Insignia NS-WBRDVD2: Middling Performance From an Inexpensive Blu-ray Player
At a Glance
You can't expect a great Blu-ray player for $150, but the Insignia NS-WBRDVD2 delivers a more-than-fair product for the price.
No one would mistake the Insignia NS-WBRDVD2 for a great Blu-ray player. Its images, while often very good, don't measure up to those of the best players. It can't access media files off your home network. Using it can often be clumsy and irritating, too. But you have to expect some drawbacks in a $150 player (price as of December 7, 2010).
The drawbacks start when you turn it on for the first time and go through the initial setup wizard. The NS-WBRDVD2's menus have a clean, attractive appearance, but in one respect they're a little too clean: No on-screen explanations help you with your choices. For instance, the TV Aspect setting has options like '16:9 Pillarbox' and '4:3 Letter Box', but doesn't describe what those mean. (For an explanation, see "Why Do I Still Get Black Bars on My HDTV?")
The manual doesn't help much, either. It describes--but doesn't show--how to tell what kind of TV you have, and fails to define terms like Pillarbox.
Another shortcoming will probably hit you the second time you turn on the player. Unlike every other Blu-ray player I have looked at, the NS-WBRDVD2 does not turn on when you press either of the Open/Close buttons (the one on the player itself or the one on the remote). When you want to play a disc, you must first turn on the player, wait for it to power up, and then press Open/Close.
But the good things start when you close that tray with a disc in it. First, the disc starts playing reasonably quickly. In our tests the NS-WBRDVD2 started up the Independence Day Blu-ray in a decent 45 seconds--faster than many, but not among the best. And once a disc is playing, the results are generally very good.
Compared with our reference player, a Sony PlayStation 3, the NS-WBRDVD2 delivers images with a real sense of depth. Both on DVD and Blu-ray, a long shot from Phantom of the Opera (chapter 3) felt almost three-dimensional despite there being nothing technically 3D about it. That same sense of depth also impressed us in a night scene from The Searchers (chapter 20), where John Wayne's suspenders seemed to jump off his shirt.
The NS-WBRDVD2 looked its best when displaying either the bright and simple colors of computer animation or no color at all. In our black-and-white Good Night and Good Luck test (chapter 1), it offered whiter whites, blacker blacks, and grayer grays than the PS3, as well as considerably more detail. The animated Cars (chapter 1) looked simply astounding. When one car character smiled, I could appreciate how the metal around his mouth bent into a humanlike expression.
At only one point was the NS-WBRDVD2 inferior to the PS3. In another scene from The Seachers (chapter 4), a family sitting around the dinner table looked artificial--a little bit like cardboard cutouts. But other improvements, such as deeper and richer skin tones, made up for that. This player gave its most disappointing performance in our Return of the King DVD test (chapter 22); there it was nearly identical to the PS3, but just a tad sharper.
You can connect the NS-WBRDVD2 to the Internet through either ethernet or Wi-Fi. Entering a Wi-Fi passphrase with a remote control is always difficult, but compared with other players it wasn't exceptionally so here. On the other hand, Insignia managed to make the simple task of setting up ethernet confusing: At one point I pressed the wrong selection and was asked for a 'new IP Mode value'. When I went back and tried again, though, everything was fine.
Once connected to the Internet, the NS-WBRDVD2 offers modest online options: Netflix, CinemaNow (a pay-for-view service), and Pandora. If the company had also included YouTube, it would have at least covered the basics. This player has no options for accessing files off computers on your home network.
You can play your own files if you're willing to physically bring them to the player, however. Plug a flash drive or an external hard drive into the NS-WBRDVD2's USB port, and you can play music, view photos, and watch videos. Unlike a lot of low-cost players, this one has music options that aren't limited to .mp3s, offering the ability to play .wma files as well. While the manual lists supported video file extensions, it doesn't mention the codecs, so determining whether any particular file will work is hit-and-miss. (The documentation does explicitly say that DivX won't work.)
Considering this player's many ease-of-use issues, it was nice to discover how intuitive the device is for playing a slideshow. Select a photo and press the remote's Play button, and the slideshow begins. Nothing on screen tells you how to change the slideshow settings, but pressing the Pop-Up Menu button (my very first guess) brought up the solution. The offerings on that menu allow you to add music to the show.
The long and thin remote control never felt quite right in my hand. With my index finger in the groove on the back, the remote felt clumsy and bottom heavy. At least, in that position, my thumbs went naturally to the play-control buttons (Play/Pause, Skip, and so on). When I moved my hand lower, the balance was right, but the most frequently used buttons were a stretch. In general, the buttons were too small, including those important play-control buttons.
On the other hand, the play-control buttons glowed in the dark, which is a big advantage. And the most critical button, Play/Pause, has a little bump to make it stand out when you feel it.
Unfortunately, the remote is not programmable. You can't control your TV with it--even via HDMI-CEC--and it lacks TV-controlling buttons such as Volume and Channel.
For all its faults, though, the Insignia NS-WBRDVD2 covers the basics. You can stream Netflix, music, and pay-per-view movies. You can watch and listen to your own home media. And when you insert a Blu-ray disc, you'll get a very fine image for a player in this price range. You can't ask for much more than that for $150.