The BDP9000: Philips jumps into Blu-ray
Editors' note June 9, 2008: The rating of this player has been changed since its initial publication to reflect changes in the marketplace.
Blu-ray was a little bit slow out of the gate, but after the initial quirks with the first wave of releases and the pioneering Samsung BD-P1000, it has edged to almost even with HD DVD in picture quality. Other manufacturers' first-generation Blu-ray players are coming out now, including the Panasonic DMP-BD10, the Sony BDP-S1, the Pioneer BDP-HD1, and the Philips BDP9000 reviewed here, which has the least buzz of the bunch. Despite its relatively unknown status, the Philips performed on par with the other players we've tested recently, and exhibited its own attractive qualities, namely an excellent external design and remote and very good performance when upscaling standard-definition DVDs. It's also no slouch in terms of Blu-ray picture quality, delivering just as pretty a picture as we saw with other players we've reviewed, namely the Samsung, the Panasonic, and the Sony PlayStation 3. The big disappointment with this player is that it has limited audio capabilities for standard-definition DVDs, as well as what seems to be bare-bones support for audio on Blu-ray discs (see Editor's note below). For nonaudiophiles who are content with missing lossless soundtracks like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master, this might not be a problem.
Though we really liked many aspects of the BDP9000, it's still hard to give it our full recommendation. Like all non-PS3 Blu-ray players currently available, the BDP9000 lacks HDMI 1.3 compatibility--and in just a few short weeks at CES, it's likely that several HDMI 1.3 players will be announced, potentially at lower prices. This issue leads us to our primary beef with the Philips and all current Blu-ray players: price. You can currently get the very capable PS3 for considerably less than $1,000 on eBay, and over the next few months, it will be available for even less. Despite its appeal, the Philips BDP9000's price makes it tough to recommend for anyone except the most dedicated home theater enthusiasts. And we're betting that those enthusiasts will opt for a Blu-ray player that has more extensive audio capabilities for both DVDs and Blu-ray discs.
Editor's note, updated 12/21/06: Philips has confirmed the audio capabilities of the BDP9000. See the features section below for more information.
We gave the Philips BDP9000 the highest design score of any next-generation player we've reviewed so far. Like most Philips products, its silver chassis and a black front panel combine for an unusually stylish look. The front panel is glossy and is marked by only two buttons: power and disc open/close. Left of center is the disc drawer, which emanates a blue light, and to the right is an LCD screen which is a little on the small side. The bottom section is angled inward, similar to the design of the Samsung BD-P1000, and flips down to reveal two media card readers and some additional front panel buttons, including a video output selector button and handy chapter forward/backward buttons for when the remote goes missing. Really our only complaint about the design is that the aforementioned blue light around the disc drive and the blue light next to the power button cannot be dimmed. Although there is an option to set the front display to "dim" in the settings menu, this only dims the LCD screen.
The remote for the BDP9000 is probably the best remote we've seen packaged with a high-definition disc player. It largely resembles the Philips TV remotes--which we're not huge fans of--but this one gets a lot right. At the very top is an illuminated strip of device names, and you select which device you want the remote to control by scrolling through them with the Select button. The directional pad is easy to use with the appropriate buttons littered around it. There are convenient rocker buttons to control TV channels and volume, and the play, chapter skip, and fast forward/backward buttons are logically located. We also like the way the remote felt in our hand; it has some weight to it and feels solid, and the buttons give a slight snap to reinforce presses. Sure, it doesn't have backlighting, but given some of the truly awful remote designs we've seen from early Blu-ray and HD DVD players, we were really pleased with it.
Another nice design feature about the BDP9000 is its high-resolution menu graphics. It's certainly not a major feature, but the white and blue color scheme, along with the smoothly rendered text, is easy on the eyes and way ahead of the blocky graphics on the Panasonic DMP-BD10. Aesthetics aside, the menu is generally easy to maneuver, and we had no problems adjusting the output resolution or dimming the display.
The Philips BDP9000's main feature is the ability to play Blu-ray discs. It can also play and upscale regular DVDs to 480p, 720p, 1,080i and 1,080p resolutions. Upscaling won't make your regular DVDs look like high-definition discs, but it might make them look a little better if the video processing in your HDTV is worse than the processing of the BDP9000.
For Blu-ray soundtrack support, the DMP-BD10 handles Dolby Digital and DTS, and can send those soundtracks over HDMI in either bitstream--to be decoded by an A/V receiver--or linear PCM (LPCM) format. It can also send Dolby Digital Plus--a higher quality version of Dolby Digital--via bitstream, but it cannot decode it to PCM internally, as the Panasonic DMP-BD10 can. What's disappointing is the BDP9000 does not have support for many of the other new higher-resolution soundtrack formats, such as Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD High Resolution and DTS-HD Master.
The BDP9000's soundtrack capabilities for standard DVDs are surprisingly weak. It can send Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks via a digital connection (HDMI, optical and coaxial), but that's about it. Since it lacks a full-function onboard decoder for either of these formats, people who connect only the Philips' analog audio outputs won't get the full surround experience from DVDs. If they select a disc's Dolby Digital soundtrack they'll get just stereo from the front two channels, and if they select DTS they'll get silence. In addition, via HDMI in PCM format, the BDP9000 is again limited to stereo for Dolby Digital and silence for DTS. If all that sounds like a foreign language don't worry; the Philips can deliver the full capabilities both types of DVD soundtracks as long as you make a digital connection to an audio component that has Dolby Digital and DTS decoding. Anyone comparing first-generation Blu-ray players should note that the Panasonic DMP-BD10, for its part, had no problem handling these DVD soundtracks in either bitstream or PCM mode.