As we mentioned earlier, Sharp has stepped up its game in terms of features. Perhaps the most attractive of the newly added features is built-in Wi-Fi. This makes it possible to connect this deck to your wireless web router and stream music, video and photo files from other devices on your home network, as well as accessing BD Live content and watching videos on the built-in YouTube portal. Unfortunately, DLNA networking and YouTube access haven’t yet been enabled – Sharp says they’re being made available with a software update in the first quarter of 2011.
For now though, the best way of playing digital media is via the USB port on the front panel. According to Sharp’s website, the player supports DivX HD, MP3 and JPEG, which many not be the all-encompassing support of an LG or Samsung but is a marked improvement on 2009’s BD-HP22H, which didn’t offer any sort of media playback from USB and only supported JPEG from discs. The BD-HP90S also supports AVCHD and can output Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS HD Master Audio via HDMI as bitstream, or PCM. Like any player worth its salt, it also outputs pictures at a film-friendly 1080/24p frame rate.
That’s the features pretty much covered, but in terms of operation, the BD-HP90S’s onscreen menus benefit from a much-needed overhaul. Like the mind of Alex Reid, the new 'Home' menu is simple and uncomplicated – in the top left of the screen is a small list of options including Movie, Picture, Music and Settings. The first three obviously provide direct access to media from USB stick or disc, while the Settings a decent array of tweaks. The presentation is unfussy, but the use of crisp white text on blue background is welcoming and easy to digest. It’s no match for Sony’s Xross Media Bar or Samsung’s latest menu, but better than Sharp’s previous efforts. It also responds quickly to remote commands, which is always essential.
Within the setup menu, you can select the specific HDMI output resolution or simply select the Auto mode, plus you can choose to automatically play 3D discs or force it to output everything in 2D. You can also setup the Network connection here, but this is horribly complicated – for the wireless settings, there’s no step-by-step wizard as found on other Blu-ray players, instead you have to enter the entire name of your access point using the cumbersome text entry system, key in the password and then test the connection.
We also gave it a whirl with a USB stick filled with a mixture of file types. Surprisingly it didn’t play our DivX HD or regular DivX movie trailers, but happily played our MP3 and AAC files. As for disc loading speed, Terminator Salvation took just over a minute to start playing, while The Dark Knight took just over 30 seconds.
The player comes with a remote that you’ll want to tuck down the side of the sofa. Its blocky shape and dull grey finish make it look like a VCR zapper from the 90s, a far cry from player’s jazzy new look. Button placement and labelling are OK, and there’s a flap at the bottom that hides the number keys, but otherwise it’s back to the drawing board for this one.