After showing off prototype Blu-ray players at trade shows for what seems like an eternity, Sharp has finally unleashed its debut UK deck - and with a price tag around the £300 mark, it's aimed squarely at budget buyers.
The company is clearly keen to make an aesthetic impact with its first hi-def player, evident from its flashy mirrored fascia and gloss black top section. We also think the rings of light indicating which type of disc is playing are kinda cute, though all the lights can be turned off if you disagree. It's also refreshingly minimal, with only standby and open/close buttons adorning the front, though this stripped down look does draw attention to the absence of a USB port or memory card slots.
The connection line-up includes an HDMI 1.3 output, capable of outputting video up to 1080p at 24 frames per second (great news for film fans) plus 7.1-channel audio bitstreams. You'll also find component, composite, S-video and stereo audio outputs on the rear, plus coaxial and optical digital audio outputs for regular DTS and Dolby Digital playback.
There's also a set of analogue audio outputs that deliver high-resolution Dolby True HD and Dolby Digital Plus soundtracks to an amplifier. However these are 5.1 as opposed to 7.1, which means that users without HDMI-equipped receivers can't take advantage of 7.1-channel Blu-ray soundtracks at all. Also disappointing is the lack of support for DTS HD or DTS HD Master Audio (though the latter format isn't widely used anyway).
It's also a shame that the deck won't output video from the HDMI and component outputs at the same time, which could feasibly become a problem if you connect to two displays simultaneously.
A SCART output is out of the question, as there's no real need for one on a hi-def player like this. And of course you won't find an Ethernet terminal as you would on a HD DVD deck, as it's not yet mandatory for Blu-ray decks to include one (but it will be when the BDA brings in BD-Live Profile 2).
Which brings us neatly to another potential pitfall. The BD-HP20H is a Profile 1.0 player, which means it won't support advanced BD-Java features found on forthcoming Profile 1.1 (or ‘Bonus View') Blu-ray discs, such as picture-in-picture. The deck's firmware can't be upgraded either, so it will never deliver the full Blu-ray experience.