Sharp has finally brought itself up to date with the release of the BD-HP22H, its first BD Live capable Blu-ray player, which is slim, dressed in a smart black finish and sports a snazzy silver ring in the centre of its fascia.
One notable absentee from the front panel is a USB port. This may not be a deal breaker, but the ability to plug in and play music, video and photos from a flash drive would have been a bonus, particularly as most of us have healthy collections of content on our computers.
There is a USB socket on the back, but this is used only for storage of BD Live and Virtual Package data. Several players now sport built-in memory, so the need to plug in flash memory is a pain.
The lack of Wi-Fi support is unsurprising for a budget player, but once again, the need to run a LAN cable between the player and your router might deter people from dabbling in BD Live.
The HDMI port offers 1080/24p output and bitstream delivery of Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio. In the setup menu you can choose to output these formats as 7.1-channel LPCM if your receiver can't decode them.
The deck supports most disc types – including dual-layer recordable Blu-ray and DVDs – and will play JPEG, but data discs containing DivX, MP3 and WMA were unceremoniously denied. JPEGs take a while to load but are displayed in gorgeous hi-def.
While we admire the operating system's simplicity and overt user-friendliness, it's starting to look a bit dated. Hit Setup and the four groups of options are displayed in rudimentary, brightly-coloured graphics.
The settings menu is smartly laid out and we like the fact that each of the options is explained when you highlight them.
The remote is also agreeable to use, with comfortably placed menu controls and easy-to-spot playback keys. It also boasts a useful Keylock function that stops you hitting buttons accidentally.
There's a pervasive sluggishness about the BD-HP22H. Bringing up the setup menu, ejecting a disc or skipping through a movie causes momentary pauses that can frustrate over long periods.
It's also the slowest to load discs of all five players – it took one minute and seven seconds to load Spider-Man 3's first video after hitting close on the disc tray, which doesn't show any signs of progress over its predecessors.
However, images are packed with the sort of pin-sharp detail that really brings a movie to life, offering plenty of insight with movies such as Children of Men.
Key to this solid detail reproduction is the low amount of noise in the picture, which allows every pixel to shine through. Colours are rich and forceful, and the Sharp doesn't have any trouble picking out the subtle gradations of tone and shade within objects.
Decent contrast levels result in a rich and cinematic picture and it doesn't struggle to pick out objects during dark scenes either.
Its biggest flaw is some noticeable juddering on camera pans, but on the whole it's a fine performer.
Playback of 1080p DVD is solid if unspectacular, suffering from some jaggies along moving diagonals and noise buzzing around on large expanses of colour – but despite this it remains watchable.
Sound quality is fine too, with smooth, lively CD playback and rewarding HD audio reproduction, whether you've selected bitstream or LPCM output.
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