Sharp Aquos BD-HP50U Blu-ray Disc Player
At a Glance
Sharp Aquos BD-HP50U
The Sharp Aquos BD-HP50U is slow, overpriced, and clumsy to use.
The Sharp Aquos BD-HP50U ($290 as of 2/18/09) may be the more expensive model in Sharp's Blu-ray Disc player lineup (the Sharp Aquos BD-HP21U is about $70 less), but this model didn't impress us when we tested it for our recent Blu-ray player roundup.
I couldn't turn on the BD-HP50U without wondering what its designers were thinking. As the unit starts up, two annoyingly large and bright lights, sporting the DVD and Blu-ray logos, start blinking. Insert a disc, and the correct logo autoselects and glows steadily, staying on as if to help you remember what kind of disc is inside (fortunately, you can turn the lights off). A huge flap, with windows for the obnoxious lights, covers the entire front of the player. When you open the drive tray, the flap automatically comes down; but when you close the tray, the flap stays down, giving you something to scrape your shin against. Irritating.
The lack of attention to design extends to the setup menu, too. Whether you're controlling the main menu on the left or the submenu on the right is not always clear. Also vague is what buttons you should use to go back and forth between the two.
Pop a disc into the player, and you'll have to wait nearly 3 minutes before it starts playing. You can pass part of the time wondering who designed the ugly, white-on-black 'READING THE DISC' message on your TV screen.
The sluggishness doesn't go away when the movie starts. Skipping a chapter takes about 5 seconds. By comparison, most players do the same in less than 2 seconds--and that 3-second difference is noticeable, and feels like an eternity.
The remote control has some surprising limitations. You can't program the remote control or see its buttons in the dark. The playback control buttons (Play, Pause, and so on) are big, which is good, but they're also inconveniently placed too low on the remote, putting them out of reach of where your hand will naturally rest.
Like the Insignia NS-2BRDVD and the Memorex MVBD2510, the BD-HP50U doesn't upconvert standard DVDs very well. Our The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King DVD appeared overly contrasty and disappointing overall. One judge said the image looked as if it were smudged, with indistinct detail. In a long shot (where the camera is far from the subject) during The Phantom of the Opera, a woman's face was an absolute mess--the worst imaging we've seen from an upscaled DVD.
The BD-HP50U performed better with Blu-ray Discs. The same Phantom of the Opera scene on Blu-ray appeared very close to that rendered by our Sony PlayStation 3 reference player, and the BD-HP50U exhibited slightly better contrast. On the other hand, I thought that our test using The Searchers revealed a fake sharpness that made things pop but sacrificed detail. Judges' grades for the Blu-ray tests were mostly Goods and Very Goods, with a few Fairs and Superbs.
You'd expect a player in this price range to have plenty of extras, but you'd be disappointed. It has no ethernet port, and therefore no BD-Live (though it does support picture-in-picture Bonus View content). A USB port is in the back, but it's only for firmware updates and won't work for photos or music. The player can decode Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus audio. This model also has an RS-232 port and an IR port, used in custom installations with control systems.
At least the player is well documented. The trilingual manual (48 pages of English) is well laid out, easy to read, and helpful.
The Sharp Aquos BD-HP50U costs 1.5 times the price of the Insignia NS-2BRDVD, but you don't gain anything that makes this model worth the premium bucks.