Soundtrack support for high-definition disc players has always been confusing, but getting a handle on exactly what the BH200 can and can't do is mind-boggling. While the BH200 sports the Dolby TrueHD logo on the outside of the player, it's only capable of decoding Dolby TrueHD soundtracks to two-channel PCM. You do have the option to re-encode it to DTS to get multichannel, but Dolby TrueHD is essentially a standard feature on high-definition players now--there's no excuse for not having multichannel decoding. On the DTS side, the BH200 sports the logo for DTS-HD Advanced Digital Out, which means that the player should be capable of outputting high-resolution DTS soundtracks like DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS-HD High Resolution in bit-stream format. Unfortunately, when we connected the BH200 to our Denon AVR-3808CI via HDMI and set in "Primary Pass-through" mode, we only got standard DTS. The bottom line is that this definitely isn't the player for audiophiles, and home theater enthusiasts should study page 36 of the manual (PDF link) before making a purchase.
Overall, the connectivity of the BH200 is a bit disappointing. On the video side, the main output is the HDMI port, which supports high-resolution audio and 1080p video, but enthusiasts with lament that it does not output at 24 frames per second. For analog video, there's a component video output (limited to 1080i for high-definition discs, 480p for DVDs), plus a standard-definition composite video output. There's no S-Video output, but that doesn't matter to us--you're buying the BH200 because you want high-definition playback.
For audio, there's the aforementioned HDMI output, plus stereo analog outputs and an optical digital audio output. It lacks multichannel analog outputs, which means anyone without an HDMI-capable receiver can't enjoy high-resolution audio (of course, the lack of soundtrack support limits your options as well). Rounding out the rest of the connectivity is an Ethernet port, which can be used to stream content off the Internet for some HD DVD discs, and we had no problem loading the Web-based features off the Blood Diamond HD DVD. On the other hand, the Ethernet port can't currently be used to update the firmware--you'll need to use a USB flash drive or burn a CD/DVD.
Blu-ray and HD DVD performance
We kicked off our testing of the BH200's Blu-ray performance using Silicon Optix's HQV test suite on Blu-ray. The BH200 handled the film resolution test nicely, displaying the full resolution of the test pattern and also smoothly rendering a slow pan across Raymond James Stadium without significant moire or jaggies. It also had no problem with the less important video-based tests, deftly handling two jaggies tests and another resolution test. We loaded up the same disc on HD DVD, looked at the same patterns and found the performance to be identical.
We were impressed with the BH200's performance on test patterns, but of course the true test is how it holds up with program material. We started off with Blu-ray and popped in Mission Impossible: III. We took a close look at chapter 8, where the BH200 smoothly handled the stairs in the background--a difficult scene for many players. It also didn't have problems with the beginning of chapter 16, smoothly rendering the trimming of the limo that approaches Tom Cruise. We switched to Ghost Rider and looked at the very end of chapter 6, where the camera pans up and over an RV. Lesser players display moire in the grille of the RV, but the BH200 looked rock solid. Overall, we found the BH200's image quality on Blu-ray Discs to be excellent, on a par with other top contenders such as the Samsung BD-P1200 and the Sony PlayStation 3.
We also looked at the HD DVD program material, and as with the test patterns, we found it to be essentially identical. Since M:I:III was also released on HD DVD, we took a look at the same scenes and the BH200 had no issues rendering the stairs in chapter 8 or the trimming of the limo in chapter 16. Switching over to Aeon Flux, the BH200 continued to look great and handled the thin wires present in chapter 9 without jaggies or moire. As on Blu-ray, the BH200's HD DVD image quality was top-notch, comparable with the Toshiba HD-XA2.
On the other hand, we did run into our share of operational glitches with the BH200. We tried watching one of the first Profile 1.1 discs, Sunshine, with the picture-in-picture commentary mode enabled, and after less than a minute the BH200 froze up on us. We thought it might have been an issue with the picture-in-picture commentary, so we tried playing the movie normally but we ran into the same issues. On Ratatouille, every once and a while an icon would appear in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen, which doesn't appear on other players. Sure, we're used to disc compatibility issues with Blu-ray--especially Samsung--but they're still incredibly annoying when you consider that DVD almost never suffers compatibility issues.
While we've complained about some other Blu-ray players not quite having the processing power to smoothly handle the Java-based menus on movies like Spiderman 3, the BH200, in its favor, didn't skip a beat on any of the movies we looked at.
Blu-ray load times were also very good compared with the competition. M:I:III took 28 seconds to load when we started with the player on, and 42 seconds when we started with the player off, which is about average. The big improvement came with discs featuring Java-based menus. Spiderman 3 loaded in about a minute and 20 seconds, which is a full minute faster than it took the Samsung BD-P1400. Similarly, the BH200 loaded Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest in two minutes flat, which is more than a minute faster than the Sharp BD-HP20U. The load times are still pokey compared with standard DVDs, but they're better than most of the competition--excluding the superfast PlayStation 3.
HD DVD load times were fast as well. M:I:III on HD DVD loaded almost exactly as quickly as the Blu-ray version, both with the player on and off. Hot Fuzz came in at 54 seconds, while 300 was a bit more speedy at 48 seconds. Impressively, these times are even faster than the disc-loading performance of the standalone Toshiba HD-A30, which means you're not seeing a loss of performance because it's a combo drive.
Standard DVD performance
The library of titles available on DVD still vastly outnumbers Blu-ray and HD DVD, so we took a look at DVD performance as well. We started off looking at test patterns, using Silicon Optix's HQV test discs. The BH200 started off well, passing the initial resolution test and performing solidly on the jaggies tests with three pivoting lines and a large rotating line. It demonstrated its ability to perform 2:3 pull-down during a sequence with a race car driving by a grandstand, with its processing kicking in quite quickly.
When we moved beyond test patterns, we discovered a glaring and ultimately unforgivable problem with the BH200's DVD playback: the flashing green line visible in the upper-right-hand corner of the TV screen. The green line is only a few pixels high and spans about a third of the screen, but the fact that it flashes during playback makes it extremely distracting and annoying. It is even more noticeable during movies with letterbox bars as it has a constant black background to contrast with. We were able to eliminate the line by switching our 1080p test TV's aspect ratio out of its optimal "dot-by-dot" setting, but that doesn't make the issue any more acceptable.
In other areas the BH200 performed well enough with DVDs. It showed off its 2:3 pull-down prowess on Star Trek: Insurrection, smoothly rendering the curved hulls of the boats and railings of the bridge. The BH200 did an OK job with Seabiscuit, displaying some jaggies during the opening sequence, but not as many as we've seen with some lesser players. We could go on about minor video quality issues, but the bottom line is that you need a separate player for DVD playback because of the annoying flashing green line.