Product Review of the LG BH100

The First Blu-ray Disc - HD-DVD Combo Player Has Arrived! - But is it Worth it?

LG BH100 Blu-ray/HD-DVD Combo Player - Front View
LG BH100 Blu-ray/HD-DVD Combo Player - Front View. Robert Silva

The BH100 is a hybrid Blu-ray Disc / HD-DVD combo player from LG. Dubbed "Super Multi-Blue", the BH100 plays both Blu-ray Discs and HD-DVDs at full 720p, 1080i, or 1080p resolution via its HDMI output. In addition, the BH100 is playback compatible with standard DVDs and the DVD-R/-RW/+R/+RW recordable formats but is not compatible with standard audio CD playback.  Standard DVDs are upscaled to 720p or 1080i via the HDMI output. To find out more about the BH100, and whether it might be right for you, check out the rest my Review.

Introduction - The Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD Formats

The Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD are the two competing high-definition DVD formats that are available to consumers. Both systems utilize new Blue Laser and video compression technology to achieve high definition video playback on the same size disc as a standard DVD. However, neither format is compatible with other. In other words, you cannot play a Blu-ray Disc in an HD-DVD player, or vice versa. However, LG is introducing a possible solution, what they have dubbed, "the Super Multi-Blue Hybrid Player".

LG BH100 - Product Overview

1. The BH100 plays Blu-ray Discs and HD-DVDs and is compatible with standard DVD-Video, DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD+RW, and DVD-RW playback as well. Via the BH100's HDMI output, Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs can be played at full 1080p resolution on HDTVs that accept a 1080p/24 input signal. Also, standard DVDs can be upscaled to match the 720p or 1080i native resolution of HDTVs. NOTE: Whether consumers have access to high-definition output from a Blu-ray, HD-DVD, or Combo player via both the HDMI and Component Video outputs is determined by each studio on a case-by-case basis.

2. Standard DVD playback is limited to the DVD region where the unit is purchased (Region 1 for Canada and the U.S.). There is Region Coding for Blu-ray Discs, but, so far, there is no Region Coding for HD-DVDs.

3.The BH100 also features the new surround sound and two-channel audio processing formats: Dolby® Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD lossless (2-ch.), DTS and DTS-HD lossless as well as standard Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1.

4.The BH100 has a full complement of audio and video connection options.

High definition outputs include HDMI (hi-def video and uncompressed digital audio), DVI-HDCP video output with the adapter.

Standard definition video outputs include: Component Video (progressive or interlaced), and standard composite video. There is no S-Video output on the BH100.

Audio outputs include: 5.1 channel analog (for access to the BH100's built-in surround decoders), two channel analog, digital optical, and digital coaxial outputs.

5. The BH100 has control, via wireless remote, overall content and features of Blu-ray Discs. However, LG has chosen to lay over its own software menu navigation system for HD-DVDs, rather than accessing the direct menus on the HD-DVDs. This means that although most of the common features on HD-DVDs, such as commentaries, deleted scenes, or added documentaries may be accessible via LG's menu system, more sophisticatedly interactive and internet features may not be. For this reason, LG cannot use the official HD-DVD symbol on the BH100.

6. Included in the box: BH100 Super Multi Blue Player, Remote (batteries included), Component video cable, Composite Video/Analog Stereo cables, User Manual, and Registration Card.

Setup - Hardware

Additional components used in this review included a Yamaha HTR-5490 6.1 Channel AV receiver, Outlaw Audio Model 950 paired with a Butler Audio 5150 5-channel power amplifier.

Comparison LCD TV/Monitors are HD-compatible. The Westinghouse LVM-37w3 (1080p) and Samsung LN-R238W (720p) both have HDMI input; the Syntax Olevia LT-32HV (720p) has a DVI-HDCP input. The Syntax was connected to the LG BH100 via HDMI-to-DVI Connection adapter. All LCD units have progressive scan HD-Component inputs as well.

All Displays were calibrated using SpyderTV Software.

Loudspeakers used, included: Klipsch B-3s, Klipsch C-2, Optimus LX-5IIs, Klipsch Quintet III 5-channel speaker system, and Klipsch Synergy Sub10 and Yamaha YST-SW205 Powered Subwoofers.

Comparison Blu-ray players included the Samsung BD-P1000, and Sony BDP-S1.

The comparison HD-DVD player used was a Toshiba HD-XA1 HD-DVD player.

In addition, for comparison with standard DVD playback and upscaling performance, a Samsung DVD-HD931 DVD player with 720p/1080i upscaling (DVI-HDCP output) was also used.

DVD-Rs and DVD+RWs used were made on the following DVD recorders: Sony RDR-HX900, Philips DVDR985, and a Presidian PDR-3222.

All connections between components were made with Accell, Cobalt, and AR Interconnect cables.

Setup - Blu-ray/HD-DVD/DVD Software

Blu-ray Discs used included: The Italian Job, Superman Returns, Into The Blue, Stealth, and Mission Impossible III.

HD-DVD Discs used included: The Italian Job, Heart - Live In Seattle, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Batman Begins, and Serenity

DVDs used included: The Italian Job, Serenity, Aeon Flux, The Cave, Kill Bill - Vol1/2, Pirates Of The Caribbean - Curse of the Black Pearl/Dead Man's Chest, Moulin Rouge, V For Vendetta, and The Promise, In addition, video content recorded on DVD-R and DVD+RW discs were also used.

For further audio evaluation, the DTS-HD Master Audio Presentation Demonstration Discs for Blu-ray and HD-DVD were used.

The Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD video test disc was also used for more precise video performance measurements.

Video Playback Performance

The BH100 was able to play all the Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs used for this review. The actual video quality differences between the Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs were very minor and would probably not be noticeable by most viewers.

When comparing both the Blu-ray and HD-DVD video performance against the Sony BDP-S1 and Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray Players and the Toshiba HD-XA1 HD-DVD player - using the Blu-ray, HD-DVD, and DVD versions of the film The Italian Job - the Blu-ray performance seemed to be on par with the Sony, but more consistent than the Samsung. On the other hand, the HD-DVD performance of the Toshiba HD-XA1 was noticeably better than both the Blu-ray and HD-DVD performance of the BH100 and the other test players.

Although all Blu-ray disc menus were operational, the actual menu structure on HD-DVDs was not accessible. In some cases, when inserting an HD-DVD disc into the BH100, the disc proceeded to go directly to the film and start playing, while in other cases, the disc would display trailers or other info first. However, any animated menus were bypassed.

In terms of Upscaling performance of standard DVD playback, the LG was not a good as the Samsung DVD-931HD Upscaling DVD Player, based on measurements taken using the Silicon Optics HQV Test Disc. The BH100 and the Samsung 931 were both set for 1080i output.

The areas were the BH100 did do well, in comparison with the Samsung DVD-HD931: Noise Reduction, Video Titles over film, 3:2 Cadence detection, and Motion Adaptive Noise Reduction.

Where the BH100 did just average, was on Jaggie detection during motion. The Samsung DVD-HD931 showed a better result.

Where the BH100 was inconsistent was the elimination of Moire patterns. The Samsung DVD-HD931 was rock solid on detecting and eliminating Moire patterns.

Audio Playback Performance

In terms of audio quality, the BH100 had no problem decoding both Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD material and transferring the signals via 5.1 channel analog outputs. The sonic detail difference between DD+ and DTS-HD vs standard DD and DTS is noticeable.

Since I did not have a receiver, or surround processor, with HDMI inputs available for this review, I was not able to make any observations regarding the Dolby Digital Plus or DTS-HD audio streams through the BH100's HDMI output.

What I Liked and Didn't Like About the BH100

Some strong points of the BH100 were:

1. Very good video quality using HDMI high-definition output with Blu-ray Discs and HD-DVDs. I am of the opinion that HD-DVD, given source material and players available, has a slight quality edge over Blu-ray, in terms of detail and black levels, but the difference between the two formats within the BH100 was very slight.

2. Good, but not stellar, upscaling capability with standard DVDs via HDMI output.

3. Fast start-up and disc loading time when compared to other Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD players available. Blu-ray discs loaded a little faster than HD-DVD discs, however, in neither case, was the time longer than 30 seconds.

4. Easy to set up and use; Easy-to-read user manual, and very easy-to-use Wireless Remote.

5. Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD Decoding built-in, transfer via 5.1 channel analog audio outputs.

Although the BH100 had several strong points, there were features that were missing, or could be improved:

1. The BH100 cannot access all content functions and menu displays available on HD-DVD discs.

2. The BH100 has no provisions for the playback of Audio CDs and has no SACD or DVD-Audio Compatibility.

3 The BH100 cannot play BD-R/RE discs.

4. Full 1080p output from the BH100 requires a TV with 1080p/24 input capability. TVs with 1080p/60 input capability only will result in the BH100 defaulting to 1080i output, and will not permit a manual change to 1080p.

5. Although top-mounted touch controls on the unit are easy to use, their placement makes component stacking impractical.

6. A high MSRP of $1,199.00.

Final Take

Having first seen the debut demonstration of the BH100 at CES 2007, and then purchasing one for myself and using it in my own set-up in comparison with my other HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc Players, I can say that it holds up well, in terms of video and audio performance, with other Blu-ray and HD-DVD players currently available.

However, the main thing to keep in mind about LG's BH100 is that it is may not be the panacea that will make everyone involved in the Blu-ray / HD-DVD landscape breathe a sigh of relief. The BH100 is essentially a Blu-ray Disc Player that can also play HD-DVDs.

In other words, while the BH100 is designed to provide access to all Blu-ray Disc functions, it cannot access many of the interactive menu functions on HD-DVDs (referred to as iHD functions). It will play the discs fine, in terms of video and audio quality, however, LG has chosen to lay over its own software menu navigation system for HD-DVDs, rather than accessing the direct menus on the HD-DVDs.

This means that although most common features on HD-DVDs, such as commentaries, deleted scenes, or added documentaries may be accessible via LG's menu system, more sophisticated interactive and internet features may not be. For this reason, LG cannot use the official HD-DVD symbol on the BH100.

In addition, keep in mind that the BH100 CANNOT play standard audio CDs.

In my opinion, the BH100 is a good first step towards solving the hardware differences between Blu-ray and HD-DVD, however, what is needed is total functionality and access to all disc features from both formats in a single player.

On the other hand, Warner Bros' announcement of a hybrid Blu-ray/HD-DVD disc may be a better solution. A Blu-ray/HD-DVD hybrid disc would play on either player since you would have both format versions on the same disc. Also, if one of the formats wins, the disc will still play on future players in either format. The question is whether other movie studios will join Warner Bros in this seemingly "common sense" solution.

However, if you haven't considered either a Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD player up to this point, due to format fears, or whether all the fuss about the improvement in image quality is really worth it, you should at least check out the LG BH-100. It may clarify the differences between Blu-ray and HD-DVD and decrease any anxiety you may have about making the leap.

LG deserves credit for announcing and delivering this product to the market in a very timely manner. Frankly, I wasn't anticipating a Blu-ray Disc - HD-DVD combo player to reach store shelves for some time ( a year or two) given the current Blu-ray/HD-DVD political atmosphere. However, it is here now and is worth a look.

This product will be watched closely by the industry analysts and the press, as to how consumers respond, and whether it will actually affect the Blu-ray Disc / HD-DVD market landscape.

I give the LG BH100 4.5 out of 5 Star rating. If LG (or another maker) would introduce a Blu-ray/HD-DVD combo player with CD playback, full HD-DVD iHD access, more comprehensive audio output options via HDMI, both 1080p/24 AND 1080p/60 output, and a lower price, then you would have a 5 Star winner.