- Review Price: £598.99
Although we’re used to seeing the THX logo emblazoned on the front of AV receivers and speaker systems, its appearance on a Blu-ray player is a lot more unusual. In fact, as far as we’re aware Onkyo’s BD-SP807 is the first THX-certified Blu-ray deck to be launched in the UK, a fact that will no doubt earn it the attention of any home cinema enthusiast looking for the best possible performance.
The badge means that the player has been rigorously tested by THX and satisfies its exacting standards in a number of areas – for video they check that the deck offers clean de-interlacing and upscaling as well as accurate colour, contrast and black/white reproduction, while on the audio side they check every compatible format to ensure that the signal is passed to a receiver without any degradation.
But there’s much more to this deck than a THX badge. By Onkyo’s admission, the focus is firmly on build quality and that’s clear as soon as you first haul it from the box. Compared with your average budget player, the BD-SP807 is an absolute tank – it stands 108mm high and weighs a hefty 5kg due to the reinforced chassis construction designed to minimise vibrations.
But despite its size the Onkyo is a beautiful-looking player, boasting the restrained elegance you expect from players in this price range. The brushed black aluminium front panel gently curves forward at the bottom, while the inclusion of just a few buttons maintains the minimal aesthetic. The display panel is large and legible and can be dimmed if necessary, although the bright blue light to the left is much more distracting.
Like previous Onkyo decks, the Profile 2.0 BD-SP807 sports an SD card slot instead of a more useful USB port. The slot’s purpose is twofold – to let you play AVCHD, MP3 and JPEG files, and to store BD Live and Virtual Package data. Without a card in the slot (which must be at least 1GB) the deck won’t let you access BD Live at all. It’s a pity that Onkyo didn’t integrate this memory into the player, particularly at this price.
On the back, you’ll find a decent array of sockets, the highlight being a set of 7.1-channel analogue outputs. You might argue that the type of person who invests in a player like this would already have an HDMI-equipped amp, which renders these outputs redundant, but there will always be people who prefer to keep signals in the analogue domain no matter how advanced their amp is. You also get a separate set of stereo audio outputs, plus optical and coaxial digital outputs that carry Dolby Digital and DTS bit-streams.
Of course, the HDMI v1.3a output will do most of the donkey work, such as piping HD audio bitstreams to your receiver or passing on 1080p/24Hz pictures to your TV (or 1080p/60Hz if it doesn’t support 24Hz). In the setup menu you can select which HDMI resolution you need, or the Source Direct mode will output whatever’s on the disc. Completing the socket line-up are component and composite video outputs and an Ethernet port for hooking up to the internet.
As you may have guessed, there’s no support for anything as fancy as Wi-Fi or PC media streaming, which is a pity as home cinema enthusiasts are likely to want these features as much as anyone else.
Elsewhere the deck offers DivX HD playback from recordable Blu-ray, DVD or CD discs (as well as MP3 and JPEG), while onboard DVD upscaling comes courtesy of the Anchor Bay ABT1030 chip. There’s also a 297MHz/12-bit NSV digital-to-analogue converter (ADV7340) and 192kHz/24-bit audio DACs for all channels.
The Onkyo’s onscreen design is basic but functional. There’s a generic blue splash-screen and a setup menu reminiscent of the one found on Denon and Marantz players. It’s easy on the eye and sensibly laid out, plus its responsiveness makes it a pleasure to navigate.
The setup menu is split into Quick and Custom menus, and the latter covers a detailed range of options – including speaker management for the analogue outputs, where you can set the level, delay and speaker size for each channel.
It includes all of the other basic AV settings you’d expect to find, but to make picture adjustments you have to wait until the film is playing. Hit the mode button on the remote and a banner at the top of the screen provides four memory presets, and for each one you can set the levels of colour, contrast, brightness, sharpness and gamma correction.
The lightweight, ugly remote doesn’t do justice to the player’s classy looks and there’s no backlight, but in its defence the layout is fine and all the buttons are clearly labelled.
In operation, the deck is so laid back you’d think it was made in Jamaica. It takes about 25 seconds to get from standby to the splash-screen, then it took a monumental 90 seconds to reach Spider-Man 3’s main menu. As for Terminator Salvation, it took just under two minutes to load.
Thankfully the BD-SP807 is a lot more lively when it comes to picture performance, and it’s not hard to see why it gets the thumbs up from the bods at THX. We gave it a whirl with Children of Men to check out how it handles the film’s intricate detail and its muted, oppressive colour palette, and it impresses right off the bat, dredging up every last pixel from the disc and throwing it on screen with mesmerising clarity.
The hustle and bustle of the busy London street as Clive Owen leaves the coffee shop is meticulously realised – text on the sides of buildings and buses, the trinkets on the passing rickshaws and rubble strewn across the ground by the bomb blast are all crisp and precise. Yes there’s grain, but by design – it’s there to add to the film’s gritty feel and rightly the Onkyo leaves it well alone.
This excellent detail retrieval is backed up by deep blacks, subtle shadow work and an overall solidity that looks amazing on a largescreen TV or projector – this is as close to 3D as you’re going to get on a 2D player. Colours are utterly believable too, with the deck easily picking out the subtle shading within faces and clothing, plus it renders large swathes of colour without noise and makes detail visible during dark scenes.
As ever, we also gave the Onkyo a whirl with the Silicon Optix Blu-ray disc and it fares well. The Video Resolution Loss test is steady right across the screen (the striped boxes don’t flicker at all) and the jaggies patterns reveal some of the cleanest, sharpest moving diagonal edges we’ve seen. The Film Resolution Loss test suffers from some flickering on the striped boxes in the middle – the same artefact that befell the Denon and Marantz decks we tested a little while ago.
We also ran through the DVD version of this disc to check its upscaling prowess and again the results are impressive. Diagonals are processed without stepping on the rotating bar and flag clips, plus fine detail is sharp and stable. Switching to our DVD copy of Sin City, the picture boasts pleasing depth and detail clarity, but after enjoying the razor-sharp Blu-ray pictures these fuzzier SD images are inevitably a bit of a come-down.
One of the areas that usually sets pricey players apart from their budget rivals is sound quality, and the BD-SP807 is no exception. Hooked up to Onkyo’s TX-NR807 receiver with analogue cables, we give it a work out with a performance of ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’ by Jane Monheit and John Pizzarelli in Dolby True HD, found on a Dolby sampler disc.
The quality is spellbinding – it digs out high frequencies and subtle detail with conviction and adds richness and body to the double bass. Monheit’s voice is also conveyed with a spine-tinglingly smooth and pure tone. Our favourite movie test scenes also sound great, particularly the tense finale of Children of Men – with crisp gunshots and meaty explosions going off all round the soundstage, you really get lost in the scene.
Using the HDMI output garners similarly thrilling results, and we were blown away by the quality of CD playback too, which sounds as good as a decent dedicated CD player.
Star Wars prequels aside, George Lucas usually shows impeccable judgement on all things cinema related, and sure enough his company’s endorsement of this Onkyo deck’s performance is completely justified.
It displays hi-def discs with meticulous detail and delivers sensational audio quality with both hi-res soundtracks and CDs. It’s clearly aimed at buyers with plenty of cash to splash who want the best pictures, sound and build quality but can live without the latest, flashiest Blu-ray features.
That may be the case, but we can’t let the lack of features slip by completely unnoticed – yes performance is important, but don’t high-end shoppers deserve things like Wi-Fi, PC streaming and built-in memory too? If LG and Panasonic can manage it at much lower prices, why not Onkyo?
That’s not our only complaint with the SP807. Disc loading is tediously slow, the cheapo remote is an eyesore and there isn’t really enough to distinguish it from rival players from the likes of Denon and Marantz.
Score in detail