Blu-ray – Comparativo (1)

AVREVIEW

Teste de Bly-Ray Players abaixo de £400

REVIEW DATE: 17.03.08

Group test: Blu-ray players under £400
By Danny Phillips

With HD DVD now a footnote in home entertainment history, it’s finally time for you to get off the fence and buy a Blu-ray player. The good news is that prices of these high-definition decks have dropped considerably since the first generation launched, but the bad news is that the format’s evolving specifications makes it more difficult to buy one than it really should be.

Certain features are supported by some players but not others, which means your chosen deck could become outdated quite quickly. So to find out which one is most deserving of your hard-earned cash, we’ve rounded up and tested four of the latest decks under £400. Let the Blu-ray battle commence…

Panasonic DMP-BD30

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The DMP-BD30 is the world’s first dedicated Blu-ray player to support ‘Profile 1.1’ features, such as picture-in-picture video playback and audio mixing. No other player, with the exception of the Sony PS3, supports these features, giving Panasonic’s deck a distinct advantage over its three ‘Profile 1.0’ rivals from the off.

The DMP-BD30 is slim and sleek, and conceals a nice surprise under a flap on the fascia – an SD card slot that lets you play AVCHD video and JPEG photo files. The unit also supports MP3 and DivX stored on CD and DVD, plus it even plays recordable Blu-ray discs.

It’s also packed with picture boosting technology and supports all four hi-res audio formats; Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS HD and DTS HD Master Audio, plus 7.1-channel PCM – all of which can be fed to a compatible receiver using the player’s HDMI v1.3 output. But sadly it doesn’t decode any of them internally, so you’ll need an up-to-date amp.

The player’s picture performance is immense. The 1080p picture output at 24 frames per second looks scintillatingly sharp and vibrant, with no noise or motion problems to speak of. Playback of the Resident Evil: Extinction disc reveals the picture-in-picture feature works smoothly, though it didn’t always mute the main soundtrack when playing secondary video. Overall though, the DMP-BD30 will take some beating.

Verdict

Plus points
Supports picture-in-picture, superb hi-def pictures, lots of features
Minus points
No hi-res audio decoding, some audio mixing issues

NOTA: 9,0

Price: £350
More info: Panasonic
Key features: Profile 1.1; Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS HD Master Audio, DTS HD bitstream output; 7.1-channel PCM out; Dolby Digital & DTS decoding and bitstream output; HDMI v1.3 output; 5.1-channel analogue outputs; 1080/24p output; SD card slot; DivX, MP3, AVCHD and JPEG playback; DVD upscaling to 1080p; plays BD-R/RE discs; HDMI CEC

Samsung BD-P1400

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Samsung got off to a bad start in the Blu-ray arena with the disappointing BD-P1000, which lacked several key features. The company puts this right with the BD-P1400, which comes equipped with 1080/24p output and Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS HD decoders.
The unit’s gloss black finish and curved fascia are stunning, while on the rear connections include an HDMI v1.3 output and unusually an Ethernet port for making firmware updates (but not for accessing online movie content).

Like all four decks on test, the Samsung upscales DVDs to 1080p, and it plays DVD-RW and DVD-R discs, but digital media support is limited to MP3 and JPEG.

Unlike the Panasonic DMP-BD30, the Samsung is a Profile 1.0 player and can’t be upgraded, so any picture-in-picture features won’t be available during playback, which could prove frustrating if extras are your thing.

Picture quality is excellent on the whole, with detail presentation and colour intensity that could stop traffic. Our only qualm is some juddering during camera pans in the 24fps Movie Frame mode, which stops when you switch to 60Hz.

Sound quality is superb whether using the 5.1-analogue outputs or HDMI, rounding off a very competent performance from one of the best Profile 1.0 players on the market.

Verdict

Plus points
Great looks, good hi-res audio support, solid HD images
Minus points
No picture-in-picture support, some juddering in 24fps, Profile 1.0

NOTA: 8,0

Price: £300
More info: Samsung
Key features: Profile 1.0; Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS HD, Dolby Digital and DTS decoding and bitstream output; HDMI v1.3 output; 5.1-channel analogue outputs; 1080/24p output; MP3 and JPEG playback; DVD upscaling to 1080p; HDMI CEC

Sharp BD-HP20HX20E

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One of the most annoying things about hi-def disc players is their s-l-o-w start-up times, but Sharp’s debut Blu-ray player addresses the problem with a Quick Start mode that gets the unit up and running much quicker than the other three decks on test here. On the downside, it consumes considerably more power in standby (13W, as opposed to 0.6W in non-Quick Start standby mode – not exactly energy efficient).

Elsewhere there’s a decent set of features, with Dolby True HD and Dolby Digital Plus decoding (available from the 5.1-channel analogue outputs) though the lack of DTS HD or DTS HD Master Audio support is a tad disappointing, as is the lack of support for DivX, MP3, WMA and JPEG files.

The deck’s HDMI v1.3 output allows you to channel hi-res audio soundtracks to your amplifier and pipe 1080p pictures to your TV at 24 frames per second. You can also upscale DVDs to 1080p, giving your standard def movie collection a new lease of life.

There can be no complaints with the player’s Blu-ray picture quality, which is incredibly clean and detailed and boasts radiant colour reproduction, and the 24fps mode makes movie motion seem fluid and judder-free.

We do have a problem with the deck’s DVD upscaling however – pictures seem comparatively soft and noisy, while colours reproduction is less assured than its rivals.

Verdict

Plus points
Quick start mode, superb HD pictur
Minus points
Lacks DivX, MP3, WMA and JPEG support, poor DVD pictures, no DTS HD or DTS HD Master Audio, Profile 1.0

NOTA: 7,0

Price: £400
More info: Sharp
Key features: Profile 1.0; Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital and DTS decoding and bitstream output; HDMI v1.3 output; 5.1-channel analogue outputs; 1080/24p output; MP3 and JPEG playback; DVD upscaling to 1080p; plays BD-R/RE discs; HDMI CEC

Sony BDP-S300

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The BDP-S300 is the cheapest model in Sony’s current Blu-ray player range, sitting below the step-up BDP-S500 and high-end BDP-S1. The BDP-S300’s cheaper price tag is reflected in its somewhat limited feature list, which lacks Dolby True HD, DTS HD and DTS HD Master Audio decoding, and despite the presence of an HDMI v1.3 output, you can’t output these soundtracks to a compatible amp either. These omissions would have been forgivable had Samsung, Sharp and Panasonic not included such features on their players for the same amount of money.

To rub salt in the wound, the BDP-S300 is also specified as Profile 1.0, which means some Blu-ray extras will remain tantalisingly out of reach.

On a more positive note, the player offers 1080p output at a cinematic 24 frames-per-second, as well as up to eight channels of PCM audio from the HDMI socket. It also sports 5.1-channel analogue outputs and supports x.v.Colour, which offers an extended colour range for more accurate reproduction (though you’ll need a TV with an HDMI v1.3 input). The BDP-S300 makes up for its lack of features with blistering hi-def picture performance. The 1080p source material is faultlessly reproduced, looking razor-sharp and effortlessly cinematic. Colours look rich and forceful too, while the deep, convincing blacks make the picture look punchy.

Verdict

Plus points
Excellent HD and DVD pictures
Minus points
Limited hi-res audio support, Profile 1.0

NOTA: 7,0

Price: £350
More info: Sony
Key features: Profile 1.0; Dolby Digital Plus decoding; Dolby Digital & DTS decoding and bitstream output; 7.1-channel bitstream out; HDMI v1.3 output; 5.1-channel analogue outputs; 1080/24p output; x.v.Colour; AVCHD, MP3 and JPEG playback; DVD upscaling to 1080p; plays BD-R/RE discs; HDMI CEC

Final verdict

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You might think putting a Profile 1.1 player up against three Profile 1.0 decks is slightly unfair, but the fact that the BD30 costs the same as its rivals makes it fair game in our book. And in any case, its victory here is about far more than being able to display picture-in-picture – it also boasts the best operating system of the bunch, staggeringly good performance and loads of other value-adding features, such as an SD card slot and DTS HD Master Audio support.
But before you rush out and splash your cash on our winner, bear in mind that any new player launched from this point on will be Profile 1.1, which means the Panasonic could have some serious competition over the coming months – plus, when the BD Live Profile 2.0 is introduced (possibly in late 2008), the Panasonic will itself become outdated.

In second place is the Samsung BD-P1400, which may be the cheapest but includes features you won’t find on the Sony or Sharp (including DTS HD decoding) and it’s also the best-looking of the bunch. A touch of 24fps judder is a shame, but otherwise performance is terrific.

Surprisingly, the Sony nips in ahead of the Sharp despite its limited hi-res audio support. The reason is that its DVD upscaling is superior to the Sharp’s and it plays MP3 and JPEG files. The Sharp is a solid hi-def player, and Dolby True HD decoding is a bonus, but at £400 it should offer more.

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