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The BD-HP21H is the successor to Sharp's debut Blu-ray deck, the BD-HP20H - a generally impressive player that was hampered by its Profile 1.0 spec, limited format support and lacklustre DVD playback. Here's hoping the follow up shows some signs of improvement.
It gets off to a good start with news that Sharp has upgraded the BD-HP21H's spec to Profile 1.1, enabling you to enjoy BonusView features like picture-in-picture commentaries. But with so much BD Live content now available, and several Profile 2.0 players on the market for a similar price, it already makes the Sharp feel a little outdated. This is definitely a player for those who want to watch hi-def movies but aren't fussed about interactive extras.
Like the HP20H, the HP21H also decodes Dolby True HD and Dolby Digital Plus into high-resolution PCM. Not only does this allow people with HDMI-equipped receivers without HD audio decoding to enjoy these formats' higher sound quality, but it also lets the player mix the primary and secondary audio tracks on BonusView discs. As for DTS HD Master Audio and High Resolution Audio, they can both be transferred in bitstream form to an external receiver, but with PCM output selected, it only outputs the 5.1 core at 48kHz.
On the outside the player looks similar to the HP20H but does away with the unfashionable mirrored fascia in favour of a simple black finish, which is a wise move in our opinion. The front panel is plain and uncluttered, sporting only two buttons and a blue ring that can be turned off in the setup menu. It's certainly not the most attractive Blu-ray deck out there but far from offensive.
On the rear panel, Sharp has jettisoned many of the sockets found on the HP20H in a clear cost-cutting exercise. Gone are the 5.1-channel analogue outputs found on the HP20H, which rules out the possibility of listening to HD audio on legacy amps without HDMI inputs. Also missing are the S-video and coaxial digital audio outputs, neither of which is essential but it limits your options nonetheless.
You will however find HDMI (v1.3), component, composite, stereo audio and optical digital audio outputs, as well as a USB port which is used for service updates and to provide storage for Virtual Package content found on some BonusView discs. There's no Ethernet port though, ruling out any chance of an upgrade to Profile 2.0.