The Best of Both High-Def Worlds

LG Electronics delivers on its promise to give buyers a player that handles both Blu-ray and HD-DVD formatsbeautifully

Editor's Rating:

The Good: Delivers a beautiful, high-definition picture from both HD-DVDs and Blu-ray discs

The Bad: Doesn't enable all the features on HD-DVD discs

The Bottom Line: Supports both next-gen formats for about the same price as high-end '07 models that support only one

Go ahead. Call me a cheapskate, criticize my spending priorities, complain that I'm insufficiently enthused about home theater to review next-generation high-definition players. I'll take the barbs. But I just can't risk spending $800-plus on a 2007 high-definition disc player that may not support my favorite films in the future, let alone any new releases.

Of course, that's why I can endorse LG Electronics' BH100. LG hedged its bets with this device, building a Blu-ray player that also plays discs in the competing HD-DVD format. I tried it out with a Blu-ray version of The Pursuit of Happyness and an HD-DVD of Firewall. Both films were displayed in full high-definition quality complete with sharp images, vibrant colors, and great detail.

No thumbnails

The player supports the highest resolutions available: 1080i and 1080p. It also handles less spectacular formats such as 720p. It automatically detects the highest resolution your television can display—though it's worth adjusting yourself if, say, you would prefer to watch a sports broadcast in 720p rather than 1080i.

Like several 2007 players, the BH100 up-converts regular, old DVDs, rendering the picture sharper, clearer, and closer to high definition. This is a particularly nice feature to have as both Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs can run as much as $35, making it a pricey proposition to replace an entire home movie collection.

While LG's player supports both formats, the BH100 betrays LG's early support for Blu-ray. LG started off solidly in the Blu-ray camp and initially designed its player to be compatible with Blu-ray discs and all their features. Before releasing it, the LG team decided they knew enough about optical drives to enable the player to read HD-DVD discs as well. However, the final product cannot support all HD capabilities, such as seeing thumbnails of chapters while the disc is playing.

Better audio

That means if HD-DVD wins the format wars, this player will have a handicap. But it won't be obsolete. That's important when investing $1,099 in a player. For that kind of cash, you want the player to be around awhile.

Some reviewers have argued that, for the price, it makes more sense to buy a $499 entry-level Blu-ray player and a $400 HD-DVD player. That way, for about $200 less, consumers can still order their movies without regard for the supported format and still experience all the HD functionality.

The problem with that argument is that the first-generation Blu-ray players and HD-DVD devices are typically not equipped with the enhanced processing power and audio technology of later model players, such as the BH100. LG equipped this player with a 1.2-HDMI processor, the best most television sets can handle. First-generation high-definition players may only have an HDMI 1.0 or 1.1 version.

The player also has the ability to broadcast in Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD, the highest available audio formats. The result is a surround-sound audio experience that, on the right home system, is as close to theater quality as now possible.

Just press "play"

As for design, this player is as stylish as most new players (and certainly sleeker than two clunky players sitting atop one another). The remote is self-explanatory.

Best of all, the shopping experience is self-explanatory, too. No need to really worry about what format the disc is in—unless you just have to have the extra HD interactivity.

And no need to worry about the future of the format wars. Just buy player, put in disc, and watch a high-definition movie.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.