The Big Picture: Philips' Blu-ray
The Good: Fantastic picture, fabulous design
The Bad: Pricey, audio capabilities lag behind competing high-definition disc players
The Bottom Line: A bit costly for a player with perfect picture but comparatively plain audio
There's a visually stunning scene in Tim Burton's fantasy film Big Fish wherein the main character's car is submerged in a sudden thunderstorm. Hazy blue water envelops the red Dodge Charger like an aura. The headlights illuminate the glowing figure of an unearthly woman. Bright, tiny air bubbles appear nearly three-dimensional, as if they could escape the confines of the high-end television set I'm watching and transform it into a 50-inch fish tank.
As much as the scene is memorable for its visual beauty—expertly rendered by Philips' (LPL) new Blu-ray BDP9000 disc player—it is equally memorable for its considerably less impressive thunderstorm. The thunder rumbled unthreateningly. Rain slammed against the vehicle windows unconvincingly.
That scene captures the central problem with the BDP9000. It delivers a picture so beautiful that, on a capable high-definition (HD) television set, it seems as though the viewer is not looking at a screen but through a crystal clear window into the cinematographer's world.
The audio, however, fails to provide the same experience. It's good, certainly. But even with high-fidelity, four-foot speakers, it's just not like being there—or even at the movies.
The Best Available
The experience is explained by the visual and audio capabilities Philips packed into this player. It delivers resolutions up to 1080i and 1080p, the highest available, via an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) cable. (It also has composite video hookups for those with HD televisions sans HDMI port).
As well, it is capable of "up-converting" regular DVDs—making their images sharper, richer, and closer to the HD viewing experience. The player doesn't transmit to the television via an HDMI 1.3 interface, the best available. However, many televisions don't yet support that capability. So, all in all, the resulting picture on a quality TV set is just about the best available.
The same can't be said of the audio. Other players, notably Toshiba's HD-disc player, support Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master, the top-of-the-line formats for HD players (see BusinessWeek.com, 3/1/07, "Toshiba's Sleek, Pricey HD-XA2").
Philips' device supports the comparatively basic Dolby Digital and DTS audio formats. It can handle the higher-quality Dolby Digital Plus format, but it doesn't have the capability to decode the format internally the way Panasonic's Blu-ray player can (see BusinessWeek.com, 2/16/07, "Panasonic's Blu-ray Special").
Worth the Price Tag?
The other drawback to this player is the price. Wal-Mart (WMT) is offering it for just under $900. That's less than Panasonic's player and in the range of other newer HD players, which tend to run between $600 and $1,200.
But it's not as inexpensive as Sony's well-equipped PlayStation 3, which plays Blu-ray discs and is going for as low as $500 on eBay thanks, in part, to the highly competitive gaming console market (see BusinessWeek.com, 11/16/06, "PS3: Soon to Be a Great System").
All in all, the Philips Blu-ray BDP9000 player produces a pretty picture and solid sound. But it's not the biggest—or brightest—fish in the pond. For nearly $900, it might be worth throwing back and waiting to see what Philips offers in the future.