Blu-ray discs on the whole looked pretty stunning. It’s remarkable how animated films like Sleeping Beauty and Wall-E burst in color and detail and just complete immersion when they’re filling a 2.35:1 super-wide screen (Sleeping Beauty actually still leaves some empty space on the top and bottom in its even wider 2.55:1), and though I accomplished this using the “zoom method” rather than an anamorphic lens solution the images maintained great clarity and sharpness. Black levels and shadow detail came across nicely through the BenQ when I was viewing some darker scenes from Star Wars and in shots that featured Vader, as well as night-time action sequences in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Surface materials like stonework and clothing textures and creases were readily apparent in standard video mode, so don’t worry about having to bump to vivid mode during a movie.
As far as 3D goes, I didn’t spend too much time with the feature, but Blu-rays such as Tangled and Despicable Me offered nice depth with little noticeable crosstalk or “ghosting” on the projection screen (I did not have a 3D-ready flat-panel TV to compare to, but at 92 diagonal inches the technology worked well via the Yamaha unit). Images maintained very good clarity when switching from 2D to 3D.
HD content from Netflix was impressive as well (the color palette on both Disney’s Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure and AMC’s Mad Men dazzled), and I appreciated a couple of other Netflix-related features: a “just for kids” filter for browsing selections and your instant queue, and the ability to add titles directly from the Blu-ray’s Netflix interface. The downside is that searching for content on Netflix and YouTube via the included remote, which is a straightforward handheld sans QWERTY keyboard, is a relative pain in the backside as you navigate a multi-line alphabet box using up/down and left/right arrows.
The audio performance of the BD-A1020, as I’ve alluded to, really delivered for a Blu-ray player. Plain ol’ stereo music I played through CDs like String Cheese Incident’s live Carnival ’99 release offered vivid and lively imaging and articulation, especially with percussion, electric mandolin and keyboard prominence. From Green Day to Paul Simon to Joss Stone, whatever I threw at it revealed subtleties on the low and high ends, and generous, weighty midrange for realistic vocals.
Multi-channel audio was even better. Movie effects in 5.1-channel surround sound through a Paradigm bookshelf-speaker system provided enveloping drama, like the chase and fight scenes of Crouching Tiger, while SACD and DVD-A tracks were a treat to hear. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon SACD and a Telarc Celebrating the Music of Weather Report DVD-A produced an enormous soundstage that seemed to fill every inch of my theater. “Time” from Dark Side is a must-hear on SACD if you get the opportunity, and the alarms, chimes and tick-tocking introduction were as intense through the BD-A1020 as I’ve experienced, while the reverberant “Us and Them” underscores the surround atmosphere. An a cappella version of Weather Report’s “Birdland” on the Telarc disc teemed with energy as the richly layered vocals were rendered effortlessly and well defined.
So the BD-A1020’s value might be a matter of how you view a Blu-ray disc player. If you’re looking to pare down your entertainment system and want a jam-packed streaming device, it’s probably not for you. If you have a large Blu-ray and DVD collection, or stream Netflix for most of your movies and TVs (or use the streaming platform of your TV), you’ll be happy adding it. If you’re a music nut with some multi-channel discs, lots of CDs or USB drives full of digital files, then the BD-A1020 might be a bargain universal player compared with audiophile alternatives. Either way, if it’s quality audio and video you’re after, this component does not disappoint.
Related: 10 Features for Your Next A/V Receiver
Blu-ray Disc, Super Audio CD, DVD-Audio, DVD, CD playback
Supports Blu-ray 3D, BD-Live
Wi-Fi support, Netflix, YouTube, Picasa services
iPhone/iPad, Android and Kindle Fire compatible Controller app
Supports DivX, MKV with DivX and H.264, MPEG PS, MPEG TS, MPEG-4, VOB, AVI, ASF,AVCHD, WMV, MOV, JPEG (HD), MP3, MP4, WMA, WAV and AAC content, including FLAC files
192 kHz/32-bit audio DAC
1080p/24 Hz compatible HDMI video output
USB ports on front and rear for video, music and photos
Solid performance in clarity and detail for both audio and video
Multi-channel SACD, DVD-A compatibility
Supports adding Netflix titles to queue, includes kids’ filter
Limited streaming service options
Remote makes Netflix/YouTube search clunky
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Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.