Freeview HD channels look stunning, particularly with brightly-lit fare like The Alan Titchmarsh show on ITV HD. The studio’s bold colours are displayed with great warmth and purity, but there’s an impressive level of sensitivity there too, resulting in smooth tonal blends and a realistic representation of Alan’s slightly ruddy skin tones.
But the biggest benefit of Freeview HD is the extra detail it affords, and the BD-F8500 lets none of it slip through the net. Images are punchy and clear, making it easy to pick out fine detail like facial hair and complex patterns (Noel Edmonds’ kaleidoscopic shirts on Deal or No Deal look extraordinary), while edges are crisp. We also watched Ratatouille on BBC One HD and Pixar’s sumptuous animation is reproduced with spellbinding clarity.
We recorded a selection of high-definition programmes onto the hard disk and couldn’t tell the difference between live and recorded pictures. You get exactly the same crisp detail, vibrant colours and smooth movement.
Standard definition pictures scrub up nicely when upscaled to 1080p. There’s inevitably a hint of softness to the image and an increase in mosquito noise when people and objects move around, but they’re bright and engaging, with bold colours and impressive stability.
The BD-F8500’s Blu-ray picture quality is every bit as good as the BD-F7500 and F6500, offering the same meticulous detail, nuanced colours and bold blacks. That makes movies like The Dark Knight trilogy look effortlessly cinematic and absorbing, an experience that increases tenfold when you slip a 3D disc in the tray. The 3D image is rich and detailed, with a wonderful sense of depth and distance. It also handles the Silicon Optix HQV Blu-ray disc without any slip-ups.
Upscaled DVDs look clear and stable, while picture quality from BBC iPlayer is excellent if you select the HD option. It’s almost as good as the live HD broadcast, apart from a little fuzzy noise when the picture gets too busy. If the other catch-up TV services can match this level of quality then this will be a terrific back-up if you forget to record a programme.
The BD-F8500 is a remarkable home entertainment hub, brilliantly blending Freeview, Blu-ray and smart features within a single box. There’s a terrific line-up of internet content on board – including loads of on-demand movies and a full house of catch-up TV services – while format support via AllShare is excellent. Add 3D, built-in Wi-Fi, screen mirroring and a capacious hard disk and you’re getting a lot for your money. Furthermore, the new Smart Hub, speedy processing and flexible Freeview functionality make it a joy to use, while picture quality from Freeview and Blu-ray is excellent – all of which makes this simultaneously one of the best PVRs and Blu-ray players around.