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Inevitably, there comes a time when you realise you have to see Flash Gordon in a higher definition than DVD can give you. Iíve had an HD ready telly for a few years, and now theyíre cheap and have won the format war, it seemed silly not to get a Blu-Ray player.
This was the model I went for. Itís cheap enough to not be an utter disaster if it doesnít work out, but expensive enough to reassure me that Iím getting something reasonably durable. It has the slimline black appearance that seems to be de rigueur for these (macho) appliances these days.
Setting up was very easy. Plug the thing into the TV, switch it on, bobís your uncle. However, it doesnít come with any connector cables of any kind, so bobís only your uncle if youíve already got something to plug him in with. There are various different options, but HDMI is apparently the best in terms of picture quality, so thatís what I went for. The player takes maybe 20 seconds to switch on and be ready to play.
Youíll also need to connect to the internet to download firmware updates. You can get a wireless adaptor to plug into the player (it has three USB ports), but it doesnít come with one. Iím not sure if any old wireless USB adaptor will do or if it needs a bespoke one. As itís right next to my router anyway I just stuck a spare Ethernet cable in the back of it. It will prompt you when it thinks you should upgrade, flashing a message up on screen, even if youíre halfway through watching something. This is a bit clumsy, like your butler lumbering in to tell you the new washing machineís arrived when youíre in the middle of a swingersí party. The actual download and install of the update takes only a couple of minutes.
The little buttons on the player are a bit too small, but who presses buttons on a player anyway? The remote is a nice, dinky size and easy to get to grips with. Itís more or less the same as any DVD remote (but somehow much smaller) and I figured it out in about a second. Thereís a menu when you first switch the player on, which is slightly less intuitive than it could be, but which is easy enough to find oneís way around. Itís slightly inconsistent about whether it will autoplay disks you put in, or just leave you to select them from the menu screen.
So obviously it plays Blu-Ray disks, and equally obviously they have much, much better picture quality than DVDs Ė sharper, more detailed, with better colour definition and blacker blacks. Iíve not got another Blu-Ray player, so have no idea how it compares to different models Ė presumably some are better than others. But this is certainly going to keep me happy for the foreseeable future. How durable the format itself is remains to be seen, but I reckon there will be a couple of yearsí life in it, which is enough to warrant getting a player.
The player itself whirs a bit when you first put a disk in, but isnít notably noisy when itís playing, a criticism Iíve seen levelled at some players. This is a single region player (Region B), but a lot of American Blu-Rays are being released as all regions, so this isnít a major disaster. Iíve already picked up American Blu-Rays of my two favourite movies. Thereís plenty of information on the web about which releases are region free and which arenít.
I canít really judge how good its sound quality is as my TV has fairly basic speakers. Itís not what I bought the player for, but there are impressive looking options available.
My taste in cheap, old, never-going-to-get-upgraded horror movies means Iím not ready to wave goodbye to DVDs just yet. It plays DVDs too, of course. Itís supposed to Ďupscaleí DVDs, making their picture quality slightly better. I have to admit, I canít notice any difference between the picture quality for DVD playback on this, on my DVD player, or on my Xbox 360. Iím keeping my all-regions DVD player anyway Ė this player is only region 2, and I buy an awful lot of multi-region imports. (You can reportedly enter a code that lets this play multi-region DVDs easily enough, but Iíve no particular reason to do so. That only applies to DVDs, not Blu-Rays Ė as far as I can tell, youíre stuck with just the one Blu-Ray region.)
The one problem itís had was with an old Dr Who DVD. I was watching in it 4:3 aspect ratio (the old TV ratio), as thatís what it was recorded in. Twice the player randomly flipped me into widescreen without warning. It only happened on that one disk, though (other Dr Who DVDs I watched didnít do it) so Iím not too worried.
You can also go online and watch internet video sites, of which plenty are available (presumably software upgrades will add more in the future). Iíve only had a quick look at this as I watch very little TV anyway. BBC iPlayer can be a bit temperamental Ė sometimes it seems to have trouble connecting, which can sometimes require switching the player off and on again to get it to do anything else. Sky News and Youtube both work. Youtube obviously involves you having to search for things, and you use the numbers on the remote rather like a mobile phoneís texting (although sadly it doesnít do predictive texting.) Still, I got my favourite youtube video (a Russian man singing) up within maybe two minutes, so itís not that bad. Obviously youtube video quality isnít best suited to big TVs, though.
The player can also handle music Ė pop a CD in and it plays it. It plays various common sound file formats, and you can plug an external hard drive full of music into one of the USB ports if you so wish. Here, though, is where the limitations of the navigation system become apparent. The hard drive in question has loads of music on it Ė itís a backup of all the music I have on my PC, which is an awful lot. Scrolling through it all takes ages, and if thereís a way to skip to things I couldnít find it. The huge list, ludicrously, doesnít loop, so if youíre browsing your Frank Zappa albums and suddenly realise that, actually, youíre in the mood for a bit of Abba, you have to scroll all the way back up again. Which takes ages.
It can also play video files, and you can view photos on it, from various USB storage devices or DVDs (or even CD-ROMs, I guess). Hereís where another annoyance rears its head. The menu has separate options, for photos, video and music. Although the USB drive will appear under all three categories, it will only play things if you select it from the right one. So if you put in a drive full of photos but try to view it through the Video category, it will tell you there are no playable files on the disk. This seems annoyingly pedantic when weíre all used to computer operating systems which allow you to browse whole drives at once.
But really all these extra features Ė internet video, music, photos Ė are irrelevant. I bought this to watch films on, and it lets me do that to my satisfaction. Even if Blu Ray proves to be an ephemeral format, just a final footnote to the physical media era, itíll do me very nicely as a DVD player too. I paid £100 for this on amazon (itís cheaper elsewhere, it turns out), and if youíre looking for a simple-to-use and reliable player, this seems to fit the bill.
Oh, and it has a thin blue light on the front that looks sort of science fiction-y. What a time to be alive!
Iím only relating my own experience of this as a relatively tech-illiterate consumer. If you want to know the technical details, they are here:
Steadfastly maintaining my position of being well behind the times, I'm still firmly in a DVD phase with the occasional bit of (gasp) video watching thrown in as well. There's no doubting the difference in quality between those two formats but I've never seen anything on Blu-ray and don't feel my life is incomplete on that account. By the time I'm ready to buy a Blu-ray player that format will be obsolete anyway in favour of 6D or similar, allowing things to be watched backwards, upside down and probably before they're even filmed...
moistbabe 14.07.2011 07:24
Love the way you've managed to bring butlers, swingers parties, Frank Zappa and Abba into this review! Very readable, user-friendly write-up x