Our favourite spinners of the last 12 Months
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166So you had a few Blu-rays waiting under the tree for you on Christmas morning and perhaps even some DVDs from less clued-up family members. It’s OK, you can forgive them, it is Christmas after all; just make sure you drop enough hints in the next 12 months to avoid it happening again.With movies in hand you’re going to need something to play them on, of course, and we’ve seen a number of excellent players in 2012. Whilst you may already have a capable player, you may not have access to all the online content provided by the manufacturers via their Smart TV platforms and most of the spinners we’ve seen in 2012 will solve that problem for you; or perhaps you’ve upgraded your TV recently and hopped on to the 3D bandwagon but your current Blu-ray Player isn’t up to the task of delivering pictures in the third dimension. In either case you’ll need to be considering a nice, shiny new bit of kit and we’ve complied this guide to help you through that tricky decision making process.LG BP420.Kudos to LG for producing a sub £100 Blu-ray player that doesn’t feel like it rolled off the production line of a 2nd rate toy manufacturer; the LG BP420 feels very solid, indeed, with barely a hint of its entry-level credentials reflected in the build quality. LG always pay due care and attention to their user interfaces and the BP420 is no exception. Menus are extremely well designed and never throw too much information at the user in a single screen. Despite the budget status of the BP420, that’s not stopped LG from packing an awful lot of smart features in to the player. As well as a whole host of video on demand services, including iPlayer, YouTube, LOVEFILM and Netflix there’s plenty of diversionary games, education and lifestyle widgets. Streaming media support is also very good and the BP420 generally played nice with a number of media servers on our Windows 7 PC.
As hoped and expected, at default settings, the LG BP420 added none of its own influence to 1080p Blu-ray discs. We checked with the relevant measuring equipment and patterns as well as real world material well known to us and found near identical output to a range of other BD spinners we have about the place. The same was equally true for 3D Blu-ray discs but where the processing gets to truly show its abilities – with interlaced and standard definition content – the LG BP420 was not found wanting either with some excellent scaling and deinterlacing capabilities. For less than a £100 the LG BP420 represents superb value, delivering glorious HD pictures whilst treating your old DVD’s with the utmost respect.Sony BDP-S790.As we have come to expect from Sony, the S790 is a thing of beauty with an elegant design, curved matte black chassis and brushed metal effect on the top. The touch sensitive controls add a hint of sophistication and the build quality is very good giving the player a nice solid feel. As far as features go the S790 is at the front of the pack, with just about every modern convenience that you're likely to find in a BD player. There's 3D playback, of course, along with SACD support and you can also connect a USB drive to access content. The S790 has both built-in WiFi and a LAN port to connect to your home network and stream media content and we found the file support to be reasonably comprehensive, except for lossless audio. Sony's Smart platform is very Video-in-Demand heavy, offering a wide choice of catch-up and premium video services and music services as well. Sony's Remote Control app is one of the best available - smart, slick and very effective - allowing you to ‘catch and throw’ the built in web browser between your tablet or smartphone and the TV.
The inclusion of 4K upscaling makes for great marketing literature even if it is rather pointless in reality but the video processing on the S790 is excellent and as a result standard definition material looks fantastic. The S790 is equally assured with 1080i content and as long as you select the Direct picture quality mode, the 1080p and 3D playback is flawless. In fact when it comes to delivering video and audio over HDMI, the Sony is one of the best players available.Panasonic DMP-BDT500.The DMP-BDT500 certainly looks like a flagship player with an attractive and suitably high-end look. The larger dimensions, solid feet and increased weight, also help provide a sense of higher quality and the BDT500 is very quiet in operation. The rear connections are reasonably comprehensive and include twin HDMI outputs and 7.1-channel analogue outputs. Setup is straightforward and thanks to the built-in WiFi, connecting the BDT500 to the internet and your home network is very easy. The BDT500 also includes WiFi Direct (WiDi) so that you can connect directly to similarly capable devices without going through your router. The inclusion of VIERA Connect allows access to a host of applications, including new additions like Netflix, as well as the VIERA Connect Market, where you can download additional apps and games. As far as connectivity goes, the BDT500 is fully DLNA compliant and can stream all the most common files over your home network and you can also access content via disc, USB or SD Card.
The BDT500 offered excellent load times, especially in Quick Start mode and the energy efficiency was very impressive with the player only drawing 10W in operation. Actual playback over HDMI was first rate and with 2D high definition content the BDT500 delivered excellent images that remained free of any unwanted processing. The same was true of 3D content and the resulting images were equally as good and free of any noticeable artefacts. When it came to standard definition content the BDT500 was very capable, delivering nicely scaled images without blurring or ringing. Overall, we found that the BDT500 performed very competently in terms of audio quality and accuracy over both HDMI and the 7.1-channel analogue outputs. The Panasonic DMP-BDT500 is a great all round performer. It is attractively designed and well built, offers extensive connections and features and is capable of delivering a very solid audio and video performance. Anyone looking for a decent Blu-ray player that can hold its own in a competitive marketplace, should definitely consider the BDT500.Cambridge Audio Azur 651BD.The Cambridge Audio Azur 651BD universal Blu-ray player is a fantastic machine but then given its shared pedigree with the Oppo BDP-93 that didn't really surprise us. The build quality is excellent with a solid and well-engineered feel to the chassis that delivers almost silent operation and eliminates vibrations. At the rear is a comprehensive set of connections, with something for every occasion. The player is highly responsive, very speedy at loading discs and incredibly eco friendly. In fact the only thing that lets the side down is the remote control, which is very unintuitive and frustrating to use - a rethink is required there we feel.
When it comes to spinning discs the 651 proves to be genuinely universal, happily playing Blu-rays (2D and 3D), DVDs, SACDs, DVD-As, HDCDs and CDs. As you would expect from a player capable of 1080p24 playback, Blu-rays look fantastic with the 651BD producing a clean and unadulterated image. The Marvell QDEO video processing is equally impressive and results in some superb deinterlacing and scaling, with the player passing every test we threw at it. The video processing is so good in fact, that it might well give your old DVD collection a whole new lease of life. The 651BD is also a very capable audio performer and whether it was analogue or digital, the audio sounded fantastic. The 651BD isn't cheap compared to many other 3D Blu-ray players but it offers a superb level of performance which justifies the additional cost. Once you include its universal playback capabilities, build quality, disc loading speeds, ease of use and the incredible video processing, the 651BD becomes a very attractive proposition.Oppo BDP-103.The BDP-103 uses essentially the same chassis as the previous BDP-103 but Oppo has made some subtle improvements based on our feedback. In fact this is one area where they are exceptionally good, not only in fine tuning their designs but also regularly releasing firmware updates when any bugs are reported. The front facia is basically the same but the buttons are easier to locate in the dark and there's now a MHL-compliant HDMI input. At the rear are still twin HDMI outputs but there's now two HDMI input, along with 2 USB ports. The remote control remains a text book example of thoughtful design, with large, intuitively placed buttons and backlight making it easy to use in the dark. The build quality is still superb and as a result the BDP-103 is very quiet in operation, whilst the addition of dual-core processing means that disc loading is fast and navigation very responsive.
Thanks to the Easy Setup Wizard, you'll have the BDP-103 up and running in no time and a concise, informative and easy to navigate menu system makes fine tuning the setup even easier. The BDP-103 doesn't have Wi-Fi built-in but it comes with wireless dongle and now includes an expanded internet platform, although if we're being honest it's still a bit of a disappointment. Whilst it makes sense to include Video on Demand services, and we welcome the inclusion of Netflix and YouTube, the majority of the other features don't work in the UK. On the plus side the network streaming capabilities are much improved and the file support is excellent. The inclusion of 4K upscaling and 2D to 3D conversion feel like gimmicks to help with marketing but the addition of access to the Gracenote global media database and a remote app for Android/iOS are actually quite useful.
The BDP-103 is marketed as a universal layer and it certainly is, providing playback of CD, HDCD, DVD, DVD-Audio, SACD, Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray. In terms of its performance, the BDP-103 was superb with a flawless delivery of both 3D and 1080p that was free of any unwanted processing. The handling of 1080i was equally as impressive and the deinterlacing and scaling of DVDs is of a reference standard, equalling some of the best video processors. The audio performance was equally good, regardless of what audio format you chose. The BDP-103 includes 7.1 outputs if your receiver doesn't support HDMI and our only minor complaint was the lack of dedicated stereo outputs.
The BDP-93 was a tough act to follow but Oppo have managed it, delivering a new player with even better build quality, more features and an equally superb performance - all for the same price. Whilst there are cheaper players available that will play Blu-rays just as well, if you're looking for an uncompromising universal player then the Oppo BDP-103 should be at the top of your list.
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