LG Electronics Super Blu BH200 Multi Format HD Disc Player Page 3

The Sony VPL-VW200 projector I used for much of my viewing, and for the comparisons with other players, not only allows for separate adjustments for each input, but also has three settings for gamma compensation. By using one of these settings (Gamma 2 for those who may be using the Sony VPL-VW200 projector, review currently in progress), 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.

No such compensation will be perfect, and the "right" gamma is a controversial subject in any case. But I arrived at a setup that allowed me to judge the LG's other characteristics against competitive single-format players without being constantly distracted by this single, obvious difference. 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 my 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. This shortcoming is clearly obvious in the audio specifications table at the back of the owner's manual.

According to that table, Dolby TrueHD is output from the player only as two-channel PCM, except when DTS re-encode is selected in the audio setup menu. And even then its output is said to be ordinary multichannel DTS. DTS HD-MA is also played back as standard DTS.

(Like many manufacturers, LG, here and elsewhere in the manual, makes no distinction between lossy DTS-HD High resolution and lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. Whenever you see the shorthand designation DTS-HD, always assume that the reference is to lossy DTS-HD High Resolution, and not to its lossless DTS-HD MA sibling.)

I was able to confirm most of the LG manual's audio output specification table, though my results differed in two significant ways from the specs. 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 results I obtained from the LG are shown below. The TrueHD and DD+ source material was The Sound of High-Definition samplers from Dolby (Blu-ray and HD DVD). The DTS HD Master Audio source material was Flyboys (Blu-ray only)

LG Super Blu Audio Decoding
As tested into the Onkyo TX-SR875 receiver

• The above results agree with the information shown in the LG owner's manual (p.36) with the exception of those marked with an asterisk (*). The manual suggests that by setting the audio to DTS Re-Encode you can get conventional, multichannel DTS from a TrueHD source. Our tests showed that this is not the case. But according to LG, there is a misprint in the manual, which should indicate a two-channel DTS output in this case. My results, however, indicate that the Onkyo receiver is getting a two-channel PCM source here. The DTS indicator on receiver did not light during this test.

In any case, the 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.

• Neither the player nor the receiver provides any indication as to which data on the disc are used as the source for the multichannel PCM outputs, Dolby Digital outputs, DTS outputs, or PCM two-channel outputs indicated above. We must conclude that these are decoded in the player from the core data available from the Dolby TrueHD, DD+ or DTS HD MA tracks, and not from full resolution data available on a disc for those formats.

• The 2ch results in the table were indicated on the receiver's front panel as Dolby Pro Logic II output (the receiver was in multichannel mode).

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.

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.

• Stunning image from Blu-ray and HD DVD discs
• Superb video processing—as good as any we have yet seen in a disc player—makes this an excellent upconverting player, in addition to its HD performance
• 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
• Price