We have never reviewed a 3D Blu-ray player by Onkyo, and if it weren’t for the rare occasions when we’ve received a speaker setup from it, we would find it impossible to believe that Onkyo makes anything besides amplifiers and AV receivers. So you can imagine how very surprised we were when its BD-SP309 Blu-ray player came to our studio for a review. To add to the shock value, Onkyo decided to equip this player with 3D capabilities and a design that really stands apart from other Onkyo products we’ve seen.
Out of the Box
Pretty much all of the Blu-ray players these days have thrown out those bulky chassis and have designed their players identical to standard DVD players, except with some more width. The BD-SP309 is a sleeker version of what we’re used to seeing in standalone Blu-ray players and its front panel seems to be buzzing with free real estate. We had to ourselves the all black finished version of the Onkyo BD-SP309; it is also available in white, though. The player’s largest, roundest button is the ‘power’ button, which seems to be the only element that resonates with the traditional Onkyo aesthetic.
The few transport buttons beside it are mere specks, while the uncovered USB port seems just a tad bit out of place. This seems to be the case with a lot of Blu-ray players now; why these ports can’t come with a covering of some sort to smoothen out the design is beyond us. The LED sits at the centre and on its left is the disc tray with a small eject button in between. This player is one of the edgier looking ones we’ve set our eyes on of late, and once we took a look at what it had to offer on its back panel, it was pretty clear that the edginess has overflowed onto the technology front as well.
This has to be the first DVD or Blu-ray player we’ve seen to completely toss out all signs of analogue connectivity. You’ll find an HDMI port, along with two digital audio ports (coaxial and optical), an Ethernet port and yet another USB port. There are no RCA analogue audio outs, no composite/component video outs, nothing to remind you of the analogue age that seems to have passed us. The BD-SP309 has embraced the digital age like no other.
As far as playability and decoding options go, this player can take on pretty much any disc you slip into it - from DVDs to Blu-rays. No doubt, it’s been built to handle 3D Blu-rays, which are really presenting the home viewer with some marvellous 3D entertainment that isn’t just some marketing gimmick. You will require a 3D-capable flat panel, which will automatically be recognised by the BD-SP309 when a 3D Blu-ray is ready for playback. The USB ports increase the number of video and audio formats playable with support for DivX, AVCHD, MKV and MP3 files. The Ethernet port allows the player to convert into a media server of sorts, providing access to your home network and the computers connected to it. You can also access two of the largest VoD (Video on Demand) sites, namely, Netflix and VUDU. Netflix is yet to come to India, however, and VUDU seems to be a VoD solution one can avail in this country.
Navigating the player UI is done via its home screen, which looks a lot like most setup screens on Blu-ray players. It’s a little crude when you look at its scroll-oriented navigation scheme, but it does look a lot richer than what you’d find in the setup of most other Blu-ray players.
This was yet another surprise to us as this controller doesn’t look anything like what we were expecting from Onkyo. It actually has curvy sides, which is unlike the hard-edged, thick plastic build of Onkyo receivers. The buttons are smaller, but there’s plenty of space on the remote to allow your finger to press a button without unintentionally pressing the one next to it. As for its layout, except the position of the volume buttons, everything goes into muscle memory pretty quickly. The volume controls are on the upper right hand corner of the remote and are the exact same size as the input selection buttons below them. More often than not, especially in the beginning, low visibility will have you hitting the input buttons instead of the volume. The response is fabulous, something that thankfully didn’t change in this Onkyo design revolution.
Remote control options
We decided, like always, to let the HDMI port handle everything the player decided to spit out. The BD-SP309 required no setup time and we were ready to spin the ‘Happy Feet 2’ 3D Blu-ray in no time. There was a noticeable delay in the time it took the player to get the first title card of the film on the screen. The movie shifts smoothly into 3D and right at the top menu of the Blu-ray, I had to put my passive 3D glasses for my LG flat panel on. The menu itself had that ‘easy-on-the-eye’ 3D depth happening, for which I was thankful to both the Blu-ray and the flat panel.
Then, once I got the movie rolling and hit the first sequence of the ice breaking, the flat panel converted into a real-life window that seemed to have this world of animation going to the other side. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, and the BD-SP309 never had a single hiccup that would cause my mind to stutter and break the reality that the 3D was creating for me. This whole world of 3D Blu-rays is truly the first, most realistic step we’ve taken into bringing genuine 3D into home entertainment and this BD-SP309 can handle it with ease and comfort. I went into the ‘Home’ screen of the player for a moment and started to tweak the video parameters. There’s a section that states the resolution you’d want to send the video out at. It is set to ‘Auto’ by default, and I thought if I set it to 1080p, it might mean that I am upscaling non-1080p footage.
Simple and neat
No doubt, I was completely wrong, because the first thing that happened was that the player stopped recognizing my 3D flat panel and wouldn’t allow me to playback 3D Blu-rays. The player would just lock-up with an irritating message on the screen that would say that no 3D has been detected. After that, all I could do was pull the power plug out of the wall and start the BD-SP309 from square one. The first thing I did was switch back to ‘Auto’ and leave it there. With DVDs, the resolution quality was as good as the DVD transfer wanted it to be. ‘Tropic Thunder’ looked especially sharp for a DVD, with greens and flesh-tones almost flawlessly rendered on our rather large flat panel. There was pixilation, due to which the sharpness took a beating, but nothing significant enough to detract from the viewing experience. I couldn’t see any upscaling happening with this DVD, nor could I see it with the DivX material. The files seemed to look as good as they were encoded, with no extra help being given by the BD-SP309.
Onkyo has come a long way and if the BD-SP309 is anything to go by, you can rest assured that it is not just any other Blu-ray player manufacturer. This player has the basic necessities and a little more when it comes to features, but its 3D playback is enough to satisfy your entertainment-hungry appetite. When it comes to upscaling non-1080p footage to 1080p, the player doesn’t offer much, although it does playback these low resolution files with no interference from itself. The price is a little on the steeper side and most people would want more from their Rs. 19,990 player. Nevertheless, it’s still a great point to start your 3D Blu-ray entertainment life from.
Updated 23 May, 2013, 4:07 pm IST
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