LG Electronics Super Blu BH200 Multi Format HD Disc Player Page 2

The remote is a bit more complicated than the remote for a single format HD player, but not by much. Apart from my preference for larger primary control buttons (Play, Stop, Pause, Fast Forward, Skip, and Fast Scan), and the lack of backlighting, I had no complaints.

Dual Video
I'll start by noting that on the video front the Super Blu was relatively trouble-free. The few freeze-ups that occurred were easily cleared by pushing the Enter button on the remote. None of these issues occurred when these same discs were played back on single-format players.

The LG was also not comfortable when playing back some of the new BD-J features present on a few recent discs, like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

One additional problem I noticed occurred only on DVDs. On a display with no overscan the image showed a bright green line at the top of the screen that covered the right third of the screen's width. I confirmed that this artifact came from the player, since it was visible on three very different displays with this player but not with others.

Otherwise, the video performance of the SuperBlu was excellent. On my usual collection of tests for upconversion from 480i standard definition to 1080p, it performed as well as, or better than, any other player I have tested—standard or high-definition. The BH200's QDEO video processing from Marvell is clearly the real deal.

Similarly, the player's 1080i-to-1080p HD deinterlacing was first class, including full recognition of 3/2 pulldown on a film source. And on the difficult scenes from Mission Impossible 3 that have become popular tests for HD artifacts, the LG sailed through.

The LG also demonstrated superior 1080p bandwidth. The bandwidths on both HD DVD and Blu-ray extended out the maximum frequency burst patterns on the Spears and Munsil test discs, with only a slight chroma rolloff at the highest frequency.

All of this added up to outstanding video performance. The Super Blu turned out to be as good an upconverting player as the above results would suggest. But you are, of course, interested mainly in how it performed on both Blu-ray and HD DVD discs.

The answer is, with a single exception, as good as it gets at the current state-of-the-player art. On the HD DVD side, the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (also on Blu-ray) clearly demonstrated the advantages of high-definition in a film with such impressive visuals. Every stone in the walls of Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was visible and fully textured, every color in the film looked right, and every dark scene (and the movie is full of them) was deep and rich but with crisp shadow detail.

The terrific cinematography on the Blu-ray release of Flyboys impressed me yet again on the LG. The movie was shot on HD video at 24fps, yet it looks as sharp and detailed as any traditional filmed production—at least on a 78-inch wide projection screen. There are many long shots in this film, with great depth of field and small details extending far into the distance. Every bit of it came through crisp and clear on the LG player.

When I attempted to make direct comparisons to other HD players, however, I discovered that the LG is atypical in one important respect; its gamma is unusually high. That is, its image through the middle brightness region is noticeably darker than the three other players I compared it to. I checked this in both the Default and User settings on the video setup screen, with essentially the same result. Gamma issues of this sort cannot be effectively compensated for by typical brightness and contrast adjustments. That means that video settings that work with your other sources may not be ideal with the LG, and it may therefore not be easy getting the best from the player.

By using the Gamma 2 setting on the Sony VPL-VW200 projector I used for much of my viewing (review pending), I was able to match the displayed gamma from the LG more closely to that of the HD DVD and Blu-ray players I compared it against so I could judge the LG's other characteristics against competitive single-format players. But you should be aware that this difference is real, and depending on the characteristics of your video display, and the adjustments it offers, it may or may not be an issue.

Once the gamma compensation was dialed into the projector, I compared the BH200 on Blu-ray to the Panasonic DMP-BD30. The comparison was a near AB, with identical copies of the source disc in each player and one player connected to each of the two HDMI inputs on the projector. This switch from one player to the other was delayed a few seconds the only by the inevitable HDMI handshake. The Panasonic was set to output 1080p/24, the LG 1080p/60, and I ignored the effect of 3/2 pulldown on the LG (it was rarely visible in any event).

Using Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl as a source, I found very little to distinguish the two players. The color quality, black level, and detail were all toss-ups. The LG's picture did appear to "pop" a bit more than the Panasonic, but the difference was so subtle that even those who notice it might well express a different preference.

For the HD DVD comparison I used the Toshiba HD-A35 HD DVD player, also set to 1080p/24. The test disc this time was Phantom of the Opera, again with a copy in each player.

The differences on HD DVD continued to be elusive, perhaps even more so than on Blu-ray. I slightly preferred the Toshiba, but the differences I thought was seeing were, in all respects, very close to subliminal.

In short, both players did a spectacular job on both Blu-ray and HD DVD. The Gamma issue aside, the LG Super Blu BH200's picture, on all discs, HD or SD, leaves little to be desired.

Dual Audio
I wish I could say the same about the player's audio. The Super Blu carries the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD logos, and refers to them both in several places in the manual that suggest that it will decode both. In fact, however, it will not, at least not in any way that is important to the serious home theater enthusiast.

My results differed in two significant ways from the specs listed in the back of the owner's manual. The same program material was also crosschecked on the Panasonic and Toshiba standalone players. With those players set up for a bitstream output, I consistently obtained indications of Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, or Dolby Digital+, as appropriate to the source, in the receiver's front panel window. I never saw any of those with the LG, but instead only saw window readings that indicated Multi channel, Dolby Digital, DTS, or PLII.

The most important point here is that in our tests the LG Super Blu player would not output Dolby TrueHD in multichannel form from any output, at any resolution. On a positive note, however, the LG player did correctly play back the lossless PCM soundtracks present on many Blu-ray Discs, when selected. And they sounded every bit as good as from any other player I've auditioned.

But because of the player's inability to play back Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio in any form that will be of interest to the serious home theater fan, I spent little time seriously auditioning the player's audio. The inability to give the user the best audio encoded on many high-definition discs is a serious shortcoming.

Conclusions
I hardly need point out—but I will—that you can buy excellent, separate players for both HD DVD and Blu-ray for less than the price of this LG. And those players will, in some respects, do more.

But price aside, the perceived need for a do-all video disc player is a potent draw in today's format war environment. It's convenient. It takes up less space. And there's no hesitation as to which disc goes in which machine. The LG Super Blu is an answer to those concerns, and currently the only such player on the market, though another is expected soon, from Samsung.

The LG Super Blu BH200 produces great pictures on all discs, apart from that little gamma issue which may perhaps be correctable in firmware. Its physical operation is slick, and while not completely devoid of the occasional glitch, none of them were overly troubling. I've only had the chance to live with the player for a few days, but it has not yet hiccupped to the point where a serious, cold reboot (disconnect from the power line) was needed.

But the player does have an Achilles heel. While its audio works fine as far as it goes, it doesn't go far enough. Its shortcomings in that department make a recommendation difficult. Hopefully, an update will let it unlock the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio formats that it will not now play back in full resolution, multichannel form.

Highlights
• Stunning image from Blu-ray and HD DVD discs
• Superb video processing makes this an excellent upconverting player
• The convenience of one machine that will play all the most widely available SD and HD video discs
• Seriously limited in its ability to play back the newest, high resolution audio codecs
• Playback gamma is atypical
• Expensive

COMPANY INFO
LG Electronics USA, Inc.
(800) 243-0000
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