At a Glance
No one would mistake the Insignia NS-WBRDVD2 for a great Blu-ray player. Its images, while often very good, don't measure up to the best players. It can't access media files off your home network. And using it can often be clumsy and irritating. But you have to expect some drawbacks in a $150 player.
The drawbacks start when you turn it on for the first time and go through the initial setup wizard. The NS-WBRDVD2's menus have a clean, attractive appearance, but in one respect, they're a little too clean. No onscreen explanations help you with your choices. For instance, the TV Aspect setting has options like "16:9 Pillarbox" and "4:3 Letter Box," but doesn't describe what these mean. (For an explanation, see Why Do I Still Get Black Bars On My HDTV?.)
The manual doesn't help much, either. It describes, but doesn't show, how to tell what kind of TV you have, and fails to define terms like Pillarbox.
Another shortcoming will probably hit you the second time you turn on the player. Unlike every other Blu-ray player I have looked at, you cannot turn on the NS-WBRDVD2 by pressing either of the Open/Close buttons (the one on the player or the one on the remote). When you want to play a disc, you must first turn on the player, then wait for it to power up, and then press Open/Close.
But the good things start when you close that tray with a disc in it. First, the disc starts playing reasonably quickly. In our tests, the NS-WBRDVD2 started up the Independence Day Blu-ray in a reasonable 45 seconds—that's faster than many, but not among the best. And once a disc is playing, the results were generally very good.
Compared to our reference player, a Sony PlayStation 3, the NS-WBRDVD2 delivers images with a real sense of depth. Both on DVD and Blu-ray, a long shot from Phantom of the Opera (chapter 3) felt almost three-dimensional despite there being nothing technically 3D about it. That same sense of depth also stood out in a night scene from The Searchers (chapter 20), where John Wayne's suspenders seemed to jump off his shirt.
The NS-WBRDVD2 looked its best when displaying either the bright and simple colors of computer animation, or no color, at all. In our black-and-white Good Night and Good Luck test (chapter 1), it offered whiter whites, blacker blacks, and grayer grays than the PS3, as well as considerably more detail. The animated Cars (again chapter 1) looked simply astounding. When one car smiled, I could appreciate how the metal around his mouth bent into a human-like expression.
At only one point was the NS-WBRDVD2 inferior to the PS3. In another scene from The Seachers (chapter 4), a family sitting around the dinner table looked artificial--a little bit like cardboard cutouts. But other improvements, such as deeper and richer skin tones, made up for it. This player gave its most disappointing performance in our Return of the King DVD test (chapter 22). Here it was nearly identical to the PS3, but just a tad sharper.
You can connect the NS-WBRDVD2 to the Internet through either ethernet or Wi-Fi. Entering a Wi-Fi passphrase with a remote control is always difficult, but compared to other players it wasn't exceptionally so. On the other hand, Insignia managed to make the simple task of setting up ethernet confusing. At one point I pressed the wrong selection and was asked for a "new IP Mode value." When I went back and tried again, though, everything was fine.
Once connected to the Internet, the NS-WBRDVD2 offers modest online options: Netflix, CinemaNow (a pay-for-view service), and Pandora. If they had also included YouTube, they would have at least covered the basics. This player has no options for accessing files off computers on your home network.
But you can play your own files if you're willing to physically bring them to the player. Plug a flash drive or external hard drive into the NS-WBRDVD2's USB port, and you can play music, view photos, and watch videos. Unlike a lot of low-cost players, this one's music options aren't limited to .mp3s, but can play .wmas, as well. While the manual lists the video file extensions supported, the codecs aren't mentioned, making it hit or miss whether any particular file will work. (The does explicatively say that DIVX does not work.)
Considering this player's many ease-of-use issues, it was nice to discover how intuitive it is for playing a slideshow. Select a photo and press the remote's Play button, and the slideshow begins. Nothing onscreen tells you how to change slideshow settings, but pressing the Pop-Up Menu button (my very first guess) brought the solution. The offerings on that menu allow you to add music to the show.
The long and thin remote control never felt quite right in my hand. With my index finger in the groove on the back, the remote felt clumsy and bottom heavy. At least, in that position, my thumbs went naturally to the play control buttons (Play/Pause, Skip, and so on). When I moved my hand down lower, the balance was right, but the most frequently-used buttons were a stretch. In general, the buttons were too small, including those important play control buttons.
On the other hand, the play control buttons glowed in the dark, which is a big advantage. And the most important button, Play/Pause, has a little bump to make it literally stand out when you felt it.
Unfortunately, the remote is not programmable. You can't control your TV with it (even via HDMI-CEC) and it lacks TV-controlling buttons like Volume and Channel.
For all its faults, though, the NS-WBRDVD2 covers the basics. You can stream Netflix, music, and pay-per-view movies. You can watch and listen to your own home media. And when you insert a Blu-ray disc, you'll get a very fine image for a player in this price range. You can't really ask for much more than that for $150.