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Harman Kardon BDP 1 Blu-ray Player Review Print E-mail
Thursday, 09 July 2009
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Harman Kardon BDP 1 Blu-ray Player Review
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Once the BD 1 has been hooked up to an applicable receiver / television, connected via HDMI for the largest part of this review to an Onkyo SR605, setup proves to be a very quick and simple affair.  At the front menu, there are five core options: Language, Display, Audio, System, and Network.  Underneath each branch, the expected options are the only ones made accessible – Player Menu / Default Audio for Languages, Toggle for several 16x9 / 4:3 options under Display (set to 16:9 Pillarbox) along with Resolution (480 and 576 i/p, 720p, 1080i/p) and Color Space Options.  On the audio side, the options for Digital Output (set to Bitstream Native for film viewing, PCM 7.1 for BonusView), PCM Downsampling, and Dynamic Range Control are available, which makes the process of decoding and sending the audio tracks to applicable receivers a snap.  The System option makes some rather surface-level options available (Auto Play / Standby, Parental Control, Software Version and Settings Reset).  Flexibility isn’t really within the tree of functions for the BDP 1, so personal tweaking is limited.  

On an operational level, the BDP 1 glides along rather quietly.  The drive can be heard spinning with the initial boot-up, but it quiets down once the film or audio disc has started with its content.  However, the tray itself slides out to be supported in rather sturdy fashion, though the sound of the wheels inside can clearly be heard.  Like most other players, the BDP 1 has an automatic timer to retract the tray; however, it seems like this tray retracts quicker than other models, pulling inwards a hair over a minute after opening.  Some might see this as a positive, but it doesn’t offer as spacious of a timeframe to remove the disc, place it in its case, and open another for screening.   Along those same lines, the BDP 1 goes to Standby mode fairly rapidly as well.  That, however, leans towards more personal opinion, and it’s understandable where a quicker timeframe would be ideal.  


Harman Kardon’s BDP 1 has been sent through a gamut of various Blu-ray discs, ranging from top-shelf clarity in film rendering to its handling of less-agreeable sources.  As a fully-functional bitstreaming player showcasing 1080p/24 resolution, this is a notably strong unit.  Whether communicating DTS HD Master Audio tracks or Dolby True HD, the player handled each of the sound options with fluid, natural sound with each disc tested.  The load times for each of the Blu-ray discs took a bit longer than desired, but the BDP 1’s reaction time when coming in and out of Pause / Standby mode was impressive.  Though it’s a little slower, the quality of high-definition output satisfies enough to struggle through the boot times.  What really surprises with the player’s capabilities was the naturalness of many sorts of audio tracks and a broad range of sound levels, as the audibility of dialogue and sound effects doesn’t falter throughout several fluctuating volume levels.  Something that occurred with this unit was sporadic “No Disc” reading issues, something that was rectified with a quick eject and reboot.
First, Harman Kardon’s unit had the chore of running Miramax’s Kill Bill series – both Volumes 1 and 2 with AVC encodes – in a solitary sitting.  Though only carrying a multichannel PCM track, it’s still a remarkable pair of Blu-ray discs that showcase impressive aural and visual properties.  The BDP1 handles every ounce of ultra-saturated color and detail in its 2.35:1 image, notably prevalent in the opening fight sequence between The Bride and Copperhead, with an exceptional amount of clarity and robust color.  As it pours over into the anime portion of Vol. 1 and into the black and white portions across both films, it handles the range of detail and motion with tip-top clarity and a strong concentration on preserving the slight grain.  On the audio front, the PCM tracks both sounded outstanding; the explosiveness and rapid-fire clanking of blades from the first volume fill the entire soundstage, while the second volume’s sterner concentration on ambient sound effects – especially the hollow shots against wood – sound fantastic.
Shifting things up a bit, it was time to test the player’s capacity to bitstream DTS HD Master Audio with the now-defunct Tartan’s Asia Extreme release of Oldboy.  It also tests the player’s capacity to replicate a source that isn’t quite as pristine as other modern films, all within a 2.35:1 AVC encode.  The source naturally has fluctuation issues in image / shading solidity, but the BDP 1 handles the color saturation and the proper contrast balance for director Park Chan-wook’s intent quite well.  Moreover, the widely varied audio track, filled with a blend of crashes and thuds from hand-to-hand combat and an infusion of voiceover narration and classical music cues, flushed through the speakers quite well.  It sounded a little lower in volume by a notch or two than average, but the clarity was pleasing once touched up a notch or two.
To monitor the player’s capacity to handle 1.78 – 85:1 material, it was time to give copies of Beetlejuice and Pan’s Labyrinth a spin.  Visually, Beetlejuice has held up well over the years – and looked extremely good passing through from the BDP 1.  The Dolby TrueHD track, though not a robust showcase of the audio track’s top-shelf capacities poured the dialogue and music through without a hitch.  Interestingly, it seems like the TrueHD sound level was a little higher than with other players, but only by a notch or two.  Pan’s Labyrinth, though sporting a few slight issues with some potential noise reduction here and there, is a stunner of a Blu-ray – and both the 1.85:1 VC-1 encode and the DTS Master Audio track provided a robust high-definition experience.  The musical delicacy in Guillermo Del Toro’s film balances sumptuously with subtle ambient sound effects, all of which were handled with well—pitched clarity.  

Finally, to cap it off, it was time to test the Blu-ray player’s capacity to handle advanced special features via BD-Java, especially BonusView Picture-in-Picture functionality.  To test this, Fox’s Sunshine Blu-ray disc was tossed into the player.  It’s worth noting that the player cannot handle the functionality without switching the Audio option from “Bitstream Native” to any other option – selected here to PCM 7.1.  The audio tracks paired together without a hitch, showcasing the production crew’s implementation of many types of food to accommodate the diverse nature of the film’s broad array of characters.  Volume levels intermingle well, leaving both audible during the functionality.  The same can be said for the Picture-in-Picture functionality with Sony’s The Da Vinci Code, which operated as normal when Dan Brown’s interview time popped up on-screen and the props expert discussed the importance of authenticity to the novel’s aesthetic.

It’s worth noting that Harman Kardon’s player is, in fact, Region A locked as stated on the packaging.  A copy of Fox’s Region-B locked The Fountain failed to load up, aside from the standard “Region B” message that pops up upon loading.  Furthermore, the player also can not decode PAL-encoded features for NTSC receivers or televisions, as the interviews on Artificial Eye’s region-free Blu-ray of Ashes of Time played without the image to accompany.   

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