A second Blu-ray home theater system has joined Samsung's product lineup. The HT-BD2S is essentially identical to its predecessor, the Samsung HT-BD2T, but with two important distinctions: the BD2S has small satellite speakers (versus the four tallboy models that anchored the BD2T), and it's available for an even $1,000 (a 33 percent discount off the BD2T's asking price).
Does the downsized price and speaker size make the HT-BD2S more attractive than its big brother? Our gut reaction is no. That's because the head unit (the combination receiver/Blu-ray player/amplifier) included with the BD2S is identical to the one on the BD2T. In other words, even if the smaller speakers on the BD2S manage to sound better than the skinny tallboys on the BD2T, it will still suffer from the same shortfalls as the older model: a slow-loading Blu-ray player that's limited to the old Profile 1.0 spec (no picture-in-picture commentaries, and no online-enabled features) and subpar connectivity options (few inputs for connecting other AV sources). Still, the presence of the cheaper Samsung in the marketplace may put pressure on Panasonic to lower the price of its forthcoming SC-BT100 (slated to hit later this spring, also for $1,000).
That said, at $1,000, the Samsung HT-BD2S (or the Panasonic SC-BT100) represents an enticing option if you're looking for an all-in-one-box Blu-ray home theater solution, and you don't care about the extra bells and whistles available on some of the newer Blu-ray Discs. And honestly, we don't care about whiz-bang special features on Blu-ray discs--but it's annoying to pay top dollar and have to settle for less than state of the art. So, if you want the full Blu-ray experience, we still think you're better off getting a PlayStation 3 ($400), a full-service AV receiver (such as the $500 Onkyo TX-SR606), and a full 5.1 speaker system (savvy shopper can find some great options in the $400 to $600 range). Sure, you'll break the $1,000 barrier, but the extra money buys you far more flexibility and power (plenty of inputs, HD video switching with analog to digital video conversion) and--if you pick your speakers judiciously--the probability of better sound quality. In our book, those advantages are worth saving those hard-earned dollars for a few months more.