LG BH200 Super Blue – Dual Blu-ray and HD DVD Player

by | Feb 1, 2008 | Component Reviews | 0 comments

LG BH200 Super Blue – Dual Blu-ray and HD DVD Player
SRP: $999 (but avail. online for under $800)

LG Electronics U.S.A. Inc.
1000 Sylvan Ave.
Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Video Outputs: Composite, Component, HDMI
Audio Outputs: Optical (Toslink), HDMI, Stereo RCA (no analog multichannel)
Dimensions: 2.9 inches H x 16.9 inches W x 10.6 inches D
Weight: 8.3 lb
Supported EDTV & HDTV Resolutions: 480p, 480i, 720p, 1080i, 1080p
Disc Formats Supported: DVD Video, DVD-RAM, HD-DVD, Blu-ray, CD audio, CD (JPEG), CD (MP3)
Networking Options: Ethernet

The 2007 Consumer Electronics Show was the sparked by the introduction of the very first dual-HD-format DVD player from LG, the model BH100. It was followed later in the year by Samsung’s entry in the dual-format player sweepstakes. These players handily solve the problem of deciding which of two similar hi-def DVD formats to go for and prevent one from being stuck with a single-format player if and when one of the two new formats fades away. As with the universal hi-res audio players which accept both SACDs and DVD-Audio discs, it is a pleasure to be freed from concerns about which disc goes into which player and know that any DVD placed in the tray will play properly. The cost is more than most of the less expensive Toshiba HD DVD-only players, but less than many of the Blu-ray-only players. Also, the LG players play standard audio CDs which some of the other new format players do not.

The earlier BH100 had a few problems. It started out as a Blu-ray player and had HD DVD added later, so it lacked some HD DVD functionality. It couldn’t play rewritable Blu-ray discs, though it did play rewritable HD DVDs. The menu operation with the remote was a bit frustrating on HD DVDs. Speaking of the remote, it was rather poor. Though it upsampled standard DVDs when using the HDMI connection, it only output them as 1080i rather than 1080p.

A Year Later
Let’s see if the new model BH200 successfully corrects some of those concerns with the original LG dual hi-def player. The front looks like most other hi-def players, all black, with bright blue outlines on each of the buttons in the row across the front.  On the right front of the player is a flip-up panel with a USB port, allow you to plug in a flash drive with JPEG photos or MP3 music files. There is an Ethernet port on the rear for connection with interactive online materials furnished now on some releases of both Blu-ray and HD DVD, as well as for downloading future firmware updates. Both HDi and BD-Java are supported if the online sites use them.

While looking at the back panel of the player one notices that there is neither a coaxial audio jack (only Toslink optical) and neither is there a six-channel analog audio bank of RCA jacks. Therefore your receiver or preamp will have to have a free optical audio input or you’ll have a problem. And for some reason even thru that connection you will just come out with two channels from discs that have Dolby TrueHD – no multichannel.  Neither Dolby nor DTS’ newer lossless codecs are passed by the HDMI connection – only standard DD & DTS multichannel. However, it does support multichannel playback of uncompressed 5.1 PCM soundtracks via the HDMI connection (which I’ve found usually sounds the best anyway). There are also two-channel analog RCA out jacks for CD and PCM-from-DVD playback. This is, sadly, no improvement over the audio situation of the BH100.

Audio Operation
However, audio playback of standard CDs thru either the optical or analog outputs was superb. (My Pioneer Blu-ray player doesn’t play CDs.) It matched almost exactly the sonic quality of my tweaked Oppo 980 player, and was best of all via the analog outputs.  On the Harold Farberman-conducted All Star Percussion Ensemble (Golden String gold CD) the delicate overtones of the various percussion instruments were well-preserved on both players, but the LG provided a bit more ambient and spatial information. On a solo piano disc I like to use for comparisons – Milcho Leviev’s “Man From Plovdiv” (M-A Recordings) – the Oppo player sounded slightly more precise in communicating the wide range of piano sounds, but the LG added a greater richness and weight.  What we have here might just be a surprising choice for those who would look kindly on owning only a single player for all their digital discs – especially if they don’t expect to buy or rent many HD DVDs.  The LG comes closest to doing it all! (except playing SACDs of course).

The HDMI is the latest v.1.3 and it should automatically support 1080p/24 fps video on both the hi-def discs, and standard DVDs via upconversion. However, it doesn’t always detect the 24-frame material to match it more accurately, and there is no manual setting for that option. The remote is larger than was the BH100 and it has a fairly clear layout, though still not backlit.  The video processing utilizes Marvell’s Qdeo technology, and does a good job of reducing artifacts such as flicker and noise.

Video Operation
I found the loading times to vary from about :30 to :40, depending on whether the BH200 was making up its mind about a CD, Blu-ray or HD DVD disc.  It was certainly more speedy than my first-generation Pioneer Blu-ray player.  Navigation ran into some problems with both Blu-ray’s and HD DVDs.  On the Life of Brian Blu-ray disc, it was impossible to access half of the special features.  When you succeeded in getting them underlined and then clicked on them, they literally went up in smoke and you were back at the previous item in the menu. Navigating the HQV Image Quality Assessment Tool disc for HD DVD was extremely frustrating, as it would not bring up some of the benchmark tests I wanted to run.  However, it passed with flying colors those I was able to access. The only  standout difficulty it seemed to have was “jaggies” on the seats in the upper stands of the Film Resolution Loss Test, but the Blu-ray players on which I have used the Blu-ray QVC disc displayed exactly the same amount of jaggies.  I came across the biggest disappointment in operation of the BH200 when I had to leave off viewing part-way thru of a Blu-ray I was reviewing to have dinner. Upon restarting it began at the opening “Send-You-To-Prison-For-Five Years” announcement, rather than returning to where I had left off viewing. I found the same for both HD DVDs and standard DVDs – bummer. Future updates of the firmware should correct some of these faults – that has been my experience with my Pioneer player. (I was going to also grouse about the LG not being able to access the Scene Selections of a Blu-ray, until I determined that my problem was due to that feature having been entirely omitted on the Blu-ray Blade Runner. Five discs but no Scene Selections!)

Video quality on the BH200 was tops with discs of all three formats, comparing them on my 56-inch Samsung DLP display using the HDMI connection. This is the first time I was able to compare HD DVD image quality with Blu-ray on the same player. I had copies of both format versions of Ron Fricke’s original IMAX narrator-less feature Chronos.  There were slight differences in the credits: the Blu-ray version said “transfer from original 65mm film elements to 1080p by Ron Fricke,” whereas the HD DVD had no credit for that. The Blu-ray also said the DTS-HD was a “home theater remix by Michael Stearns” while the HD DVD merely said “DTS-HD 96/24 soundtrack.”  The Blu-ray was also listed as 1080p while the HD DVD is only 1080i.  So could I discern any differences between the audio or picture quality of the two HD formats?  Nope. I even slid the Blu-ray version into my Pioneer player so I could A/B the two instantly and still couldn’t detect major differences. Sort of deflates the heavy marketing push for 1080p, doesn’t it? (However, my Samsung display does some extensive processing and upconverting of its own, and it is not actually 100% 1080p but depends on some judicious “wobblizing” to achieve its 1080p designation.)

 – John Sunier

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