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Sharp BPHD20H review

Finally, a blue laser player that will please the fussiest HD fans

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Our Verdict

Excellent Blu-ray performance is tempered by mediocre DVD playback from this good-value deck

For

  • Understated design
  • Budget price
  • Excellent Blu-ray picture quality

Against

  • Average DVD playback
  • Limited disc compatibility

The BDHP20H is powered up and blasting out 1080p in the time it takes most high-definition disc players to flash up a ‘Welcome’ message.

Considering that this has been the biggest complaint with most HD disc spinners to date, Sharp could be onto something. Add that to some high-end Bluray disc features and a smooth mirrored finish, and the Sharp seems extremely desirable. It’s also terrific value.

Available for a shade under £400 right from the off, it’s being sold on Sharp’s website for half that amount when you buy any of the brand’s TVs at list price. Even at £400, the BDHP20H’s incredibly low price tag should seal the deal, but first impressions don’t last: it does have some startling omissions that could harm your home entertainment.

Features

It might have the ability to output Blu-ray discs at both 1080p resolution and at 24 frames per second – normally an expensive option on a hi-def player – but there are certain basic features that the BDHP20H lacks.

It’ll play Blu-ray discs, of course, and accepts DVDs and CDs, but can’t use blank media storing DiVX or MPEG1, 2, and 4 video files, JPEG pictures, or music formats such as MP3s or WMAs. Also unwelcome are the CD sides of DualDiscs.

These omissions might not bother everyone – and on a £400 deck it’s understandable – but anyone who’s increasingly using a PC to create or obtain music and video will need to invest in a budget DVD player as well.

At least connectivity isn’t lacking, with HDMI and component video outputs included, although the simultaneous use of both isn’t possible. The former can carry 1080p and the deck selects which picture format – 408/576p, 720p, 1080i or 1080p – best suits the TV it’s connected to.

Ease of use

Powering-up the BDHP20H and inserting a disc is indeed a speedy process, although this is due to standby being a really rather active – and power-hungry – mode. The unusual lack of any front panel controls means we’re forced to rely almost exclusively on the BDHP20H’s remote control.

Apart from lessening the chance of fingerprints on the stylish mirrored fascia, the remote is one of the finest around. Comprehensive, but simple and a breeze to use, we even managed to get the BDHP20H to operate the basic functions of a Sharp LCD TV.

That’s down to Aquos Link, Sharp’s name for HDMI CEC, an industry-agreed standard that lets modern remotes exert influence on all types of products. At the moment this technology applies to new equipment within each brand’s portfolio of products, and even then only on HD Ready models with the latest version (1.3) of the HDMI standard.

Picture

To get the most from the BDHP20H you will need a flatpanel TV with both 1,080 x 1,920-pixel ‘full HD’ resolution and 24fps compatibility – although the latter proves less important than the former.

Pumping 1080p pictures into such a TV from Sharp, a Blu-ray disc of Fantastic Four demonstrates that the BDHP20H is a high-end machine, despite its low price.

Okay, so there’s the occasional judder that’s not solved by outputting at 24 frames per second, but the level of detail is simply awesome. Colours, too, are impressive and although it’s hard to say that Ben Grimm’s skin looks natural, Mr Fantastic and Sue Storm’s certainly do.

There are players out there that can get more from a Blu-ray disc than this deck, but for £400 this player comes pretty close to perfection. But however impressive high-definition material is, the fact remains that it’s just about the only function the Sharp can perform.

Because as well as not being able to play a relatively undemanding list of file formats and discs, it clearly doesn’t like being asked to play DVDs of any description. Despite the fact that the deck is endowed with de-interlacing and upscaling circuitry, it doesn’t manage to extract enough detail from a test DVD of Planet Earth.

The BBC’s flagship nature documentary becomes a soft affair compared to the performance of a half-decent DVD player, with pictures plagued by artefacts and camera pans across desert plains and flocks of snow geese destroyed by judder and blur. It’s especially the case with the programme’s oft-used slo-mo sequences.

The colour palette also takes a dive on DVD and there’s a definite washed-out feel to sequences such as the swimming macaques of India. Honestly, most £50 DVD players found in your local supermarket do a better job with DVDs than this ‘next-generation’ disc spinner.

Sound

It might be lacking a few features, but the BDHP20H is one of the most satisfying Blu-ray decks – pound for pound – when it comes to hi-res audio.

The hi-def only sound codec Dolby Digital True HD (there’s no compatibility here with DTS Master Audio) can be fed into an amplifi er using dedicated 5.1 analogue audio outputs, even when the HDMI is being used. Those with 7.1-capable amps endowed with HDMI switching need only rely on that one connection.

Value

Spending £400 on a new disc spinner should get you something that can do everything your old DVD player could, and more. Sharp’s debut deck won’t be its last and we expect to see a higherend and far more versatile version of the BDHP20H shortly.

The sooner the better really, because the lack of disc playback skills coupled with the player’s struggle with DVDs will depress anyone hoping to rely on just one disc spinner for all occasions.

At its list price of £400 this machine is great value for anyone with a Full HD telly; the rest of us may want to wait for online discounts before investing