Come council clean-up day, you'll often see empty Soniq cardboard boxes awaiting kerbside collection. The brand's plasma and LCD TVs are notoriously inexpensive and popular as a result, primarily sold through JB Hi-Fi stores and occasionally online. Its product range is rapidly expanding and definitely price-driven as this Blu-ray player (one of two current models) clearly demonstrates.
Design and features
Unpacking the QPB302B, the player certainly looks the part and has some weight behind it, well 2.3kg to be precise, which for a slimline unit is respectably substantial. It's quite solid and feels well made compared to the usual standard of other "no-name" brands. Power up time was quick — the drawer opened and closed smoothly and generally the Soniq makes a favourable first impression.
At the time of writing this, JB was offering the Soniq for the "hot" price of just AU$99. We sauntered in to our local store and were even able to squeeze a few more bucks off this low price. So, it's definitely affordable, but like super-inexpensive DVD players, are you simply getting what you pay for?
The Soniq will play a decent variety of disc types and formats including DivX Plus HD, MP3, WMA and CD Audio playback, and will upscale DVD to 1080p. At this bargain basement level, it's one thing to claim what it'll play (MP3, WMA and CD Audio playbacks), but actually doing so can be a different story. We'd heard reports that this player can struggle with certain discs, mainly flatly refusing to play some DVDs, so we ran through plenty of discs to see how it would cope.
A standard remote handset is supplied, it's nothing flash and isn't backlit, but does the job.
Outputs are also standard fare comprising a single HDMI (1.3a), component, S-Video and composite. There are both optical and coaxial digital outs and the player's on-board decoding handles DTS-HD Master Audio as well as the usual Dolby flavours. It'll also do BD-Live (2.0) via Ethernet and has a handy front USB port.
First up was taking stock of power-up and load times. After pressing the power button, there is a short delay with just a solitary LED alight, and it appears not much is going on. Over in a flash, the player gets straight down to business. The drawer can be immediately ejected/loaded and it doesn't dawdle getting BDs to play — we timed your average disc to take around 20 seconds from no to go. Comparatively, this is on par with much dearer players and left our two-year-old resident Samsung BD-P1500 for dead, loading in around half the time.
Our review sample popped up an initial message saying that something called the "BUDA" was being checked and that it wasn't ready and that playback might not work. Further investigation (online) revealed this is something to do with BD-Live and is the given folder name where the player stores content to external memory. If it didn't pop up every time a BD was loaded, it would save a couple of precious pre-playing seconds and we couldn't find any way of disabling it nor any mention in the instructions.
Once a BD image pops up on screen, you soon forget about this minor annoyance. Closest to hand for our first look was a copy of Fool's Gold, not the most intellectually stimulating of films, but a bright, crisp BD transfer, full of vibrancy and excellent colour spectrum. Unwittingly, we found ourselves drawn into watching the silly opening boat sinking sequence, not because of the lame humour, but simply by how good the Soniq's image looked.
Feeding an Optoma HD20 projector, our LP Morgan screen came alive with a fantastically vivid and well detailed picture. It was all there — natural-looking colours; tanned, but very human-looking flesh tones; fine detail retrieval, even in complex scenes and a general look of a player far more expensive. The other BD player we had on hand was a NuForce-worked Oppo BDP-83SE, with a price tag over 20 times that of the Soniq. Sure, it looked better; sounded better and is perhaps about the best BD machine around, but the maths simply entered the steepest curve of diminishing returns comparing an AU$2300 player with one that can be had for under a hundred bucks. OK, you tend to get what you pay for in this game, but occasionally a veritable bargain comes along and this Soniq is without doubt an HD steal.
All Blu-ray fodder we popped in the tray looked great — we didn't even have to delve too far into the player's configuration or set-up to make things look pretty. The Soniq also scrubbed up old, re-mastered material really well, such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and 2001: A Space Odyssey, both of which show their age a bit on BD, but still provide a decent enough visual HD challenge. The same went for good old DVDs and using only the Soniq's upscaling, we were once more pleasantly surprised at the quality achieved by this player. It managed a better job than the vast majority of standard-definition DVD players and showed no signs of throwing in the towel during playback, with both legit and bootleg software — not during the three weeks we had it playing.
Firmware is king with many a Blu-ray/DVD player's functionality and general operation, and this Soniq is no different. An online search reveals user problems with certain disc types — even title specific. Soniq's recently released a firmware update for this player (v3.0) and with this installed it never refused to play a disc nor froze while doing so. We'd heard that this was the case with a few users, but can't say it was ever an issue with our player.
Even if you have to pay full RRP on the Soniq you've still got yourself a Blu-ray bargain. If there are any still in stock, buy two or three and give one to your mum, she'll be chuffed to bits. Blu-ray's getting more affordable and this Soniq represents a new low price tag without skimping at all on overall performance.