One of the highlights of the HP20H was the Quick Start mode, which thankfully is also included here. It dramatically slashes the amount of time it takes to load up a disc but uses a lot more power in standby than usual. Other features include DVD upscaling, support for DVD+RW/+R, DVD-RW/-R/-R DL discs, JPEG playback from CD-R/-RW, Aquos Link HDMI CEC, x.v.Colour support and 1080/24p output - but the lack of MP3, WMA and DivX playback is a crying shame.
The setup menu looks exactly the same as the one found on the HP20H, which is definitely a good thing. Blu-ray newcomers will feel immediately at home thanks to the large graphics, clear, legible text and helpful descriptions of what each option does. The menu covers every base imaginable, from HDMI resolution and audio output to software updates and Aquos Link settings.
One new addition to the menu, brought about by the upgrade from Profile 1.0 to 1.1, is the ability to turn secondary audio for BonusView discs on and off. But unlike most other players, the menu explains the various audio implications when the secondary audio is turned on (in this case, the HDMI output automatically outputs in PCM) and the audio options change accordingly.
Sharp has also revamped the HP20H's remote, getting rid of the flap at the bottom and condensing the buttons into a simple, intuitive layout. It features dedicated buttons to access the pop-up menu and change the HDMI resolution, plus there are separate buttons to control a Sharp TV.
The deck's Quick Start mode makes it ultra quick to boot up a disc. With this mode turned on, it takes on average 15 seconds to get from standby to the first menu, compared with one minute when Quick Start is turned off, making it well worth the extra electricity needed to use it. In other respects the deck is agreeable to use, sailing through pop-up menus and scanning though discs without excessive delays, plus the onscreen menus are easy to read.
It's also pleasing to discover that the BD-HP21H delivers superb picture quality with Blu-ray discs, comparing favourably with other similarly priced players on the market like the Samsung BD-P1500 and Panasonic DMP-BD35. We loaded up Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and were immediately blown away by the sharpness of the picture, which is the biggest and most satisfying advantage Blu-ray has over DVD. But watching a crisply transferred big budget film like this really rams the point home, particularly when playing it back on the incredible Pioneer KRP-600A plasma.