LG Electronics Super Blu BH200 Multi Format HD Disc Player

The format war rages on. With the current stalemate between Blu-ray and HD DVD, and most studios exclusive to either one format or the other, the only options for the HD enthusiast would seem to be to sit on the fence, take sides, or pull out the old checkbook and buy two players.

None of these options are painless. Waiting it out means that missing out on the best quality sources of high-definition movies currently available. Choosing a side limits your selection of titles. And buying both is not only expensive and inconvenient, it means that you may be stuck with at least one pricey boat anchor in a year or two.

LG Electronics has what it hopes is a better idea. In February of '07 it launched the first multi format player, the LG Super Multi Blu BH100. The BH100 played both HD DVD and Blu-ray Discs. But as Shane Buettner reported in his March 2007 report it had shortcomings even beyond its price. Still, as a first generation multi format player—the only one on the market—it was an impressive achievement.

Now, less than a year after the BH100 was introduced, the new LG Super Blu BH200 ($999) is available.

Dual Configuration
The new Super Blu HD200 is a little less macho looking than its predecessor. Its sleekly stylish, high gloss exterior looks the part of a high-end design.

When the player is first switched on, the touch sensitive controls on the player's front panel are lit by halos of blue (natch) light. My fears of a Vegas-by-night light show mercifully vanished as these blue lights disappeared after the player was warmed up and ready to accept a disc, leaving only the readouts in the front panel window illuminated. After that, the navigation controls light up individually for a few seconds when you touch them (they also emit an audible chime when triggered, but this can be defeated). This does, of course, make the buttons hard to find in the dark. We critics are a hard lot to please!

That front panel display reveals the usual information, including (tiny) indicators for the selected resolution and output—HDMI or YPbPr (component). But there's also something new here—large, backlit logos for both Blu-ray and HD DVD. When you pop in a disc, both of these logos pulsate while the player is figuring out what flavor of recording it has been asked to digest. Once it decides (which takes about 30 seconds), the appropriate light stays on. There's also an on-screen indication as this process is occurring.

If you insert either a standard DVD or a CD, the Blu-ray and HD DVD logos also pulse. But once the player makes its determination, those lights go out and a very small CD or DVD indicator shows up in the front panel window. The on-screen display also provides this information.

If you're playing a CD the on-screen display shows the track numbers (plus other track information, if present on the disc), elapsed time, and what appears to be some sort of a multi-band sound level meter. It isn't, however, and doesn't seem to provide any useful information.

On the lower right hand corner of the front panel is a drop-down door that hides a USB port. This may be used to play back MP3/WMA, or JPEG files on a USB (1.1 or 2.0) flash drive.

Around back you'll see one significant omission: The BH200 does not have multichannel analog outputs. Your audio output options are HDMI, a TosLink optical digital port, and two-channel analog.

On the video side there's HDMI, component (YPbPr), and composite inputs. No S-Video—not that that's any particular loss for a high-definition player. But the legacy composite video output might be an issue for a less knowledgeable user. The owner's manual suggests this output as one possible way to hook the player up to a TV without pointing out that this connection cannot carry high-definition.

The HDMI output of the player is HDMI 1.3. The power cord, a two-lead, non-polarized cable, is removable.

The BD playback on the BH200 is currently BD-ROM Profile 1 version 1 only. The player has an Ethernet (LAN) port for connection to the Internet. There's also built-in memory (amount not specified) for both BD and HD DVD, which may be used to store downloaded content. Alternately, such information may be saved on a USB flash drive connected to the player's USB port.

The player therefore meets the hardware requirements for Profile 1.1 or even Profile 2—profiles required to make full use of the BD-Java features beginning to show up on some discs. All it appears to lack, at present, is the appropriate firmware. LG Electronics suggests in the manual that these profiles "could be supported through updating the player's firmware later." As with any next-gen disc player, I would not assume that this firmware is a given when making a purchase decision—note the use of the word "could." But hopefully it will come soon.

Dual Operation
The Super Blu makes an immediate positive impression when you open its loading drawer. Some HD players take so long to open that you start to think about going to the kitchen for a snack rather than standing around like a dunce, waiting for something to happen. But the LG's drawer opens (and closes) as fast as the average DVD player. It's a small thing, but appreciated.

I also had no problems with disc loading times. There's no lightning speed here to compare with DVD loading on standard definition players, but the results were typical of the best standalone HD players I have tested in both formats.

The LG's on-screen menus are well designed and easy to use. The only ergonomic oddity is that the Home menu cannot be closed once opened unless you either make a selection—Movie, Photo, or Music—or push Play. You can also press Play from the Setup menu.

If a disc is playing when you select the Home menu, it stops. If you stop the disc during normal operation the player will resume from the stop point. But if you stop by entering the Home menu the disc will only start again from the beginning. Since the audio and video setup controls are in the Home menu, including the video resolution settings, you can't make changes to them on-the-fly, but must stop the disc, make the changes, then start again from the beginning of the disc.

There are, of course, the usual resolution settings—Auto (sets the appropriate resolution if your display can provide that information back correctly to the player over the HDMI link), 1080p (HDMI only), 720p, 480p, and 480i (component only). There is no current option, however, that we found that enabled 1080p/24fps playback with the 24p-capable displays we used. According to LG, the player switches automatically to either 24Hz or 60Hz, depending on the source material and the capability of the display as determined by the HDMI handshake. But two different 24p-capable displays we tried that indicate the incoming frame rate in the on-screen information menus (the Sony VPL-VW200, review pending, and the InFocus Play Big IN82) showed that the LG was feeding them a 1080p/60 signal. This was true whether the player's resolution was set to Auto or 1080p.