Philips BDP7200 Blu-ray Player 
Home Theater Video Players Blu-ray Players
Written by Adrienne Maxwell   
Sunday, 01 June 2008

Introduction
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?


Set-up
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.

Television and Movies
I began the review process by comparing the BDP7200’s start-up and load times with those of other players I’ve used, such as the $399 Sony BDP-S300 (Profile 1.0), $499 Panasonic DMP-BD30 (Profile 1.1), and $999 Pioneer BDP-95FD (Profile 1.0). From the instant I hit the power button, the BDP7200 took about 24 seconds to cue up the main menu – that’s several seconds quicker than the Panasonic player, which is the fastest model I’ve reviewed to date. If there’s already a disc in the tray when you power up the BDP7200, it will skip the main menu and cue up the disc automatically. As for its load times, the Philips wasn’t quite as fast as the Panasonic model, but was consistently quicker than the Profile 1.0 players when handling the densest interactive menus, such as those in Sunshine, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Dead Man’s Chest (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) and War (Lionsgate Home Entertainment). In each case, the Philips took a little over a minute to go from disc load to studio logo. Interestingly, the BDP7200 was actually a little slower than the Pioneer to cue up basic, non-animated Blu-ray menus, like those in Black Hawk Down (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) or Kingdom of Heaven. If you recall from my previous review, the Pioneer’s load times started off fairly slow but benefited from a firmware update; perhaps the same will be true of the Philips.

The BDP7200 had no trouble launching or playing the interactive games on the Dead Man’s Chest, War and Ratatouille (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) discs. It moved through the game experience without freezes, stutters, or excessive delays. All in all, I was impressed with the BDP7200’s stability: it never froze or exhibited other unreliable behavior during my time with it. The player responds fairly quickly to remote commands, although its chapter-skip functions are sluggish. I did appreciate how quickly the BDP7200 was able to resume playback with Blu-ray discs that allow this function.

To evaluate HDMI video quality, I moved through my favorite Blu-ray demo scenes from The Curse of the Black Pearl, Kingdom of Heaven, Ratatouille, The Prestige (Warner Home Video) and War. With 1080p/24 output enabled, the player did a nice job of reproducing each scene, exhibiting no major performance flaws to interfere with the disc quality. I did some direct A/B comparisons with the more expensive Pioneer player and could discern no significant difference in detail between the two. Color reproduction was good, and fine shadow details remained intact. For those who don’t have HDMI-equipped displays, you’ll be glad to know that the image quality held up very well when I switched to 1080i component.

The Philips continued to perform well with standard-definition DVDs – better than its performance with test discs had led me to believe it would. Through both the HDMI and component video outputs, the BDP7200 didn’t do a very good job with the test scenes on my HQV Benchmark DVD (Silicon Optix). It created a lot of jaggies in diagonals, was slow to detect the 3:2 sequence in film-based sources (the process of converting 24-frames-per-second film to 30-frames-per-second video) and failed all of the complex cadence tests. Yet, with my real-world torture tests from Gladiator (DreamWorks Home Entertainment) and The Bourne Identity (Universal Home Video), the player produced a generally clean, artifact-free image. At times, I noticed digital artifacts when I jumped quickly from scene to scene; however, when I simply sat back and let the two movies play, I saw very few jaggies or other artifacts. With my video-based Pilates DVD, the BDP7200 performed better than average, producing only minor jaggies in diagonals. Through HDMI, the BDP7200 does a good job up-converting 480i to 1080p, producing a nice level of detail.

To test the BDP7200’s HDMI audio, I mated it with Pioneer’s VSX-91TXH A/V receiver, which has internal Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD decoding. The two products communicated with one another without incident, and the player did indeed pass the high-resolution bitstream on the Kingdom of Heaven, Sunshine and Dave Matthews: Live at Radio City Music Hall (Sony BMG Music Entertainment) Blu-ray discs.

I also popped a few DVD-Rs that I burned with an older Pioneer/Tivo combo recorder, as well as several music CD-Rs and a DVD-R loaded with JPEGs. The Philips played them all without incident, and navigating discs via the onscreen menu is a fairly straightforward process.

The Downside
Although the BDP7200 does a nice job of up-converting standard-definition DVDs, its processing of high-definition source content is questionable. When outputting 1080p/60 via HDMI or 720p via component, the player passes the video resolution loss test on my HD HQV Benchmark Blu-ray disc (Silicon Optix), which means it correctly de-interlaces 1080i signals; however, it fails the film resolution loss test, which means it doesn’t detect the 3:2 sequences in 1080i film-based sources. On its own, this isn’t a huge concern, since the majority of Blu-ray content is native 1080p anyhow. Many Blu-ray players that fail the film resolution test do a perfectly fine job with real-world 1080p movies. To test real-world performance, I use chapter eight of the Mission Impossible III Blu-ray (Paramount Home Video), which begins with priests descending a wide staircase. A Blu-ray player with good processing will reproduce the staircase cleanly. Unfortunately, the BDP7200 produced consistent moiré and shimmer in the stairs. When I switched the player to 1080p/24 output via HDMI, the scene looked fine, so you can bypass this issue if your TV accepts 1080p/24. However, not all TVs do. Component video users might be better off outputting 1080i – unless your TV’s 1080i processing is also poor, and then you’re out of luck.

While we’re on the subject of 1080p/24, I understand the benefit of the Auto 1080p/fps mode for the average consumer, but I personally prefer players that offer both 1080p/60 and Source Direct modes. That way, I know exactly what I’m getting and can switch easily between the two for comparison. On a related note, while I appreciate the inclusion of a front-panel resolution button, the BDP7200 doesn’t let you change resolutions while a disc is playing, and I’d prefer a button on the remote. Then again, most people don’t need to switch resolutions as often as a video reviewer does.

The BDP7200 doesn’t introduce blatant noise into the picture, but I still experimented with the noise-reduction controls to see how they affected image quality. The video set-up menu includes four noise-reduction options: off, MPEG NR, 3D NR and Combo MPEG/3D. The MPEG NR and Combo modes soften the image so dramatically that I can’t imagine why you would ever use them. The 3D NR option isn’t quite as bad, but it still robs the picture of fine detail, so it’s best to leave the noise-reduction feature turned off, as it is by default. The player does introduce some actual noise into your theater space, however: I could hear the BDP7200 humming from across the room. Admittedly, that was with the audio muted, but the player is definitely louder than the last few models that have passed through my doors.

Finally, the lack of an Ethernet port means you can’t access BD-Live Web content on Blu-ray discs. This has been a common criticism of most Blu-ray players in the past. The difference now is that we will see several Ethernet-enabled players this year; some will support BD-Live out of the box and some will support BD-Live with a future firmware upgrade. The BDP7200 does neither.

Conclusion
There’s a lot to like about the BDP7200. It’s a relatively quick and very stable Blu-ray player that’s easy to set up, easy to use and easy on the wallet. It ably handles BD-Java interactive features and has PIP functionality. Most importantly, it produces an attractive 1080p/24 image, does a solid job of up-converting SD DVDs, and passes high-resolution bitstream audio over HDMI. I’d like to see internal Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD decoding and better HD processing, but you can work around these limitations. Ultimately, the lack of an Ethernet port is the make or break issue. If you really want access to BD-Live Web content, that functionality is available now in the Sony PlayStation 3, or you can wait for one of the Profile 2.0 players that’s coming soon. However, if Web content isn’t that important to you and you’d like to enjoy Blu-ray right now, the Philips BDP7200 is a good all-purpose player offered at an attractive price.
Manufacturer Philips
Model BDP7200 Blu-ray Player
Reviewer Adrienne Maxwell
Output Resolutions 1080p • 1080i • 720p • 480p • 480i
HDMI Version 1.3
Audio Format Support DTS-HD Master Audio (Bitstream) • Dolby TrueHD (Bitstream) • Multi-Channel PCM
Supported Media Formats BD-R • CD • CD-R • CD-RW • DVD • BD-RE • DVD+R • DVD-R • BD-ROM • DVD-RW • DVD+RW • Divx
BD Profile 1.1
Recordable No





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