capsule review

Insignia NS-WBRDVD3 Review: Inexpensive 3D Blu-ray Player Makes Sacrifices

At a Glance
  • Insignia NS-WBRDVD3

    TechHive Rating

    Though 3D Blu-ray players don't come any cheaper than the NS-WBRDVD3, this model's unexceptional image quality and sparse Internet options make it less of a bargain than it appears to be.

Insignia NS-WBRDVD3 Blu-ray player
With the Insignia NS-WBRDVD3, 3D Blu-ray players become a commodity. The $120 price (as of November 17, 2011) puts this player in the price range of low-end 2D models. But in exchange for that price, you'll have to lower your expectations, especially in important areas such as image quality and streaming Internet content.

In our image-quality tests, the Insignia never bested our reference player, an updated Sony PlayStation 3. The NS-WBRDVD3 did its worst job on the Blu-ray of The Searchers (chapters 4 and 20). Shot in 1956 in Technicolor and a high-resolution format called VistaVision, The Searchers has a dense, highly saturated look unlike current movies. Images from The Searchers looked good going through the NS-WBRDVD3 when we considered it on its own, but next to the results from the PlayStation 3, they looked flat and dull by comparison.

The Insignia had almost as much trouble with the animated Cars (chapter 1), which also has unusually saturated colors. And images looked soft and contrasty (when compared to the PlayStation 3) in Good Night and Good Luck (chapter 1), which, as a black-and-white film, has no color saturation at all.

The NS-WBRDVD3 stumbled even more at upconverting DVDs, tending to lose detail here as compared with the PlayStation 3. At one point in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (theatrical edition, chapter 22), Viggo Mortensen's face lost so much detail that the image briefly looked like an abstract oil painting.

PCWorld doesn't formally test 3D image quality in Blu-ray players, but I checked out the 3D Blu-ray of Avatar (chapter 7), and it looked adequate.

When you connect the NS-WBRDVD3 to your network and the Internet, you'll have access to Cinema Now, Napster, Netflix, Pandora, YouTube, and nothing else. Unlike the five other players I reviewed for our fall 2011 roundup, the NS-WBRDVD3 doesn't include Hulu Plus. However, the player has the ability to receive updates, including additional Internet apps, so this situation might change over time.

Many manufacturers wisely develop their own, superior YouTube interfaces. In this player, however, Insignia uses YouTube's own user interface--an unfortunate choice. When you launch YouTube, a video starts playing immediately, and it isn't necessarily the one you want to watch. The videos run only full-screen--much of the material on YouTube looks horrible that way--with minimal menu options appearing over the image.

Another limitation of the NS-WBRDVD3: You can't use it on your home network for anything other than connecting to Internet-based services. If you want to play media files off of your computer, you'll have to copy them to a flash drive (or other USB storage device) and walk them over to the player.

Once you've plugged in that flash drive, the NS-WBRDVD3 does an acceptable job with music, photos, and video. It supports WMA as well as MP3 audio, plus a selection of video formats (you'll find them all on page 34 of the downloadable manual). You can show off your photos in a slideshow, and even add some interesting transition effects, but you can't add music to accompany your slides.

When you slip a disc into the NS-WBRDVD3, you won't have to wait long to watch it. This player is very fast at loading a disc (only 32 seconds in our Independence Day Blu-ray test).

You'll have a reasonably easy time setting up the NS-WBRDVD3. The first time you turn it on, a wizard walks you through the setup process. The main menu, while nothing fancy, is clear and logically organized. But it lacks on-screen instructions, which would help clarify some of the settings.

The manual can help, but not always. For instance, when you set the TV Aspect Ratio, the NS-WBRDVD3 gives you four unexplained options: 16:9 Normal, 16:9 Full, 4:3 Pan & Scan, and 4:3 Letterbox. The manual explains the difference between 16:9 and 4:3, but can leave you wondering about what Normal and Full mean. (Those two options offer ways to display 4:3 content on a 16:9 HDTV screen. The Normal option pillarboxes the image, with black bars on the side of the screen. The Full option stretches the image horizontally, filling the entire screen but making everyone look fat.)

Another gotcha with the manual: It doesn't come with the player. You have to download it from Insignia's website, and then either print it yourself or access it electronically.

The remote control feels flimsy, but the most-used buttons are well placed and easy to get to. Though the remote isn't backlit, the play-control buttons (Play, Pause, Skip, and so on) glow in the dark. Since the remote isn't programmable, you can't use it with your TV, for example.

Unlike most of the competition, Insignia offers no remote-control mobile apps. This means you can't use your smartphone as a remote-control alternative.

If you really want a 3D Blu-ray player, and you're on a tight budget, the Insignia NS-WBRDVD3 may be your only choice. But if you can spend a little more, you can do a lot better.

This story, "Insignia NS-WBRDVD3 Review: Inexpensive 3D Blu-ray Player Makes Sacrifices" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • TechHive Rating

    Though 3D Blu-ray players don't come any cheaper than the NS-WBRDVD3, this model's unexceptional image quality and sparse Internet options make it less of a bargain than it appears to be.

    Pros

    • Astonishingly low price for a 3D player
    • 3D capability
    • 3D capability

    Cons

    • Disappointing image quality
    • Uninformative menus
    • Uninformative menus
    • No network-based multimedia
    • Lacks Hulu Plus
    • Lacks Hulu Plus
    • Disappointing image quality
    • No network-based multimedia
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