Reviewer: Thomas Bartlett
Even though I was doing reviews of home entertainment products back when DVD players prices were plummeting, I am flabbergasted by how quickly the prices of the next-generation players have fallen. HD DVD still holds the edge on this front, but nibbling at its heels is the Sharp Aquos BD-HP20X Blu-ray player, priced at just $749.
Given the price, I was expecting a very basic player, and perhaps one that might even have operational difficulties. But that was not the case at all.
The first thing I look for in a high definition disc player is the ability of the unit to deliver the video at 24 frames per second in addition to the more common 60 fps. Those that can do this deliver a smoother, more film-like result, with compatible projectors, LCD and plasma displays. And, yes, this unit can do just that.
Also, it includes a decoder for Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus, two of the new audio formats for Blu-ray, but not DTS-HD. The decoded signal can be output via either the 5.1 channel analog outputs, or in the form of CD-quality multichannel PCM over HDMI if you have a suitable receiver.
A feature unique to this player is its Quick Start operation. This allows the player to come out of standby mode… well, quickly!
Unlike some of the other Blu-ray players which offer 24 frames output (called 1080p24), this unit requires the resolution to be specified in the setup menu. In fact, you set it to ‘Auto’. This causes only movies to be output at 1080p24, while any standard definition extras are upscaled to 1080p at the more common 60 frames per second (many such extras would look dreadful at 24 fps).
The result of this was superbly smooth movement onscreen with a true high definition projector. Americans tend not to see these smoothness advantages, being so used to the US NTSC TV system, but this is vital for Australians.
In fact, with all filmed Blu-ray material the picture quality was consistently excellent. With DVDs the results were quite mediocre, though, so I suggest that you keep your favourite DVD player if you are upgrading to Blu-ray.
One of my bugbears with all the new players has been how incredibly slow they are, some taking over a minute just to go through their startup routines. By default this unit is slow by DVD player standards, but at the leading edge in speed for Blu-ray/HD DVD. It took well under 40 seconds to switch on and have the disc tray open. With Quick Start enabled, it took well under ten seconds to start up. The downside of having this enabled is that the unit is effectively still working when in Standby mode, switching off only the display and the disc drive.
I used the unit’s internal Dolby TrueHD decoder to send multichannel PCM from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to my system, and the sound quality was glorious. Players without this decoder degrade this quality by reverting to standard Dolby Digital.
The Sharp Aquos BD-HP20X is a fine Blu-ray player at an excellent price. Just make sure you keep your regular DVD player as well.