Although a new name to the UK home cinema scene, Canada-based Anthem has long been an AV stalwart in the US. In fact, it’s surprising the brand hasn’t really made a concerted bid to conquer this side of the Atlantic before.
It’s definitely here now, though, arriving with a high-fidelity bang in the shape of the £600 BLX 200 Blu-ray player.
Aesthetically the BLX 200 makes for a rather mixed first Anthem impression. It tries to tread a line between looking suitably ‘serious’ – the sort of thing you’d put in a kit rack – and having a dash of panache in the form of illuminated touch-sensitive control panels and some unusual ‘industrial’ fascia sculpting.
But ultimately it falls between two design stools, looking a touch clumsy as a result. Still, it’s pleasingly well built, with considerably more metal (rather than plastic) on show than you get with your average Blu-ray player.
Shame, then, that its remote is a horribly flimsy, badly arranged, small-buttoned affair that’s all but impossible to use in the sort of darkened home cinema environment the BLX 200 might well find itself in. Hardly what you’d expect to find with a £600 Blu-ray player.
Turning our attentions to the BLX 200’s connections, it’s disappointing on an audiophile player to find no analogue 7.1 line outputs that people with old (as in, pre-HDMI) AV receivers might have used to enjoy the best audio the Blu-ray format has to offer.
You can only get HD audio formats out via the deck’s HDMI output, so you’ll need an AV receiver with HDMI inputs. Funnily enough, Anthem is also about to launch just such a range of AV receivers. Now there’s a coincidence.
At least you can get Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1-channel soundtracks into older receivers via either coaxial or optical digital outputs.
Another pity on such an expensive player, though, is that there’s no SACD or DVD-Audio playback. These formats are, of course, niche with a capital ‘n’, but then if anyone will be into them, it’s the sort of person willing to spend £600 on a Blu-ray player.
When it comes to video, the BLX 200 naturally supports resolutions up to 1080p, with 1080p/50 upscaling onboard for boosting the quality of standard definition DVDs.
It’s a bit disappointing in these days of video streaming, Internet video services and DLNA network support to find the BLX 200 being pretty lightweight in the multimedia department. There’s no built-in Wi-Fi, and no access to any online content services beyond BD Live.
It’s not a total multimedia washout, though. For on top of its Blu-ray and DVD playback, the disc mechanism can handle audio CDs, CD-R/RWs containing MP3, WMA, JPEG, AVI and WMV files, plus DVD-R/RW discs containing AVCHD video. Furthermore, the USB port can play MP3, WMA, JPEG and some video files.
One more little niggle here, though, finds the deck only carrying 1GB of built-in memory, with the extra memory needed to exploit BD Live functionality coming courtesy of an external (but included in the price) USB memory stick.
Ah, now we get it
So far, the BLX 200 hasn’t done much to convince us that it’s worth £600. But thankfully that changes when you actually start to watch and listen to it. Its 12-bit, 162MHz Video DACS turn in a really quite spectacular picture performance that puts the efforts of budget players well and truly in their place.
Colours, in particular, are outstandingly vibrant and dynamic compared with anything a budget player could manage. HD pictures look mesmerisingly detailed too, without a trace of video noise to spoil the show.
And there’s more
Even the picture’s contrast range seems somehow richer than that of more bog-standard Blu-ray players, contributing to a picture so good it made our Epson TW5500 projector look even better for its money than we already thought it was.
Even more evidence of the BLX 200’s relative AV prowess can be seen in the exceptional assurance with which it upscales standard definition DVDs. Outputting them at 1080p/50Hz results in pictures that look notably sharper than the deck’s straight standard definition outputs, yet without the extra grain and other noise that usually accompanies such detail enhancement on lesser decks. Kudos is due, too, to how fluid motion looks on the BLX 200’s upscaled images.
Sound as six hundred pounds
Reaffirming the BLX 200’s premium performance status is its audio. CDs sound so clean and transparent that they could be being played by a dedicated mid-range CD player, while film soundtracks swell with a sense of power and clarity that even an untrained ear could tell trounces what you hear from the vast majority of more affordable Blu-ray players.