We started performance tests with a run-through of the Silicon Optix HQV Blu-ray disc. It handles every test bar one with exceptional clarity and smoothness – no jaggies on the Diagonal Filter test and no strobing on the Video Resolution Loss test. However there is some strobing in the striped boxes of the Film Resolution Loss test, which shows it’s not quite processing the picture in the right way.
Next we tried our range of video files and the 651BD is a fairly versatile player, able to decode AVI, MKV, WMV and DivX HD, but not AVCHD. As for music, it tackles WAV, MP3, WMA and AAC with no trouble.
Next we move to the all-important Blu-ray playback. Loading times are fairly fast, with Terminator Salvation clocking in at 43 seconds. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button looks absolutely beautiful, with piercingly sharp detail filling every inch of the screen, backed up by deep, nuanced colours. The movie’s painstakingly recreated period backdrops look better than ever, although the sharpness of the image exposes the falseness of Brad Pitt’s CG-aged face.
The overall picture is solid and effortlessly cinematic – nothing looks washed out or bleached, plus detail during dark scenes retains visibility, giving them the element of depth and three-dimensionality. That’s as much to do with the quality of your TV, but it’s reassuring that the 651BD is passing on the picture without a pixel out of place.
The great work continues with 3D discs. The depth and clarity of the layered images is astonishing, plus we can’t fault the levels of detail, colour accuracy and motion smoothness. The 651BD offers an entertaining, immersive 3D experience and you can’t ask for much more than that. The player also upscales DVDs with panache, side-stepping the artefacts that can blight picture quality on players that don’t have such a powerful scaler on board.
And as expected the 651BD’s audio playback is supremely good, managing to make any CD, SACD or DVD-A sparkle. Donny Hathaway’s Extension of a Man on CD soars with warmth, velvety smoothness and gorgeously crisp high-frequency detail, plus Mr Hathaway’s voice sounds rich and majestic, not thin or nasal. Lovely stuff. But upgrade to a 5.1-channel SACD disc and you’re transported into a spacious surround soundscape with even more twinkly top-end. It’s what luxury sounds like.
We’re really impressed by the 651BD. It takes all the best bits from its bigger brother, the 751BD, and presents it in a more affordable but no less appealing package. The hardcore build quality hasn’t been compromised, while twin HDMI outputs, 3D playback, UPnP networking, YouTube/Picasa access and extensive digital file support all carry over from the 751BD’s feature list.
Picture and sound performance are sensational too – almost as good as the 751BD, whose more advanced internal electronics give it an extra smidge of stardust. But even with its lower spec, the 651BD puts many a midrange player to shame, easily justifying the asking price. If you’re serious about home cinema then you seriously need to give this player a whirl.