It’s no longer enough for a PVR to simply receive and record digital TV. These days they’re all-singing, all-dancing multimedia hubs, with networking, web content, Blu-ray players and whatever else manufacturers can shove under the bonnet. The STB-E7500 is definitely from this new breed of PVR. It’s a 500GB Freeview+ HD affair with built-in Wi-Fi, DLNA networking and access to Samsung’s Smart Hub Internet portal.
Design and connections
The STB-E7500 is a classy looking unit, sporting all-black bodywork with clean lines and an uncluttered fascia. It’s slim and compact, plus there’s a small display panel on the front, which gives time information but sadly not channel names. The only buttons are found within a round panel on top.
A USB port is hidden behind a flap on the front, with another one on the back. Both can be used for playback of music, video and photo files from USB drives. You’ll also find HDMI, optical digital, composite and analogue stereo outputs on the back, alongside Ethernet, RF in/loopthrough and a common interface slot on the side. It’s a shame there’s no SCART output for making copies of recordings.
Even without the smart functionality, the STB-E7500 would be a solid PVR. The 500GB hard-disk holds 124 hours of HD and 199 hours of SD, and with two Freeview tuners there’s plenty of recording flexibility.
Not only can you record one channel while watching another, but you can also record two channels simultaneously while watching a third – that’s a rare talent.
You can also pause and rewind live TV, and record a whole series from the EPG. More unusually, the Samsung offers 2D-to-3D conversion so you can, at last, watch Alan Carr prance about in three dimensions.
These apps are backed up by a slew of games and puzzles of varying quality, plus three dedicated zones – Fitness, Kids and Family Story. Fitness helps you get in shape with workout videos and online tools to gauge your progress, while Kids collates videos, games and educational tools into one bright, colourful interface. Family Story enables you to share photos with other Smart Hub users, ideal for those not versed in the ways of Facebook and Twitter (which are also available on Smart Hub).
The STB-E7500 will also stream music, video and photos from servers on your home network. The range of supported formats is wide, including MKV, DivX HD, WMV, AVCHD, AVI, JPEG, MP3, WMA and AAC. You can also bypass your router and stream files via Wi-Fi Direct, and even stream TV channels to smartphones or tablets using Clone View and Dual View, all courtesy of the Smart View app.
And while connected you can also browse the Internet at large using the built-in web browser, although we wouldn’t recommend it – operation is clunky using the remote. You can rig up a wireless mouse, but it’s probably more hassle than it’s worth when you could just fire up the laptop.
Using the STB-E7500 is a smooth, speedy experience thanks to the dual-core processor under the bonnet. That means you can skip between menus, scour the schedules or load Smart Hub apps without any annoying pauses.
Also useful is the info banner, which can be called up while watching TV if you want to peruse the 7-day schedules without entering the full EPG.
It’s simple to make single or series recordings thanks to the self-explanatory dialogue boxes, plus I had no trouble making tweaks using the setup and Tools menus.
It is, in short, a complete triumph for user-friendliness. In fact the only criticism I can offer is based on my experience with Humax’s DTR-T1000 YouView PVR, which combines online content and broadcast TV into a single EPG rather than putting them in two separate sections as they are here. It feels much more convenient, but with just BBC iPlayer on board that approach wouldn’t work.
The whole shebang is controlled using a remote that a child could use. The buttons are big, clearly labelled and logically arranged. There’s a bit of button clutter at the bottom though, which unfortunately engulfs the crucial record button.
Funky features are great but hi-def picture quality is what this box is all about, and on that score it delivers the goods. All of the HD channels on the Freeview roster look fabulous – whether it’s the exquisite period detail of The Paradise on BBC One HD, the skanky surroundings of Albert Square or Phil and Kirstie’s garish interiors on Channel 4 HD, the STB-E7500 provides images you can really lose yourself in.
Detail is ridiculously sharp, colours are rich and edge definition is clean, even when the action gets frenetic. You can rest assured that recorded images look every bit as clean and sharp as the live broadcast.
Even standard definition pictures – the Achilles' heel of many a Freeview receiver – don’t let the side down. Sure, there’s an increase in block and mosquito noise and the image is inevitably softer, yet colour solidity and detail clarity are good enough to keep SD channels looking good.
As an added bonus, online video looks terrific, particularly BBC iPlayer, which almost matches the quality of live SD. Streaming is smooth and untroubled by buffering breaks. I also converted some programmes into 3D, which looks great with vivid kids’ shows but not so hot with the news.
With its excellent feature list, flexible recording and terrific picture quality, the STB-E7500 earns its place among the PVR elite. Its gorgeous onscreen presentation and dual-core powered operation makes it a pleasure to use, while hi-def pictures dazzle and Smart Hub brings plenty of fun to the table. Sure, more catch-up content and better integration of online and broadcast TV would help ward off the threat of YouView, but that aside this is a top-drawer PVR.
Manufacturer and model
2 x Freeview HD
Max. recording time (HD/SD, hours)
Component video output
Composite video output
Digital audio outputs
SD card slot
DLNA media streaming
Smart Hub (inc. BBC iPlayer)
330 x 52 x 270mm