Arcam FMJ BDP100 Blu-ray Player

Price: $1,500 At A Glance: Crisp, vivid imagery • Superb audio playback • Limited features

Back to Basics

The fundamental purpose of an optical digital disc player is to play back optical digital discs. While that may be self-evidently redundant, there’s a wide selection of players on the market that offer a numbing range of additional, gee-whiz features. These include such things as SACD and DVD-Audio playback, streaming and downloading of movies and other Internet content (sometimes wirelessly), and of course, today’s top banana, 3D.

Arcam’s new BDP100, which headlines the British company’s premier FMJ line, doesn’t aim for the gee-whiz. Its stated mission is to squeeze the best performance possible out of the major optical disc formats—including CD, Blu-ray Disc, and DVD—plus a limited range of other options. Available in either black or Arcam’s traditional silver, the BDP100 can play discs of the Blu-ray, DVD, CD, CD-R, and CD-RW varieties. It also does MP3 up to 320 kilobits per second, Windows Media Audio up to 48 kilohertz at 192 kbps, Windows Media Video and AVI up to 1920 by 1080 at 30 frames per second, and JPEG stills at up to 4272 by 2848. You may also play back some of these files from a USB storage device plugged into the player’s USB port.

Under the Hood
The BDP100’s two-channel analog outputs give the player a genuine high-end audio pedigree. The player upconverts CDs to 192 kHz via Burr-Brown devices before it passes them on to Wolfson’s well-regarded WM8741 digital-to-analog converters. These are followed by linear phase Bessel output filters. The player also incorporates a unique RF filtering technique that Arcam calls its Mask of Silence, as well as a precision re-clocking system. Finally, the drive and the audio and DAC boards feature discretely regulated power supplies.

There’s also full support for Blu-ray’s advanced lossless audio formats, including DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD. The Arcam can output them over HDMI in either bitstream or PCM form. The BDP100 plays back 96-kHz two-channel PCM music recordings (not common, but available) at full resolution from its S/PDIF optical and coaxial digital outputs.

You can’t download the Arcam’s firmware updates directly from the Internet. Rather, you’ll install them from a flash drive into the same USB port that your BD-Live storage device normally occupies. Your Arcam dealer should keep you apprised on the availability of such updates.

Although it connects to the Internet from its wired LAN terminal for BD-Live features (you must provide the external USB storage), the BDP100 doesn’t stream. SACD and DVD-Audio discs also need not apply. The Arcam has no multichannel analog outputs, so if your A/V receiver lacks HDMI inputs with onboard HDMI audio support, high-resolution soundtracks are out.

There’s no 3D here, either. At least not for now. According to Arcam, a 3D upgrade is expected in 2011. At press time,it was still an open question whether this will be available as a retrofit to existing BDP100s, and if so, when it will roll out and how much it will be.

The BDP100 offers a full selection of SD and HD output resolutions, with onboard Broadcom video processing. But the Arcam doesn’t have a source direct option as many players do. Source direct outputs a disc’s content as is, with no upconversion and/or deinterlacing. To access the setup menus, including the output resolution, you have to stop the player.

There are 36- and 30-bit Deep Color options, in addition to the normal 24-bit standard. But no true Deep Color sources are available to consumers at present, and none are anticipated. I can’t say that I saw any improvements when I selected 30- or 36-bit playback for today’s 24-bit video sources, but theoretically some such improvement is possible.

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