Although Denon describes the DVD-1800BD as its first 'affordable' Blu-ray player, it's far pricier than most entry-level decks on the market.

It doesn't take long to see where your money's going, though: the DVD-1800BD is a chunky, solidly built unit, with a tasteful, understated black (or silver) finish and a pleasing lack of clutter on the fascia.

There's a good-sized display panel, too, which makes all the crucial info easy to read, and there's also an SD card slot for playing back music, video and pictures.

HD audio

The DVD-1800BD is a Profile 1.1 player that allows you to access BonusView material, but not BD-Live online extras. Not everyone will be bothered by the latter's absence, but if we were spending this much on a player we'd want it to do everything the format offered.

The rear panel covers the basics, including an HDMI output with full Deep Colour support, component video and electrical digital audio outputs, but there are no multichannel analogue audio outputs, so you'll need a receiver with HDMI inputs and the relevant decoding to take advantage of HD audio formats.

The deck can bitstream Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks from the HDMI output, but when converting these formats into PCM it only extracts the 5.1 Dolby Digital or DTS core, which means you'll lose the extra sonic detail offered by the hi-def audio formats.

Picture tweaks

On the video side, the deck offers 1080/24fps output and will upscale DVDs to 1080p, with 10-bit signal processing hopefully keeping everything looking smooth and artefact-free.

Video pedants can fiddle with the image ad nauseam thanks to the colour, contrast, brightness, sharpness, gamma correction and noise reduction settings, all of which are accessed from the useful Mode button on the remote.

Finally, the deck offers excellent digital media support. You can play DiVX files from DVD or CD, as well as MP3, WMA and JPEG files.

Quick navigation

The Denon DVD-1800BD goes about its business without frustrating pauses or unreasonable waiting times.

The cursor skips quickly around the clear, colourful setup menu (which is split into Quick and Custom modes) and loads discs up in under a minute, which is faster than early generation players.

The remote blends intuitive button layout with an ergonomic shape and good-looking brushed aluminium finish.

Rich high-def pictures

Hellboy II is an excellent showcase for the Denon's capabilities. The movie's animated opening scenes are a real treat, looking sharp as a box of tacks and painted in rich, noise-free colours that give the stylised animation bucketloads of depth and three-dimensionality.

And when it gets to the live action stuff, the DVD-1800BD copes equally well. Hellboy's skin is an utterly convincing shade of red, and the deck's meticulous video processing picks out every pixel of detail during the eye-popping troll market scene.

Prosthetic effects, textured costumes and intricate set designs are reproduced with the sort of crispness and clarity that makes them almost seem tangible. What's even more impressive is that this top-notch detail handling continues into dark scenes; check out the detail on the walls as Prince Nuada practises his fight moves in the subway.

Impressive upscaling

We also took the Denon for a spin with the Silicon Optix HQV test disc and it performed very well: jaggies are minimal on the rotating bar patterns, and detail is steady and noise-free as the camera pans across the empty stadium during the Film Resolution Loss test.

But its performance with this disc isn't as slick and assured as its similarly priced rivals. The same can be said about movie playback, which is fantastic but lacks that extra wow-factor.

The Denon is, however, a marvellous DVD upscaler that squeezes every last drop of detail from the SD picture without producing any unwanted artefacts.

Meaty sonics

With the HDMI output channelled through the Onkyo TX-NR906, Hellboy II's DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack sends shivers down the spine. The scene in which he battles the massive Forest God is a treat for the ears: effects crash around the soundstage, big meaty explosions pound the walls and the pin-sharp detail compels you to listen.

The excitement and detail levels drop slightly with the Denon converting to PCM over HDMI, but it's still an impressive performer. Where the deck really earns its stripes is with music CD playback through the analogue outputs, which sounds classier and more detailed than your average budget player.

No BD-Live support

You can buy a Samsung BD-P1500 or a Sony BDP-S350 for the £600 Denon is asking for here and still have change for a few BD discs, meaning that this isn't the best value, high-quality player around.

Worse still is the fact that, unlike many decks at this price point (and a few cheaper ones besides), the DVD-1800BD lacks BD-Live support, which will be a turn-off for those wanting the complete Blu-ray experience. The lack of HD audio decoding is also disappointing.

So the Denon DVD-1800BD will only appeal to those who don't give two hoots about BD-Live, but do care about good picture and sound quality, and on that score it certainly delivers.

But while its performance is undoubtedly better than most of the budget decks on sale, there are similarly priced players from the likes of Panasonic and Pioneer that raise the bar even further.