AV austerity

Lacking in features you might expect, Onkyo’s first 3D Blu-ray player appears outgunned on every flank, says Steve May

Onkyo has carved itself a formidable niche in the lower-to-midrange AV receiver market by following a Tesco-like philosophy: piling features high and keeping prices low. But that’s not the route it’s taken with disc players. Here the company has played a purist card, which is admirable yet fraught with commercial peril.

As evidence I offer you the BD-SP809: a high-priced Blu-ray player with Spartan specification. This may be the first 3D–compatible Blu-ray player from the brand, but it lacks both the Smart TV chops of cheaper connected decks and the audiophile support (SACD, DVD Audio) found on contenders in the fast-rising Universal end of the market – such as the Yamaha BD-A1010, reviewed on page 80.

More significantly, and despite a stamp of THX approval, I think it lacks the weight and sonic rigidity of its own BD-SP808 predecessor. But more on that later...

Double displays

The BD-SP809 looks smart enough. The fascia is designed to match the cosmetics of the brand’s AVRs (you can get it in both black and silver) and connectivity is solid. There are two HDMI outputs, with the sub intended to send lossless audio (Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio) to legacy (non 3D capable) AV receivers while the main feeds a shiny new 3D display. Of course, you can also use the sub feed for a second display if required.

This HDMI duo is joined by optical and coaxial digital outputs, component and phono AV connections, USB, Ethernet, RS232 port and a IR repeater mini-jack. The USB input is located on the rear, there’s no front-facing option for more convenient local playback. Last year’s SD card slot has been retired.

Predictably the component output is a waste of space, as it will only output Blu-ray in standard definition, in accordance with the AACS copy protection rules.

Graphic violence

Powered up, there’s not a great deal to talk about. The BD-SP809’s Home interface is bland to the point of nihilistic. It off ers just four graphics fl oating in a sea of black – Disc, USB, Home Network and Settings, each of which leads to terse text sub-menus. Even though this deck shouts about DLNA compliancy, its streaming abilities are underwhelming. From USB, it played AVI, MP3 and WMA files from a test folder of common suffixes, but ignored MKV-wrapped content and FLAC files. It does, however, play DivX HD, which bizarrely is just another name for an h.264 encode in a Matroska media container. Across my network, video support fell away, leaving only MP3 and WMA files playable.

There are no brownie points for presentational skills either. Music plays back sans album art, with just a track listing, and AVI SRT subtitles are ignored.

It’s disappointing that Onkyo hasn’t progressed with its media compliancy since its last Blu-ray deck, but then this casual disinterest also applies to its AVR range. Perhaps the problem is more philosophical than technical?

Performance

In terms of straight AV performance the BD-SP809 can be considered a cut above and there’s integrity to the player’s build, with separate blocks for video and audio circuitry plus an anti resonance top cover.

CD replay is clinically comparable with like-minded hardware, but for whatever reason the BD-SP809 didn’t cause the hairs on the back of my neck to raise up in quite the same appreciative way as they did with its forebear.

Hi-def image quality is fine both in 2D and 3D, with its primary output producing pictures free of banding, undue mosquito noise and related artefacts. The Marvell Qdeo processor at work beneath the lid is far from shoddy, and here it delivers where it counts. 3D discs play exactly as expected. I auditioned the deck with both 3D projectors and TVs, and encountered no incompatibilities or curiosities.

Conclusion

There’s plenty to like about this Onkyo player, but ultimately it left me feeling rather nonplussed. You see, I really enjoyed its predecessor, the BD-SP808. Even a year ago, that model was lacking niceties, but it compensated with raw performance. Somehow this model just doesn’t hit the same buttons. Meanwhile, the feature deficit now appears even more marked.

With better buys both below and above it, and the Blu-ray market evolving at lightning speed, this entrant is destined to find itself seriously marginalised.


HCC VERDICT

Onkyo BD-SP809
Price:
£500 Approx

Highs: AV performance; twin HDMI outputs; build quality and design
Lows: No SACD or DVD-A playback; mismatched remote control; limited media streaming

Performance: 4/5
Design: 4/5
Features: 2/5
Overall: 3/5


Specifications

3D: YES
Upscaling: YES to 1080p
Multiregion: NO Region B BD/R2 DVD
HDMI: YES 2 x v1.4
Component: YES
Multichannel analogue outputs: NO Stereo only
Digital audio: YES 1 x coaxial/ 1 x optical
SACD/DVD-A: NO/NO
Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD decoding: YES/YES
Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD bitstream: YES/YES
Profile 2.0: YES with 1GB internal memory
Dimensions: 435(w) x 104(h) x 313(d)mm
Weight: 4.7kg
Features: Ethernet; USB with media playback; THX certification; DLNA streaming; RS232; IR input and output; gold-plated connections; upscaling via Marvell Qdeo technology; independent circuit