Pundits debate whether Blu-ray will be as successful as DVD, but they're relatively united on one issue: the prices of the players need to drop before the format takes off. The Insignia NS-BRDVD is part of a new breed of bargain players we've seen this year, and its $300 list price is the cheapest we've seen so far. But there's certainly no free lunch with the NS-BRDVD--its low price means that you'll be giving up features like Profile 2.0 support, multichannel analog outputs, and high-resolution audio decoding. And on the performance end, videophiles will be a little disappointed with the Blu-ray image quality, although we were pleasantly surprised by its standard DVD performance.
If you're on a limited budget, but still want to get into Blu-ray, the NS-BRDVD is a perfectly capable player as long as you're aware of its limitations. However, Blu-ray is still firmly in the "early adopter" phase and we have no doubt you'll be able to get a better player for less money in as little as six months. And if you've got any flexibility in your budget, keep in mind that for $100 more you can get the best Blu-ray player on the market, that's also capable of streaming media and playing high-definition games: the Sony PlayStation 3.
Blu-ray players generally aren't the hottest looking product in your home theater system, but even with those lower standards, the Insignia's looks are uninspiring. From the front, the NS-BRDVD has a big, boxy appearance. A small strip of gray runs along the perimeter, and the rest of the face plate is black with a blue "Blu-ray" logo on the far left. Farther to the right is the disc tray and just right of center is the LCD screen, which is large enough to read comfortably from a seating distance of about 7 feet. On the far right are some playback controls, including play, stop, and pause. Beneath that is an SD card slot.
The included remote is average, and it gets the job done. The area surrounding the buttons is glossy black--a poor choice since the material proved a magnet for fingerprints. There's a nice, centrally located directional pad, surrounded by important buttons such as Setup and Menu. Playback controls are located underneath, and they are reasonably well-placed, excluding the ever-important pause button hidden in the corner. We definitely would have liked to see more button differentiation--most of the buttons are rectangular and flat--but with the money you saved by going with the NS-BRDVD, you can invest in a quality universal remote.
Like the exterior of the unit, the graphical user interface of the NS-BRDVD is pretty Spartan. The graphics may be high-definition, but they're still only a step above the barebones interface of the Panasonic DMP-BD50. Looks aside, we found the menus to be awkwardly arranged. The first icon is labeled "quick" and accesses most of the most-critical functions, and the second icon is labeled "custom," which has the same functions as "quick" plus some additional advanced functions. Since it's not immediately clear if the two sets of functions control different settings (they don't), we found ourselves confused at first. The interface is definitely one of the areas in which Insignia cut corners, so it's good that most people won't have to use the setup menus very often.
The Insignia NS-BRDVD is a Profile 1.1 Blu-ray player, which means it can access picture-in-picture commentary tracks available on some Blu-ray Discs, such as Sunshine. The NS-BRDVD is not, however, a Profile 2.0 player, so it cannot access the BD-Live features on certain new Blu-ray Discs. The BD-Live features we've seen so far have been underwhelming to say the least, but they're sure to improve as disc makers get a handle on the technology. Since the NS-BRDVD does not include an Ethernet port, it is not possible for Insignia to add Profile 2.0 functionality in the future.
High-resolution soundtrack support is pretty meager on the NS-BRDVD. It has onboard decoding for Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD High Resolution, but Dolby TrueHD onboard decoding is limited to stereo output and there's no onboard decoding for DTS-HD Master Audio. On the other hand, the NS-BRDVD can output both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio in bit stream format, which means that people with newer receivers with onboard decoding can still take advantage of DTS-HD Master Audio. It's worth noting that the more expensive PS3 can decode both formats, which means you only need a receiver with HDMI support to take advantage of both formats. However, keep in mind that the differences between these high-resolution soundtracks and standard Dolby Digital and DTS may be hard to hear unless you have a high-end listening environment.