The Old-School Approach
With Blu-ray player prices dropping like flies, you'd better have something extra special if you want to keep charging a premium. The Sharp BD-HP52U doesn't quite have the bells and whistles of its competitors -- at least not yet, though one popular feature (Netflix streaming) will be coming soon.
One thing the Sharp BD-HP52U does have is the company's AQUOS brand name, and no other manufacturer can stake claim to that. However, does the company think that a fancy name and RSS feeds will get customers to cough up $379.99 (list)? To quote heavy metal gods Judas Priest: "You've got another thing coming."
Don't start flashing the devil horns just yet. We took a quick peek at Amazon and found that this player is actually selling for around $200. That's a bit more respectable, especially when compared to what we're seeing in the market today. It also allows us some breathing room when looking at the features in this review.
On the outside, the BD-HP52U does look very nice. It's slick, slim and shiny black. The back had a few surprises, such as no S-Video and no multichannel analog audio outputs, but these are hardly essential to most users in this digital age. The good news: The player can decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio to PCM as well as bitstreaming it over HDMI. Also, you'll find an RS-232C port here which is handy if you plan to integrate the player into an automated home theater system.
If you've got an older receiver without HDMI, you will be best off using the fiberoptic digital outputs. This will give you plain old 5.1 channel Dolby Digital, DTS and two-channel PCM, which can still sound excellent but not quite as full or immersive as Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio or multi-channel PCM. If you want more robust audio up to 7.1 channels, then you'll finally have an excuse to upgrade that receiver. Personally, we are HDMI snobs, and that's how we roll. Thankfully, we had our own HDMI cable, because that's how Sharp (and pretty much every other manufacturer) rolls as well, yet there is no HDMI cable in the box. The company did throw in a standard white/red/yellow composite A/V cable, which we kept in its nice plastic packaging.
Another little surprise: The USB slot on the back. True, this has become the norm. However, in this case, this is more of a necessity. That's right, kids; despite Sharp's $380 list price, they didn't add any type of internal storage on this unit. That means, if you want to enjoy BD Live, be prepared to plug in a little something extra for the effort - a USB drive of at least 1GB in capacity (not included).
Last, but not least, the remote is compact and easy to understand. It has 44 buttons to cover all of the basics. There's nothing flashy, but we were pleased with the feel of the unit, as well as how everything was laid out. However, if your finger gets a little itchy, you will be treated to an on-screen "Cannot Operate" message. The remote does react, but doesn't always do it quickly.
Let's Get Fired Up!
The first time we started up the BD-HP52U, we were treated to a big "HELLO" on the front panel's LCD, as well as a flashing blue ring in the center of that panel. Within 20 seconds, we could see the Sharp logo on-screen and a message that no disc could not be found.
Of course, the BD-HP52U needs discs. That's its main function; it eats them up -- thankfully, not literally. However, this is not without some effort. It's interesting to note that the BD-HP52U does not respond to just pushing the good old play button when you have a disc in the open tray. However, upon closing the tray, each of our test discs fired up automatically.
Our standard DVD (Old School) took a painful 38 seconds to load. That's 13 seconds longer than our Samsung BD-P1500, which came out in 2008. Our Blu-ray (Hitch) took 35 seconds to load, while our BD-Java Blu-ray Disc (Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl) took an appalling 80 seconds -- nearly double the time of our older unit. Each time was measured from the second we hit load until the first trailer or studio logo popped up on-screen. These load times are the worst we've measured on 2009/2010 Blu-ray player models, slower even than Pioneer's sluggish BDP-320 (except on the non-BD Java Blu-ray disc which was slightly faster loading on the Sharp unit).
When we asked Sharp about this, they assured us they are always tweaking the software in an effort to improve load times on current and future models. So it's possible we'll see an improvement in load times via a future firmware update. Speaking of which, the player does have an automatic upgrade mode which will let you know, when powering up the unit, if there are any firmware upgrades available and give you the option to upgrade. This requires a working internet connection, of course.
After the letdown on load times, we were anxious to see how this unit could perform. First up was the original HQV Benchmark DVD. The BD-HP52U performed extremely well on most of the tests. The only area where we wanted a little improvement was in the Film Detail, where the bridge could have been a little more crisp. However, other images in that shot, as well as the other areas of the test DVD were spot-on. The resolution was super sharp, and most impressive was how quickly the player locked onto a 2:3 cadence, during the "Super Speedway" scene, preventing the tell-tale moire patterns in the stands that appear on lesser players.
We tested out a few different standard-def DVDs, starting with Spider-Man. The upscaling on this 2001 title was very exciting. Of course, it's not Blu-ray, but we definitely felt like we were on the roof, watching Spidey test out his newfound powers. However, some of the darker moments in the movie, as well as the colors on The Incredibles didn't pop like we were hoping.
As with most Blu-ray players, high-def is where the BD-HP52U really shines. We threw in a lot of our favorite action flicks, including Iron Man and a few of the Bourne flicks. When all is said and done, this is a Blu-ray player, and it performs that function very well. For our favorite discs, the color reproduction was right on, and the images were as sharp as a tack.
So What Else?
Once the code was entered, it took less than a minute for our Netflix queue to pop up on the screen. Like every other on-screen Netflix interface, users can scroll through cover art, click on selections and see description of each title, user ratings, runtimes, and a few other minor tidbits about the chosen title. If you're watching Pineapple Express and decide on a Seth Rogan film festival, you'll have to go back to your computer. As with all other Netflix-enabled devices currently on the market, titles can't be added through the on-screen interface. For now, this seems much easier, anyway.
We whipped through a variety of selections in our queue, all of which fired up within under a minute. Not many of the titles in our queue were available for streaming, and many that were did not stream in HD. Of course, the high-def was the first that we wanted to check out, and they were very respectable. The colors on the pilot episode for 30 Rock did seem a little more dim than we remembered, but the first installment of Heroes looked bright and sharp. For each title, we also had no hiccups during the actual streaming process.
Overall, we were happy with what the Sharp player was putting out, and quickly got addicted to the Netflix feature -- which is extremely easy to do.
Under Menu, the player also has selections for Music and Photos. Maybe Sharp plans to add partners at a later date. However, right now, those features add nothing over bargain Blu-ray players. Music can come in the form of MP3 files on a CD, DVD or connected USB drive. Photos can come from the same places. Since that USB slot is already in use for BD Live, it's sort of annoying to have to swap it out, but a big enough drive could accommodate both functions.
We checked out a variety of pics, and they were not disappointing. Of course, if your source stinks, it's going to suffer on the larger screen. Still, we had a good time flipping through some of our better moments. A slide show mode is also available for automated viewing. For Music, we threw in a range of CDs, from punk rock to classic rock, and even a little jazz for good measure. Again, we were pleased with the detail delivered, most notably in some of our swing selections.
The one web-enabled perk that the BD-HP52U does have out of the box is the capability to stream RSS feeds -- or so we're told. After desperately trying to set up this feature over several days, we were only treated to Sharp's press release feed. From the menu, it looked like CNN World was another selection, but we kept getting an error message. Sharp said it had something to do with their servers and they are working on addressing the issue. We couldn't find out if other feeds were available, and frankly, we didn't care. It really adds nothing interesting to the player. If someone has the time to watch the news trickle across the screen, they should be watching more movies -- or doing anything else for that matter. It's just a really weird, rudimentary extra. In fact, it would have been more cutting edge if they threw in Morse code as a feature, or at least more interesting.
One item that might sway you into buying this player is the addition of AQUOS Link. This is a feature specifically for those that have a Sharp AQUOS LCD TV. This feature allows you to tie both devices into one remote. It also makes some smart decisions for you in order to make life easier. Want to watch a Blu-ray disc? Power up the player and it will automatically power up the TV and switch it to the correct input. It's pretty cool, but something we couldn't test out in detail, since we don't have (but would love to have) an AQUOS HDTV. AQUOS Link is based on the open HDMI-CEC specification, so you can get some degree of compatibility among devices with any HDMI CEC-enabled TV.
Sharp isn't a start-up company; they are a mass-market manufacturer. Considering they list this player at $380, you'd think they would have thrown a few other special features. Many of their competitors -- even bargain brand VIZIO -- are knee-deep in content partnerships with VUDU, Netflix, Pandora, and YouTube. Others even churn out brand-specific content, such as Sony's BRAVIA Internet Video and Samsung's Internet@TV. It's extremely disappointing that Sharp didn't think to add in other partners or even Wi-Fi support before bringing this player to market.
Hey Sharp, 2006 called and it wants its Blu-ray player back! Seriously though, we expect a lot from the name Sharp. The BD-HP52U will be the first player in the manufacturer's lineup to stream Netflix, and it's one of their first to support BD-Live (with the addition of a USB thumb drive). However, after taking a close look at this device, you'd think it was their first ever Blu-ray player. The actual performance was fine, but nothing over Sharp's BD-HP22U, which is less than half the price. Overall, the BD-HP52U lacks the speed and perks that we'd expect from a player in this price range.
Where to Buy:
Specs from Manufacturer:
Manufacturer's Contact Information:
Sharp Electronics Corporation
Mahwah, NJ 07495
Phone: 800-BE-SHARP (800-237-4277)