Now that BD has well and truly taken hold as the ultimate home video format, we're seeing more of the smaller, boutique manufacturers release Blu-ray Disc hardware. Onkyo's recently released BD-SP807 is the latest to go through our usual battery of tests. Will it come out shining and justify its moderately high price tag? Let's find out.
Compared to machines on sale for the £100-300 mark, the BD-SP807 is more solidly constructed and by far less “plasticky”. Onkyo's AV receivers often attract criticism for their plain, boxy appearance, but I've never been too adverse to this and think that compared to most BD players, the BD-SP807's sleek brushed steel look and accented disc tray look really nice.
The back of the unit features the sort of connectivity you would expect at this price point. There's a single HDMI output for audio and video, Component video outputs, Composite video output (for whatever reason), analogue stereo audio outputs, analogue 7.1 surround sound outputs, and standard digital audio outputs (Optical and Coaxial). There is no SCART connector, something I am glad to be rid of.
The disc transport itself is somewhat sturdy, but bends a little when weight is put on it. I've never experienced any issues with disc trays like this, but it might be relevant for those with young children who like to use force (oh, the stories I've heard). The most disappointing part of the package by far is the remote control, which is lightweight, plasticy, somewhat ugly (especially when compared to the slick machine), but usable enough.
Setup menus and Processing Adjustments
Turning the machine on presents a Blu-ray Disc logo surrounded by a blue velvet background. Pressing the remote's SETUP button naturally presents a setup menu screen:
Here, I'll discuss the most important controls, scattered across the various sub-categories. First, “TV Aspect”. This needs to be set to “16:9 Squeeze” for HDTV displays, so that 16:9 content remains 16:9, and so that 4:3 SD content is correctly pillarboxed rather than being stretched. “HDMI Select” allows you to switch between YCbCr and RGB Output modes - the default setting should be fine on almost all displays. “HDMI Video Resolution” is self-explanatory, and it's in this setting that you can enable the 24p mode for HDTVs made in around 2006 and beyond, which will support 24p input. “Progressive Mode” can be set to Auto1, Auto2, or Video modes, the impacts of which will be described later.
The Audio menu allows the “BD Audio Mode” to be switched between “HD Audio Output” and “Mix Audio Output”, the former option giving higher quality output of HD audio streams, but not allowing you to hear player-overlaid sounds such as button clicks during interactive menus. The “HDMI Audio Out” can be set to “HDMI Multi(Normal)” (Bitstream), “HDMI Multi(LPCM)” (in-player PCM conversion), “HDMI 2ch”, and “Audio Mute”. This is also the screen where you can disable “Down Sampling” (for amps which only support 48khz signals) and “DRC” (Dynamic Range Compression). The HDMI Audio Output must be disabled in order to gain access to the Speaker Setup screen for the analogue surround outputs.
The rest of the controls are called up during disc playback. Pressing MODE on the remote will allow you to select one of 5 Memory presets, all of which have adjustable Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness, Gamma Correction, Colour, and during SD playback, Noise Reduction controls.
All of these are basically self-explanatory. The Sharpness control can blur the picture or sharpen it, and goes from -6 to +6. “0” is the default and neutral option. “Gamma Correction” goes from 0 to +5, and allows you to raise the gamma curve. Finally, the Noise Reduction control has three different modes (notice that these do not correspond to three different levels of severity). Mode 1 is a very weak temporal (“3D-NR”) filter which makes light background noise look a little less visible. Mode 2 is a spatial filter which is designed to cut compression artefacts off before they reach the screen, and tends to make the image look like a wet watercolour painting. Mode 3 combines modes 1 and 2. Unsurprisingly, I left these off.
1080p Disc Playback
Using the Spears & Munsil BD test disc, I checked the core video performance of the BD-SP807. Everything here was good: the player was not adding any Sharpening to the image (unless asked), it was not cropping any pixels from the sides or top and bottom, and it was delivering full Luminance and Chrominance bandwidth, so no picture data was being truncated.
Some BD players have been performing their own abstracted colour alterations (usually affecting the Luminance of the colours rather than the Saturation or Hue), but thankfully there hasn't yet been a case of a player making these unwanted tweaks without an “Off” switch. Thankfully, the BD-SP807 does not suffer from this problem, something I'm not surprised about given the player's THX Certification (I measured against a “known good player” to double-check that everything was in-line with standards, and there were no issues to report).
Translation: 1080p/24 disc playback going to a 1080p/24 display is perfect. The player does not seem to be doing any fancy chroma upsampling (something that appears to be Panasonic's domain) or other flaw-busting features (such as Sony's “Smoothing”), but it is playing back what's on the disc without meddling, which is great.
1080i Disc Playback
1080i performance varies wildly amongst players, but most buyers who are concerned only with 1080p/24 disc performance don't have much to worry about. (For those of you that want guaranteed flawlessness from even the most obscurely mastered titles, there is currently only one player which delivers perfect results, and it's not available outside the US and Canada). Onkyo's player here failed all but one of the 10 gruelling film cadence tests from the Spears & Munsil disc (and this performance wasn't bettered even when changing into the “Auto2” cadence detection mode in the player's menu). The cadence that it DID correctly process, however, is the important 2-2, which worked correctly at 60hz. Sadly, when I fed a custom-generated 50hz 2-2 test pattern to the player, the test failed, which means that with European Blu-ray Discs encoded at 50i containing Film material (yes, they do exist), full vertical resolution will not be visible. This is sadly somewhat common, but fortunately, 1080i content, especially 1080i/50 content, is rare on Blu-ray. Overall, I can't see many people ever running into problems with how the machine processes 1080i content, given how scarce it is.
Another issue to note here though is that the player has the Chroma Upsampling Error when playing back “30p” content. On Blu-ray Disc, 30p content cannot be encoded as progressive, and must be stored on disc as 1080i/60. The player then has the task of performing film cadence detection and restoring the original progressive frames, which this player does manage correctly, as described above. However, on the coloured portions of the image, small jagged lines are visible around saturated colour transitions. However, I must point out that you need a display with full chroma bandwidth to actually notice this error (even then, it's somewhat difficult to see with most content, although it will be affecting the image in a very subtle way). Our reference displays, Pioneer KURO PDP-LX5090s, actually have a chroma bandwidth limitation of their own, which means that the error was almost entirely blurred out on our main display.
For video based 1080i material (think sporting events and some music video programming), the diagonal interpolation of Onkyo's player was good, but not exceptional. Small flickering was visible on steep edges, which is what I would expect from a player at this price point.
480i/576i SD DVD Playback
If you are still able to stand watching DVDs, then you'll be pleased to know that the Onkyo BD-SP807 has some strengths in this area. Firstly, with NTSC titles, it processes ALL of the film cadence tests from the Silicon Optix HQV disc correctly, without so much as a hiccup. The PAL results were quite predictable – the single important 2-2 test passed, but with a minor hiccup about 5 seconds into the sequence. The same results were true of real-world PAL playback, the player would process Film content in Film mode for the most part, but would occasionally fall back to Video mode erroneously, displaying small jaggies.
For Video based material, the performance was similar to the 1080i video quality – very good, but not top-tier. Small jaggies were visible at sharp angles on the rotating bars test pattern, indicating good, but not out-of-this-world good diagonal interpolation. In real world situations, PAL and NTSC video camera material was perfectly watchable. I also checked out some ridiculously saturated, interlaced animated content on the player, and confirmed that it also does not suffer from “Interlaced Chroma Problem” - an issue which looks a lot like Chroma Upsampling Error, but for a different reason. (By the way, with DVD, the player does not have any Chroma Upsampling Error at all).
The quality of the actual scaling (resizing) of SD images to HD was, somewhat predictably, good, but again, not astounding – exactly what I expected for £500. Small ringing was visible around sharp transitions, and the image didn't look as crisp as the HQV-based scaling solution found in high-end AV receivers, but you will have to scour the world to find DVD titles which actually reveal the difference, since most of them are so poorly mastered.
Layer break switchover was suitably short, clocking in at only 1.5 seconds. This is a relief given that most of the player's other functions are somewhat slow.
Unfortunately, the AC inlet on my amplifier (an Onkyo TX-SR876, actually!) snapped off inside the unit just before I was finished testing the company's BD player (and apparently, this flaw is not covered by warranty!). Fortunately, I was able to test the unit on my own sound setup before this fateful occurrence, and all impressions were good. For lack of scientific audio measurements, I can only say that nothing sounded out of place or distorted, and I had a smile on my face at all times.
The player also has a somewhat unique feature called “Rapid Playback”. Provided the soundtrack on the disc is in Dolby Digital format, this feature fast-forwards the disc at 1.3x speed whilst still playing audio. I can't imagine it proving hugely useful for most, although it does remind me of my University days, where I would study for the Czech Film exam by using a similar feature on an older DVD player, essentially skim-reading the film.
Disc Load Times
Like so many higher-end machines, the Onkyo BD-SP807 is tediously slow at times. Using my usual test disc, the player took 1 minute and 40 seconds (yes, 100 seconds) to power on a player with the disc in the tray, load BD-Java content, and display the opening studio logo. (For the record, it took about 23 seconds form power-on to display the player's own startup graphic). This makes the BD-SP807 the slowest-starting player I've seen since I began measurements.
Onkyo BD-SP807 Blu-ray Disc Player Review
High-end, and even mid-range BD player manufacturers have a tough time on their hands. Short of the manufacturers of cheaper players sabotaging the quality of their less pricey decks (something which hasn't happened so far, at least not with any deal of consistency), there's little they can do to differentiate on the quality of the digital output. One manufacturer has introduced higher quality chroma upsampling (but has not kept it as a high-end feature), whereas another has introduced a credible control to remove subtle image artefacts.
Onkyo's player is differentiated from cheaper machines by its 7.1 analogue surround outputs, its excellent build quality, and its unusually good DVD-Video playback. Playback of 1080p discs is accurate to the (small) limitations of the Blu-ray Disc video specification, meaning the player provides excellent performance from these titles, but doesn't do anything to credibly improve them. Its biggest down-sides are the simply “OK” 1080i disc performance (if you'll ever need this) and its tediously slow disc loading times. As a result, it comes recommended for patient users who want to take advantage of an older surround sound amplifier using the player's analogue 7.1 audio outputs. Buyers who want a faster machine would be also be well-served by almost any of the many excellent BD players on the market right now, which means that in this case, there would be no explicit recommendation (nor explicit dismissal) of Onkyo's serviceable player.
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