Some people enjoy building computers from the ground up, assembling the box of their dreams from preciously sourced individual components. Many more just need to get their email and finish their monthly reports while keeping half an eye on their kids. Some folks love to tinker around in the guts of their cars; many more just need to get to work. Home theater is no different. The trick with buying a black-box/all-in-one solution is to not accidentally buy a piece of junk marketed to rich idiots who don’t know any better. If you don’t want to DIY, you also definitely don’t want to TYMA (throw your money away).
It is true that you pay a price for convenience; the HT-C5530 just minimizes that price. It isn’t the best home media system ever conceived, and you could certainly do better by assembling your own 5.1 system from separate components. However, you would also do a lot more work, potentially make some expensive mistakes, and almost certainly pay more than the reasonable $500 price tag on this one-box solution. There are some drawbacks, but none of them are fatal. If you don’t have the time or inclination to design and assemble your own piecemeal home theater system, and want something hassle-free that Just Works, Samsung has a good reputation for peddling full-featured consumer electronics that work properly and don’t need a lot of babysitting – a reputation that is pretty well borne out with this system.
The HT-C5530 consists of a Blu-Ray player, two 130cm tallboy forward speakers, two 14cm bookshelf speakers for the rear audio component, a passive subwoofer, and a thin, wide center speaker that should fit comfortably on most AV racks. The system boasts a bevy of connectors – HDMI in and out, as well as component & s-video outs, and RCA-style aux inputs for a second audio device. An iPhone/iPod dock is thoughtfully bundled with the unit, and there are two USB ports (one on the back, and one in front normally covered by a hinged flap) which can be used to connect external storage up to 160GB, or the Samsung WLAN dongle if you want wireless access to your home network – that will set you back an additional $70 or so, as it’s not included. However, if you don’t mind running a cable, there’s a built-in ethernet port, and this system does particularly shine when connected to a network. You can stream music, photos, and video from networked devices and PCs using Allshare or download and stream via BD live; hooking up to the net also allows access to Samsung Internet TV, which has apps for most many recognizable sites.
Sharing and streaming videos, music, and web content is by and large seamless. The player supports a wide variety of codecs and video resolutions, including wide-format and HD audio, DivX HD, XviD, Matrovska, AVI, Windows Media and MP3. The Smart Sound, MP3 enhancer, and Power Bass features monitor audio levels to prevent ugly surges or range overkill. This is particularly handy when playing from a collection that is, ah, less than completely RIAA-certified, shall we say – or hell, even one that contains tunes more than a decade or two old. It’s well known that popular music is now mixed at obscenely loud levels with emphasis on ear-splitting volume rather than audio detail and fidelity; software to manage the disparity between music recorded when people could actually still hear and anything made after Linkin Park formed is becoming a necessity, if you don’t want to be deafened by Skrillex after turning your speakers all the way up so you can hear what Cat Stevens is whining about.
The system looks pretty nice; it’s the standard Samsung black gloss motif slightly modified with a few brushed-aluminum highlights. Setup is absurdly easy due to all the cables being color coded, and the handheld remote (which can control any device connected to it) and onscreen menus are, typically for Samsung, straightforward, clear, and full-featured. My number one dislike regarding the HT-5530 are the tallboys. They are just not sturdy, which is one of the least desirable things you can say about a speaker that long and thin. When you set up the system, they come broken up into three parts that slot together, which ultimately rest on a stand that inspires very little confidence should the system need to face up to anything more destructive than a strong breeze. I try not to notice them wobbling whenever I walk by the unit…but I still notice. Also, the Blu-Ray player provides excellent motion tracking, even with fast-moving and complex footage, as well as an extremely clear picture, but many Blu-Ray discs load painfully slow, with a fair number of movies taking close to a minute to reach the main menu.
Which brings us, finally, to sound quality. The verdict is: surprisingly good. Not without faults, the main complaint of mine being the overabundance of bass from the subwoofer. It’s a common problem in boxed audio systems and a tricky thing to get right – there’s just too much sometimes, and you’re gonna have to deal with a little bit of that and a little bit of harsh tinniness from the forwards during big explosion scenes and car crashes and the like when you’ve got the volume jacked up. But there’s an astonishing amount of definition to be heard, and the built-in EQ software does a good job of managing the system’s weaknesses while playing to its strengths. Overall it’s a lot better than it should be for the price, especially when compared to similar all-in-one audio systems.