Sharp has developed its Aquos brand of LCD TVs into one of the best, most respected names in the business. So it’s understandable that the company wants to capitalize on that reputation by applying the Aquos moniker to other products. The first such excursion is the BD-HP20U, Sharp’s first Blu-ray player. Does it live up to the Aquos heritage? Let’s see...
One of the most highly touted features of the BDHP20U is called Quick Start. With this feature enabled, Blu-ray discs are said to start up in 10 seconds, which is way faster than normal. (Why anyone would disable it is beyond me.) However, there’s a caveat— the disc must be “pre-loaded” in order to start that fast. The first time you insert a disc, it takes longer to load some of its data into the player’s memory, but after that, you can stop and start the disc very quickly. In fact, some discs I tried started in as little as three seconds once the player had loaded their data.
Like all the Blu-ray players in this issue—and most Blu-ray players on the market today—this one offers 1080p output at 60 or 24 frames per second (fps) via HDMI. However, the BD-HP20U is unique among the players I’ve seen in that it does not provide a user control to enable 24fps operation. Instead, it detects whether or not a TV can accept it and automatically enables or disables it.
Another feature that’s quickly becoming universal is a part of HDMI version 1.3 called CEC (Consumer Electronics Control). This lets devices connected via HDMI communicate, allowing one remote to control all of them in a unified manner. Each company has its own name for this—Sharp calls it Aquos Link.
The remote is well-organized and uncluttered thanks to the hidden numeric keypad, which is revealed by opening a flip-down panel at the bottom of the remote. The transport controls sit on top of this panel, and I really like their layout—it’s more intuitive than most.
On the other hand, the menu system is a bit cumbersome. For example, the audio and video settings are three layers deep, and the actual controls are one layer deeper still.
Playing the Blu-ray version of the HQV Benchmark disc at 1080p, the video and film resolution-loss tests both had lots of flickering, indicating a less-than-stellar processor. Jaggies were very mild but not invisible.
The DVD version of the HQV Benchmark disc could only be displayed in a 4:3 window, but unlike the Panasonic DMP-BD30 also reviewed in this issue, the Sharp has no setting to correct the problem, so I could not fairly evaluate the player’s processor on this standard-def material. I also tried to play an unpublished test disc in BD-RE (rewritable Blu-ray disc) format, but the Sharp would not play it, even though the company’s specs claim the player is compatible with BD-RE.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is one of the best-looking Blu-ray titles yet released, so I popped it in and took a look. Detail was excellent, as illustrated by Captain Barbosa’s pockmarked face and the texture of Davy Jones’ tentacles. Human skin tones looked a bit reddish to my eye, but the aqua sea was beautiful. The uncompressed PCM soundtrack sounded a bit richer and fuller from the 5.1-channel analog output compared with HDMI, and it was slightly higher in volume.
Interestingly, this was not so with Star Wars IV on DVD. The Dolby Digital track was a lot lower in volume and much duller from the analog output; I preferred the sound of audio via HDMI much better in this case. Unlike the HQV DVD, the Star Wars IV disc displayed correctly on a 16:9 TV, though the 20th Century Fox logo was forced into a 4:3 window. The scrolling back-story at the beginning faded into the distance with no hint of shimmering, and detail was otherwise crisp and sharp. Once again, human faces were slightly reddish, though the white corridors on Princess Leia’s ship were spot on, as was the blue sky on Tatooine.
Rio After Dark is a CD featuring vocalist Ana Caram singing Brazilian songs with acoustic guitar, flute, and percussion, and it sounded wonderful coming from the BD-HP20U’s HDMI output. As with DVD, however, the analog output sounded very muted and dull by comparison.
Sharp’s first foray into the land of Blu-ray is excellent in many respects, especially the Quick Start feature and the friendly remote, but it falls short in others. Of most concern to me was the slightly reddish skin tones and the dramatic degradation in sound quality from the analog outputs when playing DVDs and CDs. Why this was not evident on Blu-ray is a mystery. If Sharp can address these concerns with a firmware update, it’ll have a real winner on its hands.