The promise of zipping music, movies, and TV around the home has been a chief selling point for many electronics gadgets in the past few years. Cables create clutter, and the relatively recent WiFi "n" flavor offers home networkers improved data speeds and coverage area. In other words—let that content flow wirelessly. At least that was my thinking when I expanded my home network's utility by hooking up the latest Blu-ray offering from Toshiba.
Toshiba has been playing catch-up. Parent to the rival high-def format, the now-defunct HD-DVD, Toshiba didn't release its first Blu-ray player until September 2009 and has been selling a standard "upconversion" DVD player aimed at consumers who want simulated high-def picture but may be reluctant to take the Blu-ray plunge. Toshiba's initial Blu-ray player was sold largely as a product for retailers to bundle into high-def TV packages and did not receive much of a marketing push. Fast-forward to summer 2010, and Toshiba is selling two new Blu-ray players, the WiFi-ready BDX2500 and the WiFi-enabled BDX2700. A third model sporting both WiFi and 3D capability, the BDX3000, is to be introduced later this year. The players also stream video from Netflix (NFLX), CinemaNow, and VUDU, and music from Pandora.
I chose to review the middle player of the pack, the BDX2700, which lists for $249 but is easy to find online for around $170. The first thing you notice is how petite this machine is: less than 4 pounds and just 8 inches deep. Light as a feather, it's a breeze to fit in most equipment racks and to reposition, which you may find necessary depending on your WiFi coverage. I discovered this right after completing the simple set-up: A weak network connection makes the player freeze and behave disagreeably, inducing frustration. Pandora would usually play one song and then stop. The Netflix app loaded but would not stream content. I wondered if I had gotten the proverbial lemon or if a firmware update had been issued and I needed it.
Stay Near the Router
I use a WiFi-connected laptop in the same area I initially placed the BDX2700 and have no problems, so it's a little curious that the Toshiba stumbled so badly. My network and the player could not connect reliably over a 50-foot to 60-foot stretch even in a one-story apartment. Then I moved the player into the same room as the wireless router—an instant fix. Netflix and Pandora streamed sans glitches. The player was quick to connect to the network and did not drop the connection even over several hours of viewing. (I did not audition Blockbuster or Vudu.) It's tough to say with any certainty whether the weakness lies in the BDX2700 or my WiFi network. But be sure you place the player within range of your network, or your entire experience with the BDX2700 will be marred by glitchy performance and, ultimately, frustration.
Let's consider a few brighter points. In basic operations the Toshiba player adeptly handles most discs and presents video in an array of resolutions and audio signals, including the ability internally to decode the common uncompressed tracks found on most new Blu-ray releases, DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby TrueHD. These audio tracks are really the only sort with merit when viewing high-definition movies, and many people with older audio receivers or amplifiers will need a Blu-ray machine that can decode them. The player's blue LED display can be turned off—a critical feature for people who like to watch in darkened rooms. For everyday Blu-ray viewing, I've gotten spoiled by the home theater joys delivered by Oppo Digital's impeccable BDP-83, which costs nearly three times more than Toshiba's midlevel player. Yet the Toshiba was virtually the equal of the Oppo when it comes to upscaling standard DVDs to 1080p, a task those with large movie collections built over the years will find important. The Toshiba's handling of the Blade Runner standard DVD was on par with the Oppo—the stubble on Harrison Ford's face as he pilots his shuttle-car was rendered with the same relative clarity. This was a feat I did not expect, given the grubby source material. (This movie classic was cleaned up beautifully for the five versions of the film now out on Blu-ray and stands as a primer on what careful restoration can achieve.) The glossy remote control is not intuitive, or backlit, and takes a bit of a learning period. In the dark, you'll doubtless skip chapters when you mean only to fast forward or rewind. The subtitle and audio buttons are miniscule and won't be apparent in a darkened room. But these are not dealbreakers.
The most significant shortcoming I found in the Toshiba is not image quality or wireless performance but its sluggish nature. The BDX2700 will likely try your patience, coming nowhere close to the quick Blu-ray loading you'll find on Sony's PlayStation 3 or Oppo BDP-83. Newer Blu-ray titles took 40-50 seconds to load, and it was more than a minute before the new Anthony Hopkins-Benicio del Toro movie, The Wolfman, was running. Ben Stiller's morose turn as an unstable California housesitter in Greenberg required 107 frustrating seconds to commence, compared with 44 seconds in the Oppo. Older titles tended to load slightly faster.
The languid pace didn't end with Blu-ray discs. Hit the power on/off button and prepare to wait. Press the drawer open/close button and prepare to wait. Conclude a disc, enter the player's "Fullstop" mode, and, yes, prepare to wait. Not long enough to suggest faulty engineering but long enough to make you wonder why. Alacrity is not to be found on this machine. I suspect the issue could be ameliorated to some degree with a future firmware update. (None is currently scheduled.) Until then, please be patient. Once you do get your media playing, the BDX2700 will deliver ample enjoyment, wirelessly. But consider your purchase wisely: For not much more money, you can stream media with a zippier player.