LG BH100 Blu-ray/HD DVD Player

Blu-ray and HD DVD in one box.

Well, no one saw this coming. We’re not that far into the format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray, and LG has come out with the BH100, a player that plays both formats. So, is that it? Format war over? Hardly.

Drag It Out
Although a player like this would seem to be the savior for interested consumers, it will only prolong the format war. It’s like sugar—great for the short term, but, in the end, you’re just going to crash and get cranky. Although it doesn’t seem that either format is going to bow out anytime soon, a player like this will keep the loser afloat that much longer. This hurts the acceptance of an HD disc format overall to a weary public. The sooner there is one format, the sooner more people will buy. What we don’t want is a repeat of the DVD-Audio/SACD war. Although the exact cause of these formats’ seeming demise is debatable, their lack of wide acceptance into the market certainly didn’t help. The next person who makes another VHS-versus-Beta analogy I’m going to punch in the face. (Yes, I just punched myself in face—NO EXCEPTIONS!) Regardless, the BH100 is here, and it works…sort of.

Blu-ray and Sort of HD DVD
The BH100 is a Blu-ray player that just happens to play HD DVDs. It doesn’t have full HD DVD support. What it is lacking on that front is the interactivity. So, all the pretty menus that come up over the movie are gone. In their place is a menu that the player creates. If you want to access any special features, you have to scroll through them title by title, and all that is listed is the title number and the length. This is by no means quick or easy. If you don’t watch the extras much, then this isn’t a big deal. If you love extras, this can be tedious.

Obviously, the picture quality is more important, and, on that front, the BH100 is perfectly fine. It looks just the same as the standalone HD DVD and Blu-ray players. The same goes for the audio. It doesn’t output any of the new high-resolution audio formats digitally (nor do any of the current players). Instead, you can get them in their analog form via the six-channel analog outputs.

One oddity is the lack of a 1080p/60 output. You get 1080p/24 and 1080p/30, but you can’t choose between the two or force the output. All you can do is select 1080p in the menu and hope. If the player and the TV decide that the latter can’t accept one of these two rates, then all you get is 1080i. This can be especially frustrating when you know your TV can do one of the other but, for some reason, the player decides it can’t. If your TV correctly deinterlaces 1080i and can detect the 3:2 sequence, then it doesn’t really matter.

Otherwise, the menus are easy to follow, and setup is simple. The remote is a stylish glossy-black affair. The important buttons aren’t backlit, and the similarly shaped, tiny black buttons are hard to use in the dark. It looks pretty when it’s sitting on a table, though. It’s also one of the few remotes that come with a next-generation player that looks like it should come with a product that costs more than $1,000. There are a lot of buttons that have nothing to do with using a disc player. The Resolution button annoyingly only works when the disc is stopped.

The unit itself is quite attractive, as well, which is hard to discern from pictures. The top is brushed metal, and you’ll see it a lot, as all of the buttons are up there, as well. So, there’s no stacking anything on top, except maybe your PS3. When you turn on the BH100, the power button lights up a whitish-blue, then in sequence the Eject, Play, Stop, and Resolution, light up from left to right. I’m not sure why it’s so cool, but it is. These latter buttons (as in not the power button) are also of the no-push capacitance touch sensor variety, which also adds a level of coolness. The screen displays the type of disc inserted, as well as the current resolution and video output type. The BH100 doesn’t have a lot of depth. It is by far the shortest next-gen player.

DVD upconverting isn’t very good. The image is very soft, and the color seems undersaturated. In chapter 2 of the DVD version of The Fifth Element, the professor’s beard is softer than it would look if you let most TVs do the upconversion themselves. Also, it takes approximately one minute and ten seconds to go from off to playing a Blu-ray and about ten seconds more to start an HD DVD.

Buy Me, Buy Me Not
So, is it worth it? Personally, I’m not so sure. A PlayStation 3 will set you back $500, and Toshiba’s HD-A2 will cost you another $500. Right there, you’ve saved $300, plus you’ve added full HD DVD support and SACD playback (but lost 1080p with HD DVD). Or, for $200 more, you can get the PS3 and the HD-XA2, which gets you all of the above plus excellent scaling for DVDs and 1080p output for HD DVD. Still, some people start getting the fits when you say they should buy two boxes (even if it is cheaper). So, for them, this is great. Past its quirks, the BH100 does work, and, for that, it is impressive.

BH100 Blu-ray/HD DVD Player, $1,299

For a further look at the BH100 and a comparison with a Panasonic DMP-BD10 and Toshiba HD-XA2, check out our upcoming June issue.