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LG BH200 review: LG BH200

LG BH200

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Matthew Moskovciak
Matthew_Moskovciak.jpg

Matthew Moskovciak

Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater

Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.

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10 min read

Editors' note: Toshiba has officially announced that it will stop producing HD DVD products, bringing an end to the format war. For that reason, CNET recommends that consumers should avoid buying this player for high-definition movie playback, as very few HD DVD discs will be produced in the future.
When LG introduced the first HD DVD/Blu-ray combo player at CES 2007, it was a groundbreaking moment in consumer electronics. Nobody expected a combo player to be released so soon, and at the time it seemed that maybe it was a way to avoid a long, protracted format war. Fast-forward to 2008 and it seems like everything has changed. Both LG and Samsung have new combo players out, but they seem like ancient history now that Warner has gone Blu and Netflix has stopped ordering HD DVDs. Time flies in the format war.

6.5

LG BH200

The Good

Plays both Blu-ray and HD DVD discs in a single unit; excellent image quality on Blu-ray Discs and HD DVDs; full support for HD DVD interactive features; slick high-definition menu system; supports Blu-ray Profile 1.1.

The Bad

More expensive than two standalone players; high-resolution audio support is lackluster; annoying bug on DVD playback; does not output at 24 frames per second; some disc compatibility issues on Blu-ray; no analog multichannel outputs; cannot upgrade firmware over Ethernet.

The Bottom Line

The LG BH200 is an improvement on its groundbreaking predecessor, but an HD DVD/Blu-ray combo player just isn't an attractive product anymore.

Combo players have been a tough sell from the start. Aside from the increasing irrelevance of HD DVD, the biggest knock against the BH200 is price. You can currently buy a $400 Sony PlayStation 3, and a $300 Toshiba HD-A35, getting playback of both formats, for less money. The BH200 has made some significant improvements over its predecessor, the BH100, including faster disc loading times, excellent image quality on Blu-ray discs and HD DVD, and full support for interactive HD DVD features. On the other hand, it still has its quirks and limitations, including lackluster high-resolution audio support, no ability to output at 24 frames per second, and an annoying bug on DVD playback that makes it unusable as a DVD player for home theater fans. If you need to play all the high-definition movies currently available, can't deal with two separate players, and don't mind its quirks, the BH200 is a solid combo player--especially from a video quality perspective. On the other hand, the vast majority of buyers are better off sticking with Blu-ray and hoping the format war ends sooner rather than later.

Design
The BH200 is one slick-looking disc player. Like most set-top boxes these days, it is glossy black, but LG manages to pull it off without looking tacky. The center of the unit features both the Blu-ray and the HD DVD logo, and the appropriate logo lights up when you insert a disc, which is a nice touch. Savvy buyers will also notice that the BH200 sports the official HD DVD logo, unlike the BH100, which could play HD DVDs but did not support all of the features required for official certification. The BH200 also features the same illuminated touch-sensitive buttons that the BH100 did, although they are now located on the front of the player instead of the top, which makes it easier to stack components. We're usually not fans of touch-sensitive buttons, but the keys on the BH200 worked every time. To the far right, underneath the playback controls, is a flip-down panel revealing a USB port.


The BH200 features a slick, high-definition menu system.

We've complained about ugly, standard-definition menus on other high-definition disc players, but we have no complaints with the BH200--its high-definition menus are among the nicer ones we've seen. The "home" button brings up four straightforward icons for music, photo, music, and setup. The setup menu is easy to navigate and understand, with the exception of picking the correct audio settings (we'll get to that later).

The included clicker is fairly standard. There's a centrally located directional pad, with playback controls (play, pause, etc.) located nearby. Our biggest complaint concerns the lack of button differentiation--especially with the playback controls--which makes it a bit hard to use by feel. Of course, home theater fans can always upgrade to a quality universal remote.

Features
The main feature of the BH200 is that it can play both HD DVD and Blu-ray Discs. In addition, it can play standard DVDs and audio CDs, plus it can read MP3s and JPEG files stored on data discs. For more basic information on the differences between Blu-ray and HD DVD, check out our Quick Guide to HD DVD versus Blu-ray.


The logos on the front of the BH200 light up depending on what disc you play.

One of the more frustrating issues with Blu-ray has been the confusion over Blu-ray profiles, which indicate what features a Blu-ray player supports. The good news if that the BH200 supports Blu-ray Profile 1.1, which means it can play back picture-in-picture commentary tracks available on some newer Blu-ray Discs coming out this year. It does not currently support Blu-ray Profile 2.0--which allows for Internet-enabled features--but neither does any other current player. For a more comprehensive explanation, check out our Blu-ray profile explainer.

HD DVD hasn't had the same confusion with "profiles" because HD DVD has tougher requirements to acquire the official HD DVD logo. As we mentioned before, the BH100 did not feature the official HD DVD logo because it lacked the ability to access interactive HD DVD menus, which are powered by technology known as HDi. The BH200, however, does feature the official HD DVD logo, largely because it has full support for HDi--which means it can do picture-in-picture commentary tracks, as well as stream content off the Internet on certain discs.


The BH200 has all the logos you could want, but falls short of delivering on their promises.

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.


The lack of analog multichannel outputs feels a little stingy at this price.

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.

6.5

LG BH200

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 5Performance 7