meaning two speakers, one subwoofer and a 'head unit' amplifier and disc player. Depending on where you look, the X710T is available for around £230.
The first thing you'll notice about the X710T is its unconventional design -- it's really like nothing we've seen from a system like this. All of the pieces have a space-age look about them, with each component (save the subwoofer) complemented by the same dark red "Touch of Color" shading found on higher-end Samsung TVs. Everything is also covered in a shiny plastic and instantly became a fingerprint magnet the second we got the system out of the box. Thankfully, Samsung includes a cloth shammy to rub out any prints.
The speakers are two oddly oval-shaped cones that stretch a bit higher than half a metre. The subwoofer inherits the same round design with half the unit covered in a polished plastic and the other half in a cloth grille. The head unit also has an elongated look. It can be positioned vertically or horizontally, or it can be mounted on a wall.
The bright LCD screen in the centre of the unit will change its orientation depending on how the receiver is positioned. Its touch-sensitive buttons take a bit of getting used to, but are completely responsive when used correctly.
The system's remote control is a derivation of the one you'd find with most Samsung TVs. It's laid out well and is easy to operate, and can be programmed to control any other model of TV you may have.
The HT-X710T's built-in slot-loading DVD player can upscale video to 720p, 1080i and 1080p resolutions via the HDMI output. We've found upscaling to be an increasingly irrelevant feature -- your HDTV's built-in scaling will usually do a better job. In our testing with Sin City, we noticed a positive increase in image sharpness when upscaled to 720p, but anything above that did not make much of a difference in video quality. In other words, you won't get a picture that's anywhere near as good as Blu-ray. Still, it's more than acceptable for the average consumer.
Otherwise, connectivity is basic. Beyond the standard composite, component and HDMI video outputs (no S-Video), the rear panel has just two audio-only inputs: one analogue stereo connection (red and white RCA jacks) and one optical audio input (for surround audio sources). That means you can only have the audio outputs of, say, a stereo and a cable/satellite box connected to the rear panel of the unit, and you'll have to use your TV for video-switching duties. Also, in case you opt for wall mounting, note that the back-panel area is crowded together -- things could get tight if you have many connections.
Beyond the back panel, there's a side door under which you'll find a minijack input for quick connections to portable players, a USB port and a headphone jack. USB file support includes JPEG picture files, MP3 and WMA audio files, and WMV and DivX movie files. Also, the unit can play the preceding files if they are burned onto a disc (CD-R only). However, DivX movie files burned to a disc can only be played off a DVD-R.
The graphic interface for navigation and playing these files is intuitive. In fact, it ranks up there with some of the easiest experiences we've had with these types of setups. Furthermore, we had 100 per cent playback compatibility with all the files we tested.
If you plan to use an iPod with the HT-X710T, just be aware that the dock included with the system only supports fourth-generation iPods and higher, including the iPod touch and the iPhone. Navigating and controlling your iPod is easy with the system's remote and uses the same on-screen graphic interface as with media files. We were disappointed, however, to find that the unit couldn't play any videos off an iPod.
We were happy to see that the X710T is compatible with any device that can transmit audio via a Bluetooth connection. In our testing, we were able to pair a mobile phone with the X710 and play our MP3 files directly on the unit. Bluetooth audio quality wasn't on par with the hardwired sources we tested, though -- our result was more on par with the system's FM radio tuner.