Thankfully, the BD-HP90S delivers hi-def pictures that do look as sharp and snazzy as the player itself. We tried out all of our favourite test discs – Inception, Avatar, Terminator Salvation, The Dark Knight – and found that the deck renders the intense detail on each one with exceptional clarity, without sullying it with noise.
For instance, with Avatar the exotic landscapes of Pandora look mesmerizingly textured, while close-up shots of CG creatures or human faces reveals intricate detail like scales and tiny indentations. But it’s not all about razor-sharp detail – its pictures also boast smooth, subtle shading, and during dark scenes it stops the image looking like a black, mushy mess by picking out plenty of detail among the shadows and clearly differentiating between the different layers of blackness.
It also conveys colours with the sort of depth and richness that film-lovers look for. The image is irresistibly cinematic, plus when viewed on a 24Hz compatible TV you get smooth, judder-free movement. This comes in particularly handy when playing the frantic action scenes in Terminator Salvation, as huge robo-spacecrafts and futuristic fighter jets dart around the screen.
Switching to the 3D Blu-ray version of Avatar, we find the BD-HP90S to be highly capable of handling the extra dimension. Images are given an engrossing sense of depth and perspective, while the image layers are rendered without compromising the clarity of foreground detail or the smoothness of its motion tracking. Shots of banshees swooping through the sky with the hills and floating mountains stretching off into the distance are simply stunning.
With the Silicon Optix HQV disc, we were impressed by how smoothly the Sharp handled the entire gamut of test patterns. The moving bars of the diagonal filter tests showed absolutely no signs of stepping along the edges, while both the Film and Video Resolution Loss tests were reproduced with no strobing or flickering. Even the shot of Raymond James stadium was displayed without judder and only a smidgeon of moire noise, revealing some excellent video processing at play.
DVDs also scrub up nicely, with our SD Avatar disc enjoying clean, stable detail reproduction and natural-looking colours. It has a slightly gauzy quality and a few twitchy edges but nothing worth getting worked up about. We couldn’t discern any significant problems with the player’s audio capabilities either – HDMI-delivered movie soundtracks and two-channel music through our test amp are clear and dynamic.
So with everything in mind, what you have to ask yourself is whether the BD-HP90S is worth taking a punt on when other players from the likes of Sony, LG, Samsung and Philips offer comparable feature lists at similar (and in most cases, lower) prices. And with new and improved players from these brands on their way in 2011, is it worth holding out? We guess it comes down to how much you like Sharp’s elegant new design, but in our eyes that’s not quite enough to deserve being chosen over the Sony BDP-S570 or Philips BDP7500 Mk II, both of which get you much more for your money.
We’re pleased that Sharp has finally started to get its act together with its Blu-ray players. The BD-HP90S is a vast improvement on the company’s previous models – that optical disc team-up with Pioneer is obviously paying dividends – and nowhere are these improvements more obvious than the external design. Sharp has crafted one of the most stylish and distinctive players on the market, with a handy choice of installation options and a sleek, futuristic silver/black finish.
Sharp has also made dramatic improvements to the feature list. 3D is the obvious highlight, but it’s also great to see built-in Wi-Fi with DLNA networking, YouTube access and a wider range of supported formats being added. That said, it’s a shame we couldn’t test out these features properly, and it’s also disappointing that Sharp couldn’t have made the setup process easier. Some people might also be put off by the limited connectivity and ugly remote, but when it comes to performance, there can be no complaints – Blu-ray discs look stunning and even upscaled DVDs come out unscathed.