Many Freeview TV recorders are pretty basic when compared with the best subscription-based boxes, but the Samsung STB-E7500 is one of the most sophisticated – and smartest – we’ve come across.
At its heart, the STB-E7500 has a 500GB hard drive for storing Freeview HD recordings taken using the two onboard digital TV tuners.
This should be good for around 200 hours of standard-definition and 125 of HD content, but if you’re a hoarder of HD recordings, then you might want to contemplate the larger, 1TB model, the STB-E7900. It’s available for around £340 and should be able to accommodate about 400 hours of SD and 250 of HD.
You can record two separate channels at once, or you can watch one and record another. You can also stream online content while recording, an Achilles’ heel for last year’s equivalent model.
Samsung STB-E7500: Split-screen viewing
But the fun you can have with the tuners doesn’t stop there. The dual-tuner feature allows you to watch two channels simultaneously. Your screen can be configured in a variety of ways: it can be split down the middle, or you can have the second channel in a slightly smaller window.
It’s a great little feature if you want to watch two live programmes at the same time and can’t wait for the recording.
In addition, the Samsung Smart View app lets you watch the same or different TV programmes on compatible devices such as a tablet, PC or smartphone.
As with most most flatscreen TVs currently on the market, 2D-to-3D conversion is also offered, should you find a programme befitting the third dimension. It works well enough, but it really depends on the type of programme you’re applying it to – Antiques Roadshow or golf possibly, News at 10 definitely not.
Round the back you get an HDMI socket, ethernet, USB, phono audio out, composite video out and an optical digital output.
The supplied remote looks good. Buttons are a decent size and the layout isn’t too cramped. It feels comfortable in your hand, although the d-pad feels vague when pressed and we’d like the machine to respond more quickly to commands. Our review sample took an age to switch from live TV to the Smart Hub.
Samsung STB-E7500: Smart Hub
Once you’ve revved up the STB-E7500, and joined it to your network (via either its built-in wi-fi or an ethernet cable) you’re greeted by the same excellent Smart Hub portal found in Samsung’s latest smart TVs. That brings easy access to a plethora of content, the best of which – such as BBC’s iPlayer – plays in great quality.
Samsung’s built-in web browser is also evident, but that age-old problem of trying to surf the internet on a TV using a remote control hasn’t gone away. The browser looks attractive enough, but it’s a real struggle using the remote to navigate between links and input web addresses.
Switch to Samsung’s remote app for iOS and Android devices and this doesn’t really help matters, as the touchpad can’t be used to move the on-screen cursor.
Samsung STB-E7500: Picture & sound quality
Thankfully, broadcast television reception is excellent, with crisply defined edges and rich, satisfying colours. Watch a Formula 1 Grand Prix in high-def and you’re in for a treat – BBC One HD looks especially good.
The cars look fantastic during static shots in the pitlane, while even high-octane action and fast motion is handled competently. It’s just as impressive when you’re watching a show you’ve recorded as when you’re viewing live.
Even the most eagle-eyed viewer will struggle to notice any drop in quality.
Sonically, the Samsung delivers dialogue clearly and coherently. Watch a programme output in Dolby Digital from the likes of BBC One HD and there’s a fine level of dynamics and detail to be heard. There’s no thinness or hardness – something that some set-top-boxes suffer from.
Samsung STB-E7500: Verdict
Samsung was king of the Freeview HD boxes last year, its BD-DT7800 winning our Freeview HD Recorder Product of the Year Award, and the STB-E7500 has to be considered a frontrunner for one of this year’s gongs. It’s a great Freeview recorder and comes highly recommended.