LG BH100 Blau Ray and HD-DVD Review

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LG BH100 Reviewed
Written by Luck Kanthatham
Monday, 29 January 2007




[Now updated with video] The LG BH100 is the first hi-def to be able to support both Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD formats. But at $1199, is it worth the steep price?



In the late 70's, early 80's, there was a new “IT” consumer electronic device in town. Not only can you record your favorite TV shows but it also let you watch all kinds of Hollywood movies in the convenience of your own home. That device was the video cassette recorder or VCR, for short. The main problem with this “IT” device was that it came in two incompatible formats: VHS (introduced by JVC) and Betamax (introduced by Sony). The consumers were torn between the two formats. Should they go with the Betamax format, which offered superior video quality but with a shorter recording time? Or should they go with the VHS format for its inferior video quality but a longer recording time. In the end, the VHS format won the format war of the early 80's.

Fast forward to the modern day consumer electronics arena, consumers are now faced with another format war: Blu-ray Disc vs. HD-DVD. Both formats offer far superior video and audio quality than the current DVD format. However, the Blu-ray Disc technology offers higher capacity storage. For more information on the two formats, we 'd like to refer you to our two friends: “goo” and 'gle”.

As an attempt to bring peace to the format war (or to take money from our wallets), LG has introduced the first player that could play both hi-def formats: the LG BH100. It is also known as the “Super Multi Blue Player”. Err.. yes. One of these days we will dedicate an entire article on the science of LG naming scheme. At least for the model number BH100, we think the “B” stands for Blu-ray Disc, “H” stands for HD-DVD and the 100 is the starting point of other models to come: BH200, BH300 and so on



Overview


One look at the BH100 and you know that LG opted for function over form on this player. Its black boxy exterior reminds us of “IT” device of the early 80's. The high-gloss finish in front of player acts as a diversion to the player's rather dull-looking shape. It is nowhere nearly as “sexy” as our resident Blu-ray Disc player: the Samsung BD-P1000. It has a big Blu-ray Disc logo etched on top letting you know that it is Blu-ray Disc-certified. Toward the front-top lies the touch-sensitive control buttons that light up when the player is turned on. When touched, these buttons light up and emit a “twink” sound effect to give the user an audio feedback; a nice touch. The player can play Blu-ray Discs, HD-DVDs and DVDs (including all the record-able variants). It employs two laser diodes: one for regular DVDs and the other for HD-DVD/Blu-ray Discs. However, it does not play CDs. Maybe they just couldn't find room to fit a third laser diode in there. The playback is at 25 – 30 frames per second. Also, it does not support HD-DVD's interactive menu feature (HDi). This means that advanced features on some HD-DVDs would not be accessible via the player's menu system.

The BH100 can decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD as well as the current surround sound formats: AC-3 and DTS. However, since the player only supports HDMI 1.2, it does not output raw Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD signals through HDMI.

In terms of connections, it has the standard offering, including one HDMI port and an ethernet port. Missing is the S-Video out port. But then again, LG's target audience for this player would probably not connect this device via an S-Video connection anyway. Also, lacking is the RS-232 jack for use with advanced home theater control systems.

The remote is simple but all the features are represented, including the colored Java buttons. The remote response is slow however, it get the job done.



The Test


For this test, we used our resident hi-def players mainly for feature comparision. These players are Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray Disc player and Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD Player. The test movie was Training Day (2001), one in Blu-ray Disc format and the other in HD-DVD. To test the player's DVD upconversion capability, we used about 10 DVDs from our collection, ranging from “Finding Nemo” to “Star Trek: The First Contact”.

First off, the load time. It took 30 seconds to load the Blu-ray Disc version of Training Day vs. 40 seconds for the HD-DVD version. As for standard DVD's, it took an average of 18 seconds on all our DVDs. Just for comparison, it took about 15 seconds to load our DVDs on our DVD players.




Blu-ray Java MenusSince it is Blu-ray Disc-certified, the device did not have any problem bringing up the interactive Java menus to show off the disc's advanced features and other selection. We are still concerned that it took about 10 seconds to load up the menu system. Though we can't really complain because our Samsung Blu-ray player also took about the same time.

As we mentioned, the BH100 does not support the HD-DVD's HDi interactive menu system. When calling up the disc menus, it displays a much simpler-looking HD-DVD menus at the bottom of the screen than the ones on the HD-A2. The available options were Title, Scene, Subtitle, and Audio. Missing was the “Special Features” menu present when played on the HD-A2. This meant, no access to features like the Director's Comments and music video by Nelly (boo hoo). According to c|net, LG has confirmed that neither the HDi functionality nor the HDMI 1.3 support will be upgradeable via firmware. Well, thanks, LG.




HDi Menus
Non-HDi Menus

In terms of picture quality, we did not do a Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD comparison. For that, we'd like to refer you to this excellent article by Peter M. Bracke at High-Def Digest. We did attempt to do a Blu-ray vs. Blu-ray comparison and HD-DVD vs. HD-DVD comparison. However, after switching between the two HDMI ports on our Sharp Aquos 46” LCD for a few hours comparing different scenes, we did not find any noticeable differences between the BH100 and our dedicated players. But then again, maybe it was just us. We don't consider ourselves videophiles by any means. We are simply gadget-loving enthusiasts.

Next we tested the upconversion capability of the player. After all, we are sure that you are not about to go out and buy a hi-def version of all your DVDs, especially since the format war is not over yet.




Posterization on DVDsWe do have mixed feelings about the player's ability to upconvert the DVD signals. Of over 10 DVDs we threw at it, we found the upconverted pictures varied from disc to disc. The worst being “Finding Nemo” on the scene where Nemo was going to school. Posterization was rampant. The best upconverted pictures were from “Star Wars: Attack of the Clone.” However, we have to say that the quality of upconversion paled in comparison to the recent demos we witnessed at CES. We just can't wait to get our hands on those players to play our existing DVD collection.



Conclusion


So can we recommend the BH100 after spending a whole week with it? That is a very good question. At $1199, everybody wanted to know if the player was worth the steep price. Our best answer is “it depends”.

First off, we would like to commend LG for being the first to offer a player that can play both hi-def formats. It is quite an engineering feat. The player plays discs from both formats flawlessly, sans HDi.

On the other hand, we couldn't help but feel that LG had rushed this player out in time for CES. Yes, it received the “Best Of Show” award from c|net. But it is no excuse not to offer HDi functionality and HDMI 1.3 support. Also, MP3 playback and JPEG file viewing would also be nice since most $30 DVD players can now perform these tasks.

Think of the BH100 as a premium Blu-ray Disc player that can also play HD-DVDs. If you have a movie collection consisting mainly of Blu-ray Discs and do not mind the lack of HDMI 1.3 support then this player is definitely for you. Vice versa, if you think you are going the HD-DVD route then this player might not be the best choice.

Because of its mixed-bag performance playing regular DVDs, we cannot recommend this player for DVD viewing. To rephrase the quote from the greatest philosopher of our time, Forrest Gump. “Playing DVDs is like a box of chocolate, you never know whatcha gonna get.”

If price is a concern (though you have expensive taste), and you already own an Xbox 360 or a PS3, then stick to the players offered by those consoles.

In the end, we have to say that we do like the BH100 for what it can do. It will always be remembered in the future as the first player to offer peace to the Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD format war.



Note: Gadgetaholic.com would like to thank our contributor, Aaron Sauma, for taking the time to shoot the video footage and for doing the initial write up of this review.




Video Overview
 
While LG's BH100 Super Multi Blue Player has already appeared on the shelves of some US retail stores, LG Electronics has now officially announced the availability of this dual-format player according to this PR Newswire story. LG has designed this player as a solution of the current HD disc format war such that if either format dies off like what happed with Betamax, consumers do not have to risk having an expensive obsolete player over the next few years.

Unlike the first HD DVD players that were limited to 1080i output, this player features full 1080p at either 24 or 30 frames per second. The player has even received multiple honours, including the best of show award at this year's CES. However, while it does have the drawback in lacking HDi support and thus HD DVD's advanced interactive menus, according to LG, no other player on the market offers the ability to play both formats. Like single format players, this player also has the ability to upscale DVDs to 1080i. It includes an easy-to-use backlit ergonomic remote control.

So far, with the player retailing around $1,100, until it comes down in price, it still works out more expensive than purchasing the two different single format players together. However, for those willing to fork out on the player and don't care about the lack of HD DVD menus, it does have the advantage of combining both formats in a single set-top unit.