Editors' note: Toshiba has officially announced that it will stop producing HD DVD products, bringing an end to the format war. For that reason, CNET recommends that consumers should avoid buying this player for high-definition movie playback, as very few HD DVD discs will be produced in the future.
When LG introduced the first HD DVD/Blu-ray combo player at CES 2007, it was a groundbreaking moment in consumer electronics. Nobody expected a combo player to be released so soon, and at the time it seemed that maybe it was a way to avoid a long, protracted format war. Fast-forward to 2008 and it seems like everything has changed. Both LG and Samsung have new combo players out, but they seem like ancient history now that Warner has gone Blu and Netflix has stopped ordering HD DVDs. Time flies in the format war.
Combo players have been a tough sell from the start. Aside from the increasing irrelevance of HD DVD, the biggest knock against the BH200 is price. You can currently buy a $400 Sony PlayStation 3, and a $300 Toshiba HD-A35, getting playback of both formats, for less money. The BH200 has made some significant improvements over its predecessor, the BH100, including faster disc loading times, excellent image quality on Blu-ray discs and HD DVD, and full support for interactive HD DVD features. On the other hand, it still has its quirks and limitations, including lackluster high-resolution audio support, no ability to output at 24 frames per second, and an annoying bug on DVD playback that makes it unusable as a DVD player for home theater fans. If you need to play all the high-definition movies currently available, can't deal with two separate players, and don't mind its quirks, the BH200 is a solid combo player--especially from a video quality perspective. On the other hand, the vast majority of buyers are better off sticking with Blu-ray and hoping the format war ends sooner rather than later.
The BH200 is one slick-looking disc player. Like most set-top boxes these days, it is glossy black, but LG manages to pull it off without looking tacky. The center of the unit features both the Blu-ray and the HD DVD logo, and the appropriate logo lights up when you insert a disc, which is a nice touch. Savvy buyers will also notice that the BH200 sports the official HD DVD logo, unlike the BH100, which could play HD DVDs but did not support all of the features required for official certification. The BH200 also features the same illuminated touch-sensitive buttons that the BH100 did, although they are now located on the front of the player instead of the top, which makes it easier to stack components. We're usually not fans of touch-sensitive buttons, but the keys on the BH200 worked every time. To the far right, underneath the playback controls, is a flip-down panel revealing a USB port.
We've complained about ugly, standard-definition menus on other high-definition disc players, but we have no complaints with the BH200--its high-definition menus are among the nicer ones we've seen. The "home" button brings up four straightforward icons for music, photo, music, and setup. The setup menu is easy to navigate and understand, with the exception of picking the correct audio settings (we'll get to that later).
The included clicker is fairly standard. There's a centrally located directional pad, with playback controls (play, pause, etc.) located nearby. Our biggest complaint concerns the lack of button differentiation--especially with the playback controls--which makes it a bit hard to use by feel. Of course, home theater fans can always upgrade to a quality universal remote.
The main feature of the BH200 is that it can play both HD DVD and Blu-ray Discs. In addition, it can play standard DVDs and audio CDs, plus it can read MP3s and JPEG files stored on data discs. For more basic information on the differences between Blu-ray and HD DVD, check out our Quick Guide to HD DVD versus Blu-ray.
One of the more frustrating issues with Blu-ray has been the confusion over Blu-ray profiles, which indicate what features a Blu-ray player supports. The good news if that the BH200 supports Blu-ray Profile 1.1, which means it can play back picture-in-picture commentary tracks available on some newer Blu-ray Discs coming out this year. It does not currently support Blu-ray Profile 2.0--which allows for Internet-enabled features--but neither does any other current player. For a more comprehensive explanation, check out our Blu-ray profile explainer.
HD DVD hasn't had the same confusion with "profiles" because HD DVD has tougher requirements to acquire the official HD DVD logo. As we mentioned before, the BH100 did not feature the official HD DVD logo because it lacked the ability to access interactive HD DVD menus, which are powered by technology known as HDi. The BH200, however, does feature the official HD DVD logo, largely because it has full support for HDi--which means it can do picture-in-picture commentary tracks, as well as stream content off the Internet on certain discs.
Soundtrack support for high-definition disc players has always been confusing, but getting a handle on exactly what the BH200 can and can't do is mind-boggling. While the BH200 sports the Dolby TrueHD logo on the outside of the player, it's only capable of decoding Dolby TrueHD soundtracks to two-channel PCM. You do have the option to re-encode it to DTS to get multichannel, but Dolby TrueHD is essentially a standard feature on high-definition players now--there's no excuse for not having multichannel decoding. On the DTS side, the BH200 sports the logo for DTS-HD Advanced Digital Out, which means that the player should be capable of outputting high-resolution DTS soundtracks like DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS-HD High Resolution in bit-stream format. Unfortunately, when we connected the BH200 to our Denon AVR-3808CI via HDMI and set in "Primary Pass-through" mode, we only got standard DTS. The bottom line is that this definitely isn't the player for audiophiles, and home theater enthusiasts should study page 36 of the manual (PDF link) before making a purchase.