Review: JVC XV-BP1 Blu-ray Player

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JVC's budget Blu-ray player is anything but budget on the inside, serving up the best image for under $300.


Mar. 12, 2010 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Budget Blu-ray Disc players often seem to offer capable BD playback and a multitude of ancillary features, yet skimp on playback of the bulk of most enthusiasts’ media library: the standard-definition DVD. JVC’s first foray into the Blu-ray Disc player market, on the other hand, takes the road less traveled. Instead of playing the buzz-word feature set game, JVC’s XV-BP1 player is all about performance of core features like disc load speed, audio decoding, and scaling DVD playback. 

The XV-BP1 does maintain a functional set of basic features. All applicable audio codecs, including Dolby TrueHD, DTS-Master, and all sub formats are fully decoded and passed as LPCM over HDMI. Bitstreaming of all codecs to HDMI 1.3 capable AVRs is also fully supported. Missing are 7.1 channel analog outputs for connecting to older AVRs. 

It also has one nice surprise feature: playback of AVI and MKV files, both burned to disc and via USB. As someone who backs up my physical media for playback on various devices, this feature intrigued me at first, but I quickly found the lack of NTFS support for USB hard drives to be limiting in regards to files over 4GB.  Large files can, however, be played back from DVD+/-R/RW, both single and dual layer. While this may eliminate the XV-BP1 as a full-fledged HD digital media player, it does open it up for use on occasion or in a pinch. This same deficiency is present in all but one player I’ve seen with AVI/MKV file support: the LG BD390. Hopefully a future firmware upgrade will open up support for NTFS, or some other file system supporting files larger than 4GB. 

Unboxing and Setup
When removing the XV-BP1 from its packaging you’ll notice all of the trappings of a budget Blu-ray player. It maintains a lightweight feel at just over 6 pounds.  Its cover is somewhat flimsy folded steel and its front face is a mix of gloss black and faux-brushed aluminum, both fashioned from plastic, as are the graphite colored buttons. My review sample also had a mild but unassuring warp to the chassis, causing the feet to sit somewhat off-level. A quick, light torque to two corners popped it back to level, but this kind of thing doesn’t inspire confidence. The remote is basic and somewhat logically laid out, but initial setup is about as far as I took my testing before I programmed my Harmony to control it instead.

But as soon as you plug in and power on the XV-BP1, you’ll notice it is different. The non-dimmable blue LEDs might be what you first notice (and a firmware upgrade for dimming these would be nice), but more important is that this thing is fast. Really fast. Slow operation has often been a bane of Blu-ray players, but it’s just not an issue with the XV-BP1. The disc tray eject time (from powered off, by pressing the eject button) is roughly 2 seconds. Other mainstream players, namely current models from LG, come close to this, but the only other player to hit 2 seconds in my testing is the highly praised (and more expensive) Oppo BDP-83. You’re not going to be waiting disc-in-hand for upwards of 30 seconds, as you would with many other budget players. 

Disc loading times are similarly snappy. My current disc-load torture test is Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End. Its Java-heavy menu structure has long been a bottleneck for players. My first Blu-ray player, the Samsung BD-P1000, would take nearly 2 minutes to load to the initial skull logo, and another minute to churn past to the actual intro video. The JVC handles these tasks in roughly 17 seconds and 29 seconds, respectively. This again bests the speedy Oppo player by 4 to 5 seconds in each category and is the fastest I’ve seen to date. Less complex Java-free menus, as well as DVD discs, load almost instantly.

Performance
Fast load times are great for one main reason. It gets me to the performance tests faster. It may seem counter-intuitive, but I’m not going to expound in great detail on Blu-ray disc image quality. The main reason is that any competently designed Blu-ray player is going to output a nearly identical 1080p24 image, with only subtle differences in color decoding and noise reduction.

Many players push toward red for a perception of more natural skin tones on poorly calibrated displays. The JVC maintains a neutral color cast with no push either toward red or green. This is clearly evident in source material such as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, where both the red Nevada desert and grassy campus of Marshall College show natural color rendition. There is also no over-exaggeration of contrast or sharpness in an attempt to push a more “3D” feel. (This is often done at the expense of detail loss and excessive noise, but both are well controlled.)

The task where most Blu-ray players seem to fall down, and quickly so, is when asked to properly scale standard-definition DVD content. Players usually fall into one of two camps: the first being those that deinterlace and scale DVD video well, using a licensed video processing chipset like ABT VRS, HQV Reon, or HQV Realta; and the second being those that do so poorly using an integrated or unknown processing solution. Since Samsung jumped-ship from category one to two in its 2009 step-up models, you have to go further up the price ladder to find the big name video processing chipsets. The XV-BP1 falls conveniently into neither of these categories. 

Its video deinterlacing and scaling chipset(s) are unknown but handle odd cadences, bad edits, jaggies, and moiré in synthetic testing nearly as well as any other player on the market. All interlaced source cadences presented by the Spears & Munsil test disc were quickly recognized and properly deinterlaced except one, Time-Adjusted. Luckily, this cadence is typically only used when broadcast material is compressed or clipped to fit a certain time frame, usually making 3:2 pull down impossible to back out of. The chances of finding time-adjusted cadence on a commercially produced DVD are slim to none. All examples of bad-edits from one cadence to another were also properly detected and deinterlaced. Edge-adaptive deinterlacing also produced no jaggies in the passing range of two different test patterns presented. With the exception of the time-adjusted cadence, the JVC XV-BP1 again matches the performance of the Oppo BDP-83. 

In real-world testing of both Blu-ray and DVD source material, the XV-BP1’s performance was nearly as flawless. DVD tests of panning crowd scenes like those found in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and Gladiator showed no visible moiré. Animated comic book style cells like the Marvel intro of Spider-Man 3 were also free of jaggies. 

Noise reduction is where the XV-BP1 shows one minor shortcoming. Some of the scenes in Gladiator and LOTR tested for moiré also show significant noise in both extremely dark shadow detail and extremely bright (nearing white) shadow detail. This is common for these discs and somewhat controlled by the XV-BP1, but more advanced video processing solutions do a better job of eliminating this “mosquito noise.” The XV-BP1’s handling of the noise is less my concern, as it doesn’t overly reduce noise at the loss of detail. Instead, I would like to see a variable noise-reduction setting in the menus, as is present on most other Blu-ray players in the price range. While jaggies and moiré from deinterlacing are not a concern with Blu-ray content, mosquito noise still can be, so finer control of the level of what seems to be an acceptable noise reduction algorithm would be greatly appreciated.

This brings me right into the other shortcoming of the XV-BP1, though more so when compared to more expensive players like the Oppo BDP-83 that I’ve come back to multiple times. The XV-BP1 is completely lacking in player-side video adjustments, so any picture adjustments will have to take place in the display or intermediate video processor. 

Conclusion
I’ve made enough comparisons to my current reference Blu-ray player, the Oppo BDP-83, that I feel I should qualify why it’s come up so frequently and summarize how close the XV-BP1 really is. The BDP-83 excels in nearly every measurable and real-world performance scenario I’ve been able to come up with. It’s also well built, well supported, and well priced. It’s my point of comparison for any Blu-ray player I test. And the XV-BP1 has stacked up surprisingly well in the categories that matter for most folks shopping in the sub-$300 category. 

Blu-ray image quality is uncompromised, and DVD playback is handled surprisingly well when compared to other similarly priced players. Noise reduction is a small blemish on an otherwise fine report card, but other Blu-ray players with better noise reduction controls fail to perform in other key areas. If you step away from build quality and the obvious lack of DVD-A and SACD playback, and consider a purely HDMI connection path, the XV-BP1 comes away as almost the Oppo’s equal in image quality and speed. It will satisfy non-videophiles and those looking for the best image they can find under $300. Whether you look at it as a poor-man’s Oppo, or just a great deal, the JVC XV-BP1 deserves your consideration. If you factor in that its street-price can be as much as half-off its MSRP, I don’t think there’s a current model with better value in terms of core performance the sub-$300 price point. 


AT A GLANCE
Specs:
> Blu-ray, DVD-Video, DVD+/-R/RW, CD, CD-R/RW
> BD Profile 2.0 Compliant
> MPEG-2, MPEG-4 AVC (H.264), VC-1, AVCHD, JPEG, MP3 (PCM Only), WMA (PCM Only)
> 1080p/24 or 60 fps
> 1GB (Profile 2.0 Compliance)
> Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus
> DTS-HD Master, DTS-ES
> Digital audio output (Optical and Coaxial)
> HDMI (Vide and Audio, 7.1 LPCM and Bitstream)
> USB 2.0 Media Port
> 17 x 2.3 x 10 inches
> MSRP: $229

Pros:
> Excellent Blu-ray and DVD video quality
> Extremely fast operational speed and disc load times
> Can’t-be-beat performance for under $300

Cons:
> Lacking in most buzz-word extra features
> Could use variable noise reduction settings
> Mediocre build quality



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