If you’re looking for pleasing image quality in a Blu-ray player and you want to spend less than $200, Insignia’s NS-WBRDVD makes a terrific choice. It can connect to the Internet wirelessly, and it lets you stream movies off Netflix On Demand if you don’t want to wait for a disc. It has a few weaknesses, but they’re reasonable trade-offs for the price.
Blu-ray Disc images from the NS-WBRDVD generally looked better than those from our reference player, a Sony PlayStation 3. The Insignia provided significantly better detail than the PS3, with pleasing color balance and a good sense of depth. It worked well with several different film styles, from the bright, natural sunlight of Mission: Impossible III (chapter 7) to the animated Cars (chapter 1) to the black-and-white Good Night and Good Luck (chapter 1), which looked especially impressive, with good contrast and a firm sense of film grain. The NS-WBRDVD had some trouble with The Searchers,a 1956 classic shot in VistaVision, a large format that provides a dense, high-resolution image. Chapter 4 generally looked very good, but at times it suffered from excessive contrast and from some digital noise. All of the judges agreed that it was still better than the PS3, but not by much.
At upscaling DVDs, the NS-WBRDVD didn’t quite measure up to the PS3. Images looked a bit softer, with lower contrast and weaker colors.
The NS-WBRDVD is noisy when you start playing a movie or skip chapters. Also, the USB port is on the back, which would be fine if it were intended only for extra BD-Live storage, but the player also lets you view photos, listen to music, and play videos stored on a flash drive or other USB storage device. For those purposes, you’ll want an accessible port.
The model’s multimedia playback is clumsy in other ways, too. Figuring out how to start a photo slideshow can be a chore. And if you want to add music to that slideshow, you’ll have to create a playlist first.
When connected to the Internet, the NS-WBRDVD gives you access to Netflix’s streaming service, if you’re a Netflix subscriber. You’ll also gain access to the BD-Live features on Blu-ray discs, provided that you plug a flash drive into the USB port. This is a BD-Live Ready player, meaning that it supports BD-Live only if you supply the storage.
If you can’t link an ethernet cable to your home theater, you can access the Internet via the NS-WBRDVD’s built-in Wi-Fi antenna—if you can set it up. The onscreen wizard offers little feedback and few instructions, requires you to know your encryption standard, and provides a very tiny onscreen keyboard for entering your password. A special setup guide (absent from the box but available online) is a big help here.
Aside from that one big problem, this player is reasonably easy to use. The onscreen menus are attractive and intuitive, though don’t explain what the options mean (you’ll find the explanations in the manual). When you press the remote control’s Display button while watching a movie, you’ll get the title, the chapter number, and the elapsed and total time, but not the time remaining.
The long, thin remote fits nicely in the user’s hand, with the thumb landing naturally on the buttons used to control playback (Skip, Play/Pause, and so on). These buttons, and no others, glow in the dark. Also, the Play/Pause button has a little knob on it, similar to the raised lines on the F and J keys of many computer keyboards, so you can easily identify it with your thumb. The remote is not programmable.
The NS-WBRDVD loaded our Independence Day Blu-ray disc in just 40 seconds. Usually, the NS-WBRDVD responded swiftly in playback, pausing, unpausing, and skipping to the next chapter, too. But it occasionally failed to respond to the remote until I pressed it a second or even a third time.
Though there are other Blu-ray players with a broader array of streaming options, the NS-WBRDVD produces very good high-definition image quality, and does so in an inexpensive package.
[Lincoln Spector is a contributing editor for PC World.]
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