The BD-HP20U's connectivity package is solid. The main connection is the HDMI output, which is capable of outputting 1080p video at 24 frames per second, plus high-resolution audio. High-definition video can also be output over the component video outputs (limited to 1080i), and there are also legacy S-Video and composite video outputs. For audio, there are 5.1 multichannel analog audio outputs, standard stereo analog audio outputs, plus both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs. The biggest omission is the lack of an Ethernet port, which means firmware updates will require you to burn a disc.
Quick Start performance
The standout feature of the BD-HP20U is "Quick Start," which is designed to address the sluggish load times that have plagued Blu-ray players. After we enabled the feature in the setup menu, it lived up to its name to some extent. With the BD-HP20U turned off, we hit power and within 10 seconds Mission: Impossible III was loaded. While this performance is impressive--most players take closer to a full minute to load a disc when the unit is off--the technology behind it isn't. Sharp accomplishes those faster load times by essentially leaving on the BD-HP20U all the time--even when you turn it off. We were able to confirm this using our Extech power meter, and comparing power consumption with the player in standby mode. With Quick Start enabled, the BD-HP20U consumes 18.8 watts, and with Quick Start disabled, it consumes just 1.8 watts. Considering the BD-HP20U uses about 21 watts when in operation, enabling Quick Start is about equal to leaving the player on all the time.
Another strange thing about Quick Start is that it only improves load times when you already have a Blu-ray Disc in the player and is turned off, which is a pretty rare real-world circumstance. Also, discs that use the increasingly common Java-based menus, such as Spiderman 3 or any of the Pirates of Caribbean series, don't start any faster than normal. With the player on, Spidey took 2 minutes and 5 seconds to load, while Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest took 3 minutes and 21 seconds.
When we couldn't use Quick Start with non-Java-based discs, load times were just as sluggish as most other players. With the player on, and us simply inserting the disc and closing the tray, M:I:III took 36 seconds to load, and with the player off and Quick Start off, it took 59 seconds to load. We really wanted to like the Quick Start feature, because Blu-ray load times can be so frustrating, but at the end of the day it's just not that useful.
To kick off our Blu-ray performance testing, we looked at Silicon Optix's HQV test disc on Blu-ray, and were disappointed to see the BD-HP20U's failing marks on both parts of the Film Resolution Loss Test. As the vast majority of Blu-ray content is film-based, these tests are the most important. On the first part of the test, the BD-HP20U failed to deliver a crisp, stable image, with the test patterns flickering and strobing as the image moved back and forth. The next part of the test involves a slow panning shot across Raymond James Stadium, and it looked about as bad as we've seen it--there was lots of moire and jaggies in the stands.
The defects in BD-HP20U's image quality were apparent in program material as well. The beginning of chapter 8 of Mission Impossible: III is a good scene for detecting defects in high-def video performance, and moire was very apparent in the stairs as the camera panned down. Similarly, at the beginning of chapter 16, we could see jaggies on the trimming of the limo as it drove across the frame. A few minutes later, we spotted some additional jaggies on the American flag painted on a jet. The artifacts weren't just limited to the scenes we're calling out either--we were noticing video-processing issues at a pretty consistent pace in M:I:III.
We switched discs to Ghost Rider. Toward the end of Chapter 6 is another torture test for 1080i deinterlacing, and the BD-HP20U came up short again, as we could make out moire; in the grille of the RV in the background as the camera panned up. About a minute later, as Nicholas Cage surveys this apartment, more jaggies can be seen by his motorcycle and the rack behind it. Like in M:I:III, we continued to see moire and jaggies as we watched the movie. The errors didn't crop up in every movie we watched--Apocalypto and Spiderman 3 looked mostly artifact-free--but it was noticeable enough when it did happen to be bothersome.
The main culprit of the moire and jaggies is most likely faulty 1080i deinterlacing by the BD-HP20U. Owners of high-end HDTVs with good 1080i deinterlacing can opt to set the BD-HP20U in 1080i mode and let their HDTV handle the processing, but a Blu-ray player shouldn't require an expensive HDTV to get solid performance. Home theater enthusiasts should also note that the video-processing flaws went away when the player was set to 1080p output at 24 frames per second (also known as 1080p/24). Presumably this is because the BD-HP20U takes the 1080p/24 video straight off the disc, without needing to deinterlace the video as it does when it creates a 1080p/60 signal. Unfortunately, most displays can't accept a 1080p/24 source, and even those that can don't always properly display it, so the vast majority of people will experience the previously mentioned defects.
We also felt like the BD-HP20U was a bit underpowered. For example, when loading the menus on Spiderman 3 for the first time, the background video was stuttering as the BD-HP20U just couldn't keep up. Along the same lines, flipping through scenes on the interactive menu was sluggish, with there being a slight delay between pushing the button and the menu responding--maybe we're just spoiled by the superfast PlayStation 3.
Standard DVD performance
Many viewers are still going to want to watch standard-definition DVD discs with the BD-HP20U, so we also put it through our full DVD-testing paces. We started off with Silicon Optix's HQV test suite, upscaled to 1080p over the BD-HP20U's HDMI output connected to the Sony KDL-46XBR4. It didn't quite pass the initial resolution test, as the most detailed section of the test pattern looked soft, which means it doesn't pass the full resolution of DVDs. The next jaggies tests weren't any better--it performance was mediocre on a test with a rotating white line and downright poor on three pivoting lines--each of which was filled with jaggies. We moved onto HQV's 2:3 pull-down test, and the BD-HP20U came up short again, with some of the most distracting moire we've seen on a DVD player. The BD-HP20U even struggled with the relatively easy scrolling titles test, as both vertically and horizontally scrolling titles stuttered along, and the background images filled with jaggies. In all, it was about as poor as we've seen an upconverting DVD player perform on the HQV tests.
Even though the BD-HP20U performed poorly with test patterns, its real-world DVD performance didn't show nearly as many problems. We took a look at the introduction to Star Trek: Insurrection, a standard torture test for 2:3 pull-down performance on film-based material, and the BD-HP20U passed, clearly rendering the curved hulls of the boats and railings on the bridge. Next, we watched the opening sequence of Seabiscuit, which often gives players problems, and we didn't see any of the usual jaggies. It wasn't a standout upconverter, but at least most of the major issues from the HQV tests weren't apparent in program material.
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