You’ve no doubt heard of Blu-ray, one of two new optical-disc formats (the other being HD DVD) that promise to bring stunning high-definition images and sound into your home theater. All you need is an HDTV and surround-sound system to enjoy movies like you’ve never seen before—or so says the Blu-ray Disc Association. In reality, the format faltered when it was first launched last year, leading some to wonder if it was all the BDA claimed it to be. Most major consumer-electronics companies are based in Japan or Korea, so it’s no surprise that most Blu-ray players come from those countries. One of the few exceptions is Philips, which is based in The Netherlands. As a founding member of the BDA, the company was one of the first to announce a Blu-ray player, though it took quite a while for the player to actually appear in stores.
The BDP9000 is finally available, and not a moment too soon. Can it help Blu-ray recover from its initial stumbles? Let’s see.
The player sports a slim, attractive visage with a flip-down panel that reveals two multi-format memory card slots, making it easy to display photos and other material stored on those ubiquitous cards. A band of blue light directly above the disc tray looks cool to be sure, but it could be distracting if the player is near your TV screen (you can’t turn it off or dim it).
In addition to Blu-ray Discs, the BDP9000 plays DVDs, CDs, and, according to Philips, the recordable varieties of all three (except DVD-RAM). However, it would not play a recordable Blu-ray (BD-RE) test disc that played without a hitch in the Panasonic DMP-BD10 I reviewed last issue. Bummer.
Like all Blu-ray players, this one can deliver 1080p resolution to compatible displays, but it’s limited to 60 frames which are shot and stored on the disc at 24fps, could look a bit jerky. Enthusiasts will be disappointed that the player cannot output 1080p at 24fps, which, when paired with a TV that can accept and display it at a multiple of 24, avoids this jerky appearance. On the audio side, Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound and uncompressed PCM are supported; unfortunately, as with most Blu-ray players these days, the new Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio formats are not.
The remote is a long, silver affair that’s heavier than most. It’s fully universal with the ability to control up to four devices other than the BDP9000. As a result, some of the buttons serve multiple functions, which is never a good thing. Also, except for indicators that light up to show which device is being controlled, the remote is not illuminated. The buttons are reasonably well-organized, but most are the same size and the labels are very small. The menu system is typical of Philips, taking up the entire screen, though it behaves more intuitively than that of the Philips 50PF9731D plasma TV (see our review in Issue 75). For example, pressing Enter on any item selects that item rather than backing out to the previous menu level as in the TV. The player’s main menu appears immediately if nothing is playing, which is a bit of a time saver.
Because I was unable to play my test disc, I jumped right into watching movies. I used the Olevia 747i 47-inch LCD TV (see review in TPV 75), which has great color fidelity and renders the best detail of any TV I currently have in the studio.
Starting with Blu-ray, the color on Pearl Harbor was right on the money, with natural skin tones and very realistic green grass, blue skies, and orange sunsets. As for detail, there was loads of it. Every nook and cranny of the ships in the harbor as the Japanese Zeros buzz around them was sharply defined, and the sailors on the deck of the Arizona were clearly discernable in the dramatic point-of-view shot of the bomb falling on it. Next, I took a look at The Fifth Element DVD, which is known for its top-notch picture quality. Colors were lifelike, including the faded green and red paint on the temple columns at the beginning and the gold foil lining the lab where Leeloo is reconstructed. Images were detailed, too. The many levels of flying cars were clearly discernable in the scene where Leeloo jumps off the building, and I almost ducked to avoid the debris as the mangalores shoot up Fhloston Paradise. Overall, this is a very fine DVD player.
Sound quality was uniformly excellent—explosions were deep and thunderous and dialog was clear. Music was faithfully reproduced throughout the spectrum, with all instruments in movie soundtracks clearly rendered. Compared with Dolby Digital via coaxial connection, the PCM soundtrack via HDMI was a bit richer, fuller, and louder. Not that it was a huge difference—it wasn’t. And the difference shrank to nearly nothing when listening to Dolby Digital via HDMI.