Sharp BD-HP21U Blu-ray Disc Player
At a Glance
Sharp Aquos BD-HP21U
Its low price and on-board high-resolution audio decoding make it tempting, but the Sharp BD-HP21U fails to deliver a consistently great picture.
The Sharp BD-HP21U packs lots of metal--literally. It's large and heavy, so much so that you could mistake it for an old Laserdisc player. In the end, the fairly low price ($220 as of 2/18/09) gets you a Blu-ray player with only hit-and-miss image quality.
When you grab a disc off the shelf to play on the BD-HP21U, grab a book, as well: It takes an agonizing 2.5 minutes to load a typical Blu-ray disc--more than twice as long as most other players we've tested. On the other hand, once you have the disc playing, the player responds to the remote control as well as any.
And what do you see during playback? Our PC World Test Center judges found extremes of good and bad in viewing our suite of test discs. On our tests of both The Phantom of the Opera and The Searchers in Blu-ray, I noted that the Sharp wasn't, well, sharp. Our standard DVD of Phantom didn't look too good, either--one judge said that its images appeared dull and flat. She also found the faces too red in The Searchers.
On the other hand, the player did very well on our Mission: Impossible III and Good Night and Good Luck tests. The latter showed notably good contrast, according to one judge.
Though I found this player easy to use, it does have some drawbacks that caught my attention. The small, programmable remote control fit comfortably in my hand, and the important buttons were all easy to get to (one of the advantages of a small remote). Unfortunately, though, the remote lacks a backlight.
The on-screen setup menu is logically designed and displays useful explanations of the options, but the icons look low-resolution and amateurish. Though the 48-page manual is reasonably well designed, Sharp doesn't put a PDF version on its Web site as other companies do.
As you'd expect for its price, the BD-HP21U isn't heavy on extra features. The player supports Blu-ray Profile 1.1 (which all players at this point must support, at minimum), but not the fancier features contained in Profile 2.0 (such as BD-Live for accessing supplemental content via the Internet). Notably, it natively supports Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus audio, converting those high-end sound tracks to standard PCM for amplifiers that don't support them.
Unlike its first-generation player, the Sharp BD-HP20U, Sharp's second-generation model just doesn't impress. The Sharp BD-HP21U does its job without frills, and without oomph.