Vizio VBR200W Handles Blu-ray Well--but Not DVD Upscaling
At a Glance
This unit offers most of what you'd want in a multimedia Blu-ray player, and it does so at a reasonable price; but its design and its handling of DVD upscaling miss the mark.
The Vizio BR200W is a fairly standard Blu-ray Disc player that outputs attractive Blu-ray images to an HDTV. But it stumbles at the task of upscaling DVDs. And though the player's Internet capabilities permit you to stream videos from Netflix and Vudu, it doesn't support YouTube playback--a feature found on competing models at roughly the same price ($190, as of May 5, 2010). We also found its physical design frustrating to use.
Though this model doesn't produce the best images we've seen on a Blu-ray player, it outperformed the Sony PlayStation 3. In our lab testing, we especially noted the sharp, well-saturated colors in Phantom of the Opera (chapter 3), and the well-modulated handling of whites in the black-and-white Good Night and Good Luck (chapter 1).
Unfortunately, the BR200W had some problems, too. We saw some digital artifacting in our Mission: Impossible III clip--a scene with a lot of fast camera movements over complex architecture (chapter 7). And a dusk scene from The Searchers (chapter 20) looked a bit too bright. Even so, those scenes looked better on the Vizio player than on the PS3.
Where the VBR200W fell seriously short was in upscaling DVDs--an inherently more challenging task than playing Blu-ray discs. Admittedly, no player can make an upscaled 480p image look like native 1080p, but the VBR200W did a particularly bad job of upscaling. A night scene from Return of the King (chapter 22) looked flat and suffered from noticeable video noise. The same Phantom of the Opera scene that impressed us with its vibrant colors on Blu-ray looked undersaturated and soft on DVD, relative to video from an identical DVD playing on the PS3).
If you buy a VBR200W, consider playing DVDs at 480p and letting your HDTV do the upscaling. Depending on how well your TV upscales standard-definition video, the image may look better that way.
Like many other recent Blu-ray players, the VBR200W doubles as a device for delivering Internet video. Hook it up to your network via ethernet or Wi-Fi, and you can watch streaming video via Netflix or Vudu. With a good ethernet connection, 1080p Vudu streams made for high-quality viewing. Though I occasionally spotted compression artifacts in the displayed content, the image approached Blu-ray quality most of the time. Netflix image quality doesn't come close to that, but it's acceptable.
Usually, Netflix's image quality and its user interface are identical from one player to another. The VBR200W uses the latest implementation of Netflix, however, which lets you pick movies to watch via the player, rather than first having to use your PC to put the desired program into your queue.
Besides working with these commercial streaming sites, the VBR200W lets you listen to music via Pandora. It also supports Internet feeds from Facebook, Flickr, the New York Times, Picasa, Twitter, and Wikipedia. But one major player isn't here: YouTube.
Like most Blu-ray players today, the VBR200W also lets you plug a flash drive into its USB port to listen to music (.wma and .mp3 files), view photos, and watch videos. The music will continue to play as you view photos, which makes creating adding background music to a slideshow a snap.
But plugging in the flash drive is a pain. The player's single USB port is on the back--an acceptable location if its only function is BD Live memory, but a nuisance for multimedia.
Another physical design problem: The front-panel buttons are pressure-sensitive spots that provide no tactile feedback. As a result, you can't find the Power and Open buttons by touch. The unit responds quickly to commands, but its physical design makes it unnecessarily difficult to use.
Once you've settled down on the couch, out of reach of the player, its ease of use improves markedly. The icon-centric menu system is well labeled, though Vizio does not provide onscreen explanations. Fortunately, the excellent manual compensates for that shortcoming. Setting up Wi-Fi with a remote control is always a challenge because of the difficulty of entering a password, but the VBR200W makes this task about as simple as it can get with an ordinary remote as your input device.
A huge, silver Play/Pause button--the button you're most likely to want to hit in the dark--dominates the remote control. Other commonly used buttons, such as Skip and Stop, are conveniently arranged around Play/Pause. But the arrow buttons needed for menu navigation are a bit high and hard to press. Other buttons, which you're not likely to use often, are small and difficult to tell apart by feel. The remote is neither backlit nor programmable.
The VBR200W is reasonably quick at clearing discs to play. It started playing the Independence Day Blu-ray disc in 50 seconds--significantly less than the 61-second median time or the 68-second average, but almost twice as long as the record of 26 seconds held by the Sony BDP-S570. While playing a movie, the unit paused and unpaused almost immediately. The lag when it skipped chapters was noticeable, but not annoyingly so.
If you have a large DVD collection that you plan to watch via your Blu-ray player, look for a player that offers stronger DVD upscaling than the VBR200W does. Beyond that, this model has a lot to offer for both Blu-ray playback and Internet streaming--and it does so at a reasonable price.