|Philips BDP7200 Blu-ray Player|
|Home Theater Video Players Blu-ray Players|
|Written by Adrienne Maxwell|
|Sunday, 01 June 2008|
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Philips’ first Blu-ray player, the BDP9000, quietly crept into the market in late 2006. Upon its initial release, the player cost $1,000, did not support 1080p/24 output, and lacked any means of passing high-resolution audio formats. The new BDP7200 supports 1080p/24 playback and allows you to pass Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD bitstream over HDMI … and its MSRP is $600 less than that of its predecessor. The player’s $399 list price puts it at the lowest end of the price spectrum for a new Profile 1.1 player. The Profile 1.1 designation (also known as BonusView) means the BDP7200 supports picture-in-picture playback, but lacks BD-Live support to access Web content.
Philips’ timing is good: the BDP7200 is one of the first new entry-level Blu-ray players to hit the market since the format war ended in February, and the company hopes to capitalize on consumers’ newfound confidence in the high-definition disc format. It’s going to get a lot more crowded at this price point in the months to come. The BDP7200 has a head start, but does it deliver the features and performance you want, or should you wait a bit longer to take the Blu-ray plunge?
The BDP7200’s size (2.8 x 17.2 x 13.8 inches) and weight (9.1 pounds) are in line with other new Blu-ray models, and I found its design to be simple but attractive. The brushed-black chassis has rounded edges and a gloss-black front panel with a one-line LCD and small, clear buttons for power, open/close, play, stop, forward, reverse and resolution. The long, slender remote has a clean button layout that puts a directional keypad near the center and transport control close below that. The buttons are organized in a generally intuitive way, with some minor exceptions: the Top Menu button isn’t located near the general Menu button, and the fast-forward/reverse buttons are too far away from the rest of the transport controls. The remote lacks an output resolution button, and Philips’ decision to use black buttons on a black background with no backlighting makes the remote difficult to use in a dark room.
The BDP7200’s back panel contains the desirable A/V connectors. On the video side, you get HDMI, component and composite outputs. For audio, you get HDMI, optical and coaxial digital connectors, and both 5.1- and two-channel analog audio outputs. The player lacks the dual multimedia card readers found on the BDP9000, and it does not have a USB port. The absence of an Ethernet port means you can’t automatically check for and perform firmware updates via the unit itself. Philips is releasing firmware updates for this product, but you must download them from www.philips.com/support, burn them to CD-R/-RW, and load them via the disc drive. The Product Info page on the BDP7200’s main menu indicates which software version the player is running; my review sample arrived with software v1.001, and I upgraded to v1.004 near the end of my review period. This particular upgrade addressed only minor playback quirks that I had not encountered.
The BDP7200 is extremely easy to set up. The owner’s manual and onscreen menus are cleanly laid out and simple to navigate, and the player’s default A/V settings have the flexibility to accommodate most entertainment systems. Philips has included a lot of Auto modes to remove guesswork for the average consumer. If HDMI is your video output of choice, the default resolution setting is Auto, which causes the player to output the highest resolution your TV will accept. Other choices are 480p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p. The set-up menu also includes the option to enable 1080p/24 output, in a sub-menu vaguely labeled “HDMI 1080p/fps.” This mode is also set to Auto by default. If your TV supports 1080p/24 signals, the BDP7200 automatically outputs this format with compatible Blu-ray discs; if your TV doesn’t support 1080p/24, the player outputs the more common 1080p/60 format instead. Switching this mode from auto to off will lock the player to 1080p/60 output; I don’t recommend you do this, for reasons we’ll discuss in a moment. If you’re using component video, the default resolution is 480i to ensure that you get a picture on your TV screen; output-resolution options are 1080i, 720p, 480p and 480i. As usual, SD DVDs are limited to a 480p resolution, no matter which output option you select. The video menu also includes set-up options for Deep Color, de-interlacing, black level and noise reduction.
On the audio side, the BDP7200 lacks some of the precise customization found in the Panasonic DMP-BD30 I recently reviewed, but this player required less adjustment out of the box to suit my system. For those who wish to use HDMI for audio, the player is set by default to “HDMI Normal,” which is the equivalent of an auto mode. In this configuration, the BDP7200 will output the bitstream version of Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 for your A/V receiver to decode. The HDMI Normal setting also passes multi-channel PCM, which is still a common soundtrack on many Sony Blu-ray releases. The bad news is that the BDP7200 lacks internal Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD decoders, so if you don’t own a receiver with high-resolution audio decoding, there’s no way to output these higher-quality soundtracks. It’s surprising to me that Philips would include multi-channel analog audio outputs, as well as a PCM-only HDMI set-up option, but not actually include the decoders.
There is one audio parameter that you may want to change during the set-up process. Because the BDP7200 is a Profile 1.1 player, the audio menu includes a feature called Blu-ray Disc Audio, which lets you decide if you want to turn on the secondary audio decoder in order to listen to the audio in PIP commentaries and bonus features. The default setting of “Mix Audio Output” turns on the secondary decoder; however, it also converts all digital soundtrack formats to basic Dolby Digital 5.1. I popped in the Sunshine Blu-ray disc (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment), which has a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack and PIP bonus content. With the secondary audio decoder enabled, I could hear PIP audio, but the soundtrack was output as Dolby Digital 5.1. Even with a non-PIP disc like Kingdom of Heaven (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment), the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is converted to Dolby Digital 5.1. If you change the setting to “Primary Audio Only,” you get the high-resolution soundtrack but lose the PIP audio. This is exactly what happened with the Panasonic Profile 1.1 player, so it appears to be a necessity of the PIP decoding function. If you don’t mind everything being output as Dolby Digital, you can leave the default setting as is. However, if you want to ensure that you’re getting the original soundtrack, I recommend that you set the BDP7200 for Primary Audio Only and just turn on the PIP decoder when you need it. Alas, the remote does not have a button for this, forcing you to go into the set-up menu each time you wish to make the switch.
The default setting for the digital (optical/coaxial) audio outputs is bitstream, with PCM being the other option. The analog audio set-up menu lets you set speaker size, distance and level for the front, center, surrounds and subwoofer. You can designate two- or 5.1-channel output, but can’t combine the two to create a 7.1-channel system, which is a common limitation at this price point. Strangely enough, the digital and analog audio set-up options are grayed out in the menu unless you turn off HDMI audio. These connectors will still output the audio signal, but you can’t adjust the settings unless HDMI audio is turned off. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to accomplish.
The BDP7200 is a Divx-certified playback device, and the set-up menu includes the needed code to activate this device for playback of Divx VOD content. The BDP7200 also supports DVD--R/-RW/+R/+RW, CD, CD-R/-RW, MP3, WMA (non-DRM) and JPEG playback, and the set-up menu includes options to adjust the time interval and transitions for JPEG slide shows. Philips’ EasyLink HDMI-CEC functionality, which allows for more intuitive control of other Philips products connected via HDMI, can also be enabled via the general set-up menu.