At a time when we're slowly but surely seeing brand names disappearing from the AV high street, it's refreshing to be faced with a product wearing one that we don't often see in the UK: Anthem. But its heritage couldn't be more respectable as it comes from the same long running Canadian stable as Paradigm speakers.
Anthem is already established in the North American home theatre market, with ranges of acclaimed AV amps, processors and pre-amps. But the BLX 200 is the brand's first Blu-ray player.
Its looks speak volumes about Anthem's perceived place in the AV firmament. Though resolutely unstylish, with its chunky body, black finish and straightforward sculpting, it's also impressively robust in its largely metallic chassis, and its size hints at well-separated components as favoured by the cognoscenti.
Actually, there's likely to be a portion of the HCC readership who will lap up the BLX 200's heavy duty, ultra-serious looks. And they will point to the glowing touch-sensitive control buttons on its fascia as a sign that Anthem can also do 'fancy'. But for me, the BLX 200's looks seem rather on the dated side.
Given that it costs a considerable £600, I was also a bit disappointed with its connectivity. Particularly that HD audio can only be output from the deck using HDMI, since it doesn't have any 7.1 analogue audio outputs.
This means that anyone using a relatively old AV receiver can't get the full Blu-ray audio monty from it. There comes a time where 'legacy' support has to slide on new products, and I suspect that Anthem dreams of the BLX 200 selling in partnership with one of its new AV receivers, which inevitably boast HDMI inputs.
No wi-fi, no dongle With many sub-£300 Blu-ray players now offering bewildering levels of multimedia functionality on top of BD playback, meanwhile, the BLX 200 again falls rather flat with quite limited multimedia functions.
For starters, it doesn't have any Wi-Fi system built in, and nor can Wi-Fi be added via any USB dongle. Next, while the BLX 200 has an Ethernet port, this can only be used to access the standard BD-Live services available to Profile 2.0 players.
There's no further online content such as LG's NetCast system, or Panasonic's VieraCast. And nor is there DLNA PC streaming support of the sort finding its way into a growing number of rival Blu-ray decks. It's aggravating, too, to find that the BLX 200 doesn't carry enough built-in memory to deliver full BD-Live functionality. You have to add a USB memory stick to make this happen.
Thankfully, for £600, a USB memory stick is included as standard. But having a long USB stick protruding from the BLX 200's fascia is hardly an ideal long-term solution. It's through the USB port that you can play MP3, WMA, JPEG and selected video files.
And the disc tray can handle WMA, MP3, JPEG, AVI and WMV files from CDs, plus AVCHD video stored on burnable DVDs. In a dream world, it would also play SACD and DVD-audio discs. But it doesn't.
One final moan before checking out the BLX 200's performance concerns its remote, which is about as cheap and nasty as handsets get, and painfully inappropriate for a £600 blu-ray player. Thankfully for Anthem, the tone of this review is about to change as I check out the player's performance.
I rate its pictures as outstanding. When run alongside decks like Samsung's new BD-C6900 and Sony's BDP-760, the BLX 200's 12bit, 162Mhz video DACs produce pictures that look cleaner, crisper, more colour-rich and even, somehow, more full of contrast than its rivals. This makes its pictures manna from heaven for bigscreens and, especially, projectors.
Spreading my comparison a little further, one of Panasonic's latest Blu-ray recorders, the DMR-BW880, pushed the BLX 200 hard for fine detail and colour accuracy. But for me there was an extra solidity and vibrancy to the anthem's images that goes a way to justifying its £600 price. The high video quality extends, too, to its upscaling of standard-def DVDs, which delivers reams of additional sharpness without injecting any significant extra noise.
Its audio is imperious, too, if you can get past the lack of multichannel analogue outputs. Film soundtracks sound fluid, dynamic, and immersive, whether in lossless or lossy DTS/ Dolby Digital, and there's an almost inexplicable sense of clarity that you get with genuine 'hi-fi ' Blu-ray decks.
Tech tests may show an unexpectedly high analogue audio jitter figure, but as anthem product manager Nick Platsis told us, the analogue outs are provided mainly as a 'Zone 2' option, and aren't designed for critical listening applications.
The BLX 200 is a warm, engaging player of CDs, too, again justifying the price tag to those rating performance ahead of all else. For us at HCC, the shortage of multimedia panache makes it impossible for us to award this deck a higher mark than four.
And there will doubtless be people nowadays who just won't countenance spending £600 on a blu-ray player that doesn't offer 3D playback. But while it's old-school in some ways, the BLX 200 is a reminder that the traditional values of outstanding audio and video performance never go out of fashion.
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