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Cambridge Audio Azur 651BD 3D Blu-ray Disc Player Review

Cambridge Audio release a familiar looking 3D Blu-ray player

Home AV Review

73

Highly Recommended
Cambridge Audio Azur 651BD 3D Blu-ray Disc Player Review
SRP: £499.00

Introduction

When you say Cambridge Audio to someone in the UK, they will most likely think of Richer Sounds due to their exclusive deal with that particular discount retailer in the UK. However if you go outside the UK and mention the British manufacturer's name, people are more likely to think high end audio products that offer quality and performance. Up until now, we haven't had an opportunity to review any Cambridge Audio products here at AVForums, so we were quite excited when their Azur 651BD universal 3D Blu-ray player arrived at our door.

The first thing we noticed was that the specifications for the 651BD looked quite familiar and sure enough the disc spinner uses a lot of the same technology found in Oppo's BDP-93. This is no bad thing, as the BDP-93 is an excellent universal 3D Blu-ray player that was awarded a 'Highly Recommended' badge when we reviewed it here. In terms of the 651BD, we have the same impressive list of features including Blu-ray, DVD, SACD, DVD-A and CD playback, Marvell QEDO video processing, dual HDMI outputs and 7.1-channel analogue outputs with 24-bit/192kHz DACs. So can the BD651 impress as much as Oppo's justly lauded award winner, let's take a look and see.

Design and Connectivity

The 651BD sports an attractive industrial and machined look, with a thick brushed metal facia and wrap around metal chassis. The build quality appears excellent, with a solid construction and low resonance acoustical dampening. As a result the player eliminates vibrations and is very quiet when spinning discs. The disc tray slides out smoothly and quietly, reinforcing the feeling of a high quality, well built product.

The understated charcoal-grey colour scheme and uncluttered facia, gives the player an elegant appearance. The disc tray is at the top centre of the facia, with the display panel directly below it. The display uses a bright blue colour scheme and it is both easy to read and informative, providing the user with all the pertinent information. The display was quite bright but it can be dimmed or turned off via an option in the Device Setup menu. To the right of the display there are buttons for basic controls like eject, play, stop and skip; the good thing about these buttons is that they are raised, making them easy to find in the dark. To the left of the display is the power button, the infra-red receiver and, behind a plug cover, a USB socket.

Cambridge Audio Azur 651BD

The 651BD's rear connections are laid out in an identical fashion to the Oppo and are equally as impressive, offering two HDMI v1.4a outputs, a composite video and a component video output both of which use RCA connectors. There is a second USB socket, a LAN port (in case you don’t have a wireless router), a connector for the external IR sensor, a digital audio out using both optical and coaxial and an RS-232C connector for custom installers. One new addition is an e-SATA (external Serial ATA) port which allows for a faster connection when playing content from external sources. The 651BD includes 7.1 analogue audio outputs via RCA connectors for those that don’t have HDMI capable receivers. The only thing missing is a dedicated stereo analogue output but you can downconvert the 7.1 channels to two channels if you want stereo audio output. At the rear you will also find the socket for the detachable 3-pin power cable.

The excellent build quality and design of the player itself was somewhat let down by a very poorly designed remote control. Although reasonably heavy in the hand and comfortable to hold, the silver and black plastic casing gave it a slightly cheap look and feel. The big problem though is the layout and size of the rubber buttons, which are totally unintuitive. All the buttons are tiny and the exact same size, laid out symmetrically either side of the navigation and enter buttons, which makes finding the button you want very difficult. The labelling is written on each button in tiny lettering, making it very hard to read and with no backlight the remote is almost impossible to use in the dark. Cambridge Audio really need to have a rethink and perhaps look to the Oppo as an example of how to design an effective remote.

Setup/Menus

The 651BD clearly shares the same system architecture as the Oppo, with an identical menu, display and setup wizard. Setting up is very straightforward for anyone using HDMI as a connection and the addition of a second HDMI output is a nice touch and allows the 651BD to pass video to two displays simultaneously or to pass video to one display and audio to a receiver if perhaps that receiver is unable to handle 3D. Alternatively, you might want to connect one HDMI output to a display and one to an external video processor if again that processor is unable to pass 3D. Whichever combination you choose, however, it is important to remember that the output labelled HDMI1 is the one that uses the dedicated Marvell DE2750 chipset; the second output HDMI2 uses an alternative Mediatek MTK8530 decoder chipset built into the player. The 651BD also includes a Source Direct function which allows a user with an external video processor to output the original video content without any processing, so for example Blu-rays will be output at 1080p24 and PAL DVDs will be output at 576i.

For audio the set-up procedure is also fairly straightforward and largely depends on what kind of system the user has. If the users' receiver can decode high definition audio formats (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio) then the 651BD can pass the audio as bit-stream via HDMI. Alternatively the decoding can be done internally and the 651BD can pass the audio as PCM, either via HDMI or using the 7.1 analogue outputs. If you have DVD-Audio or SACD discs the player can also pass their audio as PCM via HDMI or the analogue outputs and, in the case of SACD, the audio can be passed as bitstream using the DSD (Direct Stream Digital) codec - if your receiver can decode it. The same is true of HDCDs, which the 651BD can either decode internally or allow the receiver to decode.

The menu system is well designed - it is intuitive, attractive and very responsive. When you first turn on the 651BD there is an Easy Setup Wizard that guides you through the basic setup of the player for settings such as the primary video output, the resolution, the aspect ratio and the audio settings. All the more detailed setup menus can be found by pressing Setup on the remote, even if a disc is playing, which means you don't have to leave playback mode to alter the settings. This flexibility is wonderful for comparing the impact of different options and makes any changes in settings much easier to detect. It is certainly an improvement on many other machines which force the user to stop a disc before entering the setup menu and then starting the disc again after the changes have been made; this can be especially time consuming with certain Blu-rays.

Cambridge Audio Azur 651BD
Cambridge Audio Azur 651BD

The Setup menu is broken down into six sub-menus - Playback Setup, Video Setup, Audio Format Setup, Audio Processing, Device Setup and Network Setup. Within Playback Setup are the controls for SACD and DVD-Audio playback as well as functions such as languages and parental control. The Audio Format Setup sub-menu allows the user to set the secondary audio used for commentaries etc. and whether the HDMI output will pass PCM or bitstream. In addition, you can set the optical or coaxial to pass either PCM or bitstream as well as choose if the DSD decoding for SACDs and any HDCD decoding for CDs is done in the player or passed directly to your receiver for decoding. Whichever combinations you choose, the 651BD is capable of passing audio up to 192kHz at 24-bit over 7.1 channels. The Audio Processing sub-menu is used for setting up the speaker configuration, distance and levels as well as the crossover frequency if you are going to decode the audio in the 651BD and pass via the 7.1 analogue audio outputs. There is also a dynamic range control for smoothing the audio during low level listening.

Cambridge Audio Azur 651BD
Cambridge Audio Azur 651BD

The Video Setup sub-menu offers all of the controls related to the image including selecting which HDMI output is the Primary Output. There is a 3D Mode setting which is best left to Auto and you can also set the diagonal screen size of your 3D display. There is a control for the aspect ratio as well the TV system and since most modern displays can handle PAL, NTSC and 1080p24 content we would advise putting the setting on Multi-system. The default is PAL but this converts everything to 50Hz including 1080p24 content unless you have selected On in the 1080p24 Output menu. In this setting the default is Off but we would recommend the Auto setting and then the 651BD can automatically detect 1080p24 and pass it to your display. There are also a number of Display Options, the most useful of which is the Subtitle Shift which allows the user to move the subtitles up. This is a very handy function if you have a constant height setup with a 2.35:1 screen and the subtitles appear in the black bars on a particular disc, so if you watch a lot of subtitled movies you might consider buying the 651BD for this feature alone.

Within Video Setup there is also an HDMI Options sub-menu which allows the user to select the Colour Space for both HDMI1 and HDMI2. This setting defaults to Auto which allows the 651BD to select the colour space supported by the user’s display. If you wish you can select a specific colour space such as YCbCr 4:2:2 which is closest to the YCbCr 4:2:0 colour space that discs are encoded in. There is also an option to select Deep Colour for both the HDMI1 and HDMI2 outputs which can transmit the video image at up to 12 bits per a channel as compared to the standard 8 bits per a channel. Since the discs are encoded at 8 bits per a channel we would recommend leaving this setting at its Off default position.
Cambridge Audio Azur 651BD

Finally within the Video Setup sub-menu there is a Picture Adjustment menu which includes Brightness, Contrast, Hue (Tint), Saturation (Colour), Sharpness, Noise Reduction, Colour Enhancement and Contrast Enhancement controls. These controls can be applied to either HDMI1, HDMI2 or the Analogue Video outputs and up to 3 different Picture Modes can be saved. Of course, if your display is correctly setup then you should leave the Brightness, Contrast, Hue and Saturation controls at their default setting of zero. We would also leave the Colour and Contrast Enhancement controls at their default setting of zero for similar reasons. Increasing the Sharpness control to 'sharpen' the image will only add ringing and other artefacts but reducing the sharpness control will slightly blur the image which could prove useful to hide compression artefacts on standard definition DVDs. The Noise Reduction control could also be used to reduce compression artefacts such as mosquito noise on standard definition DVDs. However, when it comes to a properly mastered Blu-ray, always make sure these settings are all set to zero because a pristine 1080p image just doesn’t need any additional processing.

Cambridge Audio Azur 651BD
Cambridge Audio Azur 651BD

The Device Setup sub-menu includes information about the latest firmware as well as the option to be notified of any new firmware upgrades. These upgrades can be done a number of ways, either via disc, USB or through your network (LAN or WiFi). There is also a control for the Remote Code in case the default setting interferes with other devices, as well as a control for HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control). Finally there is the control for dimming or turning off the display as well as a menu for the persistent storage. 651BD has 1GB of internal storage but more can be added via USB. The 651BD supports a wide range of media and file formats which can be accessed via discs, USB or eSATA drives. The final menu page is Network Setup which is where you select your method of connecting to the internet (Wireless or LAN), setup the connection and select My Network and BD-Live Network Access. The 651BD doesn't come with a WiFi dongle included but if you have one it is easy to connect the 651BD to your wireless network.

Cambridge Audio Azur 651BD
Cambridge Audio Azur 651BD

There is a Home page on the 651BD which is fairly rudimentary but allows you to access Music, Photos and Movies via disc or USB, as well as access My Network. You can access the internet using the 651BD but your choices are fairly limited with just the option to access either Picasa or YouTube. You can also use the Home page to access the Setup menu but there is a dedicated button on the remote which is quicker.

3D Playback

As we often mention in our reviews, all 3D Blu-ray players should be able to output the content on the discs equally as well over HDMI because it is a digital signal but the overall 3D performance of the 651BD was excellent with the content playing flawlessly on our reference display. The 651BD handled the high definition audio equally as well and the resulting experience was incredibly immersive with the added dimensionality of the 3D image, combined with the enveloping surround sound. We tried a number of 3D Blu-rays and they all played first time without any compatibility or handshaking issues.

1080p Playback

As with the 3D performance, the digital nature of the content means that any Blu-ray player capable of outputting 1080p24 should be identical to any other when using the HDMI output. The 651BD performed just as well as all the other Blu-ray players that we have tested and it correctly output the video without any issues as demonstrated by the multiburst and zone plate patterns on our Spears & Munsil disc. That doesn’t mean that the 651BD’s performance wasn’t excellent because it was, our point is that all correctly performing Blu-ray players are capable of the same performance in the digital realm. To ensure that the Marvell QDEO video processor wasn’t performing any unwanted processing we measured a [tip=Greyscale]greyscale[/tip] pattern using both the 1080p setting and the Source Direct setting which bypasses the processor. Thankfully the results were the same so there is no back door processing going on with 1080p content.

1080i Playback

When it comes to 1080i content the opportunity for the player itself to add value is far greater than it is with 1080p content. The ability of the player to detect film content inside the interlaced signal and correctly deinterlace it without introducing artefacts is dependent on the quality of the processing in the player itself. The 651BD uses Marvell's Kyoto-G2 video processor combined with second generation QDEO technology and it is exceptionally good, passing every single cadence test on both our Spear & Munsil and HQV Blu-rays. We also used the HQV Blu-ray disc to check the quality of the video deinterlacing. This disc has a jaggies pattern that uses three rotating bars and with the 651BD all three bars were smooth with no jaggies. The 651BD also had no problems with the video resolution loss test, correctly processing the moving portion of the image and leaving the background free of artefacts. The 651BD was also able to handle discs with film content that is encoded at 1080i/50Hz without any problems. Whilst there isn’t a great deal of 1080i content on Blu-ray it is good to know that the 651BD is capable of such excellent performance and if you do have any 1080i content the player will be able to output it flawlessly.

480i/576i Playback

Overall the 651BD’s performance with both NTSC and PAL content on our test discs was of a reference quality and using the HQV DVDs it was able to fully reproduce the SMPTE colour bar tests for both PAL and NTSC, correctly scaling the full 576i/50Hz and 480i/60Hz images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. With the video deinterlacing tests the results were also excellent, the 651BD reproduced the rotating line without producing any jaggies, even at the most extreme angles. In the motion adaptive deinterlacing test the performance remained superb with all three moving lines being reproduced correctly, even on the bottom line. The 651BD also had no problems in resolving all the fine brickwork in the detail tests on both the PAL and NTSC discs.

The 651BD’s performance was equally impressive with the film detail test, correctly locking on to the image resulting in no aliasing in the speedway seats behind the race car. In the cadence tests the 651BD also performed flawlessly, correctly detecting the most common types 2:3 (NTSC - USA/Japan) and 2:2 (PAL - European) format as well as many of the more obscure variations. The 651BD also had no problems with the test displaying film material with scrolling video text, which was always clearly readable without any shredding. This was a superb performance by the 651BD and represents and represents a reference level of video processing.

Subjective Audio Tests

Unlike the video performance which can be measured using a series of established tests and viewed on a calibrated reference monitor, things are a little more subjective when it comes to the audio performance. As with video, the audio will also be subject to the quality of the system being used, how it is setup and how it has been calibrated. In addition, since most people will be sending the audio as a digital bit-stream over HDMI, this means that the digital to analogue conversion is actually being handled by their receiver or audio processor.

We tried a number of different audio formats on the 651BD including multichannel PCM, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA soundtracks from Blu-rays and Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks from DVDs. We also listened to the multichannel audio from SACD and DVD-Audio discs as well as two channel audio from SACDs and CDs, including HDCDs. We tried different methods of connecting the 651BD to our reference receiver, including HDMI, optical, coaxial and analogue multichannel cables and we also switched between bitstream and PCM. We even tried splitting the HDMI using the two outputs, sending video to a display with one and just audio to a receiver with the other.

The result of all these permutations was that we could not detect any differences between any of these modes and every format sounded wonderful. The 651BD is clearly a very capable audio performer and whether it was DTS-HD Master Audio or a stereo CD the audio sounded fantastic. The 651BD was also able to detect all the different discs and audio formats without any problems and played each one back flawlessly.

Disc Load Times

The 651BD was incredibly fast at both powering up and loading discs, taking less than 5 seconds to power up and extend the disc tray. The loading times of discs will vary from studio to studio and depend on how much BD-Live and Java content there is on the disc but on average discs were loading up in about 25 to 35 seconds which is excellent.

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Universal playback (2D & 3D Blu-ray, DVD, SACD, DVD-A, CD)
  • Reference video processing
  • Excellent build quality and quiet operation
  • Very fast load and response times
  • Easy to use with well designed menu system
  • Two HDMI outputs
  • 7.1 Analogue audio outputs

Cons

  • Remote control is poorly designed
  • No dedicated stereo analogue outputs
  • Limited internet functionality
  • More expensive than many other 3D Blu-ray players

Cambridge Audio Azur 651BD 3D Blu-ray Disc Player Review

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. The front facia is a thick brushed metal affair. At the rear is a comprehensive set of connections, with something for every occasion, including dual HDMI outputs, USB port, LAN socket, e-SATA port, RS232 interface, component video, digital audio and 7.1-channel analogue outputs. 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 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 was also able to detect all the different discs and audio formats without any problems and played each one back flawlessly.

The obvious question is how does the 651BD compare to the Oppo BDP-93, given that the two share so much DNA? Well, based upon our experiences, the two offer identical audio and video performance and any differences are largely cosmetic and thus a matter of personal taste. The BDP-93 does have the edge in two areas though, firstly it comes with a WiFi dongle included and secondly it has a far better remote control. However, overall the 651BD is the equal of the Oppo and although it isn't cheap compared to many other 3D Blu-ray players, 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 and one that we are happy to highly recommend.

Highly Recommended

Energy Consumption

For the eco conscious amongst you, the 651BD performed superbly in our energy consumption tests, using about 18W when not playing a disc and 22W when in full flow. In standby, the 651BD used so little power that our meter didn't register which means it was less than 0.5W.

Scores

Picture Quality

.
9

Sound Quality

.
9

Features

.
.
.
7

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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