LG BH-100 Super Multi Blue Player Page 2
But even Toshiba, the major supplier of HD DVD hardware to date, has released just one player that can output 1080p in any form, the $999 HD-XA2. And it can't yet output 1080p/24, despite persistent (unconfirmed) rumors that a 1080p/24 update is planned. So, the Multi Blue's HD DVD video output limitations aren't unique.
However, one alarming sign was that I could not get the Multi Blue to shake hands directly with my reference Marantz VP-11S1 projector in such a way that would allow me to select 1080p for the output from the player. I suspect the Marantz is at fault since choosing the "Auto" output resolution setting on Pioneer Elite's BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player also resulted in a 1080i output from native 1080p BDs. The Marantz is unequivocally capable of accepting 1080p at 24Hz or 60Hz, and the LG did output 1080p/24 to the Anthem AVM 50 controller, so I was able to watch 1080p/24 through the Marantz with the Anthem doing the HDMI switching, which is my base configuration now anyway. But the possibility of being limited to 1080i output because of an HDMI handshake is not a pleasant one, whoever is at fault. HDMI continues to be both a boon and a boondoggle at turns.
On the sonic frontier, there aren't logos anywhere on the player for Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, or DTS-HD Master Audio lossless. According to the manual and menus, however, the Multi Blue does decode "DTS-HD." And according to LG it decodes full-on DTS-HD Master Audio as well. (DTS-HD Master Audio is a lossless multichannel format. DTS-HD can operate at a higher bit rate than standard DTS, but is not lossless.—Ed.)
The player does not have an HDMI 1.3 output and therefore does not have the capability to output Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio as native digital bitstreams over HDMI. That's not a big deal as yet, since this capability is not yet widespread in other players. And AV receivers and pre-pros able to receive and process such data streams are still non-existent.
But what is a very big deal in my opinion is that the Multi Blue cannot output multichannel PCM over HDMI, period. It does not output the native uncompressed PCM streams, available on many Blu-ray discs, over HDMI. Nor does it transcode the new Dolby or DTS codecs (Dolby Digital+, Dolby TrueHD and/or DTS-HD Master Audio) to multichannel PCM for HDMI output. Other than the Xbox 360, I am not aware of another next-gen player for either format that cannot output multichannel PCM over HDMI. Both 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio and native uncompressed PCM tracks are available, but from the multichannel analog outputs only.
Furthermore, while the Multi Blue decodes Dolby TrueHD lossless, it does so in two-channel only, whether you use the HDMI or the analog outputs.
Over HDMI, with the Bitstream output selected (the menu has an option only for the Toslink optical digital output, but its setting affects the HDMI output as well), DD+ is converted to standard DD at a maximum data rate of 640kbps, while DTS-HD or HD Master Audio streams are limited to the "core" 1.5Mbps DTS streams. Same as you get over Toslink.
The bass management in the player allows designation of speakers as Large or Small only (no word anywhere on what the crossover frequency is), with no level settings or channel delays or distance settings either. This is unfortunate as it's not entirely uncommon for the analog pass through on a pre/pro to not allow level or delay adjustments, and as far as full-res playback of the next-gen codecs goes the analog outputs are the only game in town for the Multi Blue.
Toshiba's first-generation HD DVD players and many first generation Blu-ray players are also limited or lacking entirely in next-gen audio support. But on the HD DVD front, all of Toshiba's first-gen players are now compatible with multichannel TrueHD via a firmware update. And all second-gen HD DVD players offer multichannel TrueHD with PCM transcoding over HDMI. While this is LG's first player, it's competing with Toshiba's less expensive second-gen HD DVD players, which are better outfitted in this regard.
On the Blu-ray side, every player we've tested, including the PS3, has the ability to pass BD's uncompressed PCM tracks over HDMI. In lacking this feature, the Multi Blue is truly unique among Blu-ray players!
Although there is an Ethernet "service" port to allow for updates, LG tells me that there is no possible upgrade path to mutltichannel TrueHD or to allow multichannel PCM over HDMI. At the risk of blowing some suspense, this is a crushing blow to my recommending this player.
The Multi Blue is spec'd as Java Standard Profile compatible. Java is to Blu-ray what HDi is to HD DVD—the interactivity layer. This means that the current crop of Java enhanced encoded movies, which are just a handful of titles currently, will run on the Multi Blue, but that it won't be compatible with the BD Live features that are slated to appear on BD titles in the second half of 2007. Nor does it have the capability to playback any picture-in-picture features on a Java encoded Blu-ray Disc.
This limitation also applies to the other dedicated, standalone BD players out there now. While I can't confirm this, I've been told that the PS3 is the only current BD Live compatible player, and that it might be able to play picture-in-picture features when they appear on BD. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention that Sony has announced that its second-gen BD player will be released in summer of '07. It's not known at this point if this player is BD Live or PIP compatible either.
What's fascinating is that while the lack of HDi compatibility prevents the Multi Blue from playing back video-based commentaries or other features that overlay running video on top of running video in HD DVD, the Multi Blue did play back the "Undergound Experience" video feature on the BD of The Descent from Lion's Gate. But that's a sneaker- the video isn't overlaid on the picture in real time, it's an entirely separate encode on a 50GB BD!
I'd also add that the LG handles the Java enhanced titles I have on hand as swiftly and surely as the other standalone players I've got on hand. Or, in the case of the Descent, just as slowly.
Disc Access and Playback
The player loads a mini-logo in just a few seconds, but a "Please Wait" message cycles through the front panel display until the player's ready to go in around 30 seconds and change. This is in line with the best of the standalone players from either next-gen format.
Loading HD DVD discs takes upwards of 40 seconds, which isn't as good as the 25 seconds or so of the second-gen Toshiba HD DVD players. But it's far superior to the minute plus of the first-gen Toshiba players.
On BDs it's just a few seconds slower, loading in around 45 seconds. This is longer than the best BD standalone players, which clock in around 25 seconds or so, but none of the standalones is as quick as the PS3. The PS3 can load to a BD menu in less than ten seconds even when the disc is loaded with the player powered down!
Unlike the Toshiba HD DVD players, this one can "resume" play after the Stop is hit once, although how it accomplishes this is unclear. When the Stop button is pressed a pause and a stop symbol come up simultaneously. I'd been told that HD DVD authoring is what prevents resume play, so I don't know if this player is pausing instead of stopping or if the way it works around HDi has something to do with this, but there it is and it's cool.
Response to scanning and chapter skips is acceptably fast, as is accessing disc menus- although for BDs you hit the remote button called Pop Up instead of Disc Menu. In terms of overall ergonomics and disc access speed with all formats, I have no complaints about the Multi Blue. Its performance in this regard is near the top of the standalone players I've tested, so kudos to LG there.
You Don't Have to be a Math Major At $1,200 the LG isn't cheaper than buying a player for each format, it just hopes to be more convenient. On freeing up rack space it is, but in terms of offering all the features of both formats it's obviously not. For some of you having a single player might be of paramount importance. For those of you for whom it's not—like me—let me mix and match some features, capabilities, and prices.
The PS3 is, to date, the fastest and most fully functional BD player out there, which makes it the safest bet there is in a BD player right now. It is a poor performer with standard DVDs, but it includes HDMI 1.3, full 7.1-channel Dolby TrueHD decoding, and the ability to send either multichannel PCM or TrueHD bitstreams over HDMI. The $600 model also includes wi-fi for super easy firmware updates. PS3 lacks a multichannel analog output, so if your AVR or pre/pro isn't HDMI 1.1 or later, this might disqualify the PS3 for you. The PS3 is also the only BD player I'm aware of that's currently claimed to be BD Live compatible. BD Live are Java-enabled interactivity features are reputedly coming in late 2007. There's no guarantee that any of the other current, standalone BD players will be compatible with these features.