The Onkyo BD-SP808 THX-certified Blu-ray player has purpose.

Designed from the rivets up to be nothing less than a bad-ass home theatre disc spinner, it's the designated driver for the brand's current line up of THX AV receivers and pre/power PR-SC5508/PA-MC5500 combo.

It doesn't hold much truck with 3D or IPTV network portals and that's the point: it's all about movies and music. Think of the Onkyo BD-SP808 as the bastard offspring of Harry Knowles and Katherine Jenkins.

Build quality is outstanding, with good old-fashioned attention to detail. The player has a solid machined fascia and rigid cover, ensuring that unwarranted resonances and wobbles just don't get a look in.

The drive mechanism has been centre-mounted, for all the right reasons. The front fascia offers up an SD card slot and a fairy-tree assortment of status lights.

On the rear is an HDMI v1.3 output, component jacks, phono video out (answers on a postcard if you can think of any possible use for this), digital coax and optical audio ports, and Ethernet. With an eye to the custom install market, there's also an RS232 port, and IR input/output jacks if you want to operate the player to feed a secondary zone, but the unit is out of range of the supplied handset.

However, you can use an IR relay from the likes of Xantech to control it. Clearly, the player isn't a Fancy Dan.

Once powered up, the welcome screen is bleak and offers only a discreet invite to scour your connected home network. I accepted its terse invitation and seconds later was looking at my server list; all storage devices were found and accounted for, including my dedicated music server.

A couple more clicks and I'm rocking to the OST of Wes Craven's Shocker (what can I say? I like it!).

It's worth noting that it can take a little time for the SP808 to read the contents of a NAS – it all depends on how much material is on it.

MP3 and WMA music playback is fairly rudimentary. There's no provision to display album art, with just a numerical list of tracks being the sum total of presentation on offer. At least you can navigate quickly using the colour keys on the remote.

Needless to say, the player doesn't support FLAC, OGG or other esoteric formats. Extraneous video support basically extends to AVCHD played from SD card.

Standard bearer

Onkyo bd-sp808

For a Blu-ray player, the SP808 is surprisingly adept with standard definition DVD. The opening sequence to Shakespeare in Love (Superbit Edition), featuring the slow spiral down into the Rose theatre, is rendered beautifully with no stepping or jaggies when upscaled to 1080p.

Indeed, the player passes all the deinterlacing tests on Silicon optic's HQV DVD evaluation disc with flying colours.

The Onkyo's native HD output is equally sweet, with exquisite fine detail. There's little overt video noise, so textures shine through; skin tones and glinting metal alike are totally convincing. The result is a supremely cinematic image.

If your AV receiver is getting a little long in the tooth, it might be worth letting the SP808 do a lossless audio conversion to multichannel PCM. The player employs a 192 kHz/24-bit Audio DAC that is well above average, and its multichannel PCM output is seductively smooth.

Similarly, for CD playback, I would advocate using the analogue stereo output rather than the HDMI connection. I laced the deck up so that I could select CD to listen to this feed sans video (keeping the HDMI feeds separate for home theatre use) and was delighted at the result. The output stage is custom-built by Onkyo and it shines.

Overall, the BD-SP808 is a class act with a pure AV heart. While it's an undoubted shame that the deck is not compatible with Super Audio CDs or DVD-A discs, and has shonky multimedia file support, its overall performance is accomplished.

Perhaps Onkyo should consider a Universal solution with its next Blu-ray outing, rather than just being predictable and throwing its lot in with the 3D crowd?

Overall, the BD-SP808 is a 'must audition', especially for owners of related Onkyo THX kit.

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