- Review Price: £807.00
If like us you’re sick and tired of the whole HD DVD/Blu-ray disc format war madness currently paralysing what should be a buoyant next-gen video market, LG’s BH100 could quite possibly be the answer to your HD prayers. Why? Simply because it’s the first deck in the UK able to play both HD DVD and Blu-ray discs. No industry politics. No pathetic ‘but technically it’s very hard to make a combi deck’ excuses. No ‘let’s wait and see which format wins before we do anything’ procrastination. Here’s a deck that just plays both disc types without charging a huge premium for the privelege, and in doing so finally gives us punters what we’ve been crying out for. Um, except that, depressingly, it turns out that it doesn’t.
The early signs, however, are rather promising. For the BH100 is really quite exquisitely designed in its matt black fascia, metallic top panel and gorgeously minimalistic buttonry. Also, of course, we can’t deny feeling a little tingle of childish joy at the ‘Super Multi Blue Player’ logo stuck on the deck’s disc tray, reminding us of the tray’s ability to devour discs of both Blu-ray and HD DVD flavours.
Connectivity initially looks good too, with the key bases of HDMI output, component video output and digital audio outputs being accompanied by 5.1-channel audio line outputs and what at first glance appears to be a port through which you could access the sort of internet-based features now found on some (especially HD DVD) discs. However, closer investigation reveals that the HDMI is only a 1.2 version rather than the 1.3 specification necessary to enjoy such features as Deep Colour, automatic lip-synching and digital carriage of HD audio formats. And the Ethernet port turns out to be for ‘service’ use only, rather than allowing you internet access. Boo.
A trawl for further features uncovers a decidedly mixed bag. On the upside, for instance, the deck can output the 1080p/24Hz video format used by most films when they’re encoded onto disc, potentially making for a cleaner appearance of those films when they’re passed into suitably capable HD TVs.
However, on the downside 1080p is only output by the BH100 if it happens to be the format that’s on the disc. For although LG has provided HD upscaling of standard definition DVDs, that upscaling tops out at 1080i rather than 1080p.
If you’re finding all these HD technicalities about as interesting as rice paper, then try this one on for size: the BH100 does not play CDs. Seriously. Somehow the quest for total ‘next-gen’ compatibility has lead to the sacrifice of the oldest disc format in the business. And frankly we’re none too chuffed about it.
It’s hardly surprising after this to find that neither SACD nor DVD-Audio are on the menu, while WMA, MP3 and DivX are similarly absent. Which is hardly surprising when the deck won’t take CD-R/-RW discs either.
Undoubtedly the biggest problem we have with the BH100’s feature list, though, is the fact that it doesn’t actually fully deliver on either of its HD format promises. Starting with Blu-ray, the deck is not made to the new Profile 1.1 specification set to become mandatory on all Blu-ray decks launched after the end of October. This means it is not equipped to handle some of the high-tech Java-enabled features due to appear on upcoming Blu-ray movie discs.
When it comes to HD DVD the situation is actually worse. For even though HD DVD is currently the most ‘finished’ of the HD formats, the BH100’s support for it is only partial. And that’s being kind.
For while the deck will play Blu-ray title menus without hitch, stick an HD DVD movie into it and you’ll just go straight into the movie, with likely no sign of the up-front menu screen you’d usually expect to see. The reason for this is that, bizarrely, there’s no support for the HD DVD ‘HDi’ interactivity system that’s used to create most disc menus.
If you’re lucky you may – but only may – be able to access one or two of the extra features available on an HD DVD. But only if they happen to correspond to the fiddly list of chapter and title numbers that the LG coughs up along the bottom of the screen if you press the menu button. And even then you have no idea which chapter or title number refers to which disc feature, so your choice is simple pot luck. You could, say, easily end up with a ‘making of’ documentary when you wanted a photo gallery. Hmm. Suddenly this supposedly cutting-edge machine isn’t looking quite so high-tech, is it?
Surely, you’ll probably be thinking, this HDi problem can be solved by some kind of future firmware update. But no; LG assures us that no such update is in the offing or, indeed, possible.
With the BH100 letting us down on so many fronts already, it’s almost depressingly ironic to find that its video performance is really rather good.
During playback of HD DVD and Blu-ray titles alike, we were consistently struck by the extreme sharpness of pictures, the richness and naturalness of their colour palettes, and the depth of black level on show. All these things show HD off admirably, and immediately conspire to make going back to standard definition DVDs – even ones upscaled reasonably well by the BH100’s processing – really hard to stomach.
Inevitably there are some performance compromises compared with the best of the finest ‘one format only’ HD players out there. For instance, pictures look a touch noisier than we know they can, and fast moving objects seem to lose a little resolution at times. We’ve also heard slightly more precision and dynamism in the presentation of movie soundtracks than the BH100 can deliver.
But there’s definitely nothing about the BH100’s performance that we wouldn’t have been more than happy to live with it – had the deck only delivered on all of its other promises.
We guess it’s possible to see a small ray of hope in the BH100. After all, it certainly proves that a combi player can deliver good quality video playback from both next-gen formats.
However, that ray of hope applies to future products only. For as it stands the BH100 feels like a merely half-finished affair that compromises the full potential of both HD formats to far greater a degree than we’re willing to accept.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 7